Best Reads of 2020

It has been a concern to me that my reading capabilities actually diminished in 2020. While others have been gloating on how they had gained immense time during the pandemic to read, I hadn’t. And felt a little sad about it. I have read only 20 books in 2020. But then, I did a bit of embroidery too and that had eaten up quite a few hours. Overall, it is probably balanced, but I’d loved to have read more. The ones I loved are here:

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – By Stuart Turton

The first book I read in 2020 was amazingly hyped as one of the most interesting books of the previous year. Having won the Costa Book Awards 2018, it seemed endlessly intriguing. And I hadn’t been disappointed at all. There is quite a bit of convoluted plotting and organising the chapters according to the ‘lives.’ What amazed me was a few reviews that said they didn’t like the book because it was ‘too complicated.’ And here I am, looking around for more books like this! I loved the writing style – it had the elite 19th century touch, the characters that were as varied as chalk and cheese, and the surprise value in the plot. The only thing I didn’t like was the rushed climax. Nonetheless, this was one of the best and even better than Turton’s second book ‘The Devil And The Dark Water,’ which failed to be in this list. Detailed review here.

The Girl You Left Behind – By Jojo Moyes

Let’s admit that I love historical novels, especially ones with multiple timelines, also ones that dabble into art, more importantly, in world war art and their reclamation. Those are a lot of genres criss-crossed into a beautifully poignant novel – The Girl You Left Behind. The portrait of an extraordinary woman transcends decades and creates a powerful impact into another woman’s life from falling apart. There’s provenance that lead to dark secrets and unpleasant people, a fair bit of love and lots of grit and determination from all the women characters. It was a treat to read and I’ve found one of my favourite sub-sub-genre of historical-war-art-fiction. Detailed review here.

A Suitable Boy – By Vikram Seth

The talk of the town, the crème-de-la-crème of last year’s big budget blockbuster BBC-Netflix movie adaptation was my longest read of the year (obviously for it’s sheer volume of 1500+ pages). I love Vikram Seth. I have loved his poems and his delicately penned novel ‘An Equal Music.’ This was on my TBR since long and the fat book now lies in my bookshelf back in India. So, the Kindle version came to rescue and I wanted to read it before the tv series premiered. Not that it made any difference as I haven’t watched the series yet. I can only say that it takes some sensibility to grasp the equations between the characters and their relationships in this labyrinth of a book. It’s not easy and it’s lengthy – two factors deterrent for the current young generation to appreciate this beauty of a novel. I haven’t found many who have read it entirely, mostly because of lack of patience; the others have shelved it as they were bored by a few parts. And then, the tv/web series made it easier to DNF the voluminous book and just focus on the abridged, minified, dancing, colourful frames that you don’t have to visualise. It took me time too, since my attention span seems to falter these days, but it was worth. Detailed review coming soon.

Troubled Blood – By Robert Galbraith

It’s no longer a mystery that Robert Galbraith is J.K.Rowling’s pseudonym for the Cormoran Strike series. And I had written earlier about why I love this series. ‘Troubled Blood’ is #5 in the series and has evolved a lot from how it began. Strike and Robin have progressed in their lives in strange ways, mostly for the better, their cases have turned more complex, clients more eccentric, but the serial killer factor remains constant and is well portrayed in this novel. I should warn that if you’re looking for a racy thriller, this isn’t the one. Stretched over 40 years and quite a few characters, plots and sub-plots (including Strike and Robin’s personal lives), it’s a huge drama that unfolds in many acts. Yes, they do catch a serial killer but get into a lot of other things too. At times, I felt that Rowling has probably added too many elements in the soup – there are social issues, gender biases, domestic violence, generation gaps and a lot more. It turns a little overwhelming but if you love the main duo, you’ll love their stories as well. Detailed review coming soon.

Have you read any of these in 2020? Let me know your thoughts and we’ll share our views. Have a great 2021 and the decade ahead! 

