Some of our favourite books of 2020

In a year when we’ve turned to reading more than ever for escape and solace, we asked our library colleagues which was their book of the year.

Chris from Fountainbridge Library says her favourite book of the year is Those who are loved by Victoria Hislop.
“It is another wonderful weaving of stories from today back to a difficult and treacherous past. I liked it particuarly because it shines a light on a part of Greece’s history that is just at the edge of human memory and so reveals the youth of today’s great grandparents. It runs very true to some Greek friends own family memories. Victoria’s prose is very readable and the research never restricts a good story. A great book for a wet weekend.”
Available to borrow as an audiobook

Claire from the Information and Learning Resources Team recommends The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge.
“It’s a hazard of my job that I read mostly Young Adult Fiction, and this is no exception, but I’d urge adults to read it too. Set in Victorian times, it is about a young girl called Faith Sunderly who moves to a remote island with her father, a scientist who has been mysteriously disgraced. There, she discovers a tree that when fed a lie, uncovers a truth. When her father is murdered, her lies told to the tree become more and more dangerous and destructive in an effort to find out what happened to him. All the while she’s fighting with the constraints of being an intelligent girl interested in science in a time when she wasn’t allowed to have a career. The whole book is dripping with sinister tension and I loved the magical realism tied in with real science.” 
Available to borrow as an ebook

Susannah from Moredun Library says the book that has stuck most with her this year is The Choice by Clare Wade.
“I read this book in March, just as things started getting intense and the enormity of the pandemic was starting to sink in. A few elements of the book had striking similarities to what was playing out in the real world. This book follows the main character Olivia, previously a baker who is living in an almost dystopian future where the government, led by “Mother Mason”, controls its citizens choices and decisions around diet and exercise all in the name of health and happiness. Sweet treats are outlawed and government mandated exercise regimes are in place for all citizens. A small group of rebels is working under the surface against the injustices of the regime which violently punished anyone considered to be wrong-doing, under the guise of re-education schemes.
The book made me think a lot about a government’s place in setting regulations and restrictions which felt very relevant at the time. The character development of this woman who wished to cause no trouble, not break the rules and endanger her family was battling with desire to do what she loved, baking. Her change into a leader of a rebellion showed that anyone if given the right motivations will find a way to fight for what is right.”

Douglas from the Music Library picks Night Theatre by Vikram Paralkar
“I knew nothing about this book and, as with a lot of books I read, I have no idea why I choose it but I am very glad I did. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you strike out.
Night Theatre is a strange different ghost story of a put-upon doctor, fleeing a scandal and practising in a remote village, where his work is overseen by a corrupt lesser official, the doctor finds himself trying to save the lives of a family who have been attacked and murdered in another place.
Described as otherworldly and a haunting contemplation of life death and the liminal space between. A hot dirty dusty tale which is ultimately about hope and redemption. This is another title for my short, but growing, list of books which have completely surprised me, by how much I have enjoyed them.”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Bronwen from the Art and Design and Music Libraries recommends two very different books, firstly, English pastoral: an inheritance by James Rebanks:
“You might follow the Lakeland farmer and author James Rebanks on Twitter and Instagram – I love his photographs of Herdwick sheep – or you might have read his earlier books The Shepherd’s Life and The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd. 
I picked up a copy of Reebanks’ latest book English Pastoral whilst on a very welcome break to the Lake District in September and want to shout out to everyone please read this book. A moving memoir of farming history tracing back from Reebanks’s grandfather to the present day, this book explains why we have lost so many species of birds from our hedgerows and why so many farmers have been forced to adopt unsustainable farming methods just to survive. But this is ultimately a book of hope and wonder beautifully written. Guided by what Reebanks learns from both his grandfather and his father’s later disillusionment with factory farming, Reebanks salvages from this a new, sustainable approach to farming that shows us all a path for the future. Working with environmental groups Reebanks describes how he has increased the biodiversity of his farm, reclaimed some of the farming methods of his grandfather, but also created a way forward for farming to work in tandem with nature.” 
The Shepherd’s Life is available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.

