Our favourite reads of 2020

Published 9th December 2020

From children's books and bestselling thrillers to poetry collections, romantic stories and Sci-Fi gems. Find out all about the best-loved titles read by our staff during 2020. 

Borrow our favourite titles from our Pinterest Board: Staff Picks

Recommended by Claire S.:

"A Portable Paradise" by Roger Robinson

When lockdown began in March this was the only physical book I had on loan from the library. At the time, I couldn’t focus on reading anything long, so I was fortunate to have this collection of poetry to hand. As the events of 2020 unfolded, these poems really resonated with me. You can listen to Roger Robinson read On Nurses by Roger Robinson on The Poetry Archive.

A Portable Paradise won the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2019 and it was very well reviewed, so I borrowed a copy as soon as it became available.

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Recommended by Fiona L.

"Girl, Woman, Other" by Bernardine Evaristo

This is a great insight into the lives of black women in this country which most of us wouldn’t normally get the chance to see. That they are all somehow connected becomes clear as the reader progresses, but each story and character is engaging in their own right. They’re not all unreasonably perfect but their flaws make them human and I liked them all the more for it. Some reviewers struggled with the lack of punctuation, but it didn’t bother me. The line spacing and paragraphs were enough. Thoroughly enjoyable!

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Recommended by Ann P.:

"Set my heart to five" by Simon Stephenson

I picked this book up on the spur of the moment, without really knowing what it was about, and managed to accidentally discover my favourite book of the year. On the face of it it’s the story of a dentist android called Jared - a 'bot' - who begins to experience feelings. It’s set in 2054, and humans have managed to lock themselves out of the internet by forgetting the names of their favourite teachers and first pets. But despite that it’s a very recognisable world, so don’t be put off if you don’t like sci-fi – like all the best sci-fi, it’s actually an exploration of what it means to be human. Looking at this through the eyes of someone initially on the ‘outside’ brings to light the whole wonderful irrationality of existence. I was surprised this was a first novel, as it’s so skilfully written, but the author is an experienced screenwriter, which also explains the importance of films and scripts throughout the book. This was one of the funniest books I have ever read, and I savoured every line and the build-up of the plot. I will definitely be looking out for more titles by Simon Stephenson in the future.

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Recommended by Helen F. and her son Luke (age 9):

“Shadow” by Michael Morpurgo

The book tells the story of Aman, a young boy from Afghanistan. One day, a western dog (who Aman names Shadow) turns up out of the blue outside the caves where Aman lives in Afghanistan. When Aman and his mother make a bid for freedom and begin their treacherous journey to England to seek asylum, Shadow refuses to leave their side and plays an important part in Aman’s incredible story. I chose this book to read with Luke because I like Michael Morpurgo as an author, and I wanted Luke to try something new (nearly everything we have read recently is by David Walliams!) I thought this book might appeal to Luke because of his love of animals, and dogs in particular. The front cover also suggested the book would be full of action, which Luke likes. We liked the way the chapters were written from different characters’ viewpoints. Reading Aman’s account of his life in Afghanistan taught us a bit about what things were like there and helped us to imagine how he felt. Luke liked that the story was true to life – there were sad parts but also exciting, tense and happy moments.

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Recommended by Joel J.:

"Inferno Squad" by Christie Golden. 

It follows child prodigy Iden Versio as she joins the Empire’s Elite Inferno Squad to investigate recent attacks by a mysterious rebel group called the “dreamers”. Action, mystery and a reflection on one’s moral choices, this book has everything you need to keep yourself entertained in lockdown!

Borrow Here . . .

Recommended by Caren C.:

"The Catch" by T.M. Logan

A thriller that I was not able to put down and when I did couldn’t wait to pick it back up. Certainly, kept you on tender hooks. The story was brilliant, but I also enjoyed the book because he is a local author so recognised and could picture the places he spoke about. A really good read! This is Logan’s latest book and I have read and enjoyed all of his previous ones!

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Recommended by Vanessa from Newark library:

"The Nothing Man" by Catherine Ryan Howard

A gripping cat and mouse game between a retired serial killer and a surviving victim who is determined to track him down, this crime thriller is a definite page-turner.  Very well written – the story is written in a distinct style which differs from most serial killer crime books. The heroine of the story tracks down the killer with slow determination, whilst also revealing heart-breaking revelations along the way. The killer’s memories are just as gripping and chilling. If you like a good read with lots of twists and turns or just fancy trying a new author, then this book is for you.

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Recommended by Lindsay H.:

"The Fall of the House of Byron: Scandal and Seduction in Georgian England" by Emily Brand

It’s the only book I’ve had time to read this year! A really interesting look at the Byron family (prior to the famous poet Lord Byron taking the title) using diary entries, letters and articles/reports of the time. I live local to Newstead Abbey and spent a lot of time there over the years (and as a child) so it’s been fascinating to find out more about the history of the family and a little sad to see how the estate and house has declined over the years. Has made my walks there more interesting now though trying to imagine in its former glory.

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Recommended by Helen R. from Inham Nook:

"The Button Box: Lifting the Lid on Women's Lives" by Lynn Knight

I was intrigued by this book when I saw it in my library. It’s a social history and a broad look at women’s lives through the twentieth century told through the author’s relationship with the buttons saved to be re-used from clothes of her past. A reminder of the struggles women have had clothing themselves and their families in a manner that is acceptable to society and affordable to the household budget.

