40 Books from 2020 You Need to Read in 2021

Posted by Bijal Shah on

Hello! This is our selection of the most notable books of 2020 spanning both fiction and non-fiction, ranging from literary fiction, pandemic fiction, young adult, romance, mystery and thrillers, LGBTQIA+ as well as a wonderful choice of non-fiction including best political and business books, memoirs and biographies and travel and cook books.

Also to help you get the most out of your reading life don’t forget to sign up to our signature Bibliotherapy, Literature & Mental Health online course or our personalised reading service (tailored book recommendations and curated reading lists)!

Best Literary Fiction Books of 2020

1. The Vanishing Half(Literary Fiction/Historical Fiction) by Brit Bennett

A gorgeous novel about twin sisters who live in two different worlds, one black and one white. Brit Bennett,a New York Times-bestselling author, with her debut novel, The Mothers, brings us this thought-provoking novel about identity, family and relationships and how the decisions of the past can influence the lives of generations to come.

Identical twin sisters, Stella and Desiree grow up together in a small southern black community in the 1950s and decide to run away together at age 16. Years later, their lives could not be more different. Stella is married to a white husband who knows nothing of her past. Her ‘whiteness’ allows her to live a life of privilege and opportunity, yet her life is built on a fragile set of lies and secrets that buries shame and forces her to withhold her true self. Most importantly she cannot allow her sister to be part of her life. The other sister, Desiree, with her young black daughter, is living in the black community that she tried to once escape. Jobless with no prospects and trapped in a place that’s going nowhere she feels powerless and broken by her sister’s choice to abandon her. Something changes when their own daughters take on complicated identities, striking unexpected turns in the narrative.

A beautiful and intimate look at how American history has influenced the lives of similar generations in so many different ways from race, class, decision-making and how we often feel compelled to remove ourselves from our own history and heritage in the hope for something better.

One that you might finish in one sitting this books runs over 40 years, exploring how our identity, decisions, hopes and dreams change over time as our cultural past guides us in different directions. Plus the characters will live with you for a while.

My favourite quotes: “She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.

“There were many ways to be alienated from someone, few to actually belong.”

“When you married someone, you promised to love every person he would be. He promised to love every person she had been. And here they were, still trying, even though the past and the future were both mysteries.”

“Memory works that way — like seeing forward and backward at the same time.”

“That was the thrill of youth, the idea that you could be anyone. That was what had captured her in the charm shop, all those years ago. Then adulthood came, your choices solidifying, and you realize that everything you are had been set in motion years before. The rest was aftermath.”

Grab your copy here.

2. Summerwater (Literary Fiction) by Sarah Moss

Summerwater is a short novella that transports its readers to a Scottish cabin park on a rainy day in Summer. As the rain dares not stop, twelve people, all at different stages of their lives, remain confined in a cabin park, as they wait for the rain to subside. What happens next, leads them to closely observe each other while preoccupied in their own cares and concerns. An old couple who are growing apart due to the wife’s disability, children fighting, an engaged couple attempting sex, a teenager, a mother and daughter duo who lack manners, etiquette and the right dress code — they all attract the judgement of others, unaware of the impending tragedy that is about to befall them. 

The writing evocative and the narrative intriguing, the characters delightful and resonating, this is an exploration of the ever-changing dynamics between human relationships, not so different to the current identity politics that are being felt the world over, particularly with Trumpism and Brexit. You’ll feel a part of the story as it climaxes to a dramatic conclusion.

Grab your copy here.

3. Breasts and Eggs (Literary Fiction) by Mieko Kawakami

One of Japan’s most widely read and critically acclaimed authors, and Haruki Murakami’s favourite young writer, Mieko Kawakami brings to life this feminist novella narrating the story of three women: the thirty-year-old unmarried narrator, her older sister Makiko, and Makiko’s daughter Midoriko. Makiko explores breast enhancement surgery in response to her permanently changed body 12 years after the birth of her daughter, Midoriko. Midoriko is anxious about her own oncoming puberty and generally growing up. The narrator too struggles with her own identity and what it means to be a woman who’s neither married nor bears any children and spending the rest of her life alone. Set in Tokyo, the book explores the reunion of the two sisters and the coming-of-age of Midoriko. Filled with deeper emotions from longing, to sadness to humour and wit, the author also brings in female narratives of other women in her life: her mother and grandmother and her friends and sister, seeking to find answers to life’s biggest questions. This leads to a decision for Mieko to employ artificial insemination in order to conceive and have a baby. She stunningly explores the consequences of this in the backdrop of a country who doesn't cater to or hold kindly to, the rights of women when it comes to reproduction.

The story ambitiously tackles the ongoing subjugation of women in Japan particularly those who struggle with poverty and domestic violence. As a society, women have little or no reproductive rights. More policy work is needed in this space. Blending in realism with wit and humour, Kawakami perfectly integrates an honest, real and profound narrative of so many women in Japan today.

A wonderful addition to a growing fleet of Japanese and Korean feminist literature that’s finding its voice, welcome in a society that is rapidly changing and shifting gears on gender and identity.

Grab your copy here.

4. The Mercies (Literary Fiction) by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Set in 1617 Norway, The Mercies is a harrowing story of the aftermath of a storm on an island where all the men, fishermen, are killed, drowned and broken by rocks. The women of a small town on the island called Vardø are left to manage alone, learning how to fish and look after themselves as a community. 