Bronwen’s second choice is Ghosts by Dolly Alderton
“My daughters, both in their 20s, recommended Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts to me. As a fan of Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes’s podcast The High Low (sadly now finished) about both popular and contemporary news and culture I was very keen to read Dolly Alderton’s first novel Ghosts. 
The novel centres around a year in the life of Nina Dean who has just hit her thirties. Set in London Nina has just bought her own very small flat and is a successful food writer but Nina’s thirties are not cracked up to be what she expected with friends drifting away to the suburbs with husbands and children, the challenges of dating and dating apps, and her own parents succumbing to issues presented by ageing. The men in the book including the married ones are largely, but not all thankfully, commitment-phobic and irresponsible. The title of the book Ghosts refers to the phenomenon of ‘ghosting’ whereby you are just dropped with no explanation, not even a text, no contact with someone you previously thought was really into you.
I’m trying not to give too much away but this book is a great read with really acute and witty observations of human behaviour and helps me understand something about the challenges of the world in which millennials find themselves. Sad in places but also very funny this book is a great eye opener and a testament in the end to friendship and family.” 
Available to borrow as a audiobook 

Ailsa from Central Lending and Central Children’s tells us about Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
“I’ve always read a lot of books written by women, but this year I tried to read more books from Black authors too. One of my favourites this year was Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. With a background rooted in the racist history of the American South, Legendborn tells the story of a young black girl, Bree, who attends a prestigious college on a scholarship program and soon finds that she can see things that her friends can’t – magical things.
Soon she ends up involved in secret societies, fighting monsters, myths and legends. What makes this different from the average fantasy novel is that Deonn doesn’t ignore the legacy of slavery and the impact this has on a magical world, and the perspective this offers is both challenging and rewarding.
Oh, and did I mention it’s based on the King Arthur legend? It may be aimed at teenagers and young adults but there’s a lot in there for us not-so-young adults to enjoy too.” 

Zoe from Central Library’s book, or series, of the year is Ali Smith’s ‘Seasons’ quartet, comprising Autumn, Winter, Spring and finishing with Summer.
“This is one of those series which you can dip in and out of, not having to read all the books, and not having to stick to the sequence, but if you do, you will have something much greater than the sum of its parts. You might feel as I did, that you’d been given an intricate, thought-provoking present. 
‘Seasons’ is an epic story broken into four pieces. It’s not easy to pigeonhole, but I feel it tells the story of the UK over the last 50-odd years through a cast of characters at various stages of their lives, from childhood to hovering at Death’s door. Some of these characters are revisited in the other books, or just fleetingly alluded to, and this helps to mesh the stories together and create the sense of a many-layered ‘whole’, full of connections and coincidences – just as in real life.
Alongside the personal stories of her fiction characters there are the real social and political events going on around them, and everything, everybody is portrayed with honesty – warts and all. There is a lot to be aggrieved about in the picture of ourselves and our world that she presents us, but she has such a light and humane touch, so I think it’s an ultimately hopeful picture. 
It’s such a pleasure to read these books because she is clearly a writer who has found her voice, and the confidence with which she takes the narratives across time and space, in and out of dream states, or just anywhere she pleases, shines through.
Her writing is very often playful, but definitely not whimsical or meandering – she is in full control of her material and she masterfully weaves all the experiences of her characters, their particular contexts and perspectives into an amazingly subtle portrait of Britain. And I think there is enough depth and breadth in this portrait that most readers would find something to relate to, and something that moves them. 
If you’re like me, you’ll tear through these books and wish there were more. Smith is such a mesmerising storyteller. She is a safe pair of hands, to put it mildly, and I’d go willingly wherever she wants to lead, which is not something I could say for more than 5 other authors, ever. Bravo!”
Autumn is available to borrow as an ebook
Winter is available to borrow as an ebook
Spring is available to borrow as an ebook
Summer is available to borrow as an audiobook

