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My Best Reads of 2020 – krakens, dragons, & other gods

I feel the first disclaimer I should put here is that I thought it had been a long…

I feel the first disclaimer I should put here is that I thought it had been a long time since I read Matt Haig’s The Humans, but a look at instagram informed me it was January, so I threw it in the video anyway.

Turns out, it was not January. It was some time in 2019. I don’t know how I managed to mix that up, but as it’s definitely one of my favourite books of recent years – if not just generally a favourite – I shall keep it. Plus, I can’t be bothered re-doing the video. I’d have to put on a Presentable top again, and that’s asking a lot these days.

So that’s the first disclaimer – that not all of these books are from 2020. The second is that I also spend a certain amount of time talking about rage-reading and DNFs, of which I had an unreasonable proportion this year (the Did Not Finishes, not the rage-reads. Thankfully there was only one of those, but I still can’t get it scrubbed out of my brain. It just won’t go. *sobs*). I’m still not certain if the amount of books that just didn’t work for me was me being picky (I am, these days. I don’t read enough books to stick with ones that aren’t capturing me), or 2020 just making it harder to focus. I know there was at least a certain amount of that.

Because that was 2020, wasn’t it? Everything was different. Everything changed. And as we tiptoe into 2021, it feels rather like more of the same so far. The UK’s back in lockdown. The virus romps on. There’s good news (vaccines) and bad news (more infections, among other issues that have kept me stuck to my news apps once again), and we have to just keep muddling along as well as we can.

2020, reading, best reads, favourite books, am reading, self care

Best TV discovery of the year. Also why I now have a fixation on blanket forts.

And that is okay. Lovely people, muddling along is fantastic. However it looks for you – if it’s books and cake and naps and blanket forts, or home improvement projects and learning musical instruments and new languages – it’s all good. Do what you need to do to keep muddling on. Be gentle with yourselves. Take time to figure out what you need, and do what you can to get it (you know, as long as it’s legal and no one’s getting hurt, as tempting as that throne made from the skulls of your enemies feels as a DIY project – and I know it does). Hug your fur family. And your human family, if it’s safe to do so. Call your friends, if that’s what you need. Hibernate. Watch old movies. Read favourite books. Eat good food – and by that I mean food that makes you feel good, not Good Food as dictated by the health magazines.

And whether your way of surviving this is building a three-story bird house with gingerbread detail on the balcony, or re-reading Lord of the Rings for the twenty-third time, embrace it. Let go of the guilt that you haven’t been as productive as the memes on instagram would have you believe you should have been. Throw out your sourdough starter if it’s become a chore. Relegate your new running shoes to summer casual if the thought of even putting them on makes you want to set them on fire. Or just set them on fire, if you’ve got a fire extinguisher handy. Whatever works. Just keep muddling on.

You’ve come this far. You have done brilliantly. So just keep going, lovely people. Be good to yourselves and each other.

And now you can watch me hold a Magnus Chase book and declare I can’t remember the name of the main character. Sigh.

Now over to you, lovely people. What were your favourite reads of 2020? How did you find your reading might have changed through this strange year? Did you read more? Less? Look for escapism? Crave learning? Let me know below!

Now I’m off to make more tea and probably have another cookie. Because that’s me muddling along. 🙂

2020, derrn brown, magnus chase, Matt Haig, mental health, reading, rick riordan, self care, stoicism, The Humans

  1. Carolyn says:

    I’ve had a lot of DNFs and I put it down to being a bit picky but mainly I think there are too many people who think they can just cobble a book together. My OH had a small grump the other day as some fellow had just taken a thriller and more or less changed the names and left the rest intact.

    I find myself talking to the dragons which is reasonable but the other day I found OH wrapping a blanket round them as he thought they must be cold. Ah well – I expect they were.

    1. Kim Watt says:

      Oh no – that’s a bit much, just changing the names! I know the concept that there’s only a finite number of stories, and we just re-tell them in different forms, but that’s taking it a wee bit too literally … I agree that it sometimes feels people have just chucked a story together and gone, here you are. I try to be as generous as I can when reading, but writing is as much rewriting and editing as it is getting that initial story going.

      And that was very thoughtful of the OH! Dragons will definitely be feeling the cold in this weather. I haven’t caught the SO doing that yet, but he did once build a pillow fort for the Little Furry Muse because he was concerned that the spare bed (where she’d burrowed in and built her own) was in use. One can’t have a chilly muse.

