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?

December recap

Time for the last recup of 2020. I’m not quite sad that this year’s over. I think we are all looking forward to better times.

Read(ing)

I finished 4 books in December. Of which I mostly enjoyed Queen of the North and Milady.

Number of pages read: 1.550 pages
Number of books finished: 4
Favorite read: Milady by Laura L. Sullivan
Centuries visited: 8th century, 14th century, 17th century and 20th century
Countries visited: England and France
Currently reading: The tenant of Wildfell hall by Anne Brönte for the Classics club. I’m at 40%.
Next up: Not sure yet

Reviewed

Blogged

Added to my TBR

  • I bought a physical copy of Anne O’ Brien’s tapestry of treason, even before starting ‘Queen of the North’. Now I’ve read that one and already came across Constance Of York, the book’s main character, I’m curious if I will enjoy it or not. As I didn’t like Constance from Elizabeth Mortimer’s perspective. We’ll see.
  • The shadow king by Maaza Mengiste because I was told it offers a female perspective on the Ethiopian invasion. I almost never read a book that is set in Africa. So this might be a good start.
  • The bell in the lake by Lars Mytting. After reading Helen’s wonderful review, I’m convinced this book will be straight up in my alley. A book set in a closed community in Norway and about church architecture. Bring it on!
  • The animals of Lockwood manor by Jane Healey, because I saw this one on several Dutch blogs. It’s a gothic-like mystery that is framed as Jane Eyre meets Night at the museum. This just seems like a nice story in-between more difficult books. And a new-to-me author to discover.

Watched

  • The first season of The Spanish princess on Starz (it was free to watch online in the last week of December). It’s historically even worse than Philippa Gregory’s books (and that’s hard to exceed). But I just love watching this kind of series, okay?
  • Once upon a time has arrived at Disney Plus in Belgium. I have started the first of seven seasons. Fairytales, beautiful costumes, Jamie Dornan. Perfect series for a cold Winter day!

Links I enjoyed

Did you enjoy the Christmas holidays?

November recap

I can’t believe it’s already December. In Belgium, there will be no Christmas parties with people outside your own household. I’m not exactly a Christmas person and don’t have a big family, so I don’t mind (a chill Christmas holiday will be fun). But I know it will be a difficult time for a lot of people, especially if you’re single (there’s a rule in Belgium that when you’re single you can see two extra people instead of one – as is the case for households).

What did I read in November?

Read(ing)

I finished my Goodreads Reading Challenge of reading 35 books. The Fabergé secret was my 35th book. I hope to finish around 38 books this year. It was quite a good reading month. I loved the ending of Sovereign, enjoyed the gates of Athens and also the Fabergé secret was a surprising good read! But I wasn’t able to read everyday, as I had some big deadlines at work and some concentration problems when reading because I was sooo tired.

Number of pages read: 1.005
Number of books finished: 3
Favorite read: Sovereign by C.J. Sansom
Centuries visited: 1st century B.C., 8th century, 16th century and 20th century
Countries visited: England, Greece and Russia
Currently reading: I’m at page 203 of A time for swords
Next up: I’m not sure yet, but probably ‘The forgotten orphan’ as it’s my last Netgalley read for this year.

Reviewed

Blogged

Added to my TBR

The boyfriend and I are maybe a bit obsessed with the Hamilton musical and you may see that in the books I added this month. I was looking for historical fiction books and authors about Hamilton/the American Revolution. If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments.

Watched

  • HAMILTON ❤
  • Black sails season 3 (after having watched the first two seasons more than once)

Links I enjoyed

What was your favorite read in November?

September recap

It’s so strange September is already at an end. I’m not ready for Autumn yet, luckily we still had some sunny days in Belgium. But I also had a though time at the office being buried beneath my to-do list :D. Everyday’s hustle has made me read less than I wanted to.

This is my first monthly recap! The plan is to look back at every month in more or less the same format. So let me know what you think.

Read(ing)

At the beginning of the month I showed you my library haul and I managed to read all three of them. I struggled a bit with ‘the last hours’ as it wasn’t quite what I expected. I also read one Netgalley book ‘the testimony of Alys Twist‘ that was set in Tudor England.

Number of pages read: 1.746
Number of books read: 4
Favorite read: The passion of Artemisia
Centuries visited: 14th century, 16th century and 17th century (twice)
Countries visited: England and Italy
Currently reading: Valhalla about queen Mary Of Teck

Reviewed

I reviewed four books of which ‘The poison bed’ is definitely my favorite story.

Added to my TBR

Here I will add a list of books that made it to my TBR this month. I’m quite picky on which books make it to my list. And I also have a personal rule that I never may have more books on my TBR than books I’ve read in total. So this are the books that convinced me they are worth reading.

  • Flowers of darkness by Tatiana De Rosnay. As she’s one of my favorite authors and I just read everything she publishes. This one seems different from her previous work.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I waited a long time to add this one, as a lot of reviewers indicated that it’s not really about Shakespeare and more about the loss of a child. But now it has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and I read a few more positive reviews I must read it some day.
  • The girl in Hyacinth blue by Susan Vreeland. I liked her book of Artemisia and this is Vreeland’s even more famous book about Johannes Vermeer.
  • The fire court by Andrew Taylor. I was a bit disappointed by ‘the ashes of London’ but a lot of reviewers indicate that the second book will be better. So I will give this series another chance.

Watched

  • Disneyplus has finally arrived in Belgium and the boyfriend and I immediately took a subscription for a year (he’s a Star Wars fan). It will be great to (re)watch my favorite Disney classics during Winter and discover some new favorites.
  • We have started watching season 1 of Knightfall on Netflix. It’s about templars looking for the Holy Grail in 14th century Paris. Right up my alley :). It’s entertaining so far.

Some of my favorite links

  • I have become Inge’s BFF on her blog The Belgian reviewer. You will get a look into my life and library so you must check it out. Inge is such a nice person.
  • I discovered the term ‘vintage fiction’ in Davida’s discussion’s post about defining historical fiction. Interesting!
  • And this is a Dutch only link but it’s about how young people read less these days not because they don’t want to read, but because they read the wrong books. The article states that non-fiction books full of productivity hacks are topping the bestseller lists but that they don’t have the power to sweep you away as only fiction books can. ‘It doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you read’ is the final conclusion of this article. I couldn’t agree more.

How was your reading month?