Heather from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries chooses The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. 
“This is a book that was always on my periphery as it sat on the shelf in the children’s department at Blackhall Library.  For some reason it always caught my eye, but I never wanted to read it.  I was almost annoyed at it sitting there, staring at me as I worked.  However, it is when you can’t have something that you most want it, so this wee book was still haunting me as Covid-19 hit and I finally borrowed the ebook.  I feel so sad that I neglected this story for so long as it’s an absolute pleasure to read and one I will be sharing with family and friends for a long time to come.
Despite a horrific start in life, orphaned Nobody Owens (Bod) is a normal boy who happens to live in a graveyard where he is raised and protected by the resident ghosts. Bod is given the Freedom of the Graveyard where he is safe to play and explore and thanks to Neil Gaiman’s wonderful storytelling, the graveyard becomes as familiar a place to the reader as it is to Bod.  A cast of quirky, spectral characters contribute their knowledge and ghostly powers to Bod’s unconventional upbringing, but danger is never far away, and the man Jack has some unfinished business.  How will Bod cope when he leaves the graveyard and the protection of its walls?
A special mention to Chris Riddell’s fabulously macabre illustrations which are a real delight, and I was surprised they worked so well in the ebook version. 
Don’t be like me, give The Graveyard Book a go, it won’t take you long to read and you won’t be disappointed!” 
Available to borrow as an ebook

One of Susan from the Digital Team’s favourite books was My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay.
“I hadn’t ever read any of Lemn’s poetry and decided to read this autobiography after seeing Lemn on a TV interview. The story of his early life is both riveting and heart-breaking. You feel that you are side by side with this beautiful, happy child whilst the most unbelievably cruelty is inflicted upon him by the people that are suppose to protect him. Focussing not just on his own story, but also the wider issues of the care system, this memoir is written with searing honesty. Stripped progressively of his origins, family and even his name we see Lemn fight to make sense of what has happened to him and to find out who he really is. Ultimately it’s a story of hope and survival, but without sanitising the long lasting effects that the past have inflicted.”
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Mel from Corstorphine Library particularly enjoyed Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
“This quirky book is translated from Icelandic and is a really easy and engaging read.
Hotel Silence tells the story of Jonas, a middle aged man whose life is falling apart. He decides to buy a one-way ticket to a war ravaged country and commit suicide. Although the story may sound a little grim, the author handles the subject well and instead of a depressing read, Jonas meets a cast of weird, wonderful and brave characters who help him to find meaning and purpose in his life again. I found the characters to be really likeable and the style of writing is so beautifully done. I also read the author’s newest book ‘Miss Iceland’ this year and loved it as well. She seems to have endings that really make a statement!”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Alison from the Digital Team recommends The garden jungle, or, Gardening to save the planet by Dave Goulson
“This book will appeal to anyone interested in gardens, flowers or the nature that is on our doorstep. The author does not shy away from discussing controversial subjects like the use of pesticides and their potentially devastating impact on nature, but the book focuses on the role everyone can have to make a difference for nature. There is lots of advice and ideas for transforming your green space whatever the size to attract wildlife whether it is choosing plants to attract bees and other insects or creating places for nature to thrive. I have been inspired to try out some new gardening ideas in 2021, and look forward to welcoming new wildlife residents or visitors to my allotment plot.”

Doris from Central Lending really enjoyed Dear reader: the comfort and joy of books by Cathy Rentzenbrink.
“In this book, the author intersperses her life story with intriguing details of the main characters and/or plot, of her favourite books. What shines through in Dear reader is her love of books and how reading brings so much comfort and joy to her life. 
For me, Dear reader acted as a gateway to other authors and novels and following Cathy Rentzenbrink’s recommendation, I read Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively. This is a wonderful novel and also one of my favourite books of 2020.” 
Moon Tiger is available to borrow as an ebook

Nicola from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries has two favourite books from this very peculiar year. Her first is The cat and the city by Nick Bradley:
“This collection of short stories linked by the same little calico cat both amazed and astonished me. For those like me who are not usually fans of the short stories format do not be put off. This reads more like a coherent work of fiction and flows so easily. The constantly evolving city of Tokyo holds your attention and the same set of central characters are cleverly interwoven between chapters. The universal themes of belonging and loneliness are explored in a sensitive and darkly comic way.”
Available to borrow as an ebook 

Nicola’s second recommendation is Normal people by Sally Rooney.
“I was one of the many people during lockdown to binge my way through all of the episodes of Normal People. I had read that the TV version whilst visually stunning and addictive viewing was not entirely true to the book. Usually being someone who must read the book first I approached the book  with huge expectation. It did not disappoint and the main difference I found was that the inner voices of Marianne and Connor were far more evident. There are also a more dynamic and broader range of relationships conveyed. There are many issues and themes, in particular around mental health which are dealt with in a profound and sensitive way. I urge you to give the book a try even if you think you know the story from TV.”
Available to borrow as an ebook 

