My ten favourite books of 2020

Yes, it has been a crazy year. But when I look at my reading behaviour, it was quite a normal year. I had some trouble trying to read as many as last year after I lost my commute time, but in the end I managed to watch a lot less television so I was able to read more during the evening. And I read some great books! I tried to compile a list of my 10 favourites that I believe you should get your hands on too.

As I told you in my stats post of 2020: of the 39 books I read, there were three 5-star reads and twenty-two 4-star books. So, you can imagine putting together a list of only 10 great books wasn’t easy. But I will give it a try, starting with my three favourites.

The glass woman by Caroline Lea

I have spoken of this book a lot to anyone who wanted or didn’t want to hear it. This gothic novel offers an unique setting as it takes us to 17th century Iceland.

In the shadow of the crown by Patricia Bracewell

The first book in a trilogy about the life of Queen Emma Of Normandy. In this novel, she travels to England to marry the older King Aethelred only to fall in love with his son. In the meantime, the Danes are planning an attack on England to take the crown. An interesting historical saga for everyone looking for another setting than the world wars.

The poison bed by E.C. Fremantle

A man and his wife are both in The Tower suspected of the same crime. One of them confessed, the other pleads innocent. Only one of them is the murderer. This historical thriller with a high gone girl allure about the Thomas Overbury scandal at the Stuart court will keep you awake at night.

In the company of the courtisan by Sarah Dunant

A story about outcasts, friendship and art in Venice. You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy Dunant’s stories. They are here for the lovers of ‘la dulce vita’. Take a good glass of wine and let Dunant take you to renaissance Italy as no one can do that job better than she.

Milady by Laura L. Sullivan

Your favourite female villainess tells her story in this retelling of Dumas’ masterpiece. Follow the journey of Milady De Winter from a young girl on the English countryside to the most feared French spy. It will be quite a ride!

The silence of the girls – Pat Barker

A retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Briseis, a Greek princess who becomes the slave girl of Achilles. It’s a brutal and slightly feminist story that will change your opinion about Achilles, mark my words. I’m looking forward to the sequel ‘the women of Troy’.

The foundling by Stacey halls

A story about two different women with their own problems and demons. Bess leaves her baby daughter at the Foundling hospital determined to come back for her whenever she has the financial means. Alexandra is a rich widow afraid to go outside, so she locks herself and her daughter into their home, only to go out to the chapel around the corner on Sundays in a carriage. When Bess returns for her daughter a few years later, she learns another woman has already claimed the child under Bess’ name.

Sovereign by C.J. Sansom

Matthew Shardlake and Barak are again looking for a murderer, this time during Henry VIII’s progress to the North together with this fifth queen Catherine Howard. They also need to find some compromising documents about the monarchy itself. This was the best book in the series so far, but I do recommend starting with the first one, ‘Dissolution’.

The book thief – Marcus zusak

I finally read this story about a girl who loves reading during WOII, as everyone kept telling me I should. This is not your average WOII novel. It has an original perspective and wild imagination. A sad and hopeful story at the same time.

The silken rose by Carol McGrath

I was in doubt whether this would be my 10th book on the list or not. But I did choose the silken rose because I learned more about the life of Eleanor Of Provence, a forgotten queen, and Carol McGrath was a new-to-me author who I’ll look out for in 2021.

Other historical books that deserve a mention here are Queen of the north by Anne O’ Brien, Valhalla by Alan Robert Clark and the autumn throne, the final of Elizabeth Chadwicks books about Eleanor Of Aquitaine.

Have you read any of these? What was your favourite book of 2020?

A look back at 2020 in books

I’m always looking forward to the Goodreads ‘my year in books‘ report, although it has less stats every year, or so it seems. I just love to see the numbers and compare them to my previous years. On my personal Dutch blog, I have been sharing these stats and my five to ten favorite books of the year for more than 5 years now. While I was writing that post for 2020, I decided that I would split it in two for In Another Era. So I’ll still publish a post with my favorite reads of 2020, but today I’m focusing on my reading stats of 2020.

