20 Books of Summer, 2020


I’m having a go at Cathy’s (746 Books) 20 Books of Summer challenge for the fourth year running!

I had grand plans about making 20 Books of Summer a re-reading challenge this year, but two things have got in my way: firstly, most of my books are stored at my dad’s, so I haven’t been able to access some of the titles I wanted to re-read, and secondly, I’ve managed to build up a big TBR pile through stockpiling books when lockdown first started. While I know others are happy to have a lot of TBR books on their shelves, I really don’t like it, and so I’m going to clear the pile by putting all of them on this list!

Last year, I managed to read and review all 20 books for the first time, so I won’t be too bothered if I don’t manage it this time – but a lot of these are ARCs, so I’ll probably be reading and reviewing them anyway.

My Twenty Books

Each with a one-line plot summary, then a one-line summary of why I’ve chosen it, plus bonus details on where I bought/borrowed it from.

  • Swamplandia!Karen Russell. This novel focuses on a family of alligator wrestlers who run an alligator-wrestling theme park off the southeastern coast of Florida. Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove is one of my favourite short story collections of all time, and I put this on my 2020 reading list because I really ought to read more by her; also, that synopsis! Bought online from Mr B’s bookshop during lockdown.
  • The Road Home: Rose Tremain. Lev, an Eastern European immigrant, seeks work in Britain to support his family. I checked this out of my local library just before lockdown started, and it’s a past winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, so forms part of my #ReadingWomen challenge this year.
  • The Mercies: Kiran Millwood Hargrave. This focuses on two women living in a Norwegian coastal village in the 1600s who are threatened with accusations of witchcraft after a storm kills all of the island’s men. I love the summary, and it’s on the alternative Women’s Prize longlist. Kindle deal.
  • The Terror: Dan Simmons. Continuing a theme, this blockbuster novel imagines that Sir John Frankin’s ill-fated mid-nineteenth-century expedition to the Arctic was stalked by a monster. I think this was recommended by Elle? Anyway, it ticks a lot of my boxes. Kindle deal.
  • Brixton Hill: Lottie Moggach. Rob is reaching the end of his time in an open prison in Brixton, now allowed out for a few hours a day to volunteer in a local charity shop; but after an encounter with a mysterious woman, everything hangs in the balance. I thought Moggach’s two previous books, Kiss Me First and Under The Sun, were thoughtful literary thrillers, and this promises more of the same. NetGalley, out in July.
  • You Will Never Be Forgotten: Mary South. This collection of speculative short stories looks at what happens when technology intersects with human emotion in a near-future world. Sounds right up my street, and I like having at least one collection of short stories for 20 Books of Summer. Netgalley, out in August.
  • Summerwater: Sarah Moss. Told over the course of a single day in a Scottish holiday park, this short novel charts rising tensions between twelve residents. I’ve read everything Moss has written, and this was one of my most anticipated 2020 releases. Netgalley, out in August.
  • Blue TicketSophie Mackintosh. This high-concept novel is set in a world where motherhood is decided by lottery, and women have to live with the decision that is made for them – no children if they draw a blue ticket, motherhood if they draw a white one. Also one of my most anticipated 2020 releases. Netgalley, out in August.
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: Olga Tokarczuk. This novel, set in a remote Polish village, sounds distinctly strange and original, blending murder mystery with ‘dark feminist commentary‘ (Guardian). I’ve heard lots of bloggers rave about this book, so I thought I’d give it a try, and it’s nice to read more translated fiction. Kindle deal.
  • Hild: Nicola Griffith. Set in seventh-century Britain, this novel is a fictionalised telling of the life of the real historical figure, Hilda of Whitby. This novel has already defeated me once due to its huge cast of characters, but armed with pen and paper, I’m determined to tackle it again. Bought in person from Mr B’s bookshop some years ago.
  • If I Had Your Face: Frances Cha. Set in Seoul, this debut novel focuses on four young women living in the same apartment building who are trying to make their way in a world defined by impossible beauty standards. I started this once before but wasn’t in the right mood for it; I didn’t spot anything wrong with it, though, so I’m excited to give it another go. NetGalley, out in July.
  • The Disaster Tourist: Yun Ko-eun. Billed by the publisher as ‘a satirical Korean eco-thriller with a fierce feminist sensibility’, this follows Yona, an employee at a travel company who realises that the company is fabricating environmental disaster on a remote island to make one of their package holidays more interesting. I love the premise, but I’ve seen some lukewarm reviews since requesting the ARC, so I’ll see how I get on with it. NetGalley, out in July.
  • A Children’s Bible: Lydia Millett. This novel follows ‘a group of twelve eerily mature children on a forced vacation with their families at a sprawling lakeside mansion’ (Goodreads). I’m interested in anything that interrogates childhood, and I was offered a review copy of this novel by the publisher (thanks Rebecca for alerting me to it!)
  • Tiamat’s Wrath: James S.A. Corey. The eighth and penultimate installment in the Expanse series, this continues the sprawling futuristic spacefaring tale told by the previous seven books. I was pleasantly surprised by the seventh book, Persepolis Rising, which feels like a soft reboot after some poor middle entries in the series, so I’m hoping this continues the trend. NetGalley.
  • The Vanishing Half: Brit Bennett. This novel follows identical twin sisters, one who stays in the small, southern black US community where they grew up, the other who leaves and passes for white even to her own husband. I was underwhelmed by Bennett’s debut novel, The Mothers, but her writing is immensely readable, and I was intrigued by this blurb – I’m always interested by, as Elena Ferrante puts it,‘those who leave and those who stay’, and the racial element here adds another layer of potential. NetGalley, out in June.

