Em’s 2020 Reading Roundup: the 52 books read + two-line reviews of my top picks

Want a personalised recommendation? 

Not all of the books could make it on to the ‘top 10’ lists, which reflect overall level of enjoyment and so are a mix of highbrow and commercial (and to narrow it down only titles recently published). But the vast majority were excellent reads. After all, I pick stuff I think I’ll like. Some are linked to separate reviews you can click on, or leave a comment or contact me personally if you have a question about what I thought of one of the titles not reviewed.
* = Australian author
** = WA author

FICTION (36):

Literary
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
From Here On, Monsters, Elizabeth Bryer*
Wolfe Island, Lucy Treloar*
The Art of Persuasion, Susan Midalia**
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
Purity, Jonathan Franzen
Anne’s House of Dreams, L. M. Montgomery (re-read) 
Anne of Ingleside, L. M. Montgomery (re-read)
Rainbow Valley, L. M. Montgomery (re-read) 
Agatha, Anne Cathrine Bomann 
The Good People, Hannah Kent*
The Salt Madonna, Catherine Noske*
The History of Mischief, Rebecca Higgie**
Taboo, Kim Scott**
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy 
Bruny, Heather Rose*
The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion 
The Rosie Result, Graeme Simsion
The Best of Adam Sharp, Graeme Simsion 
Death Leaves the Station, Alexander Thorpe**
Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips

Crime/Mystery/Thriller
The Good Turn, Dervla McTiernan**
The Ruin, Dervla McTiernan**
The Mystery of Three Quarters, Sophie Hannah 
Haven’t They Grown, Sophie Hannah 
A Game for All the Family, Sophie Hannah 
Over My Dead Body, Dave Warner*
1st Case, James Patterson 
Devoted, Dean Koontz
The Sentinel, Lee and Andrew Child

Sci-fi
The Cruel Stars, John Birmingham* 
Syzygy, Michael G. Coney

Children’s/Young Adult
Oskar and the Ice-Pick, Judy Corbalis (re-read)
So Much To Tell You, John Marsden (re-read)*
Take My Word For It, John Marsden (re-read)*
All in the Blue Unclouded Weather, (re-read)*

FICTION: TOP 10

1. Bruny, Heather Rose* – probably my top read of the year. Contemporary Australian literary fiction that reads like a thriller; smart, insightful and topical.
2. Pachinko, Min Jin Lee – Follows the fortunes of successive generations of a South Korean family exiled to Japan. A sweeping, epic drama; compulsive, fascinating, immersive and accessible.
3. Taboo, Kim Scott** – A motley bunch of Nyoongar elders and young people travel to an old massacre site south of Perth to create a memorial. Astounding magical realism, full of mystery and delicately dry humour, deserving of all the prizes it has won.
4. The Good People, Hannah Kent** – Superstitious Irish folk in a tiny rural community believe a young disabled child’s spirit has been stolen by faerie folk, and turn against his family. A disturbing and beautifully written page-turner.
5. Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips – Two young girls have vanished without a trace from a contemporary Russian city. A huge achievement from a Brooklyn debut author.
6. Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens – An uneducated girl who has grown up alone and half-wild, abandoned in a swamp, is accused of murdering a local white boy. Poetic and readable page-turning literary mystery set in the rural American south.
7. The Rosie Result, Graeme Simsion* – The final and most complex and ambitious instalment in the hugely popular trilogy about an autistic man and his family. Heartwarming, funny and satisfying.
8. Devoted, Dean Koontz – a highly intelligent young autistic boy’s investigation of his father’s suspicious death lands him and his mother in grave danger; but a highly unusual collection of allies is en route to defend them. Extremely well written, well plotted and characterised; possibly the most enjoyable holiday read this year.
9. The Good Turn, Dervla McTiernan** – The third in the Detective Cormac Reilly series and the best yet from this once-Irish now-Perth author, writing police-procedural crime fiction of global appeal and quality.
10. Wolfe Island, Lucy Treloar* – an ageing woman lives alone in a crumbling house island fast being engulfed by the rising seas, having stubbornly outlasted the rest of her community, but her peace is disturbed by the shock appearance of a granddaughter on the run. Sometimes bleak, unavoidable given its post-climate change setting, and not a quick or easy read, but an impressive work of world-creation, with a Children of Men vibe, and a must-read for serious readers of contemporary Australian fiction.

NONFICTION (15):

Lifestyle/self-improvement
Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology, Cal Newport
So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport 
French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Giuliano  (re-read)
French Women For All Seasons, Mireille Giuliano (re-read)

Poetry
Collected Poems, Christina Rossetti
Nothing… Except My Genius: A Celebration of his Wit and Wisdom, Oscar Wilde 

Biography/Memoir/Diary
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, Sei Shonagon 
Father of the Lost Boys, Yuot A. Alaak**
L.M. Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, Mary Henley Rubio
Encore Provence, Peter Mayle
Tojours Provence, Peter Mayle

Pregnancy/Parenting
Up the Duff, Kaz Cooke 
Cribsheet, Emily Oster
Expecting Better, Emily Oster
Baby Love, Robin Barker

NONFICTION TOP 5

1. Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology, Cal Newport – an examination of everything we need to know about why our smartphones rule our lives, and an empowering look at how we can use them as tools, rather than them using us. For people who liked the documentary The Social Dilemma – this is more in-depth and useful.
2. Father of the Lost Boys, Yuot A. Alaak – the amazing story of how Alaak went from a child soldier training camp in Africa to the top of Perth’s BHP tower. A riveting and accessible story that reads like an adventure tale and surely should be made into a film.
3. L.M. Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, Mary Henley Rubio – a massive tome that comprehensively covers decades of research into the tragic life of the globally loved author of Anne of Green Gables. Almost 700 pages long and yet I couldn’t put it down.
4. Expecting Better, Emily Oster – a must-read, must-gift book from an American economist who has reviewed all scientific literature behind the most common assumptions about pregnancy, so families can make properly informed choices. Surprising, myth-busting and extremely empowering.
5. Cribsheet, Emily Oster – another must-read and must-read follow up, this time about what happens after you take the baby home and into the toddler years. To be followed in August 2021 by The Family Firm, which covers the early school years.

1 thought on “Em’s 2020 Reading Roundup: the 52 books read + two-line reviews of my top picks

  1. Not me over here screenshotting the book titles 😅😍 they sound so intriguing! Definitely checking out the ones from the parenting category.

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