My Top Reads of 2020 #BookLove20

What more can I say about 2020 that's not already been said. It's a year which we will all be glad to see the back of but however awful it may have been, books have been there to provide entertainment, comfort, education and much more. As always when it comes to writing my end of year post, I've struggled to narrow down my choices, such has been the quality of books I've read this year. I only ever read and review books I've genuinely enjoyed and so could easily have picked so many more titles. I have limited myself to choosing books which were published in 2020 but there were some novels which I'm sure I would have included on previous lists had I read them in their year of publication. So to start with, I'm giving a shout-out to the following books;

You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry

Cold Fusion 2000 by Karl Drinkwater

Conviction by Denise Mina

The Wave by Virginia Moffatt

A Plague On Both Your Houses by Ian Porter

East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman

Homegrown Hero by Khurrum Rahman

Betray Her by Caroline England

Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee

The Punishment by Paul Clayton

The Leaden Heart by Chris Nickson

Next up are some of my highly recommended books of the year, mostly listed by reading order (except where they are titles in the same series).

The Other You by J.S. Monroe

Homecoming by Ellie Dean

No Mercy/No Love Lost by Robert Crouch

Unborn by Rachel McLean

This Lovely City by Louise Hare

Triumph of the Shipyard Girls/ A Christmas Wish for the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell

Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb

Dead Wrong/Dead Perfect by Noelle Holten

Containment by Vanda Symon

Sister by Kjell Ola Dahl (tr. by Don Bartlett)

Mine by Clare Empson

I Am Dust by Louise Beech

The Weight of Small Things by Julie Lancaster

Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald

Singapore Killer by Murray Bailey

When We Fall by Carolyn Kirby

Goodnight Sweetheart by Pam Weaver

Bones in the River by Zoë Sharp

The Railway Girls/Secrets of the Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas

Island of Secrets by Rachel Rhys

20/20 by Carl Goodman

The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith

Broken Silence by Liz Mistry

The Moscow Whisper by Michael Jenkins

While You Slept by R.J. Parker 

Other Women by Jean Levy

Don't Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing by Billy Moran

Unbound Ties by Liz Mistry

The Murder Club by Nikki Crutchley

Bliss Uncovered by Tony J. Forder

And now for my favourite books of the year, again listed in the order they were read, unless grouped by series. Click on the title to read my full review.

C.R. Berry has taken a scenario which should be unbelievable but by including well-known events and our universal fears about invasive technology, it actually feels only too plausible. Tense, ominous and addictive,  I absolutely loved every word of this intelligent, complex thriller and can't wait to discover what happens next.

Black 13 isn't just an exciting action thriller however, and as noteworthy as the high-octane scenes are, it's the underlying themes which really made the book for me. Adam Hamdy takes a timely look at some of the biggest issues we currently face; radical extremism, indoctrination by stealth and our increasingly polemical discourse, particularly on social media.

This dark, deeply affecting book never balks at discussing subjects as raw as youth suicide and the exploitation and prostitution of children, meaning that I can't describe The Home as enjoyable; it made me angry and desperately sad but Sarah Stovell's empathetic, perceptive writing ensured I couldn't tear my eyes from the page. 

I'm absolutely thrilled that these two hugely talented authors will be writing more together; Death Deserved has all the thrills, shocks and piercing social commentary I love and this is contemporary crime fiction of the very highest quality.

Matt Wesolowski brilliantly penetrates our concerns and fears about the power of social media in this superbly unsettling tale of manipulation and obsession, and Beast is probably my favourite book of the series so far. 

Ausma Zehanat Khan has written a devastatingly powerful book about the ultimately fatal consequences of tolerating hate; A Deadly Divide is an important and immensely moving read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

These are characters who I've grown to care about deeply. It doesn't matter that they are sorcerers, umbras, gods, dragon-kin or werewolves; each of them are more than their abilities, their flaws and their legacies. Some of them I love, some I am desperate to see vanquished but I am completely invested in what happens to every single one of them.

Will Dean hasn't written a fast-paced thriller here, instead allowing the unsettling sense that is a place where anybody could be hiding dark and disturbing secrets to take hold of the reader until the tension becomes almost unbearable and the revelations are more terrible than anybody could possibly guess.

