Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant to Read In 2020 but Didn’t Get To

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

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Oh there are so many books that I wanted to read at the beginning of 2020, and which came across my path during the year, that this list could be so so long! Despite lockdowns and school closures, time was always a pressing issue… and during the pandemic I did not feel up to, or in the right place, to pick up on some of my reading and branched out into some more feel-good novels. And do not regret that for a moment!

So this is a list of the ten books I most regret not reading this year, and which are high on my to-be-read list in 2021.

This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amar El-Mohta

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future. Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works.

This has been hanging around on my TBR pile for the best part of a year. I remember collecting it at the same time as Gideon the Ninth on the strength of an article identifying some of the best sci-fi releases. I seem to recall the Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh was also on that list and I also didn’t get round to reading that one!

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, Andrew Miller

One rainswept winter’s night in 1809, an unconscious man is carried into a house in Somerset. He is Captain John Lacroix, home from Britain’s disastrous campaign against Napoleon’s forces in Spain.

Gradually Lacroix recovers his health, but not his peace of mind. He will not – cannot – talk about the war or face the memory of what took place on the retreat to Corunna. After the command comes to return to his regiment, he lights out instead for the Hebrides, unaware that he has far worse to fear than being dragged back to the army: a vicious English corporal and a Spanish officer with secret orders are on his trail.

I love a really convincing, gorgeous historical fiction and Miller’s Pure was one such, but it was a book that I found dense and needed focus – a focus which, being honest with myself, I did not have for most of 2020!

Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue

In Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue unwinds thirteen fairy tales and writes them anew: Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother, Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror, and Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire.

In these stories, Emma Donoghue reveals heroines young and old in unexpected alliances – sometimes treacherous, sometimes erotic, but always courageous. Told with luminous voices that shimmer with sensuality and truth, these age-old characters shed their antiquated cloaks to travel a seductive new landscape, radiantly transformed.

Fairytale retellings. Seductive language. Feminism. Sapphic retellings. This sounds like it has everything that I love – an adult The Sleeper and the Spindle perhaps – so I am not entirely sure why I did not get round to reading it. Perhaps just time and other books creeping up. And maybe concerned about the inevitable comparison with Angela Carter.

Sisters, Daisy Johnson

Desperate for a fresh start, their mother Sheela moves them across the country to an old family house that has a troubled life of its own. Noises come from behind the walls. Lights flicker of their own accord. Sleep feels impossible, dreams are endless.

In their new, unsettling surroundings, July finds that the fierce bond she’s always had with September – forged with a blood promise when they were children – is beginning to change in ways she cannot understand.

I loved Everything Under so a new novel by Daisy Johnson was an exciting prospect. But perhaps the setting trapped in an uncanny house felt a little too close to the bone…

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones

‘My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.’

This is the story of a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle. James Witherspoon has two families, one public, the other a closely guarded secret. But when his daughters meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows the truth. Theirs is a relationship destined to explode.

I try to follow the Women’s Prize for Fiction and generally really like the prize winner, finding it closer to my tastes than the Booker Prize, and yet I didn’t quite get to this one before other books raised their heads and I left it behind – and this was 2019! Now, I am finding it being talked about and lauded everywhere and really must get back to it.

The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste

With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade.

Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers?

The Booker Prize Longlist this year I did find significantly underwhelming – and so missed what I have been told was the hidden gem in it, The Shadow King.

The Death of Vivek Oji, Akwaeke Emezi

One afternoon, a mother opens her front door to find the length of her son’s body stretched out on the veranda, swaddled in akwete material, his head on her welcome mat. The Death of Vivek Oji transports us to the day of Vivek’s birth, the day his grandmother Ahunna died. It is the story of an over protective mother and a distant father, and the heart-wrenching tale of one family’s struggle to understand their child, just as Vivek learns to recognize himself.

Teeming with unforgettable characters whose lives have been shaped by Vivek’s gentle and enigmatic spirit, it shares with us a Nigerian childhood that challenges expectations. This novel, and its celebration of the innocence and optimism of youth, will touch all those who embrace it.

