Updated: Nov 27, 2020
It's that time of year where I count down my favourite reads! If you're looking for new titles for your TBR pile or gift inspiration, I hope that some of these recommendations will prove helpful to you. I'll be posting one title a day on my Instagram account, but here's the full list if you're hoping to get your shopping done early.
Please consider supporting your local independent bookstore this holiday season -- in the US and the UK, bookshop.org can help you find your local indie, and Penguin Random House has pulled together this handy list of indies that deliver across Canada!
I've never read a work of David Mitchell's that I didn't like and UTOPIA AVENUE is no exception -- in my opinion, it's his best yet. It tells the story of the best British rock band you've never heard of: comprised of folk singer Elf, bassist Dean, and guitar virtuoso Jasper, Utopia Avenue becomes England's greatest musical export of the late '60s and '70s. Genre-bending and captivating, with cameos from real-life rock titans, this book takes you on a rollercoaster ride to a world you wished you lived in.
I capital-L LOVED Janie Chang's THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS. Set during the harrowing Japanese invasion of Nanking, this incredible story follows Lian, a student who, along with her fellow classmates at Minghua University, begins a 1,000 mile journey to safety, responsible not only for their own wellbeing but for protecting The Library of Legends, a priceless collection of Chinese folklore. Moving smoothly between historical fiction and magic realism, this is a beautifully written story of love, hope, and courage.
Taylor Jenkins Reid
One of the many works of historical fiction that make me believe books can be time machines, Taylor Jenkins Reid brings the sun-drenched 1970s to life in this gorgeous account of love, fame, and rock and roll. With compelling characters and a fast-paced, emotionally resonant plot, Daisy Jones & The Six is a book I'll read again and again.
I'm sure it's no surprise to find @thealkajoshi's THE HENNA ARTIST here: this debut is one of 2020's behemoth new releases for a reason! Set in 1950s Jaipur, it tells the story of Lakshmi, a self-made woman who plies her trade as a henna artist and healer as she strives to build a better life for herself. A gorgeously written book about living in the space between modern and traditional, between love and cruelty, between wealth and poverty.
Chanel Cleeton’s incredible new novel centres on the lives of three women in the Florida Keys whose lives get upended by one of the most powerful hurricanes in history. I devoured this book – as always, Chanel has created a compelling story with strong female characters, high drama, and intrigue.
Glamorous, lush and terrifying, MEXICAN GOTHIC is a fantastic, unsettling read for the dark days of winter. After receiving letter from her cousin, Noemi travels to High Place, a suitably creepy home inhabited by her cousin and her English husband, where she quickly realizes that all is not as it seems -- and that High Place has a will of its own. An edgy take on gothic classics, this is a book that will *grow* on you (see what I did there?)
A move to the white picket fences of the suburbs isn’t for everyone, and when Alice Hale and her husband start unpacking boxes in a big suburban home, she can’t help having second thoughts about becoming a suburban housewife. But when she discovered a recipe book belonging to the previous owner, she learns that suburban housewives aren’t always what they appear to be.
I picked up THE BASS ROCK because when I lived in Scotland I frequently glimpsed the titular Rock out the window of the train: a hulking great thing too small to be considered an island, too big to be a shoal, perpetually clouded in a flurry of seagulls and puffins. When I saw the Rock reproduced on the incredibly beautiful cover of Evie Wyld's book, I was intrigued: What would she do with the location? The answer is entirely unpredictable: THE BASS ROCK weaves together the stories of three women living in three separate time periods -- all in the shadow of toxic masculinity, careless misogyny, and of course, the Rock itself. At turns gothic and funny, I found this a fantastic moody read.
This is a sneaky addition because it comes out on December 29th, but as a fashion aficionado, how could I resist? THE CHANEL SISTERS spoke to me -- who wouldn't want a book about Coco Chanel's earliest years? I didn't know much about Chanel's childhood, still less about her sister Gabrielle -- both sisters are beautifully brought to life by Judithe Little, who recounts the struggles and triumphs as Chanel becomes a name carved in history. Snap up this book on preorder, and read make it your first read of 2021!
F. Scott Fitzgerald/Aya Morton
I know, I know -- you all read THE GREAT GATSBY in high school, but hear me out! This is an entirely refreshing retelling of Fitzgerald's greatest work. Brought to life by the talented Aya Morton, THE GREAT GATSBY shines -- in delicate pastel watercolours, Fitzgerald's parties are brighter, the fashion more beautiful, and his excesses more excessive. Between the book itself, modern retellings, and film adaptations, I thought that everything had been said about GATSBY -- this incredible graphic novel proved me wrong.
