My Five Favourite Five Star Reads of 2020

I’m not one for giving away a five star rating lightly, so making it onto this list is high praise indeed. These are my favourites novels which I’ve read this year; they’ve not necessarily been published in 2020, nor have I necessarily reviewed them. So, in no particular order, we have…

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

Four septuagenarians with a few tricks up their sleeves
A female cop with her first big case
A brutal murder
Welcome to…
THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron might be pushing eighty, but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?

Verdict: A spotless murder mystery which makes improbable investigators and unlikely allies seem perfectly plausible. The had better be a sequel coming soon!

Survivor Song – Paul Tremblay

A riveting novel of suspense and terror from the Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken paediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbour—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

Paul Tremblay once again demonstrates his mastery in this chilling and all-too-plausible novel that will leave readers racing through the pages . . . and shake them to their core.

Verdict: A scarily prescient viral pandemic horror(ish) with a big heart.

A Cosmology of Monsters – Shaun Hamill

Stephen King’s It meets Stranger Things in a tender and terrifying coming-of-age tale of haunted houses and the monster at the door.

Noah Turner’s family are haunted by monsters that are all too real, strange creatures that visit them all: His bookish mother Margaret; Lovecraft-obsessed father Harry; eldest sister Sydney, born for the spotlight; the brilliant but awkward Eunice, a gifted writer and storyteller – the Turners each face their demons alone.

When his terminally-ill father becomes obsessed with the construction of an elaborate haunted house – the Wandering Dark – the family grant his last wish, creating themselves a legacy, and a new family business in their grief. But families don’t talk about the important things, and they try to shield baby Noah from horrors, both staged and real.

As the family falls apart, fighting demons of poverty, loss and sickness, the real monsters grow ever closer. Unbeknownst to them, Noah is being visited by a wolfish beast with glowing orange eyes. Noah is not the first of the Turners to meet the monster, but he is the first to let it into his room…

Verdict: A Gothic fantasy which explores love and loss, and the many and varied ways in which we deal with it.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep – H.G. Parry

The ultimate book-lover’s fantasy, featuring a young scholar with the power to bring literary characters into the world, for fans of The MagiciansMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and The Invisible Library.

For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancée, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world… and for once, it isn’t Charley’s doing.

There’s someone else who shares his powers. It’s up to Charley and a reluctant Rob to stop them, before these characters tear apart the fabric of reality.

Verdict: A tale of secrets, friendship, and family. Every now and again you come across a story which makes you almost mourn when you finish it. This was one of those books.

The Stranger Times – C.K. McDonnell

There are Dark Forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular) and so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them. A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but more often the weird) of modern life, it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable . . .

At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered, and -mouthed husk of a man who thinks little (and believes less) of the publication he edits, while his staff are a ragtag group of wastrels and misfits, each with their own secrets to hide and axes to grind. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got her own set of problems.

It’s when tragedy strikes in Hannah’s first week on the job that The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious, proper, actual investigative journalism. What they discover leads them to a shocking realisation: that some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly, gruesomely real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker foes than they could ever have imagined. It’s one thing reporting on the unexplained and paranormal but it’s quite another being dragged into the battle between the forces of Good and Evil . . .

Verdict: Reminiscent of Heide Goody and Iain Grant, with a little of Douglas Adams thrown in. Daft enough to keep a smile on your face but not so daft that you lose the darkness inherent in the story. The Stranger Times sets a solid foundation for a substantial series, and I can’t wait for the next instalment.

Bonus – Favourite Non-Fiction Read in 2020

Black and British: A Forgotten History – David Olusoga

In this vital re-examination of a shared history, historian and broadcaster David Olusoga tells the rich and revealing story of the long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean.

Drawing on new genealogical research, original records, and expert testimony, Black and British reaches back to Roman Britain, the medieval imagination, Elizabethan ‘blackamoors’ and the global slave-trading empire. It shows that the great industrial boom of the nineteenth century was built on American slavery, and that black Britons fought at Trafalgar and in the trenches of both World Wars. Black British history is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation. It is not a singular history, but one that belongs to us all.

Unflinching, confronting taboos and revealing hitherto unknown scandals, Olusoga describes how the lives of black and white Britons have been entwined for centuries.

Verdict: I have never realised how deliberately one-sided the history I’ve learned is. Black and British is a horrific eye-opener which restores inconvenient truths to Britain’s timeline.

Bonus Entry – Best End to a Series Read in 2020

Paternus: War of Gods – Paternus #3 – Dyrk Ashton

War of Gods is the highly anticipated conclusion to the critically acclaimed, award winning epic urban fantasy series, The Paternus Trilogy.

From Africa to Asgard, to an invisible island in the Pacific and the Bone Road of a forgotten world, Fi and Zeke must come to grips with not only their newfound abilities but also who they are – and accept what they are becoming: wielders of ancient and dangerous powers, warriors, and maybe even heroes. But the end of worlds is coming, and time is short.

Titans will clash. Gods will battle. Monsters will swarm.

Can Peter and the Deva possibly defeat their age-old enemy in the face of overwhelming odds against them? There’s only one way to find out.

CRY HAVOC, AND LET SLIP THE GODS OF WAR.

Verdict: If you like ancient myths and legends, and you like urban fantasy, then you can’t get much better than the Paternus trilogy. War of Gods brings the trilogy to an immense crashing finale, and humans, gods and monsters will fall. A fantastic conclusion to an epic story.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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