I adore Akwaeke Emezi, but again she is a writer who deserves proper attention and time and energy which I didn’t feel I could give her, with everything else happening in 2020. Having said that, I do find her novels ultimately optimistic and uplifting, so maybe I should have read it.

The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote – and perhaps not even to live – the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

I remember vacillating between this and The Familiars by Stacy Halls, in terms of historical fiction featuring witchcraft and witch hunts, after reading the wonderful The Mercies – and I was not impressed by The Familiars. I could also have included The Ten Thousand Doors of January on the list as well.

The Deathless Girls, Kiran Millwood Hargraves

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

Having already mentioned The Mercies by Hargrave, I was excited to pick up a copy of The Deathless Girls as well, a Young Adult retelling of Dracula. But again time and other commitments and distractions got in the way. As this is now on the Carnegie Medal nominations, there is that added incentive to return to it.

Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell

Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967, folksinger Elf Holloway, blues bassist Dean Moss, guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet and jazz drummer Griff Griffin together created a unique sound, with lyrics that captured their turbulent times. The band produced only two albums in two years, yet their musical legacy lives on.

This is the story of Utopia Avenue’s brief, blazing journey from Soho clubs and draughty ballrooms to the promised land of America, just when the Summer of Love was receding into something much darker – a multi-faceted tale of dreams, drugs, love, sexuality, madness and grief; of stardom’s wobbly ladder and fame’s Faustian pact; and of the collision between youthful idealism and jaded reality as the Sixties drew to a close.

Again, a David Mitchell book is an event, and a thing of beauty! But the music industry is not my natural setting and again I was caught between this and another book – Daisy Jones and the Six in this case – and Daisy Jones was read first. This time, because it was nominated on a book club I was part of.


Bonus: The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he’s part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count.

Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich – they’re the only ones worth stealing from – but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards.

This one has been on my TBR for years. Literally years. I have heard nothing but praise for it, but so far have never quite got around to reading it! Go figure!

So, there we go: a range of books that I got in 2020 – save for the Scott Lynch – and do regret not reading during the year. Is regret the right word? Probably not to be honest: I do not regret the reading that I did do last year at all. But these are books that I would like to find time to catch up with this year – before prize season hits us again!

Pop in the comments below your thoughts on these – maybe let me know which I should read first!

FORTHCOMING TOP TEN TUESDAY TOPICS:

  • January 26: New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2020 (If you didn’t read 10 new authors, that’s fine! Just do what you can.)
  • February 2: Books Written Before I Was Born (These can be books you’ve read or want to read!) (submitted by Davida Chazan @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog)
  • February 9: Valentine’s Day/Love Freebie
  • February 16: Purple, Yellow, and/or Green Book Covers (in honor of Mardis Gras, which is today!)
  • February 23: Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud (Claire @ Book Lovers Pizza)

30 comments

  1. I had completely forgotten about This Is How You Lose the Time War. Somehow it’s not on my Goodreads want-to-read list! Thanks for putting it back on my radar.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There are definitely a few on your list that I have been meaning to read as well. In particular, I’d like to read ‘This Is How You Lose the Time War’. It’s so small that I know it wouldn’t take much time, but I keep forgetting about it. Great list!

    Like

  3. I too, have had The Lies of Locke Lamore on my TBR for years, I even own a copy and started reading it! It didn’t catch my attention much, however, and so it languashes on my shelves, waiting in desperation.

    Utopia Avenue sounds really interesting! I love jazz and music history, so I think I’m going to have to add that one to my pile!

    Lovely list, happy reading!

    Like

  4. I feel you on gravitating toward feel-good books. I read so much adult romance last year – it’s the most I’ve read of romance as a genre or adult books I think in my entire adult life! So many beautiful covers for so many of these books. I haven’t heard of many of them (Once & Future Witches is on hold at my library) so I’m going to have to look them up 🙂 Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I bought This Is How You Lose the Time War after reading a sample. I don’t usually get on with time travel but the writing was so good that I couldn’t resist.
    The Deathless Girls sounds really good and like something I might enjoy, so might have to put that one on my TBR list.
    Hope you enjoy all these when you get around to them.

    Liked by 1 person

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