One of the protagonists, 20-year-old Maren Bergensdatter loses her brother and father to the storm. Three years later, a man called Absalom Cornet, also a witch hunter, arrives on the island with his Norwegian wife, Ursa. Absalom burned witches in the northern isles of Scotland. Ursa is completely terrified of Absalom, trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage.

Ursa’s astonished by what she sees in Vardø: independent women who are not dominated by men. Absalom believes that the town is devoid of God and is filled with a horrendous evil. Ursa is also strongly attracted to Maren, another strong, independent woman, to her own surprise, and the consequences of this lead to Absalom placing tough rules on the women of Vardø that begin to terrorise the whole community.

Inspired by the 1620 witch trials and the real-life stories of the Vardø community post the disastrous storm, The Mercies is a feminist story of love and evil, testing the very nature of humanity. 

Crude, beautiful writing designed to provide an immersive experience of the horrifyingly bleak conditions that the women found themselves in. 

Grab your copy here.

5. Cleanness (Literary Fiction) by Garth Greenwell

A novel behaving like a collection of short stories, Cleanness chronicles the lives of an American expat teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria, as he comes to terms with the discovery of love and the loss of love. It explores his intimate encounters in the country as he prepares to return to America, including falling in love for the first time, dealing with childhood repression of his own sexuality, being seduced and the power of love to heal old wounds. It explores our connection with our deepest selves, with the people we love and the places we live. This resonates as an insightful exploration of sex, power and control that is daring, innovative and timely.

Grab your copy here.


Best Crime & Murder Mysteries of 2020

6. Yellow Bird Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country (Crime Biography) by Sierra Crane Murdoch

In this crime biography, Sierra Crane Murdoch captures the story of Lissa Yellow Bird, who when released from prison in 2009 returns home to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. She finds the community transformed by the Bakken oil boom, including the influence of big corporates on the tribal community — resulting in a significant increase in violence and addiction amongst the community. She’s also startled to find the landscape permanently altered beyond recognition. 

Three years later, it emerges that Kristopher “KC” Clarke has mysteriously disappeared from his reservation worksite. Lissa, concerned, begins to trace clues of where he might be. In doing so, she deals with her own trauma — a generational trauma borne by the loss of life, culture and identity by forces bigger than the tribal community. Obsessed with the case, she discovers other homicides along the way, hoping to find some justice, peace and healing as she processes what has happened to her and her Native American community.

If you enjoyed Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, you’ll enjoy this crime biography by Sierra Crane Murdoch which brings to the forefront, the history of indigenous Americans, and the impact of years of inappropriate policies that shape their lives today including the consequences of oil booms on communities.

My favourite quotes: “This was the paradox of trauma: To heal from it, you had to know where it came from and then, in a sense, disbelieve it. You had to trust you were more than the damage done to you. No matter how much others made you suffer, you had to cease seeing yourself as a victim.”

“It was not, as people sometimes said, that they had nothing left to live for. It was that the living became too much.”

Grab your copy here.

7. The Thursday Murder Club (Cosy Mystery) by Richard Osman

A fabulous cosy mystery set in Kent, this book is filled with delightful characters, all aged 80+, who gather to discuss unsolved murder mysteries. However, when a live murder case falls into their laps, a dead boy with a photo next to it, they are compelled to solve it. Filled with twists, turns and layers of red herrings, while witty, charming and thoughtful, this is a feel-good murder mystery that will leave you hanging on every word.

My favourite quotes: “In life, you have to learn to count the good days. You have to tuck them in your pocket and carry them around with you. So I’m putting today in my pocket and I’m off to bed.”

“After a certain age, you can pretty much do whatever takes your fancy. No one tells you off, except for your doctors and your children.”

Grab your copy here.

Best Business and Leadership Books of 2020

8. No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram (Non-fiction) by Sarah Frier

A fascinating work of investigative non-fiction, technology reporter, Sarah Frier’s No Filter captures the journey of Instagram since its launch in 2010. Through a simple photo or video-only feed, the clean platform and incredibly user-friendly technology, has captured our hearts, minds and imagination, particularly for the visual. It’s now part of core culture and the lives of over one billion people. In No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, Frier explains how the platform is the perfect marriage of art and technology hooking us in. 

A platform for artists originally, it grew exponentially, resulting in an audience that practically lives on it, giving rise to the first serious digital influencers, many of whom are worth into the billions. 

The story also chronicles the literally overnight acquisition of Instagram by Facebook and the tensions between the founders — Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger —and Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg that led to their departure — a story previously untold. 

Featuring the stories of the founders, employees, and other high profile celebrities and influencers - including hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio, Vogue’s Anna Wintour of Vogue and the Kardashians —Instagram is tranforming what we wear, eat, buy and how we travel and communicate. Instagram’s revolution birthed the life-changing democratisation of celebrity, bringing it to the masses. This book tells the origin story.

My Favourite Quotes: “Vulnerability now gets better engagement, because it’s more relatable.”

“People who don’t take risks work for people who do.”

Grab a copy here.

9. Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say — and What You Don’t (Non-fiction) by L. David Marquet

Following the success of Turn the Ship Around!, former US Navy Captain David Marquet, brings us Leadership is Langauge as a way to empower your team to take ownership and make better decisions.

The world today is different — we no longer live in the industrial era and leaders no longer have hands-on visibility of what’s taking place on the ground. Instead of collaborating with those who work for you is a more robust path forward. This is the premise of Marquet’s book. Employees must be empowered to speak up when things go wrong. They must be able to think creatively and outside the box and have the power to implement their solutions for the greater good of the organisation.

