My 10 favourite books of the (not so favourite) year, 2020

Like most people, 2020 hasn’t been my favourite year but it is almost over. While we haven’t been able to travel or move around Australia or abroad as we’ve been used to, we can be transported to other places; other countries, time zones, eras and worlds, without even leaving our home. Thankfully I have read many wonderful books this year; from escapist reads, to nature-themed stories and memoirs, to books set in places far away from home.

I’ve easily bought over fifty books this year. All physical copies. I’ve borrowed many from the library and friends too. Fifty books may seem like a lot, but when you have little people in your life (that love to re-read!) restocking the shelves is a necessary and fun way to explore new worlds and if I’m being honest, to take a break from re-reading Where is the Green Sheep or We’re Going on A Bear Hunt for the bazillionth time. Also, the Scholastic Book Club catalogue has been one of my highlights of the preschool term.

I’ve bought a number of books that I’m using for research for a current writing project, as well as a bunch of non-fiction nature books, memoirs, children’s books, and novels. My to-be-read pile is several stacks wide, but it brings me joy knowing there are so many more worlds I can delve into, when our own has gone awry.

So, that’s a long-winded way of saying I want to share some of my favourite reads for the year. Not necessarily published this year (in fact, most weren’t), and in no particular order, these are the books I loved this year:

  1. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I read a review for this book at Science Write Now and it just kept popping up around the place. I can see why. Hope’s memoir is about her work as a scientist and her love of trees. Her passion for her work is palpable- and at times an unhealthy obsession- but her use of humour mixed with science and her beautiful descriptions of how plants and trees live and die reallly resonated with me.

2. The Yield by Tara June Winch

The Yield has been on my wishlist for quite some time, so I was grateful when my friend (and wonderful yoga teacher, Shanti :-)) lent me this book. The Yield should find its way into everyone’s hands. After almost fifteen years of working with vulnerable families, including Indigenous families, and government departments, I thought I knew a lot about the history of our First Nations people and the impact of colonisation. But this book gave me a deeper understanding of the pain and sense of displacement due to loss of language, culture and land, that continues to be felt by our Indigenous Australians today.

3. In the Shadow of Wolves by Alvydas Slepikas

My current research project has led me down an unexpected rabbit hole into Lithuanian history. I bought this book to learn more about the people and the country. Inspired by true events, In the Shadow of Wolves is about the wolf children who fled East Prussia post-war and hid in the Lithuanian forest in search of work or food that they could take back to their families. An emotional and eye-opening read.

4. Wolf Winter by Cecelia Ekback

This was actually a re-read. My first re-read outside of classics (and children’s books) and I loved it just as much as the first time around. My initial review from way back in 2015 can be found here. Set in Sweden in the 1700’s, Wolf Winter compares favourably to Burial Rites in that it’s a brooding historical novel. The setting, Blackasen Mountain, is a character in itself. And it’s this brooding, mythical and strong sense of place that I love about this book. Ekback’s follow up novel In the Month of the Midnight Sun is also a fantastic read.

5. Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

Us Against You is a sequel to Backman’s Beartown which was recently released on HBO (overseas). They are both hefty books, but the author’s voice is so strong and the sense of place so vivid, combined with the numerous characters, it makes for an entertaining read. It’s disturbing in the sense that it seems so real. He takes daily life in this ice hockey town and makes it fraught with tension and conflict. It can be read as a standalone, but I’d recommend reading Beartown first.

6. There was still love by Favel Parrett

Borrowed from the library, but I want my own copy. Beautiful! That’s all I’ll say. Go read it.

7. The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

Book three in the Cormac Reilly Detective series set in Ireland. This crime series is SO good and like many of her fans, I am eagerly awaiting Dervla’s next book.

8. The River Home by Hannah Richell

I’ve read a few of Hannah Richell’s books now and I have fallen in love with her storytelling, her characters and the real sense of place in her novels.

Three sisters- Margot, Lucy Eve- reunite in the house they grew up in beside the river. Ripe with secrets, past hurts and misunderstandings, The River Home explores how a family uravel the past, learn the truths and find a new way forward.

9. Understory by Inga Simpson

I’ve just finished reading this one and it’s such a beautiful calming memoir told by award-winning nature writer Inga Simpson about the ten years she spent in the QLD hinterland. A tree-woman she is! I learnt so much about trees, but mostly I learnt about how we are connected, or not, to trees and nature and how when we work with nature it can lead to beautiful things and when we interfere it can lead to disaster. As a side note, I recently completed Inga’s Nature Writing course with the NSW Writer’s Centre and loved it!

10. The Big Book of Bees/ The Big Book of Trees

I have to mention these two, because they’re fascinating, informative and beautiful. I actually bought them for myself, but when they arrived, huge and beautifully illustrated, my kids wanted to read them too. For weeks we read a couple of pages at a time, often in the afternoons. At the end of the day when everyone is feeling a bit grizzly my 5 year old would bring it to me and say “lets read more!” They’d make a great gift.

P.s- I’ll be sending out my email newsletter soon with updates on my writing progress and submissions. Sign up here to get it direct to your inbox.

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