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Recommended by Michelle O.:

"The Savage Detectives" by Roberto Bolaño

I received this book as a gift a couple of years ago. It's not a book you can carry around as it's about 800 pages and not an easy read. Lockdown gave me the perfect opportunity to have another go at it and truly immerse myself in the many stories of the book. The Savages Detectives feels like many books in one. It's narrated from the perspective of many, completely different characters. The story starts in Mexico City but goes on a tour around the world. It has a good deal of action, mystery and truly hilarious remarks as well as incredibly poetic moments -which are also quite mysterious...

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Recommended by Josie S.:

"The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? This book is my favourite book I’ve read in 2020 because on the surface this book looks like a classic romantic love story set in Hollywood. But it really isn’t! This book deals with difficult but relevant themes of body image, femininity, LGBTQ+, domestic violence and race. It also has one of the biggest plot twists I’ve ever read! I had heard a lot about Taylor Jenkins Reid from Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club. I follow Reese on Instagram and her book recommendations are always amazing!

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Recommended by Andrew Prime, Mapperley library:

‘The Sundial’ by Shirley Jackson

A Library User returned it and the blurb was intriguing. I was looking for something to take into the impending Lockdown. Also I’ve always meant to read more by Shirley Jackson than just ‘The Haunting of Hill House’. Plus I’m pretty sure it features the best critical strapline ever: “she writes not with a pen but with a broomstick.” I’m currently working my through everything she wrote… Featuring as it does, a group of misfits doggedly (and often quite hilariously prosaically) making their preparations for the End of the World, ‘The Sundial’ is a perfect read for our own current ‘End Times’ zeitgeist. It is odd, dark, off-kilter and often macabre – it’s also very, very funny.

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Recommended by Cat at Beeston library:

"The Unspoken Name" by A.K. Larkwood

This year, I really loved The Unspoken Name by A K Larkwood. A young orc girl destined to be sacrificed to a mysterious god is offered a chance of escape; adventures, intrigue and romance ensue. A good escapist read.

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Recommended by Francis at Beeston library:

"The King of birds" by Alexander Utkin

I liked it because I found the style very unique, and the story simple but interesting. I would recommend it to everyone, both adults and children. It is a moral story, but also a fairy tale retold in a way that is sweet and intriguing.

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Recommended by Sharon, Calverton library:

"The Thursday Murder Club" by Richard Osman

A very entertaining read as well as good core story line. This fascinating novel centres around a retirement village in the Kentish weald called Coopers Chase. The Thursday Murder Club are a group of elderly folks who love solving mysteries, knocking back booze, eating cake, gossiping and generally have a great time. Throughout the book the author manages to give insight into each of the characters personalities their likes, dislikes, and oddities, and of course that of the other residents as well. When a real crime happens on their doorstep, so to speak, they are all for trying to solve the murder. PC Donna DeFritas gets roped into their escapades after originally going to the retirement village to give a talk. Donna together with DCI Chris Hudson form a relationship with the group.

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Recommended by Evelyn, East Leake library:

"Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens

I didn’t even know what a crawdad was before.. I loved the book because it had amazing descriptions about the marshlands of North Caroline. It even had a map which I looked at to see where she was as she roamed around in her boat. The protagonist basically brings herself up, with a love of the nature she is surrounded by, living in a shack right in amongst it. She educates herself, with the help of a young man initially and has an interest in birds, shells, insects, sand, the sea, trees. The author has written books about natural history and this knowledge comes through. The protagonist has very limited contact with the outside world and the story is told through her eyes. Once she has reached her late teens she does start to engage with the community and sadly, she is considered an outsider and suspected of murder. This changes the dynamics of the book and you are wholly engaged with her fight to save herself. The plot is skilfully woven and there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns, right up until the end. The court scenes are reminiscent of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.

Borrow now . . .

Recommended by Clare B.:

"How to Wash a Heart" By Bhanu Kapil

It has been a year of brilliant fiction but the poetry, as is often the case, has stayed with me most. US poet’s Bhanu Kapil’s extremely slim volume appeared during months of racial unrest; her quiet, honest and sometimes brutal eloquence underscoring the TV noise. Using the simple metaphor of being a guest in a house, slave to the whims of her host and never managing to be quite grateful enough, she sheds an unblinking light on the experiences of immigrants all over the world. She says so much, so well, in just a few pages which stand any amount of re-reading.

Borrow now . . .

Recommended by Carol S.:

"The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce

I have read some corkers this year but the one that has stayed with me is ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce, which has a lot to say about grief and loss but does it in a funny heart-warming way. A book for these times perhaps?

Borrow now . . .

Recommended by Michelle D.:

"How to Find Home" by Mahsuda Snaith

I was personally intrigued by the Wizard of Oz style premise – especially transporting the ‘Oz journey’ to Nottingham to Skegness! Couldn’t resist! How to Find Home tells the story of Molly, a young homeless woman, who sets off on a Wizard of Oz style journey from Nottingham to Skegness. There are some dark and challenging themes, which are handled with sensitivity and insight, but there are moments of real joy, hope and heartfelt emotion. As well as simply a compelling read with some brilliantly brought to life characters, this is also an important book; giving voice to a community who are often unheard. I don’t think I’ve read a book that tackles homelessness like this before. And for me, it did one of the most important jobs a story can - it enabled me to walk in the shoes of characters from a very different, and much harder, world than my own, and left me with a deeper – and humbling - understanding. I felt the book was particularly resonant this year; it explores the idea of ‘home’ and what that means to different people, it asks us to empathise with characters who are often overlooked, and despite the grittiness of their situations - which are depicted so well - there is always hope and humour to be found.

Borrow now . . .

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