So The Motherload® Book Club has been running for almost three years, and what a year 2020 has been. Once again, I’ve read and listened to more books than I did last year (108 so far). I have agonized over choosing my top 20, and there were at least ten more books I really wanted to include. But here they are (in alphabetical order by title).
Cat Step by Alison Irvine
This quiet novel about a mother pushed to her limits took my breath away. As Liz tries to make a life for herself and her young daughter Emily in a small town in Scotland, one mistake leads to a heartbreaking unravelling. I came for the tale of motherhood and stayed for the lyrical prose and compelling narrative.
Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis
No one creates complex female characters you really root for quite like Lia Louis. This, her second novel, is simply gorgeous. Emmie Blue is stuck, in love with her best friend Lucas, who’s getting married to someone else and wants her to be his best woman. Can she find her own happy ending? This book has a huge heart and is full of Louis’s wit and warmth.
Ghosts by Dolly Alderton
I read this book over 24 hours while alone in a London hotel room and I fell for it hard. Alderton’s observations about life for single women are razor sharp and her prose is glimmering. This is the story of Nina, a food writer who’s recently come out of a long-term relationship and is losing her dad to dementia. I adored it.
Girl A by Abigail Dean
The buzz around this book is something else and it’s all deserved. It centres on Lex, who escaped from her parents’ ‘house of horrors’ as a teenager. Now an adult, she visits her siblings in turn to discuss what will happen to the house they grew up in after their mother’s death. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an incredibly powerful one.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Reading about the plague in the midst of a pandemic was fascinating. This novel, O’Farrell’s first step into historical fiction, is the story of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, who died in childhood. This is an author who can do no wrong, in my eyes, and this beautiful, lyrical book is no exception.
Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan
How do you grieve a person who nobody really knew you were in love with? Crossan tackles this thorny topic in this, her first novel for adults. It’s written in verse, and the verse is elegant and spare. The hopelessness of the protagonist Ana’s situation and the unusual style make for a fascinating and visceral read.
Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan
Violet is young and intelligent, badly paid and unchallenged at work. When she meets the charismatic Lottie and her handsome husband Simon and they are offering a place in their company and their bed, she jumps at the chance. I loved this novel about being lost, and found, and the mistakes you make when you are young, and how you find your way back from them.
More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran
I am a few years younger than Moran, but I found this book about being a middle-aged woman so relatable and compelling. One minute, she had me laughing about the ways in which your body can fail you and the next, I was moved to tears by her recounting of her daughter’s struggles with anorexia. This is one I will go back to, for comfort.
Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg
This is such a fresh and original take on a crime novel. It focuses on the murder of a young woman by her boyfriend, but that’s where the similarities to anything else you’ve read end. Each chapter layers on another person’s perspective, building the picture bit by bit. It’s haunting, atmospheric, and outstanding.
Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent
This was my first Liz Nugent novel and I want to go back and read every word she’s written. The characterisation in this tale of three brothers and their toxic relationships was exceptional. They lived in my head while I was reading and for a long time afterwards. I was riveted from first page to last, as this story of betrayal and murder unfolded.
Precious You by Helen Monks Takhar
This novel of two women and their impact on one another’s lives is one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve read. Katherine is struggling to accept that she’s ageing, while Lily is young, beautiful and confident. I couldn’t look away as they tortured one another. The writing is sharp and sure, the plot faultless.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Sometimes you read a book that feels so fresh it’s like you’ve opened a window after weeks inside, and this is one of them. Emira is detained in a shop while babysitting at the start, and from this fairly low-key opener, Reid goes on to explore race relations and what it’s like to be a woman in today’s America. The dialogue is pitch-perfect and the characters feel entirely real.
The Best Most Awful Job edited by Katherine May
I read this book early in the year and it’s really stuck with me. I find motherhood very hard, and the early months in particular were like nothing I’ve known, so I’m always up for women writing honestly about those experiences. In this collection of essays, a range of articulate, fascinating voices tell their tales of mothering.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
A huge part of my enjoyment of this book was listening to Tom Hanks narrate it. I was mesmerised by this tale of Danny and Maeve, of their childhoods and their adulthoods, of the parents and the house they lost. It’s unusual for a sibling relationship to be at the front and centre of a novel, but it worked beautifully here.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Lisa Jewell is so consistently good that I go into her books with high expectations, and she always meets them. This tale of a young woman inheriting a house in Chelsea after being discovered there as a baby alongside three dead bodies had me absolutely captivated. The combination of characters I really cared for and a cracking plot was a powerful one.
The Great Godden by Meg Rossoff
I’m a sucker for coming of age stories, particularly ones that take place over a long, hot summer. This book could have been written for me. It was also narrated spectacularly by Andrew Scott, who you may know as the hot priest from Fleabag. I fell in love with this sprawling family and devoured the tale of Kit Godden changing everything.
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
It’s hard to say much about this one without giving away spoilers, but I will say I finished it a month or so ago and it’s still living in my head. Ted lives with his daughter and a cat and it’s clear that something very bad is happening in his house. Dee is trying to find out what happened to her sister years ago. The writing is stunning and the plot is mind-blowing.
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
You know how some books are sprinkled with magic? This is one of those. Its central characters, Lenni, seventeen, and Margot, eighty-three, are both in hospital, both dying. As they tell one another their life stories, their loves and losses, their friendship deepens. Cronin’s voice is unique and hits the perfect balance between heartbreaking and heartwarming.
The Sight of You by Holly Miller
Who doesn’t love an epic love story? Joel and Callie are damaged and not really looking to fall in love. Joel has always had prophetic dreams about the people he loves, and when he dreams something awful about Callie’s future, they have to decide whether to stay together or separate. I was so moved by this all-consuming tale of love and loss.
True Story by Kate Reed Petty
I read this book months ago and still feel excited when I think about it. It’s the most inventive crime novel I’ve ever read and it left me reeling. On the surface, it’s about two teenage boys who drive a drunk girl home after a party, and what happened in the back seat of the car. But it’s also about storytelling and truth and it plays around with genre in the best way.