Mexico City is an outstanding novel which encapsulates all that noir should be; always entertaining, always compelling and yet still a starkly realistic, powerful and thought-provoking exposé of injustice and violence. Absolutely brilliant!

With recent political developments potentially threatening the Good Friday Agreement and the rise in populism and nationalism, there has perhaps never been a greater need for this thoughtful, complex, important novel. An outstanding read which will remain with me, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Power Play is everything I was hoping for and more; this compelling political thriller is packed with twists and turns and is brilliantly plotted, edge-of-the-seat exciting and sharply insightful throughout.

 Absolutely riveting throughout, Paddy Magrane's complex, contemporary novel features tense and exciting drama, authentic, compelling characters and an evocative sense of place - especially in the deserts of Iraq where I could almost feel the stifling heat burning down on me. Very highly recommended.

a deeply atmospheric, gripping espionage novel that puts its readers firmly in Cold War Europe with characters who are flawed, authentic and always utterly engaging - I loved it

The Curator is exceptional crime fiction; the best novel of the series so far and I absolutely loved the first two. Utterly compelling and almost unbearably tense, it draws attention to unsettling topics without ever losing pace or focus.. 

Blood Red City is an outstanding book; you are in for a treat with this whip-smart contemporary thriller. Strikingly realistic with an exciting, serpentine plot, I couldn't put it down!

Jay and Imy's experiences are beyond what most people will ever know but ultimately this outstanding novel is about the universal need for acceptance and belonging. Ride or Die is extraordinarily good and as with East of Hounslow and Homegrown Hero, I urge you to read it.

2000 Tunes is a beautifully written, perceptive novel about love, belonging and change. This is no fool's gold, it's the real stuff and I loved it!

The complex plot skilfully interweaves the separate mysteries with a compelling family drama that has real emotional pull - there is sadness, disappointment and anger here but also love, hope and laughter. A Dark Matter is everything I hoped for - dark and shocking yet imbued with a very real sense of warmth and compassion.
The title fits this story perfectly; taken from a theory about how the universe may eventually end in a meaningless nothingness, it also cleverly links both to their work as funeral directors and to the chilling developments which take place here. There is nothing cold about Doug Johnstone's writing however, and The Big Chill is as warm as it is compelling.

The Midnight Library may be a fantastical premise but it is never false and through an accessible and engaging mix of quantum physics. philosophy and love, Matt Haig tells a beautiful, poignant and empathetic story of redemption and hope. 

If I'm asked what I look for in a book, I always say I want a story to make me feel something and Endless Silent Scream is an outstanding emotional rollercoaster of a read.
Slow Slicing is yet another outstanding instalment in this exceptional series; intelligent, surprising and entertaining, it is also a book written with a real insight into human nature

This is not an easy book to read and there are some truly heart-rending scenes but my goodness, Kia Abdullah knows how to write characters and stories that stay with you long after you finish the last page.

Michael J. Malone always has the courage to explore difficult subjects honestly and A Song of Isolation is the literary equivalent of an iron fist in a velvet glove; compelling, provocative, emotive and as always, beautifully written - don't miss this twisty gem of a book!

I absolutely loved Stone Cold Trouble; this edgy urban thriller effortlessly combines bruising action scenes with genuine warmth and humour. I'm really excited about this series - Amer Anwar has created something very special with Zaq and Jags and I can't wait for more! 

Exciting, unsettling and thought-provoking, Plague is a complex, highly topical political thriller. I loved it and can't wait to read the second book in the series, Oracle.

The Book of Koli is a fabulous start to what will surely be a must-read trilogy for all fantasy fans. The world-building is outstanding throughout, of course but it's the strong voice of the empathetic, immensely likeable Koli which is surely the highlight of this excellent novel.
The Trials of Koli is a captivating novel where the emotional impact is as rich as the magnificent world-building.  Strange yet familiar, terrifying yet empathetic; this strange, unsettling and entirely believable tale is utterly enthralling.

Those Who Know is a superb novel; the  research that evidently went into writing it is utilised to rich effect, and the historical details - from the day-to-day elements to the discussions of a number of pertinent topics which colour both how characters behave and how we perceive their actions - are fascinating and thought-provoking.