Choosing your words carefully enables this empowerment and delegation of decision-making. He promotes six important techniques that employ language to achieve more desirable outcomes and behaviours:

 1. Give people the tools they need to pause at any point if they notice something is wrong.
 2. Delegate judgement to your team and give them the opportunity to rationalise this judgement, rather than making the judgement call yourself.
 3. Expect commitment rather than compliance: Compliance removes autonomy while commitment encourages investment in the goal leading a to better outcome overall. 
 4. Communicate clear goals for when a project should begin and end — the middle is up to your team in terms of how to implement.
 5. Don’t focus on your team having to prove themselves, rather focus on their self-development and improvement. Require them to constantly improve and optimise themselves and the plans and processes they use.
 6. Encourage connection with others across the organisation, leading them to contribute to decision-making. This works best where flat hierarchies exist.

A thoughtful book on creating a culture of inclusion, collaboration and autonomy fostering language to attain better outcomes over the longer-term. You’ll be surprised at how even small language changes can lead to tremendous pay-offs in productivity and performance. A must-read for anyone interested in leadership.

My favourite quote: “Operating this way — conforming to hierarchical roles, maintaining emotional distance from others, avoiding vulnerability at all costs — is lonely and unfulfilling.”

Grab your copy here.

10. Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit (Non-fiction) by Ashley Mears

A former fashion model, sociologist and author, Ashley Mears spent eighteen months on the world party circuit, from New York to the Hamptons to Miami and Saint-Tropez while researching this book. Here she reveals the intricate relationships between beauty, status, power and money.

She narrates how beautiful young women are recruited to restaurants and clubs in order to attract wealthy men who’ll spend huge sums of money on bottles and drink. The girls, with their beauty and bodily capital, enhance the status of the men while enriching the club owners, and benefit from free drinks and career opportunities as they party with wealthy and well-connected men. While considered invaluable and status symbols on the party scene, they have little value as long-term relationship assets; and the aftermath and implications for these women post the party is devastating.

This is another angle to the overall global gender inequality story highlighting the commoditisation of women — where women are used and discarded at the will of powerful, wealthy men in an attempt to win at status games.

Grab your copy here.

11. The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives (Non-fiction) by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

A timely book for now, particularly as the technological developments we’ve seen in the last decade alone outweigh those in the entire last century. As we head to uncharted territories, this book provides a fascinating roadmap of what our near-term future might be, and how our lives are about to change. 

From AI, robotics, digital biology and blockchain — we learn how these technologies will leverage off each other, transforming our lives overnight. This has significant implications for human civilisation — the way we live, raise our kids, lead and look after the planet.

An essential guide to the future, The Future Is Faster Than You Think remains an intriguing read into what may be.

My favourite quote: “The Law of Accelerating Returns,” Ray Kurzweil did the math and found that we’re going to experience twenty thousand years of technological change over the next one hundred years. Essentially, we’re going from the birth of agriculture to the birth of the internet twice in the next century. This means paradigm-shifting, game-changing, nothing-is-ever-the-same-again breakthroughs — such as affordable aerial ridesharing — will not be an occasional affair. They’ll be happening all the time.”

Grab your copy here.

12. More than Ready: Be Strong and Be You…and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise (Non-fiction) by Cecilia Muñoz

Cecilia Muñoz was the first Latinx woman to serve as Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama. Part-memoir/part-guide Muñoz offers incredible inspiration, wisdom and brilliant storytelling reaffirming that women of colour are rising, becoming both visible and powerful — charting new paths for more women down the line, previously dominated by the privileged few. 

She acknowledges the challenges women face by offering insights into her own challenges, pioneering helpful lessons for women of colour to help them move forward without compromising their true selves by overcoming fear and injustice and dealing with bad behaviour and disrespect. 

A much-needed book offering voice and representation to the many who’ve been silenced and made invisible.

Grab your copy here.

13. Your Next Five Moves: Master the Art of Business Strategy (Non-fiction) by Patrick Bet-David

Leveraging off the success of his leading YouTube channel for entrepreneurs, Valuetainment, Bet-David provides a practical and valuable guide on how you can achieve even the most ambitious of goals by thinking 5 steps ahead and getting all the pieces in place for your business to thrive. 

Employing an easy-to-use, pragmatic approach he shows you how to draw up a vision of what you want and who you want to be, details a strategy of how you’ll get there, including growth techniques for building a value-based business.

An important read for any serious entrepreneur — especially if you’re feeling unmotivated or deflated — this is the perfect book to re-ignite that entrepreneurial spark.

Grab your copy here.

Best Memoirs and Biographies of 2020

14. Uncanny Valley (Memoir) by Anna Weiner

Page-turning, Uncanny Valley is a striking memoir of a young millennial swapping a career in book publishing for a decadent role in the Silicon Valley start-up bubble — where everything is about the continuous optimisation of technology, changing the world for better and embracing venture capital culture — all in the name of progress.

A hauntingly frank insight into startup culture from the exploitation of our deepest darkest desires to the disillusionment and ambivalence that it throws up for anyone caught up in an industry that’s largely unregulated.

A coming-of-age story, it will leave you thinking long into the night about ambition, exuberance and power, and the consequences that unfold.

Grab your copy here.

15. Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology (Memoir) by Rana El Kaliouby

Girl Decoded: A Scientists Quest to Reclaim our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology by Rana El Khalouiy offers a fascinating first-person account of El Khalouiy, a computer scientist who breaks all the rules within her strict Egyptian culture. Instead of settling down as a stay-at-home mother, taking care of domestic duties, she chooses to pursue her lifelong passion of bringing emotional intelligence to technology at the cost of her marriage; a mother of two kids, single and now living in Boston as CEO of a major emotional AI startup she offers inspiration, hope and encouragement to millions of women worldwide who’re stuck in patriarchal narratives that no longer serve them.

El Khalouiy narrates the story herself and beautifully captures the emotional element of literature, that’s sometimes missing in written work through voice and tone (which ironically, is synonymous with the mission of Khalouiy’s work — to bring emotion to artificial intelligence). 

You’ll be comforted by her work, relating to her honesty and struggles. She determinedly carves out a path not trodden before, both in terms of an ambitious woman breaking traditional, patriarchal barriers in Egyptian society while also pioneering the application of emotional intelligence to technology.

My favourite quote: The real problem is not the existential threat of AI. Instead, it is in the development of ethical AI systems.

Grab your copy here.

16. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family (Biography)by Robert Kolker

Is there a link between good looks and schizophrenia? Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker is a fascinating story about a mid-century American family’s experience of schizophrenia in an age where nobody really knew what it was or how to treat it. 6 of the 12 siblings had the disease which no one really understood at the time. The family was one of the first to be studied by the National Institutes of Mental Health in an attempt to understand the condition better. Initially, touted as the mother’s fault — a parenting issue, the medical community later came to realise the genetic component of the disease. Kolker follows the lives of each sibling amidst a backdrop of abuse, psychological breakdown and trauma including the horrors of domestic abuse, serial incestuous rape and suicide.

A story about the scientific advances made to understand the disease better but also a story about one family’s immense loss and suffering as well as hope.

An Oprah Book Club pick, it’s medical investigative journaling at its best. If you enjoyed Tara Westover’s Educated and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, then this one’s for you.

My favourite quotes: We are more than just our genes. We are, in some way, a product of the people who surround us — the people we’re forced to grow up with, and the people we choose to be with later.”

“They taught me to embrace the cards you are dealt or it will eat you alive. If you go to the heart of your own matter, you will find only by loving and helping do you have peace from your own trauma.”

“Our relationships can destroy us, but they can change us, too, and restore us, and without us ever seeing it happen, they define us.”

“Children, Silvern explained, rely on the adults around them to interpret what’s happening to them. They use their parents’ constructed systems: This is good and that is bad; this person is untrustworthy, and that person is somebody you can count on. Shame and guilt are ways that children usually process those traumas when the grown-ups around them have failed them.”

“That same year, the Finnish psychiatrist Martti Olavi Siirala wrote that people with schizophrenia were almost like prophets with special insight into our society’s neuroses — our collective unconscious’s shared mental illness.”

Grab your copy here.

Best Romance Books of 2020

17. Writers and Lovers (Romance) by Lily King

Almost a writer’s bibliotherapy, the 31-year-old female protagonist, Casey Peabody, is a struggling writer coming to terms with significant life changes including her mother’s death and a failed relationship. She lands in Massachusetts in Summer 1997 hoping to work things through, including completing her novel that’s been six years in the making, determined to make it as an artist and writer.

To complicate matters, she falls in love with two very different men while in the midst of grief and sorting through the feelings of loss and heartbreak, while balancing her desire to make it as a great writer and artist. Overwhelmed she continues to write to gain clarity — but what is striking about her writing is the incredible intelligence, honesty, wit and vulnerability through which she narrates her story that immediately resonates with readers who have faced loss, heartbreak, self-doubt and the strife of fulfilling professional ambitions.

An equally deserving novel as King’s first one Euphoria, this transfixing work of literary fiction captures the full breadth of human emotions and struggles as we negotiate one life phase with another.

A page-turner and one where you’re most likely to fall for Casey, and all her imperfections. If you’re a book lover, you’ll love her literary wisdom and bookish insights as well as her self-introspection through art and literature.

My favourite quotes: “I…think about how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel.”

“It’s a particular kind of pleasure, of intimacy, loving a book with someone.

“You don’t realize how much effort you’ve put into covering things up until you try to dig them out.”

“I can tell he lost someone close somehow. You can feel that in people, an openness, or maybe it’s an opening that you’re talking into. With other people, people who haven’t been through something like that, you feel the solid wall.”

“ I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse.”

Grab your copy here.

18. The Two Lives of Lydia Bird (Romance) by Josie Silver 

A spellbinding novel that narrates the tale of two love stories. Lydia and Freddie have been together 10 years, best friends and incredible romantics. It all comes to a haunting end when 28-year-old Freddie tragically dies in a car accident on Lydia’s birthday. Lydia, devastated works out a way to ‘be’ with Freddie again. Only thing is she begins to see that maybe life with Freddie was not as perfect as she thought. And that perhaps she needs to make a choice between living a life that could have been or embracing her life in the present and the people in it, including her family and friends. The narration shows us how to cope with and process grief, allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and experience the emotion we often lock away in the corners of our mind.

An uplifting story that ends beautifully and shows you what love is all about.

My favourite quotes: “I found the old me, still in here, and the new me sitting right alongside her. We made friends.”