Nikki from Corstorphine’s stand out read for 2020 is Beloved by Toni Morrison.
“This amazing novel was a mix of some of my favourite genres – magic realism, historical fiction, and with just a touch of horror and suspense. Set in Ohio in 1873, the story centres around Sethe. Born into slavery, despite the odds Sethe manages to escape and create a new life for herself. However, she still struggles with the memories of the Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky, and is haunted by the thought of those she left behind or couldn’t save. One day a mysterious girl arrives at the door and brings some of Sethe’s darkest memories and secrets with her.
I really couldn’t put this book down once I’d started reading. I loved the journey of getting to know Sethe’s character and background slowly, and never knowing what I’d feel next turning each page! The story can be devastatingly sad at times, but uplifting and philosophical at others. Sadly Toni Morrison passed away in 2019, but left many other incredible stories, including the Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon. I’m looking forward to reading these and anything else I can find by her.” 
Beloved is available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Clare from the Digital Team most enjoyed The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.
“The Dutch House was an engrossing family saga that transported me across the Atlantic and back in time. It’s a poignant story of family love and loss and a reminder that dwelling on a past, especially one seen through the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia, is futile: appreciate what you have here and now.”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Bageshri from Central Lending chose When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi.
“It is a memoir of a 36-year-old neurosurgeon who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book takes the reader on a journey of the author’s life from being a student, to a doctor, to a patient and a father. The journey becomes emotional and painful. The book makes the reader think about what the most important things in life are. In today’s world we are so behind the materialistic things. But for someone who is facing a death, all those things become worthless. And it becomes even worse when the person doesn’t know how many years, months, or even days are left. As the author says, “The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?”
We take so many things for granted in life. But when the ugly side of the life shows its face unexpectedly, our whole perspective towards life changes. A very touching and eye-opening book, which taught me to appreciate whatever I have got in my life!”
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Catherine from Muirhouse, and more recently Kirkliston, also sneaks in two recommendations. Her first book of the year is The Emperor Waltz by Philip Hensher.
“I spent a while wracking my brains for two books which stayed with me this year. One followed the fortunes of the founder members of a gay bookshop in 1980s London. The other visited Weimar Germany and the students of the Bauhaus school – rather green, rather muddled, very skint and trying their best. It was only when I looked back through this year’s library loans that I remembered that these were two of the various storylines in this one book – which could fairly be described as a ‘sprawling read’ but is also by turns chatty, wise and very funny. I picked it up in Stockbridge Library on the last day before closure and it turned out to be a perfect lockdown read.

Catherine’s second choice is Bearmouth by Liz Hyder.
“This haunting YA novel is set deep underground in a coal mine, but doesn’t tie itself to any real time or place. It’s written entirely in an invented, mis-spelled dialect which is charmingly childlike but also pulls you right into the central character’s bodily experiences as Newt Coombes becomes more aware of what another life might offer and how it might be reached. The horrible world of the mine is brilliantly drawn and there is a decent assortment of goodies and baddies and in-betweenies, but it’s Newt’s voice which is the wow-factor here.”  

Ania from Central Lending recommends My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
“I have only just recently discovered Elena Ferrante’s novels.  I was mesmerized by the Neapolitan series – four novels that make up a single book. My Brilliant Friend is a gripping first volume in the widely acclaimed series.
The novel creates an unsentimental portrait of female experience, rivalry and friendship. It also happens to be a history of Italy in the late 20th century, as the story begins in the 1950s, in a chaotic, impoverished and violent but vibrant neighbourhood in Naples. Taken together, the novels span some 50 years, chronicling the life-long friendship between Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco. 
I love the story, it is rich on so many levels, it touches many different subjects: friendships, education, family life, but also difficult choices we all need to make. It is sometimes incredibly sad, thought-provoking and disturbing, other times calm and cheerful. It is a series I certainly recommend, and a 5-star read for me.” 
My Brilliant Friend is available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

We hope we’ve given you a little reading inspiration for 2021.

And remember, whilst our libraries remain closed, you can borrow and download many of these titles and hundreds more from our Library2go service from home.

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