      1. Carolyn says:

        Cold muse = no snarkiness = no Gobbelino. More warmth neeeded

        1. Kim Watt says:

          We’ve just had a new logburner put in, so the Little Furry Muse is most happy. She already knows the sound of kindling being laid from the old fire and will come running. I expect an excellent level of musing after this!

  2. BJ Brookman says:

    While I don’t usually like fantasy or paranormal I did love the dragons and the invisible dog, not so much the zombies. I bought all the books when they came out which as a retiree gets harder to do. Another book about Beaufort and his group would be appreciated. Mainly I have been checking out the free books that start a series and have found several I like enough to spend the money on. Ann Sutton’s Dodo Dorchester series, Lizzie Josephson’s Mystery Cruise series and Harriet Steel’s Inspector De Silva mystery series have become my other favorites. I read most anything as long as it has mature characters, no sex and no preaching religion or politics.

    1. Kim Watt says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the stories! Thank you for taking a chance on something outside your usual genre, and for the lovely support ❤️ I’m currently working on some new Gobbelino tales, but Beaufort isn’t finished yet!

      And it sounds like you’ve found some excellent series there. It’s always handy being able to pick up the first books cheaply. It makes it much easier to take a chance on new authors!

    2. Carolyn says:

      I can do without the steamy sex and smouldering police officers too. I was thinking of trying Dodo Dorchester so may take a chance on her

  3. I found that, throughout this dreadful pandemic year, I could barely bring myself read anything new. It seemed that I had to know the end of a story, or reading only provoked more anxiety. In fact, it was not just old favorites that I reread, but childhood and young adult favorites. I located copies of and read “Miss Happiness and Miss Flower” and the sequel, “Little Plum” at least three times! I tried to find a copy of “Kirsti” to reread–$400??!!!–OUCH!–No! (Maybe they will put it on the Gutenberg Project someday.) I reread the light and beautifully-written mysteries of Madeline Brent, from the 1960s and 70s. I read new favorites (ahem! Tea-drinking dragons!) multiple times.

    And, sadly, that’s still what I’m doing…

    1. Kim Watt says:

      Comfort reading and re-reading is so important when the world is so uncertain. And I love reading middle grade novels when things feel just a bit too much out of control. I always have a reasonable confidence that things will work out okay in the end (certainly in the titles I choose, anyway!). I have to admit I’ve been eyeing up my old Moomintroll books and thinking that a return to that gentle, melancholy world is called for very soon.

      And I’m SO happy and flattered that Beaufort’s sneaked onto your re-reading lists! That is just the loveliest thing to hear ❤️

  4. Hello darling!

    I’ve had a mix of reading out of interest, rather than necessity for the degree, most of which has been fiction, although I’ve continued to be quite fascinated with the concept of Reframing, which is exceptionally useful in social work, but I think to cope with the strangeness and loss of control the last year or so has thrown at us. I’ve also read a lot about behaviourism; again, useful to social work but also in understanding how people tick, in combination with other elements like attachment. It helps me be gentler with myself, as well, I push myself way too hard. As a life-long People Watcher, this stuff really floats my boat.

    My stuff’s all on Kindle, fiction-wise. I’ve also been loving Buroker’s Death Before Dragons series (who wouldn’t like to kick ass with your very own giant tiger?), book 9 is due in a few weeks (squeeee!!) and also the Star Kingdom series, which has some brilliant characters, the main one of whom is allergic to everything, awkward, geeky and a nerdy professor, who nevertheless seems always to win the day through outside-the-box thinking and a belief that there is good in everyone. It’s very sci-fan, taking place in space and on imagined worlds, so not sure whether it’d be your ‘thing’ or not, Kim, but worth having a look at perhaps? I read the box set of Agents of the Crown (1-5), which I did enjoy, again the protagonist is a female warrior, but not as much as other series. If you haven’t looked at the Emporor’s Edge series, it sounds somewhat similar to the steam-punk duology you mention above (Clockwork Boy), with a disparate group brought together to fight for the Kingdom to gain pardons. There’s a little bit of romance, but in a similar vein to Val and Zav in DBD; I think you’d like this one.