Most of life’s defining moments happen unexpectedly; sometimes they slide past you completely unnoticed until afterwards, if at all. The last time your child is small enough to carry on your hip. An eye roll exchanged with a stranger who becomes your life-long best friend. The summer job you apply for on impulse and stay at for the next twenty years. Those kinds of things.”

“I started to enjoy the writing process itself, to remember how it felt to create worlds different to mine, to spend time thinking about a story that isn’t my own.”

Grab your copy here.

Best Political Books of 2020

19. Black Wave (Political Non-fiction) by Kim Ghattas

Black Wave (Political Non-fiction) by Kim Ghattas

An unputdownable, gripping narrative of the 1979 Iranian Revolution that changed everything for the Middle East — it takes us to the heart of the Sunni-Shia conflict and why it happened the way it did. 

With sheer storytelling and insight, Ghattas takes you on a journey across the Middle East pointing out events and people who charted the path of the current political situation in the Middle East, exploring the rivalry between Saudi Arabia (mostly Sunni) and Iran (mostly Shia).

Dramatic with a colourful cast of characters, Ghattas accurately and honestly details the transformation of the culture and identity of the region. This is political journaling at its best — even with the enormous risks Ghattas put herself through in writing every intimate account.

Prior to 1979, Saudi Arabia and Iran remained working allies. The Iranian revolution, employing religion as a tool for influence, power and divisiveness changed everything, giving rise to proxy wars across the region as well as enabling groups like Al Quaeda and ISIS to take hold and thrive.

At long last, there’s a book that explains what just happened in the Middle East from Egypt to Pakistan over the last 30 years. It serves as a political, historical and cultural masterpiece that will continue to influence and inspire.

Grab your copy here.

20. Putin’s People (Political Non-fiction) by Catherine Belton

Investigative journalist and former Moscow correspondent Catherine Belton essentially exposes the rise of Vladimir Putin and his inside circle (the KGB men) who robbed their country and now are doing the same to the rest of the world (by the manipulation of democratic elections through social media campaigns including the US and the UK, waging war on Ukraine and supporting ‘puppet’ leaders in other Eastern European democracies.) 

This consolidation of power of the Russian kleptocrats has been staggering and Belton captures every detail of how it happened, charting the rise of fan unknown, mediocre, Putin to his current-day status brimming with power and control. 

Focusing on some of the key insiders who’ve assisted Putin in achieving this, Belton reveals important oligarchs and other politicians who’ve played an instrumental role in enabling Putin. 

Chilling anecdotes of murder, acquisition of state assets for personal benefits, imprisonment and heavy-handed suppression, we are presented with a narrative of how a dangerous kleptocracy came to be and one which is preparing for silent world domination. 

Grab your copy here.

21. Rage (Political Non-fiction) by Bob Woodward

Original, intimate and hugely entertaining, it will have your eyes peeled on the page. 

Going behind the scenes, Rage gushes out detail after detail behind every decision that Trump and his team make on the pandemic, economy, national security and the overwhelming racial tension sweeping America. Covering almost the entire presidential term, we are privy to the most intimate of conversations and happenings in the White House.

Never seen before, exclusive interviews, emails and confidential items (including personal letters between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) comes this gripping and insightful narrative that will leave you wanting to finish the book in one sitting.

With the unprecedented amount of Trump literature out this year, this certainly stands out as a definitive favourite. 

Grab your copy here.

Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2020

22. Daylight (Women’s Conspiracy Theories) by David Baldacci

David Baldacci’s third crime novel in the Atlee Pine series tells the story of FBI agent Atlee Pine’s search for her twin sister Mercy, who was abducted at age 6. Desperate for answers as the pressure to end the investigation looms over Atlee’s head, she receives game-changing information about the kidnapper: Ito Vincenzo. By pure coincidence, they run into John Puller, a friend, and military investigator, who’s investigating a drug ring. It emerges there is a connection between Vincenzo’s family and the drug ring that is about to lead them both deeper and deeper into a global, unprecedented conspiracy scandal that neither of them is prepared for, including the real story of what happened to Atlee’s sister Mercy.

A read guaranteed to keep you invested in the story into the wee hours of the night.

Grab your copy here.

23. The Darkest Evening (International Mystery & Crime) by Ann Cleeves

Again another series’ novel, The Darkest Evening is part of the critically-acclaimed Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope series of detective novels. The ninth novel in the series it's now a major ITV drama.

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope’s new case lands on her lap whilst driving home, in the country, through a thick blizzard. Vera notices a car that swerves off the road in front of her, and as she seeks to offer assistance, she finds a young toddler abandoned in the car. Putting the child’s safety first — Vera takes the toddler to the nearest home, a stately home in Brockburn only to find a party in motion with a female corpse outside in the snow. Determined to work out whether there is a link between the corpse and the child, Stanhope embarks on another delightful mystery told in breathtaking detail and dramatic tension, designed to keep you hooked. Another one to devour in one sitting — and no, you don’t need to have read the rest in the series.

Grab your copy here.

24. Sisters (Psychological Thriller) by Michelle Frances

Sisters Abby and Ellie continue to remain distant, sibling rivals as children, this has barely changed as they have grown up. Ellie is jealous of Abby’s perfect life and husband with whom she resides on the sunny and picturesque Italian island of Elba. At the same time, Abby resents Ellie for being her mother’s favourite. 

When Abby invites Ellie and her mother to stay on the island, in a final bid to reconcile their relationship, things go horribly wrong and Abby can’t help but suspect her mother and sister are harbouring a dangerous secret. As a reader, you’ll be immersed, both in a beautiful Italian setting while engaged in a captivating mystery of who’s telling the truth. 