My general reading stats

  • I have read a total of 39 books in 2020, one more than in 2019. I read the highest number of books in 2018, that year I read 40 books. On average I read 3,4 books a month.
  • Those 39 books counted for 14.495 pages, 2.000 pages less than last year. So however I read more books, it isn’t my best reading year (as the graphic shows below, I read more pages in the three previous years). In this crazy year, I couldn’t always focus on my book.
Screenshot of the number of pages I’ve read since I have a Goodreads account.
  • The reason I’ve read less pages is quite simple: I read smaller books this year. On average my books were 371 pages long, compared to 434 pages last year!
  • Normally, I pick up a few very big books every year, especially when reading the next installment in the Outlander series. This year, I didn’t manage to grab the next Outlander at the library, and the longest book I read was ‘Sovereign‘ of ‘only’ 583 pages. That’s a big book, but it doesn’t come close to any of my previous longest reads of above 1.000 pages.
  • The shortest book was ‘A Paris affair‘ by Tatiana De Rosnay. A collection of short stories of 114 pages.
  • I gave my books an average rating of 3.6 stars, slightly more than in 2019 and 2018.

Format

  • COVID-19 made sure that the library was closed a while and that I couldn’t visit when it was opened again because we still needed to work from home (and my library is in the city were I work). So I read a lot more physical books from my shelves. I finished 7 books from my shelves and I only bought one new physical copy (‘a tapestry of treason‘) as I haven’t been in a book shop since February.
  • In August I bought my new kindle Paperwhite e-reader (and I started this blog :)). Since then I have read 11 e-books, some of them I received as a review copy via Netgalley.
  • I read almost exclusively in English this year. Because the books on my shelves and on my Kindle are all English and since I didn’t want to linger in the library for too long so I went directly to the English section. I only read 6 of the 39 books in Dutch. FYI: Some 4 years ago, I read in Dutch only.

Rating

  • 3 books received the full 5-stars and have become favorites that I want to reread one day.
  • 22 books I enjoyed a lot so they got 4 stars.
  • 9 books were just solid 3-star reads
  • I didn’t like 5 books so they only got 2 stars. I especially disliked ‘the secret history‘ by Donna Tartt (review still to come) and ‘the Boleyn bride‘.

Setting and era

If we look at the settings of all the historical fiction books I read (I didn’t count contemporary books for this section), it’s no surprise that England tops the list:

  • England: 26 books
  • France: 2 books
  • Italy: 2 books
  • Russia: 2 books
  • Iceland: 1 book
  • Jamaica: 1 book
  • Germany: 1 book
  • Spain: 1 book

After England, Italy, France and Russia have always been my favorite settings, but this year there was a clear focus on the English history. But I did read about very diverse ages. My top eras are the 16th century (my favourite era) and the 20th century (world wars, Russian Revolution).

  • Ancient Greece: 2 books
  • 6th century: 1 book
  • 8th century: 1 book
  • 10h century: 1 book
  • 11th century: 1 book
  • 12th century: 3 books (all about Eleanor Of aquitaine)
  • 13th century: 1 book
  • 14th century: 2 books
  • 15th century: 1 book
  • 16th century: 6 books
  • 17th century: 5 books
  • 18th century: 2 books
  • 19th century: 2 books
  • 20th century: 6 books

I’m proud that I’ve read about so many diverse time periods! It’s the first time that I keep track of the setting and era in which a historical story takes place. So it’ll be nice to compare these stats to the one of next year.

Most surprisingly, I didn’t read any book about Ancient Rome, although I always enjoy these books so much. But I believe this is due to the fact that I’ve read all the books about Rome that were on my list, so I need to seek out new books. A fine argument to pick up ‘I Claudius’ from my classics club list soon enough!

People

  • I read about some formidable queens, of which Eleanor Of Aquitaine tops the list since I read three books about her life. I also discovered the story of Queen Mary Of Teck, Queen Eleanor Of Provence, Queen Langueroth of Strathclyde, Queen Emma Of Normandy, the current Queen Elizabeth II and of course the Tudor Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I.
  • I enjoyed stories about the female painter Artemisia Gentileschi and also Titian was a side character in ‘in the company of the courtisan‘.
  • Other ‘famous’ or real people I read about are Elizabeth Mortimer, Mary Shelton (lady in-waiting to Elizabeth I), Elizabeth Howard, Frances Howard and her husband Robert Carr, George Villiers, James I and of course Henry VIII. I might forget a few :).

Do you keep track of your reading stats? How many books did you read in 2020? Which one is your favourite?

My reading challenges for 2021

It’s time to look forward to my reading year of 2021. Every year I try to participate in a few reading challenges just to help me prioritize certain books. I’m not a big fan of joining challenges with random book prompts. I’ve noticed that reading outside my TBR can be disappointing. I’m quite good at picking books that I know I’ll like and I also try to read outside my standard (royal) historical fiction genre a few times a year.

