Working from home for 6+ months really helped me over-deliver on my goal to read more this year. I usually set a goal of 12 books to read during the year and by the time I started drafting this post in December, I was on track to read almost double that number! I love the more time spent reading – I drive to work and like many, I lack the motivation to read after work so to finish 20 books felt like a huge accomplishment when I’ve fallen short 2 years in a row.
I usually have two books being read at a time – a physical book and an audiobook which I like to listen to while going on my daily walks or exercising. Audible is my audiobook platform of choice and I take advantage of the sales / New Customer offers to keep my subscription cost low.
I’ve stopped purchasing books and prefer to borrow from my local library who always seem to have the titles I’m looking for, unless it’s a really great book. When I find a good title, I’ll check out Book Outlet or Value Village/thrift stores browsing titles as they often have those titles in decent condition. As for audiobooks, I like to wait for sales and the holidays when most recently Audible had a “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” sale for (Canadian) Thanksgiving.
I use Goodreads to keep track of my Reading Challenge and to get new recommendations. If there are any good books you’ve read this year, please leave them in the comment below!
My 2 Most Recommended Book(s) from 2020
I thought I’d be able to recommend only one book from this year but I couldn’t narrow it down. These two books are vastly different from each other so I hope the recommendation will appeal to more people!
1. Fire & Blood (A Targaryen History #1)
by George R.R Martin | Shop it Now
My most recommended book this year is Fire & Blood (A Targaryen History #1) by George R.R. Martin ($47, available here). It is a lengthy book and some has described it as being very “dry” and reads like an actual history book. This book is an extension of the wildly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series (more popularly known from HBO’s Game of Thrones). Those who know me will know I’m a huge GoT fan (I went as far as joining a Game of Thrones tour in Northern Ireland!) so this recommendation should come as no surprise.
I find this book is best consumed as an audiobook given its length and the various characters with very similar names (Aenys, Rhaenys, Rhaenyra, Rhaena, Rhaenera – all within a few generations). The narrator, Simon Vance, is a fantastic audiobook narrator and I’ve only appreciated his talent after listening to other audiobooks that just didn’t compare. I read this book twice in 2020, once while I was roadtripping in South Africa (this was the perfect book to keep me company!) and once again in the summer!
The history book is fascinating to read through if you enjoy the intrigue, complexity, and realistic storytelling that made ASOIAF/Game of Thrones so popular in the first place. Although focused on just one dynastic family, it’s sprinkled with so much plotting, scheming, magic, dragon-riding, bloody battles, backstabbing and a world as vast as our own which made it hard to put down. I ended up requesting this book for Christmas and was thrilled to have gotten it (though my sister, who gifted this book and is absolutely not a GOT fan, grumbled during our gift exchange about having this in her purchase history)
2. The Spy and the Traitor
by Ben MacIntyre | Shop it Now
My second most-recommended book is The Spy and the Traitor by Ben MacIntyre ($35, available here) which is a book based on actual history. The premise of the story revolves around a Cold War era Russian double-agent and the 11 years that he was spying on the KGB for MI6.
I picked this book out at the library because it was in the Raves & Faves section – I didn’t think I’d enjoy a “spy book” and the events of the Cold War never really caught my attention as much as early Wold History did. I’m so glad I picked out this book – though this is technically a non-fiction, this book reads like an action-packed novel. Written with so much detail (down to what was in the sink on the day the main character was preparing to defect), I had to flip to the book jacket and Prologue to remind myself that this is a story of a a real-life person and events that actually took place 30-40 years ago.
This book is hard to put down – especially towards the latter chapters highlighting the actual escape from Moscow via Finland and Norway. The operation was underway but had to be officially and personally approved by Great Britain’s PM at the time, Margaret Thatcher; the thing is, she was on her annual meeting in Balmoral with the Queen. When the PM’s private secretary flew in person to get the very time-sensitive approval (too sensitive to talk on the phone that may be bugged), he was delayed as the Equerry was on a very important call of having to organize the loan of a video recorder from the Queen Mother to the Queen; subsequently “…Powell tried to interrupt the conversation, but was silenced with a cold look. Cold looks are taught at equerry school.”
The Other Top Books I read in 2020
It would be far too lengthy to include the other 18 books I read in 2020 so instead, I’ll share the other three books I’d recommend.
3. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks | Shop it Now
A zombie fiction made its way to this year’s reading list. It’s eerie how much the description of the fictional early days of the zombie outbreak was like what we saw with COVID. This book reminded me of I Am Legend, the 2007 movie featuring Will Smith which was also based on a book.
World War Z is presented as a documentary / testimony of survivors which makes it more effective at conveying the horror of the events with the benefit of hindsight and gave the perspectives of different groups of people in different countries (as opposed to I Am Legend’s one-man perspective). The book was adapted in 2013 featuring Brad Pitt and is part of a series including an earlier title: The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead.
4. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
by Yuval Noah Harari | Shop it Now
Yuval Noah Harari is one of my favourite authors – his book, Sapiens, remains one of my favourite reads. The new release is a series of commentaries/essays on challenges humanity is facing as we enter unchartered territories of the future. Anxieties of the future is not new – every generation of humanity has asked themselves the questions that alleviate their anxieties – in this book, the author honed in on the 21 things that we should focus our attention on. That includes war, religion, nationalism, democracy, climate change among the key issues highlighted – it’s a sweeping book and eye-opening given the scope of social, economic, political, geographic and cultural issues he’s highlighted in the book.
5. A Terrible Beauty (Lady Emily Ashton Mysteries)
by Tasha Alexander | Shop it Now
I’ll let you in on a secret – Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily Ashton series is my secret indulgence. The premise of the series is based on the young, wealthy, recently-widowed Lady Emily (at the start of the series) in Victorian England who considers the Ton / Society’s expectations of her gender to be too restrictive. It doesn’t help that the lady herself is not without means and relishes on using her keen mind to do detective work that would put the Scotland Yard and their equivalents (across many beautiful cities across Europe) to shame.
I’m not the biggest fan of the heroine – she has a lot going for her (wealth, inherited title, the right family connections, looks, access to the upper echelons of society, the admiration and devotion of a man compared to Adonis himself that can make this book an unrealistic read for some) but what I respect and thoroughly enjoyed about Tasha Alexander’s work is the beautiful setting our heroine finds herself in. The author focuses on a city in each book from Venice, to Turkey to St Petersburg and describes them so vividly and in a way that leaves you wanting more (though sometimes can feel overdone/too detailed and makes you wish there’s a map included).
Maybe it’s the combination of having been many of the cities that allowed me to visualize the settings so vividly but I do recommend picking up this series. It is one that you have to read from the beginning as the cast of the series is quite diverse!
What were the best books you read in 2020?