Grab your copy here.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2020

25. Piranesi (Fantasy) by Susanna Clark

For fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Piranesi is a stunning work of fantasy fiction, that’s spellbinding and hypnotic and set in an alternative reality.

The protagonist, Piranesi lives in a magical house with infinite rooms and corridors lined with never-ending statues, each unique and striking. The endless maze of halls, rooms, corridors and statues holds a trapped ocean which brings its own complications: rooms flooded in split seconds, while waves climb up staircases. Piranesi is fearless and finds joy in exploring the house. 

The only other resident of the house is a man called The Other, who’s researching A Great and Secret Knowledge and seeks Piranesi’s help fortnightly. As they enter deeper and deeper into exploration, evidence emerges that another person exists and a haunting and difficult truth shows itself, forcing Piranesi to acknowledge another world to the one he has known.

Beautifully worldbuilding with symbolic mythology, Piranesi is written as a puzzle to solve making it captivating and quite possibly one of the best works of fantasy fiction in a long time.

My favourite quote: “I realised that the search for the Knowledge has encouraged us to think of the House as if it were a sort of riddle to be unravelled, a text to be interpreted, and that if ever we discover the Knowledge, then it will be as if the Value has been wrested from the House and all that remains will be mere scenery.”

Grab your copy here.

26. The Book of Koli (The Rampant Trilogy I) (Science Fiction) by M. R. Carey

If you enjoyed Station Eleven, you’ll love this. The first in the trilogy, the story is set in the small village of Mythen Rood, where the protagonist, Koli has lived his entire life. Written in the voice of Koli, as narrator, we find ourselves in a world where civilization has regressed to Medieval times, once again living in villages. Koli’s village of Mythen Rood, becoming a Rampart is the highest honour. Ramparts have access to technology that is supremely advanced: they have a body diagnostic machine that can heal and treat any aspect of the body, laser-beam knives that can penetrate and slice and material as well as ‘intelligent’ bullets that can chase the target until they are dead.

Outside of Mythen Rood, lies a forbidden forest with deadly vines and choker trees and dangerous men. When Koli uncovers a secret about his village and its people, his life is in danger. He has no choice but to venture out to the forbidden forest to escape and stay alive.

Gripping and introspective, Koli’s voice is delightful and we live each moment with him as he takes us on a fascinating and thrilling journey.

My favourite quotes: “It never stops amazing me how a story can deliver you out of your own self even in the worst of times.”

“Life is nothing but change, even when it seems to stand still.”

“I just read a list of the hundred things you should do before you die. I was kind of surprised to see that shouting for help wasn’t in there.”

Grab your copy here.

Best Humour and Entertainment Book of 2020

27. Wow, No Thank You (Humorous Essays) by Samantha Irby

A brand new collection of essays by Irby, makes for perfect humour reading, especially in the current pandemic. 

Irby is about to turn forty, and with the big milestone comes uncomfortable truths that we’d rather avoid. This is particularly true for Irby, who after leaving her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic and successfully publishing various books, is essentially being wooed by Hollywood. She’s left Chicago and now lives with her wife and two step-children in a small town in Michigan, gardening and hosting book clubs. She feels she’s living the life of her dreams, as she flies to LA to meet “skinny, luminous people” and participates in projects designed to keep the money rolling in. 

While self-deprecating and vulnerable, Irby’s work is relatable, entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s definitely one to keep the humour alive in a world that feels heavy and dark right now.

My favourite quotes: “Loving yourself is a full-time job with shitty benefits. I’m calling in sick.”

“I approach most endeavours with zero expectations, which is a skill I have honed after forty years of fairly regular disappointment.”

Grab your copy here.

28. Solutions and Other Problems (Humourous Graphic Novel) by  Allie Brosh

From the bestselling author of Hyperbole and a Half, comes this hilarious set of essays that are both comic and autobiographical. 

Solutions and Other Problems beautifully captures Allie Brosh’s childhood, character flows, pets, grief and the difficulties of modern life against a charming backdrop of colourful illustrations — more than 1600 of them.

A perfect pick-me-up for when we’re struggling with the ups and downs of life, or simply surviving, this will bring a smile to your face. 

My favourite quotes: “Anger is not a graceful emotion. I’ve never gotten mad and been like, “I’m glad I behaved like that!” I feel weird about it every time.”

“Because that’s intimacy, Buckaroos. Somebody who understands exactly how weird you are, and you understand exactly how weird they are, and you’re in a sort of mutually beneficial hostage situation.”

Grab your copy here.

Best Young Adult of 2020

29. They Wish They Were Us (Young Adult Fiction) by Jessica Goodman

A cross between Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars the story takes us to Gold Coast, Long Island, where everything seems perfect from beautiful beaches, to well-dressed families to pretty prep schools. Still, something is off when Jill finds out that the person she thought killed her best friend, Shaila, three years ago, wasn’t the real murderer. 

Compelled to dig deeper, she knows she’s putting both herself and her friends in danger. We eventually learn Jill’s true character as details slowly reveal themselves.

A gripping and enjoyable read, the book’s now being adapted for a TV drama called “The Player’s Table.”

Grab your copy here.

