A month or so late, but here nevertheless, are my best books of 2020. It’s been hard to narrow down my top books of 2020 and I’ve chosen them based on how much I enjoyed and will choose to re-read them over any other form of merit. Do let me know if you enjoy any of these books yourself.
Here in no particular order are:
My Top 10 Books of 2020
1)Business as Usual by Jane Oliver
‘Business as Usual’, is told in the epistolary format from the point of view of a shopgirl working in the Book department of a major London departmental store (modelled after Selfridges). Due to her use of initiative, education and common sense the young shop girl rises through the ranks of the store, much to the wrath of her peers and delight of the reader.
The book is set in the time of the Great Depression and is told in a witty, charming style. The book reminded me a little of my favourite Diary of a Provincial Lady and Mrs Tim’s Diaries. This is just a lovely, lovely book. So endearing and just what I needed during this year. A lovely publication from Handheld Press.
2)The Proper Place by O Douglas
What an astonishingly beautiful book and one that is relatively unknown!
‘The Proper Place’ by O Douglas was a soft, soothing book, full of romance and the appreciation of everyday life and things.
A landed aristocratic family are rooted from their family homestead and are transplanted to a small house overlooking the sea in a Scottish seaside town. The village has lots of ordinary people and this is the story of the new friendships made and comforts drawn from kindness and fellow feeling. The protagonist of the book, young Nicole has an optimistic, sunny and kind personality. She befriends each and everyone of the village residents. This almost feels like a small Jane Austen novel. The formula of a small village and a handful of characters applies here.
This is a sunny, warming and moving read.
3)Vittoria Cottage by DE Stevenson
‘Vittoria Cottage’ by DE Stevenson was such a joy to read. The book was the first in the Dering trilogy.
Vittoria Cottage tells the story of widowed Caroline. She leads a simple but contented life in the Scottish Countryside. She has two daughters and a son who works abroad.
It would seem she has everything in life but love. A newcomer, a man called Robert comes to stay at their quiet Scottish village and his past is shrouded in mystery. Slowly Caroline learns that she is not as contented as she thought she was with her quiet life.
The descriptions of Caroline’s life, home and garden and her love of finding joy in the small things were my favourite things about the novel.
4)Fell Farm Campers by Marjorie Lloyd
This book reminded me somewhat of an Austen novel. A few people in a small village and a few probable couples. What it does lack is Austen’s sparkling dialogue. I found Stevenson’s style of writing to be more mellow in this book (as compared to Miss Buncle and Mrs Tim). But I don’t mind this mellow style of writing with a lack of intricate plot either.
I fell in love with this little book set in the Lake District. The stories are a little reminiscent of the Arthur Ransome stories in that the location is similar. The children here have land adventures rather than adventures in sailing. This reminded me a little of Swallowdale and Pigeon Post in this respect. A group of children who are all part of one family – two sets of twins and a singleton, take advantage of their holiday time and camp near Fell Farm, rigging tents, cooking meals and enjoying countryside activities like races and hiking. One of the chapters describes a long hike across Bowfell and Langdale Pikes. One of the children is a bird enthusiast. The adventures are simple and describe the terrain using the actual names in great detail. A great treat to read for someone who is wanting more Arthur Ransome like adventures!
5)Miss Mole by EH Young
Miss Mole is a middle aged woman, a bit down on her luck and finding herself out of a job, all of a sudden. She accepts a job as a housekeeper/governess to a vicar’s family – the vicar being a widower. There are two girls and one boy under Miss Mole’s care and they all have troubles of their own. As Miss Mole tries to solve the troubles of the young family we learn more and more about Miss Mole herself, a few of her prospective love interests and a few surprising things about her past.
At once, this book is a funny yet tragic novel. It lays bare all of Miss Mole’s insecurities, her losses and the reason behind her leading such a sorry life.
Miss Mole is a quirky character in the style of the Provincial Lady, the protagonist in The Lark, Cassandra in I Capture the Castle, Mrs Tim and a host of other lovable characters.
Slightly humorous, slightly quirky, slightly Mary Poppins- ish, and very sad – this is a wonderful, wonderful novel.
6)Nella Last’s War by Nella Last
I’ve read ‘Nella Last’s War’ (edited by Broad and Fleming) during July and can’t tell you how much I loved reading it. I read a lot of WW2 diaries but this one struck me as being very special.
Perhaps the reason was that the lady behind the diary, struck me as extremely vulnerable, stating quite clearly her hopes and fears, worries and ambitions.
She also struck me as a very down to earth woman, a woman who appreciated the little things in life. One of her most favourite things was to visit Lake Coniston every Sunday and enjoy the peacefulness there. She was extremely resourceful, working tirelessly at the Woman’s Voluntary Service, the canteen and a Red Cross Shop. She was also very thrifty – making the best of wartime rationing. Her pride and joy were her two sons – one of whom was in active service.
Nella Last was incredibly prolific as a writer. She wrote these diaries as part of the government’s Mass Observation project. Her diaries are one of the most detailed and useful to this day. She talks about a gamut of social issues, she talks about her pets, War shelters, sex and her difficult relationship with her husband. I find the editing in this edition to be wonderful – full of useful foot notes about political events in the war.
Highly recommend as one of the best WW2 diaries I have read.
7) Drawn from Memory by EH Shepard
Drawn from Memory’ features a year in the life of eight year old EH Shepard (famous illustrator of the Winnie the Pooh books among others) – a halcyon age in a terraced house in London with his siblings and loving parents. Shepard spent his spare time riding his wooden horse with wheels – ‘Septimus’ on the flagstone path in front of their house and observing the buzz of London life around him. It was the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and the festivities are wonderfully captured, both in Shepard’s words and images. A holiday at a Kentish farm, descriptions of Christmas celebrations at home, school life and much more make this book particularly delightful. It is a charming period piece, bringing to life Victorian traditions and customs, made particularly poignant by the knowledge that Shepard would soon lose his beloved mother. On each and every page, there are glorious illustrations which bring Shepard’s musings to life.
8) O, The Brave Music by Dorothy Evelyn Smith (Best Fiction Book of 2020)
Probably my most favourite book of the year goes to ‘O, The Brave Music’ by Dorothy Evelyn Smith.
O The Brave Music’ is a coming of age novel about a young child who experiences a number of losses, early on in her life. Despite the extraordinary and quite oppressive circumstances of her childhood, this is a joyous novel which is rooted in the firm and deeply devotional love for a boy, five years her senior. A have a more in depth review here.
9) Sally’s Family by Gwendoline Courtney
Gwendoline Courtney was a new author to me, discovered partly from my interest in the Girls Gone By Publishing backlist and partly from reviews from several enthusiastic Bookstagrammers.
It’s a story about a family of young children, orphaned and separated during the War, who are brought together by their eldest sister, who takes care of them in a house in an English village. The reason I had wanted to read this – is special Christmas chapter. In fact one of the earlier vintage editions of this book had a gorgeous Christmassy cover.
A really heartwarming, cozy family story, extolling the values of compassion, care, hard work, family and much more.
10) Black Hunting Whip by Monica Edwards
Another discovery from the GGBP backlist and a fantastic read for me was Monica Edward’s ‘Black Hunting Whip’.
My last read of 2020 was Monica Edward’s ‘Black Hunting Whip’. I’d been searching for this title for a few years and my brother sent it to me as a Christmas present. It is set around Christmastime which makes it an appropriate read too!
It turned out to be one of my favourite books of the year. Cozy, charming, part mystery, part countryside book with lots of animals I just loved the writing and fell in love with the characters. If you are interested in reading a major spoiler free review – you can read more here.