Tense and uncompromising, this is a stunning character study which examines what it is to betray and to be betrayed but which also recognises that redemption is always possible.

Fifteen Coffins is a very different book to Tony Forder's DI Bliss series but it still bears all the hallmarks of his exceptional writing. It has a wonderful protagonist in Sydney Merlot, complemented by a superbly rendered cast of supporting characters and a complex plot which is utterly compelling and which is as perceptive as it is surprising.

This isn't an easy read, emotionally and it is a harrowing examination of some of the worst of human behaviour but the sheer poetry of Gunnar Staalesen's writing is an absolute delight throughout and this evocative, powerful novel is another welcome addition to this exceptional series.

The Coral Bride isn't a book to rush, it needs to be savoured and for the reader to experience that sense of being immersed by writing which is as potent and unforgettable as the waves that inspired it.

The characters are all deviously flawed and the addictive plot twists and turns, becoming increasingly tense as the story heads inexorably towards the shocking conclusion.  I loved The Last Resort, it's a deliciously dark story and quite possibly the best fun I've had with a book for ages.

Ragnar Jónasson is a brilliant, brilliant writer and The Mist is superbly immersive crime fiction which encapsulates everything I love about Nordic Noir. Just fabulous! 

Elegant, melancholic and poignant, this exquisitely atmospheric book is almost certainly the final Dark Iceland novel and although I'll always leave a light on for Ari Thor's return, it is a moving, fitting conclusion to this exceptional series.

a story which is utterly compelling and unerringly evocative as it examines the darker elements of India's still recent past. This an outstanding read which offers the mouthwatering promise that the Inspector Wadia series will be absolutely unmissable.

Now for my book - or rather books - of the year. I've chosen two again this year; they are both utterly exceptional reads which will grace the top of many end-of-year lists. One is by an author who is appearing in my number one position for the third year in a row and the other is by a writer who I've waited far too long to read. They are very different novels and yet both do exactly what I want from my fiction and pack an emotional punch that made them unforgettable.

We Begin At The End is an outstanding work of fiction which examines how far people are prepared to go to protect those they love and the lies they are prepared to tell themselves and others to achieve that. It's about love and hate, agony and hope, and is inhabited by unforgettable characters living out their complicated, troubled lives in a place described with such vivid authenticity, it's hard to believe the author is British. There are some novels which get under your skin but We Begin At The End does more than that, it permeated my bones and touched my soul. What an absolute privilege it was to read this extraordinary book, it will undoubtedly be a huge success and deservedly so, whatever I say won't fully do it justice it deserves so my advice is to read it yourself  - then thank me afterwards!

The writing is beautiful, Will Carver has a wonderfully descriptive turn of phrase, bringing the town and its inhabitants vividly to life but although the story is utterly engrossing, this isn't meant to be an easy read. It does require the reader to think, to look within themselves, to assess their responses candidly and to accept they may not always like what they discover. It's not entirely bleak however, and despite the undeniably dark themes explored it still suggests that with the right will, change is achievable. It also made me cry which I wasn't expecting. This is an magnificent novel - I love it when authors take risks, I love fiction that challenges me and asks difficult questions and I love really feeling a book. Hinton Hollow Death Trip is a masterpiece.

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

All that remains is to thank all the authors whose books have featured on Hair Past A Freckle in 2020; I say it every year because it's true -  without your words, this blog wouldn't exist. Huge thanks also to the publishers, publicists and blog tour organisers who continue to invite me to read such fantastic books and of course, thank you to my fellow bloggers, as always your support and friendship means a great deal to me. Finally, thanks to everybody who has taken the time to read, comment on and share my blog posts, I truly appreciate it.
Although the gradual roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination program means there is some cause for optimism in 2021, we are likely to have another difficult year and on a more personal level, my father's ill health means we are likely to lose him at some point in the next few months. Therefore, I'm more grateful than ever to know that I will be able to turn to books to provide a much-needed respite during the darkest times.
I truly wish you all a happy and healthy 2021 and look forward to sharing more book love with you all. 


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