30. Dancing at the Pity Party (Young Adult Fiction) by Tyler Feder

A gorgeous graphic novel, touching on loss, grief, and adulting, capturing Feder’s experience of losing her mother to cancer, from learning about the diagnosis to the funeral to life after loss. The novel explores our relationship with our mothers and how meaningful it is, even if we take it for granted every day. It also validates those who have experienced such a difficult loss and is the perfect bibliotherapy for anybody dealing with loss, especially that of a loved one. 

Grab your copy here.

31. Clap When You Land (Young Adult Fiction) by Elizabeth Acevedo

Another novel on grief, loss and forgiveness, this novel begins in the Dominican Republic, where the protagonist Camino Rios awaits her father’s visit (as she does every summer.) However he doesn’t survive this flood. In New York City, his other daughter, Yahaira Rios, learns of his death when her mother explains to her that her father has died in a plane crash.

With their lives changed forever, as they grieve their father’s death, they learn about each other after 16 years of not knowing and perhaps this is the only thing that will help them overcome their gnawing pain and grief over the man who was the centre of both their worlds.

My favourite quotes: “How can you lose an entire person, only to gain a part of them back in someone entirely new?”

“We also know exactly what it’s like to look at the other & see all the answers of ourselves there.”

Grab your copy here.

Best LGBTQIA+ of 2020

32. Belladonna (Fiction) by Anbara Salam

Set in 1956, Belladonna is about two small-town teenage girls from Connecticut, Bridget and Isabella, who become best friends and are thrilled to spend 9 months together when they both apply to and are accepted at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in Northern Italy, a prestigious art history school.

Bridget is completely besotted by Isabella who’s both glamorous and spontaneous. Italy gives a chance for their romance to blossom, however when Bridget senses that Isabella’s losing interest, she begins to pursue her like an obsession, doing anything and everything to keep her. Concerned that Isabella carries dark secrets that could change the course of both of their lives irreparably, she does everything in her power to prevent this.

A gracious coming-of-age story that also serves as a provoking exploration of young love and the relationship dynamics that surround it.

Grab your copy here.

33. Memorial (Novel) by Bryan Washington

Named as one of the most anticipated book of 2020 by the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, Memorial is a debut novel by Bryan Washington. It’s also the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize 2020.

A gay couple who’ve been together for a while, Benson and Mike, reflect on their relationship. Both are committed and love each other but are not necessarily in love. When Mike finds out that his estranged father’s ill and dying in Osaka he’s compelled to visit him and say a final goodbye. When his mother Mitsuko arrives to visit Mike while he is in Japan, Benson hosts her. Trapped in an extraordinary domestic situation, Ben finds himself in a completely unpredictable and unexpected situation. At the same time, Mike experiences a revelation in Japan learning new truths about his family and his past that changes him forever.

A unique, refreshing and funny take on the modern-day family as we navigate different cultural and sexual identities.

My favourite quote: “But I guess that’s the thing: we take our memories wherever we go, and what’s left are the ones that stick around, and that’s how we make a life.”

Grab your copy here.

Best Cooking, Food and Wine Books of 2020

34. Bitter Honey: Recipes and Stories from the Island of Sardinia (Italian Cooking, Food & Wine) by Hardie Grant 

Chef Letitia Clark introduces us to the delightful recipes of Sardinian cuisine inspired by her new home on the beautiful Italian island of Sardinia. Often location is everything, and being privy to the rich and nutritious produce of the Mediterranean Sea, Clark guides us through slower-paced, relaxed cooking over open fires that often results in better-cooked food. She captures these homemade recipes, passed through the generations in her book Bitter Honey bringing together and transforming simple foods, such as meat, cheese, beans and legumes in ways that are wholesome, nourishing and evokes a sense of calm and peace — just the way we should all enjoy our food.

Each recipe is peppered with gorgeous illustrations and stories set in the sun transporting us to the Mediterranean. From delicious salads of celery, orange, anchovy and hazelnut to crab, saffron and tomato pasta and roasted eggplants glazed in honey enjoyed with garlic and burrata. And to top it all off, we are treated with almond panna cotta, poached apricots and bowls of mascarpone with sour cherry ice cream. Divine.

Grab your copy here.

35. Simply: Easy Everyday Cooking (Middle Eastern & Mediterranean Cooking) by Sabrina Ghayour

Sabrina Ghayour’s latest collection of flavourful cooking, middle eastern style, makes it all look so easy and fabulous. Here she feeds us 100+ recipes that can be enjoyed every day, bringing an exciting and delightful range to our daily menus. These include simple recipes such as baked sweet potato & za’atar chips, Kabab koobideh, marinated steak with labneh, goats’ cheese, vegetable & za’atar filo tart, chilled pistachio & cucumber soup, lamb & sour cherry rice and harissa chicken noodle lettuce cups.

Of course no collection would be complete without some refreshing middle eastern delights: tahini, almond & orange brownies, saffron & sesame shortbreads and turmeric, orange & coconut rice pudding. I can’t wait to indulge in this one.

Grab your copy here.

Best Travel Books of 2020

36. The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power (Guide Book) by Deirdre Mask

A refreshing narrative on class, race, power, and identity told through the story of address books, from the ancient Romans to the Nazis to present-day London and New York. 

A cultural history about people as well as addresses it reveals who has inspired certain street names and what geolocation tells you about identities and class of people who live there, a sense of ‘you are where you live’ and who matters and who doesn’t and the reasons for this.

Street names and addresses shape our lives, from the spread of epidemics to the people we meet and the networks we build and the culture we embrace. And it spans the world, covering areas globally — making The Address Book a very informative and insightful read.

