Top Ten Tuesday: My favourite books of 2020

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to list our top ten favourite books of 2020. I know there are still a few days of 2020 left, but I’m confident that I’m not going to finish anything before the end of the year that would have made it onto my list, so I think it’s safe to post it now!

I have found it difficult to concentrate on reading at times this year (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you why) and I haven’t read as many books as I normally would – the fewest since 2010, in fact. I also feel that, although I’ve read some very good books this year, there aren’t many that really stand out from all the others and I struggled to pick out ten favourites. Instead of ten, then, I am only listing eight – and here they are:

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1. The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes (1963)

From my review: “If you think you might want to read this book, it’s best that you know as little as possible before you begin. And I do highly recommend reading it! I was completely gripped from beginning to end…I couldn’t bear to put the book down until I knew what was going to happen to Hugh.”

2. A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie (1950)

From my review: “Of all the Christie novels I’ve read, this has one of the best openings: first an introduction to each character in turn as we jump from house to house as newspapers are opened and the announcement is read; then the murder scene itself – a wonderful set piece with all of the suspects together in one place. We are given many of the clues we need in that scene and the rest in the chapters that follow, so that the reader has at least a chance of solving the mystery before the truth is revealed.”

3. In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse (1949)

From my review: “Both Hella S Haasse’s recreation of early 15th century France and her portrayal of the key historical figures of the period feel completely real and believable…I loved the imagery Haasse uses in her writing; her descriptions of poppies glowing in green fields, sunlight sparkling on clear water and reflections of clouds in the river unfold like medieval tapestries.”

4. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (2019)

From my review: “You could describe this as a book about a house, but I think of it more as a book about people and the connections between them – in particular, the relationship between a brother and a sister…the bond between them is deep and unbreakable and although there are times when it seems to restrict them from doing things they really want to do and times when it gets in the way of their other relationships, I still found it very moving.”

5. Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2020)

From my review: “I didn’t love this book quite as much as Magpie Murders, probably because I already knew what to expect so it didn’t feel as original, but it was still hugely entertaining and, like the previous novel, packed with word games and other little puzzles cleverly woven into the text. And of course, as an Agatha Christie fan I adore the Atticus Pünd stories in both books, which are such perfect homages to Christie herself. ”

6. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper (1974)

From my review: “Like the previous books in the series, this is an atmospheric and eerie story, steeped in magic and ancient folklore…I found this book as compelling as the first two and read most of it in one day; as a book aimed at younger readers, it’s quite short and the plot moves along at a fast pace, but as an adult there’s still enough depth and complexity to the story and characters to hold my attention.”

7. The Butcher of Berner Street by Alex Reeve (2020)

From my review: “This is one of several new historical mystery series I have been enjoying over the last few years…The plot is well constructed and although I did guess who the murderer was, there were several possible suspects and enough twists and turns to give me a few doubts. More than the plot, though, I loved the setting, the atmosphere and the insights into various aspects of Victorian life: the class differences and the fate of those living in poverty, the early days of the women’s suffrage movement and attitudes towards the Catholic church.”

8. Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin (1924)

From my review: “The book is beautifully written, with the same elegant prose and powerful descriptive writing I’ve loved in the other Margaret Irwin novels I’ve read…The eighteenth century storyline on its own could have been the basis for a compelling novel, but the addition of the ghost story/time travel elements make it something special, particularly as they are handled so well that they feel almost believable. It’s a lovely, magical read and just the sort of thing I was in the mood for at the moment!”

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Have you read any of these?

What are your favourite books of 2020?

38 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: My favourite books of 2020

  1. Lory says:

    Still She Wished for Company sounds just lovely – great title too! I’ve put in a request that the library acquire it, fingers crossed.

    I’ve only read Greenwitch of these, but that was one of my all-time favorites. This year I think Burial Rites was my favorite historical fiction, along with The Mountain Sings.

    Happy reading in 2021 to you!

  2. Calmgrove says:

    I’m going to praise Piranesi to the skies as my stand-out title this year, and recommend it to anyone who has yet to sample it. But I also enjoyed Greenwitch which I never appreciated properly when it first came out.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Jessica. It was mainly earlier in the year that I was struggling to focus on reading and it has been gradually getting back to normal! I hope 2021 is going to be a better year for all of us.

  3. whatmeread says:

    You’ve got some good ones on this list! The Dutch House is going to be on mine, too. I usually don’t announce mine until my anniversary, which is next month (just have to be different). I am interested to read The Expendable Man, because I read In a Lonely Place by Hughes a couple years ago and enjoyed it very much. I just forgot to look for more books by her.

  4. Lark says:

    Still She Wished For Company and A Murder Announced are going on the top of my TBR list for next year! 😀 And here’s hoping it ends up being a lot less stressful and complicated in 2021 than it has been in 2020. Happy New Year, Helen!