Unusually for me, there’s a substantial non-fiction showing in my 20 Books of Summer this year. Here are the five non-fiction books I plan to read.

  • The Gendered Brain: Gina Rippon. A neuroscientist debunks popular myths about ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains. Having read both Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender and Testosterone Rex, I’m wondering how different this will be, but I’m always up for people demolishing neurosexism, and I enjoyed meeting Rippon briefly at the British Science Festival in September, where we were both speaking. NetGalley.
  • Surfacing: Kathleen Jamie. Another collection of nature-writing essays by Jamie, who is also an acclaimed poet. I loved Jamie’s two previous collections, Findings and (especially) Sightlinesso I’m very much looking forward to this. Kindle deal.
  • Notes From The Bottom of the World: A Life in Chile: Suzanne Adam. This collection of personal essays deals with the forty years Adam spent living in Chile, having originally moved there from the United States. I hope this will supply some useful background for a novel I’m beginning to write. Christmas present.
  • The Fens: Francis Pryor. Pryor spent forty years living in the fens (rather than Chile!) and this book is a history of that landscape and its great transformation. Research for a (different!) novel I’m writing, but as that one is at a much more advanced stage, I’m not sure how far this will feed in. Kindle deal.
  • The Maths of Life and Death: Kit Yates. This popular science book ‘explores the true stories of life-changing events in which the application – or misapplication – of mathematics has played a critical role‘ (Amazon). I have a maths A Level but have forgotten pretty much all of it, yet this all sounds really intriguing. Review copy supplied by the publisher.

Are you taking part in 20 Books of Summer, or do you have any other summer reading plans? Is anyone else, like me, trying to conquer (or at least reduce) their TBR pile?


33 thoughts on “20 Books of Summer, 2020

  1. Absolutely OBSESSED with The Terror (so yeah, that was probably me), and also adored Hild – I really hope you like it. Lots of characters, but so engaging once you’re inside its world. I think I’m going to play again this year – maybe a pared-down version – but I will definitely also be looking to reduce my TBR pile!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m giving Hild another go because I know how many people absolutely loved it – I suspect it will fare much better with me this time round because I have a lot more time and space for long physical books during lockdown. (LOVING The Mirror and the Light, BTW. Best of the trilogy?)


        • Interesting – I thought Wolf Hall had lots of dead air, whereas Bring Up The Bodies is so taut and gripping, but leans heavily on its predecessor, whereas I think you could read The Mirror and the Light as a standalone if you knew a few basic things about Tudor history. I also like the quiet moments in Mirror, which was less possible in Bodies just because it’s so distilled.

          Liked by 1 person

          • There are some beautiful descriptive moments in Mirror. It made me remember how good she is at food and clothes (someone just tweeted a screenshot of a long paragraph about plums that’s especially swoony).

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yeah, I can see that all of it isn’t completely necessary (and for those very familiar with the first two books there are a lot of references back, which I appreciated as it’s years since I read them, but might feel repetitive!), but my favourite passages are where Cromwell is just standing still, reflecting on the past and future. I’ve been enjoying seeing what people are screenshotting!

              Liked by 1 person

  2. What a delightful selection! Despite our different taste, there’s plenty here that appeals, or that I’ve read. I’ve struggled with other Russell books, but Swamplandia! is a joy. I’m hoping you’ll enjoy the Tremain more than you expect to; it’s still my favourite of hers. I also have the Bennett from NetGalley, and a copy of the Moss will be on the way later in the summer to review for Shiny New Books. I’m glad the review copies of the Millet and Yates worked out. Looking forward to your reactions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’m a bit hesitant about Swamplandia! as I’ve rarely come across a writer who can produce both brilliant novels and short stories, so it’s good to hear you enjoyed it.


  3. Fantastic list, Laura. Several of those I have already or have read. Surfacing was my book of the years last year so you’re in for a treat there

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great list! I can’t get on with Moss and yet that looks a good one, will watch out for your review. I have “The Vanishing Half” and it’s not on my 20books list as I’m doing physical copies only but I think I will be reading it during the three months.

    And yes, I, too, am trying to reduce my TBR (and I also had a splurge of ordering at the start of lockdown, although I seem to have calmed down a bit now!). I am aiming to get all the books I acquired in 2018 off mine, apart from a load of Angela Thirkells where I’m waiting for one to come so I can read the rest in order – that arrives in August so I might even be able to pick off a couple of those at the end of August if I get my other All August / All Virago books read in time!

    Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ooh, this looks like such an exciting list! I really liked The Mercies and Drive Your Plow, and there are so many I recognize from my own TBR that I’d love to see your thoughts on. I’m especially looking forward to the new Sarah Moss and Sophie Mackintosh novels! I’m hoping to get to those this summer as well, and The Vanishing Half. I hope you find a lot to love amongst this list! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a great list! Looking forward to your thoughts on Millet’s book—I’ve recently added it to my TBR but haven’t read many reviews of it yet. Also The Vanishing Half. I found The Mothers underwhelming but this looks more intriguing. Good luck! 🙂


  7. Pingback: The Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag, 2020 | Laura Tisdall

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