Book Review : The Girl You Left Behind

Blurb: 

What happened to the girl you left behind?

France, 1916.

Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. But when she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes a place of fierce tensions.

And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait – painted by Edouard – a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision . . .

Almost a century later, and Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and its troubled history.

A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv’s life upside down all over again . . .

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for what they love most – whatever the cost.

Review: 

I love art and fiction. But I’ve actually read only a handful of art fiction. There are a lot of criteria – if the story is entirely based on a piece of art or involves a historically known artist or if it’s a biography of an artist. Not delving so deep into categories, I perceived ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ as an art fiction since it involves a painting as the seed of the story. I had read the famous ‘Me Before You’ and the others in the series and was might impressed with the first one. I wanted to read some more by Moyes and picked this Historical. The premise of a Historical during WWI France is super interesting in its own merit; adding cherry to the cake is a post-impressionist French painting as the cynosure of all activities in a century.

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Best Reads of 2016

This year has been good in terms of reading, though I couldn’t fulfill my target of 70 books. Nonetheless, combating reader’s block once in a while, I can safely assert that my reading mojo hasn’t gone anywhere. The lot had been a mixed one this year, quite a few mediocre books were moved from the bookshelf to obscure cartons that are sealed and stored. Others were neatly arranged in the already overwhelming array of books. Here are the ones that kept me hooked this year.

animal-farmAnimal Farm – It’s a pity that I hadn’t read this George Orwell classic so far. The book is iconic and doesn’t need a description. I began reading it after getting bored with a few sub-par books in Indian English. That made this classic all the more endearing. Written in very simple language, laced with rhymes and innuendos, Animal Farm makes for a very interesting read. If you can decipher the hidden meanings, metaphors, and references to the erstwhile politics in Europe – there’s nothing better!

jojoMe Before You – Rave reviews about Jojo Moyes’ writing and hype about this book being made into a movie were reasons that I wanted to read this one. Fortunately, my Secret Santa had gifted Me Before You last Christmas and it was on my TBR since then. It took a holiday and the reader’s block to get me start this beauty. Of the contemporary British women writers, Sophie Kinsella has been my favourite and Jojo Moyes came quite close with this book. I love the dry humour and ample sarcasm that the Brits expertly exude in their style or writing. It goes very well with me and I can entirely relate to the darkness. Me Before You makes you embark on an emotional journey that you wouldn’t want to end. Trust me, it isn’t a sob story.

grassThe Grass is Singing – I had bought this book (as the Secret Santa for my angel) based solely on the theme of Apartheid. It’s a subject that had occupied a part of my childhood, reading about it in the newspapers, watching the cricket team of South Africa and criticising them. I didn’t know about Doris Lessing then, but I’m glad that I discovered her writing. This book has had a profound impact on me; it had put me into a completely dark zone while I was reading. I couldn’t imagine that the verdant fields of Rhodesia and their vastness could create such a void and mess with the psyche of a perfectly normal woman. This book is a must read if you want to know about madness, fantasy and stark reality.

honestseasonThe Honest Season -I hadn’t read Kota Neelima prior to this one, but she managed to enter this list alright. A very complex plot, coupled with good writing and great journalistic measures makes an engaging novel. It is the correct mix of politics, romance, lobbying, ethics and rain. Yes, rain is one of the main protagonists of this novel and I loved the way Kota Neelima played with this element. It managed to bestow a wonderful lyrical quality to prose and that’s quite a rare trait to be found in contemporary Indian authors.

dragonThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson’s magnum opus is by far the best book (& series) I’ve read in the last few years. This is the best one in the Millennium series and a fine book by itself. I was quite aware that it belongs to translated literature and the best way to read is not to judge it based on the language. Lisbeth Salander impressed me immensely and I am still in awe of her. The story is obviously very intriguing and so is the hero Mikael Blomkvist. One of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. But it isn’t just a thriller, it’s a labyrinth of family ties and pervert psychological experiments.

Do let me know your best reads of 2016.