Mea culpa: I am not one of those people who ardently adores Jane Austen. I've read the books and seen the adaptations, and while I enjoy her work I wouldn't consider myself an aficionado by any stretch. That said, THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY made me a convert. A fabulous story about a group of misfits trying to safeguard Austen's legacy in the 1940s, THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY is a love letter not only to Austen herself, but to the legion of readers who adore her work up to the present day. Beautifully written and well deserving of the accolades it's received this year, I'd recommend it to anyone on your holiday list who's still likely to launch into impassioned debate between Firth Darcy and MacFayden Darcy... I've got my own opinions on that particular matter ;)
Though this can hardly be counted as "new" fiction, Joni Mitchell's MORNING GLORY ON THE VINE is a completely different way to experience her music. Originally distributed as a handmade book by Mitchell for her friends in 1971, MORNING GLORY transcribes Joni's Blue album as lovely, handwritten poems, accompanied by her own drawings and paintings. I have spent days combing through this treasure box of a book, and it makes a perfect holiday gift for anyone who wishes they could bottle some of that Laurel Canyon 70's magic.
Destitute but determined, Annabelle Archer earns her place among the first female cohort at Oxford University, but her scholarship comes at a price: she must join the women's suffrage movement. When she's charged with recruiting the Duke of Montgomery to her cause, she finds someone whose determination is equal to her own. I really enjoyed this historical romance -- so many can feel light on the history, but this one is well researched, well written, and pairs nicely with a sunny day. I read it in one sitting.
I adored Helen MacDonald's H IS FOR HAWK, and her follow-up, VESPER FLIGHTS, is no disappointment. This collection of essays experiences life through the lens of wildlife: glowworms, migratory birds and mushrooms form the basis for her meditation on the world we live in, and the world we create for ourselves.
Sarah McCraw Crow
Activism, revolution and sexism combine in Sarah McCraw Crow’s THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN. Set in the leafy enclave of an elite all male university in the 1970s, THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN follows Virginia who, after the untimely death of her husband, must build a new life for herself and her daughter while challenging the all-male status quo that confines her actions as a mother, an academic, and a woman. At the same time, it follows Oliver’s student Sam, a dreamy young man whose ideals are put to the test when he meets Elodie, an anti-war activist who feels that peaceful protest can only go so far in making a point. Compelling and thoughtful.
I read INDIANS ON VACATION -- well, on vacation! -- and while it's the first time I've read Thomas King, I can tell you it won't be the last: following septegenarian couple Bird and Mimi across Europe as they attempt to trace the whereabouts of an ancestor who disappeared with the family medicine bundle, INDIANS ON VACATION is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time as it uncovers the complexities of Bird and Mimi's relationship with each other, themselves, and the world they inhabit.
Genevieve Dumont is occupied Paris's most celebrated singer. Praised by the Nazis who fill Paris's concert halls nightly, Genevieve quietly uses her unique position to pass information to British Intelligence, but her past clashes with her present when her mother, Lilliane, is captured by Nazi interrogators. To save her mother and prevent important information from falling into Nazi hands, Genevieve must join forces with her estranged sister whilst navigating the dangerous affection of the ruthless Claus von Wagner, a high ranking SS officer who might know more about Genevieve than he's letting on.
Is there another book title that could sum up 2020 better than Samantha Irby's WOW, NO THANK YOU? Relatable, honest and self-deprecating, Irby brings serious wit to this new collection of essays -- as with her last book, WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE, I laughed out loud while reading this (and as I read it in the unbelievably bleak early days of pandemic lockdown, that's saying something!) Her sense of comedic timing is impeccable as always.
Seventeen year old Margot Louve is a secret. Beloved by her parents -- a French politician and a famous actress -- Margot knows she and her mother will never be more than her father's "other" family... until, that is, she decides to let a journalist in on the secret of her parentage. This was a fantastic book - beautifully written and refreshingly different from anything else I read this year. Perfect for those of us who are dreaming of getting on a plane to Paris
TRICK MIRROR is a fabulous collection of essays by Jia Tolentino, an editor and writer for the New Yorker. Written in the aftermath of the 2016 US election, Tolentino's essays shine a light on the delusions at the heart of modern life: delusions about capitalism, feminism, the media, religion -- and, fundamentally, ourselves. Truly thoughtful and insightful, this is a book that will spark many conversations around the dinner table (or, more likely, the Zoom screen)
There are always more books than there are hours in the day! Here's a list of some of the books that are still on my TBR pile. I'm hoping to enjoy them in those lovely quiet days between Christmas and New Year's Eve...