    Another of my fave authors, Carolynn Gockel, has a Norse mythology series called I Bring The Fire. The first in the series is free as a taster. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bring-Fire-Part-Wolves-Loki-ebook/dp/B008UUIGB2/ref=sr_1_8?crid=1576LJRJ11LBL&dchild=1&keywords=c+gockel&qid=1610902354&s=digital-text&sprefix=c+go%2Cdigital-text%2C147&sr=1-8) It also transposes that mythology, focusing on Loki, onto modern America. Carolynn’s writing is superb: great characterisation, plot lines, action, pacing. Just excellent. This year I’ve been continuing her Archangel Project; Carolynn explores interpersonal dynamics a lot, be they love of all kinds or adversarial, and the nature of humanity or personhood. The characters are diverse (human, android, were, a sentient ship, and a race of higher beings who hang out in venemous ferret-type bodies) but the themes are so universal that the fact that it all goes on in space is almost secondary.

    For some reason, as if the world hasn’t been dark enough, I’ve also read a lot of thrillers/ police procedurals. Barry Hutchison’s alter-ego JD Kirk has produced some brilliant books in the Scottish-based DCI Logan series and I’ve hoovered them up. I bought some signed copies- paperbacks even!- as a Crimble pressie to myself, and a personalised signed copy of Space Team for Number 1 Son. Julie Smith’s Skip Langdon books have also been favourites. The latest inToby Neal’s Paradise Crime series were enjoyable too. Celina Grace’s Kate Redman series also grew by a couple of stories last year; Grace explores characters and relationships as much as she does the crime stuff, which is an aspect I enjoy (see People Watcher comment above). Estelle Ryan doesn’t write very fast, but she did gift us with a new Genevieve Lenard book this year, The Becic Connection. The premise follows a differingly-talented group solving art-related crimes. Genevieve is autistic, and struggles with personal interaction, which can impede the ways her brilliance can shine. The series explores the developing relationships and dynamics between the group members, as well as the value of differences and individuality, and how they add strength to the whole. Plus, art stuff and intriguing plots. Overall, I’ve loved this series, but this latest book felt a little stale and two-dimensional in terms of the charcters’ interactions, relying too much on the particular nicknames they have for each other to show closeness, rather than genuine dialogue or action. It feels like Ryan may be running out of steam with this series.

    Jasper Fforde is a local lad, living somewhere in the wilds of Mid-Wales, whose work I’ve been following for a couple of decades. Very funny, very weird, satirical and sometimes dark, JF writes a lot about the concepts of ‘otherness’ and ‘normality’. His 2020 offering, The Constant Rabbit, turns the image of the quintessential English village on its head in a work that exemplifies the marginalisation and rise in hostility and violence against the Other that has been on the rise in Western society in recent years. It’s a strong political statement, if you want to read it that way, but a weird and wacky, very British tale if not.

    I bought a few Alexander McCall Smith books this year, but didn’t actually feel like reading them after an Isobel Dalhousie story that didn’t catch my imagination.

    In between the heavier stuff, there’ve been some Christine Pope witchy books in the Wheeler Park series I’ve read as ARCs. Nice easy reads, well-written, well paced, Christine has a special talent for bringing her locations to life and making the reader feel that they’re really there.

    Then there’s this NZ chick who never shuts up about cake and cats. She writes some cool stuff, too.

    1. Carolyn says:

      Re your comment about Isabel Dalhousie – I couldn’t agree more. She just doesn’t cut it with me any more. Thank goodness Bertie is still a joy to read about.

      The NZ author you mention is a menace – I’ve ended up making her truffles and sticking them in the freezer which is disastrous as they smile at me when I open it. Her cat is cool though.

      1. Kim Watt says:

        I only tried one Isobel Dalhousie book, and from memory I didn’t even finish it. I still dip into 44 Scotland Street from time to time, though, and I liked his first “Scandi blanc” novel – The Department of Sensitive Crimes.

        As for NZ authors bearing truffle recipes – you have to be careful of them. Don’t let the cat fool you. That’s just a distraction. 😉

      2. Bertie is wonderful. I want to poke out his parents’ eyes though. Melanie Klein- heaven help us!

        The writer IS a menace, but I’m becoming bewilderingly fond of her. Even if I’m 95% certain that Layla writes that stuff, not her Humom.

        1. Carolyn says:

          I’m quite fond of Ulysses as he shows great discernment in vomiting near his mother.

          You could be right about the Furry Muse being the creator of Gobbelino in her own image. The proximity of cat to warmth and good food certainly is dragonish also.