  5. Lexlingua says:

    A Murder is Announced is great (as is the TV episode). And happy to see the Susan Cooper here too. I am a cozy mystery fan — so your list brought out some other intriguing recs which I am definitely going to stalk a bit. “If you think you might want to read this book, it’s best that you know as little as possible before you begin.” Now I’m desperate to find out more!
    Happy TTT, and hope you have a happy 2021 too. 🙂

  6. Liz Dexter says:

    A lovely variety and I was glad to see Susan Cooper there! I have not done my list yet but am mulling it over. I did read quite a nice lot, mainly because I had to give up my hobby of athletics officiating which took a lot of my weekends last year, so had lots of time sitting in the garden reading in the summer.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve loved all three of the Susan Cooper books I’ve read and am hoping to finish the Dark is Rising series in 2021. I’m glad you’ve had a good year of reading!

  7. Margaret says:

    I’ve read A Murder is Announced, The Dutch House and Moonflower Murders too. I loved Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising books years ago, but I don’t remember reading Greenwitch – maybe I didn’t! Margaret Irwin’s book sounds lovely.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve enjoyed all of the first three Dark is Rising books, but I think Greenwitch is my favourite so far. I’m hoping to read the rest of the series in 2021. And yes, the Margaret Irwin book is lovely!

  8. Constance says:

    I’ve read five of your eight and certainly plan to read the Horowitz (although I liked but did not love the previous book). The Alex Reeve looks very interesting – I suppose I should go back to read the first in the series but my library doesn’t have it, so I guess it won’t happen right away.

    Several of my Susan Cooper books are autographed! She lives about half an hour away.

    When the Hella Haasse was “rediscovered” in 1989, I was eager to get a copy and bought it although had just moved to NYC and was living on nothing in my first job in publishing. I am embarrassed that I remember nothing except that I liked it!

    And you may recall my family loves Margaret Irwin.

    • Helen says:

      I would recommend starting with the first Alex Reeve book if you can – they do work as standalones but it’s best to get to know the characters from the beginning. I’m envious that you have autographed copies of Susan Cooper’s books! I have only read three of her books so far but I’m hoping to read more soon.

  9. piningforthewest says:

    I think my favourite was The Mirror and the Light, I was so pleased to get my hands on it after such a long wait for it to be published, and I wasn’t disappointed by it.

    • Helen says:

      I started reading The Mirror and the Light at the beginning of the March lockdown, but realised I wasn’t in the mood for such a long, complex book. I’m going to have another attempt soon!

  10. FictionFan says:

    Gosh, what an appealing list! The only one I’ve read is the Christie and it’s one of my favourites. Oh, and Greenwitch, but so long ago I don’t remember the details, just the general impression. Your reviews of those books have persuaded me I must re-read them. Trying to resist the temptation to add most of the rest to my wishlist, but I suspect a couple will sneak on…

    • Helen says:

      It hasn’t been a great reading year for me, but I know I can always rely on Christie! I loved Greenwitch and am hoping to finish the Dark is Rising books in 2021.

  11. Jo says:

    I am finding it difficult to work out what should go on my list. I think it will be books of worthy note as opposed to absolute favourites.

    • Helen says:

      I struggled to put this list together because although I read a lot of good books in 2020, not many of them felt like ‘absolute favourites’. Overall, it wasn’t really a great year of reading for me, but with so much else going on I’m not surprised.

  12. Jorie says:

    Hallo, Hallo Helen,

    I feel your pain with having a low yield of books overall read in 2020! As I was putting my tally together for my End of the Year Survey I was quite gobsmacked how little I actually read! I seem to have remembered the year going differently for whichever reason and this survey helped me take stock of the reads I read, what my final thoughts were on their behalf and of course, I was able to give a heap of priase to the authors who made my top favourites list wherein I awarded them a Cuppa Book Love Award!! 🙂

    Like you, I thought for sure my list would come in under 10x but I surprised myself as you will see with a few more than 10x! I’m hopeful this year will be a better year as a reader and as a book blogger as no one wants a repeat of 2020!

    Off your list, one stood out to me to add to my TBR which is “She Still Wished for Company” as I love finding soulful stories with eloquent prose and a narrative you feel so enraptured by for reading. Thank you for including a nod of a mention on that one – and I’m thankful it gave you such a brilliant read during such a difficult year!!

    PS: I’m a follower of yours who hasn’t had the chance to visit as frequently as she prefers,…

    • Helen says:

      Thank you for commenting, Jorie. I think a lot of us read less than we’d hoped to in 2020. I’m glad you still enjoyed your reading and had more than 10 favourites to put on your list.

      Still She Wished For Company is a lovely book. I would definitely recommend adding it to the TBR!

  13. buriedinprint says:

    I love a recommendation that includes the advice to know nothing about the book previously mentioned. It immediately tickles my reader’s fancy!

    There’s not much overlap in our reading, but I have read the first two of the Susan Cooper novels in December and plan to finish the series through this year (on the equinox, solstice, and equinox respectively)! And I do love Ann Patchett’s books, for the most part.

    Good reading to you in 2021!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, that particular book has a surprising twist – or rather, revelation – so it’s difficult for me to talk about it without spoiling things!

      I’m hoping to finish the Susan Cooper series this year too, although I don’t have any specific dates in mind. I like the idea of reading on the solstice and equinoxes!

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