Grab your copy here.

37. The Journey Matters: Twentieth-Century Travel in True Style (Travel Guide) by Jonathan Glancey

An immersive trip down memory lane, author and architectural critic Jonathan Glancey takes us on an exquisite journey of travel sophistication recounting or re-imagining 20 romantic and glamorous trips from the 1930s to the 2000s including an Imperial Airways flight from Southampton to Singapore, a fabulous stay on the Graf Zeppelin or crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the SS Normandie.

What makes it all even more fascinating is the rich cultural, social and political history and commentary of each of the routes, including the machines that made them possible, the people who built them and the passengers who travelled on them.

Perfect escape for the pandemic-induced, travel-starved reader. What's more it transports us back in time too. Now not even modern-day travel can do that.

Grab your copy here.

38. Hidden Places: An Inspired Traveller’s Guide (Travel Guide) by Sarah Baxter

It is often the work of dedicated journalists, travel bloggers and other travel enthusiasts to unearth places that have not been discovered yet, in a world where Google has pretty much mapped out every corner. Here this is exactly what travel journalist and Wanderlust and Telegraph contributor Sarah Baxter does — taking us on an exhilarating tour of the world yet-to-be-seen whetting our already keen appetite for travel amidst the pandemic.

Stunning with enchanting illustrations across 25 hidden places, we experience a sense of discovery and pleasure from forgotten cities in the Mayan underworld to Japanese Ryukyu Islands to the Black Forest in Germany and the Villa of Tiberius in Italy. And of course no travel destination is complete without its own origin story that’s beautifully researched and revealed. Be prepared to revere in wonder.

Grab your copy here.

Best Pandemic Fiction of 2020

39. The Pull of the Stars (Pandemic Fiction) by Emma Donoghue

A story not so different to ours with the Spanish flu plaguing Ireland in 1918 making it the perfect literature for readers searching for meaning and understanding of their current pandemic realities in what they read. What’s worse about this story is that there’s World War I raging in the background. The protagonist, nurse Julia Power, is working in a hospital that’s already overwhelmed talking care of expectant mothers struck by the new flu, who’re quarantined together. She’s assisted by Doctor Kathleen Lynn, who’s wanted by police and a volunteer named Bridie Sweeney. Together they take charge of this maternity ward, and within three days, their lives change overnight and unexpectedly. 

As they begin their difficult work in an environment where there are few doctors to assist, mothers die while children are born. Responsible for everyone under their watch, they work tirelessly to save as many lives as they can, nurturing hope in a deeply dark and intense experience of being human in an uncertain world.

This is a very unique historical fiction take on the impact of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic on Irish citizens set amidst a world where war was very much destroying the country. Women had limited rights and limited access to contraception, rampant sexual abuse was present in religious institutions and the inhumane treatment of women held in Magdalene asylums (prostitutes were punished and taken in to provide free labour to laundry businesses) stripping them of their dignity and sanity through oppressive torture and abuse.

Emma Donoghue began writing the book in 2018, with little idea that the Coronovirus would break in 2020. It beautifully captures the plight of the ill and the plight of health care workers who with great care and dedication do their best to save humanity. Resonating and powerful, an excellent choice for pandemic fiction.

My favourite quotes: “That’s what influenza means, she said. Influenza delle stelle — the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed.

Grab your copy here.

40. The Companions (Pandemic Fiction) by Katie M. Flynn

Real dystopian pandemic fiction, The Companions is set in a virus-paralysed California that remains quarantined, not too different from our current reality. 

With people quarantined in high rise towers in San Francisco for years, a new technology emerges where the consciousness of the dead can be uploaded to machines where they can be transformed into all sorts of shapes and sizes from tins and cans to other bodies and keep their loved-ones company. This so-called “companionship” program is only accessible to the wealthy with the poor who die being rented out to strangers who need them the most. The company operating this program, the Metis Corporation, essentially has given birth to a new class — a ‘product’ class with no real human rights or free will.

One such companion, a 16-year-old, Lilah finds herself rented out to an unknown family — she quickly discovers that she has the ability to deny commands, running away in search of her murderer. And as the pandemic drags on for decades, we encounter other protagonists, struggling with some moral debate in the backdrop of the pandemic — a brilliant exploration of social dystopia, pandemics, immortality, moral philosophy and artificial intelligence.

Gripping and haunting, this is thrilling, speculative, dystopian fiction at its best, that stretches our imagination to new heights.

Grab your copy here.

A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I train mental health professionals, librarians, teachers as well as readers on using bibliotherapy in their own work through our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course. We also curate reading lists/personalised book prescriptions for clients based on their individual needs. This is our signature personalised reading service.

You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also a Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation.

In this role, I have had the opportunity to publish a book called The Happiness Mindset, and write various literary essays and pieces for newspapers and magazines. I have undertaken bibliotherapy workshops for The United Nations, various libraries in New York and corporate organisations in the UK and US. My book recommendations have featured in the Guardian, Marie Claire, NBC News, Asian Voice, New York Observer, Sydney Telegraph and various other publications. If you are a parent you might enjoy a podcast I’ve recorded with speech and language therapist Sunita Shah on Raising A Reader & Storyteller. And if you’d like to connect, email me at bijal@booktherapy.io or www.booktherapy.io.

Book Therapy is a participant in the Amazon EU, US and Canada Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Amazon.ca



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