Goodreads reading challenge

2020 was the first year where I raised my Goodreads challenge from 30 to 35 books. And I managed to hit that target in November. For 2021, I’ll also set my challenge on 35 books. I do want this challenge to be manageable, especially as I plan to read some big books and/or classics. But I still want to read 3 to 4 books a month and this means I’ll end up around 35 books.

The historical fiction reading challenge

Originally hosted by a few other blogs, than by Passages of the past and now by Intrepid Reader, this challenge is all about my favorite genre: historical fiction. The goal is to pick a number of historical fiction books you want to read, corresponding to a certain historical era. Write a review of what you’ve read and link-up your reviews every month at the Intrepid Reader.

These are the different levels you can choose from:

  • 20th Century Reader – 2 books
  • Victorian Reader – 5 books
  • Renaissance Reader – 10 books
  • Medieval – 15 books
  • Ancient History – 25 books
  • Prehistoric – 50+ books

For me this is an easy choice. I will strive to meet the Ancient History level. Almost 90% of what I read is historical fiction so this should be easy. I secretly hope to hit more than 25 books, but Prehistoric will be too ambitious as I don’t read 50 books a year (yet—one may have hope :D).

Any sub-genre of historical fiction is accepted, as there is historical romance, historical mystery, historical fantasy, young adult, history/non-fiction… Roughly counted, of the 38 books I read in 2020, 33 of them are historical fiction. A few others are in a kind of grey zone if they are either historical or contemporary/fantasy (How to stop time and the winter of the witch for example).

The classics club

And then of course, 2021 will be my first year of the Classics Club! You can read my sign up post for this challenge here and my progress can be followed on my Classics Club page. I will start with The tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte as my first classic. And after that, who knows? Maybe, I’ll join some of the Classics Club spins where you have to compile a list of 20 books and then read the books corresponding the number that was the outcome of the spin. Funny way of choosing your next read.

This is it for now. Maybe I’ll join some other challenge during the year. Maybe not. I’m looking forward to all those great (or so I hope) reads!

What reading challenges are you aiming at in 2021?

About reading: the author’s backlist

Whether an avid or a sporadic reader, everyone has some typical reading habits, pet peeves or TBR problems. So I wanted to share mine :). Today’s topic is about my favorite authors and the backlist of their books I still need to read.

This will sound familiar: think of that one book of a new-to-you author that you loved. Remember yourself looking up the synopsis of his or hers other books, adding them to your TBR, maybe even buying them on the spot. And now they are sitting on your shelves. Then you see the announcement that their newest sibling is on its way: a brand-new book by one of your favorite authors… So you pre-order it.

Now, you might think this is becoming a story of all those unread books on my shelves by my favorite writers. But it isn’t. It’s a story about that one book that I always keep unfinished on my shelves, waiting for the next book to be published.

The thing is: I hate the feeling that I have finished all the books of my favorite authors or series. What if there won’t be a next one? Or if I have to wait two more years for it? What if I’m in a reading slump and the only thing that can save me is a book from that particular writer?

So I always keep one book unread from my favorite authors. And when a new book is released I decide to read either that one, or the one sitting unread on my shelves… So I still have one more to go.

Watch the lady for example is the only unread Tudor novel of Elizabeth Fremantle on my shelves. She has started writing historical thrillers set in the Stuart era so I also have ‘The honey and the sting‘ to go. Next time I want to read something from Fremantle I can make my choice between these two books.

The same happend with Sarah Dunant, I saved her ‘In the company of the courtisan‘ a long time as it was the last historical novel I still needed to read from her. But I gave in to the temptation when I was in need of an Italian renaissance fix (one of my favorite periods).

Of course, there are a lot of favorite authors where I’m lacking behind in reading their works. From Joanna Hickson for example, I have three more books to go. But I’m quite sure that when I reach the second one and there hasn’t been a new release yet, I won’t be inclined to read the third and last book of her on my shelves.

The same thing goes with series. I haven’t read the last published Outlander novel ‘written in my own heart’s blood’ because I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next installment. I have this problem less with shorter series such as a trilogy or with series where the last book is already published (as is now the case with Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, although I’m not ready yet for the final book).

I will probably die having not read every single book of my favorite writers or not knowing how certain series will end.

Anyone else having this problem? Or is it just me?