          1. Kim M Watt says:

            Just because he shares certain physical characteristics … and has a rather similar view of humans and their foibles… 😉

          2. And being vommed on is no more than she deserves, the cheating cow!

          3. Carolyn says:

            This just proves that we are all lovely people with discerning tastes.

          4. Kim Watt says:

            In my phone notifications this popped up directly underneath Sam’s comment about people deserving to be vomited on, with no connection to anything previous, and I have to admit I couldn’t even begin to think what conversation it might be in relation to! I did wonder a wee bit how our definitions of discerning tastes *may* have shifted a little recently. but I blame 2020. I think we can blame it for many things 😉 And you are of course quite right. You’re all entirely wonderful, and certain people *do* deserve to be vomited on…

          5. Kim Watt says:

            I got my conversations a little muddled and thought this was in relation to my passing the LFM’s storytelling abilities off as my own. Which, of course, I had to agree with, but I’m slightly relieved that no one’s wishing cat vomit on me. I get enough as it is … 😉

        2. Kim M Watt says:

          Poor Bertie. I cheer every small rebellion!

          And I think you may be onto something regarding Layla…

    2. Kim M Watt says:

      This is AWESOME. Although my TBR has crawled into a corner, where it’s sobbing and refusing to come out. I love the sound of your non-fiction reads as well – I do enjoy books that help me figure out the way people (and myself) work a little better. I’m very odd with them though – I’ll be absolutely fascinated once I’m in them, but actually getting myself to pick them up can be a struggle. I often find they’re good for long trips, when I can focus to a while. So it might be a while till I can read any more, then …

      I have I Bring The Fire waiting on my kindle – I think you recommended that at some point on FB and I grabbed it, as I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of your recommendations (that noise you hear is my TBR wailing). I also picked up the first of the Archangel ones, I think – I’m not a huge sci-fi reader, but I love people-centred sci-fi. Well, usually. I have said this before and was recommended a fantastic book that was actually very people-centred, but it didn’t grip me at all because it was SO people-centred that nothing happened. So, balance, I guess.

      And I love the 44 Scotland Street novels, but the Isobel Dalhousie one I tried was very meh. I did read his new one set in Sweden, though, and I did quite enjoy that.

      Now I’m off to fill my kindle. 😉

      1. I’m sorry, sweetie. I’m the menace to your poor TBR list, I know.

        Have you/ Carolyn read any of the No 1 Detective Agency books? I haven’t read any for a few years but used to love them. I lost track of new ones when I got my first Kindle.

        1. Carolyn says:

          I bought a cheap box of the first 5 of the Ladies some years ago and I thought they were (and are) delightful – light but also good for getting a feeling for the country and customs. I confess I haven’t kept up with the series because I keep finding awesome new characters in other works, like the wonderful Beaufort Scales and snarky Gobbelino. I have faithfully bought all the 44 Scotland Street series in paperback so I can re-read at leisure instead of thumbing through the good old Kindle

          1. Kim M Watt says:

            A also haven’t read No1 Ladies for years – I read the first few and then there just seemed to be a lot of them and I stopped. I think they never quite gripped me, although the characters were lovely.

            And Carolyn, you’re too lovely. I’m so happy to see Beaufort and Gobs in there!

  5. stewart russell says:

    Hello Kim, love the expression “rage reads”when I was younger I always used to persevere with books that didn’t match my whimsy, and sometimes they would reward you with being better than you first thought. Only book I never finished was James Herbert’s “Fluke”. You are my new author! loved to bits the Gobbelino London books (where is the next one???”
    Ben Aaronovitch “Rivers of London” series is a must for me as was Terry Pratchett (used to queue on day one of publishing, so could read cover to cover on return to home (sad? not sure?). Well worth mentioning Seanan McGuire and Kevin Hearne. Binge read all the No 1 ladies detective agency, Agatha Raisin and Hamish McBeth books.
    Books and their authors are great, you bring so much pleasure every one of you (even the ones that weren’t my cup of tea) Speaking of which…

    1. Kim Watt says:

      Hi Stewart – thanks so much for popping by and commenting, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the Gobbelino books! I’m working on his next one as we speak, and there are more in the planning. It’s lovely to know that they’ve got an audience – and it means such a lot to hear someone say that books and authors bring so much pleasure. It really does make a massive difference.

      And yes to Pratchett and Aaronovitch! Both such excellent authors. I’m very behind on Rivers of London – I think I’ll have to start again at the beginning of the series when I get back to them. What a hardship… 😉

      Happy reading!

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