I know, I’m late to the party, but I wanted to get this up.
Before July started, I had read 51 books. I’m on track to read roughly 110 this year, which is my new goal, but let’s focus on the first half of the year.
I had some good reading months, and some naff ones, but I’ve managed to whittle down 51 books to five *really* great ones. Most of them, if not all of them actually, are historical. We’ve one non-fiction, and then the rest are historical fiction, mainly set in the Victorian period.
The Binding by Bridget Collins
I find it hard to believe this is Collins’ debut novel. It was complex, emotional and original.
Reminiscent of the 19th century, people can visit book binders to rid themselves of painful or treacherous memories. Once bound, their memories lose the power to haunt them. Emmett Farmer, our protagonist, is sent to be a binder’s apprentice. His curiosity is peaked when he is forbidden to enter the room in which the books are stored, and by the arrival of the lordly Lucian Darnay, with whom he senses a connection with.
The Binding had such an innotivate storyline, taking something we are familiar with and turning it on its head. Who would have thought that books could possibly be someone’s unwanted memories? It’s immersive and beautifully written, with an unexpected romance and an excellent set of characters. A must read!
The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
Yet another brill debut novel set in the Victorian period. The Great Exhibition is being constructed in the middle of London in 1850, and it is here that Iris, an aspiring artist, and Silas, a collector of strange things, meet. For Iris, it is a brief encounter, but for Silas, it is the start of something new. When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Her world begins to expand, but Silas’ obsession is darkening.
This just hit all the right spots. It built up an atmosphere where you were constantly on edge, wondering what’s going to happen next, or if Iris is safe. There’s not many books I can say truly gripped me like this. Everything about it was great – the Victorian setting, the questioning of gender and class roles, and the many different relationships.
The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
The Five has to be one of my new favourite non-fiction. It’s so unlike any I’ve read before, especially ones that look at women as victims of murder. Rubenhold is more interested in giving these women a story than detailing their unfortunate murder.
It didn’t mention Jack the Ripper at all. Rubenhold wasn’t interested in discovering who he was or why he murdered these women. Many before her have tried, and failed, to do that. Her purpose was to give these women a voice to tell their history. She challenges the belief that Jack the Ripper was a killer of prostitutes, as at least three of professions of these women were unknown. They were mistreated, during their life and after, which Rubenhold tries to set straight.
A brilliant, gripping read on the lives of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.
The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes
This is a fictional reimaging of a true story that shocked and fascinated the nation. On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, a 23 year old woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, was found murdered in the privy behind her local chapel. The book follows the investigation from multiple perspectives as we try to find out who killed Harriet and, most importantly, why?
I was gripped the entire time. It was slow going and stretched out for 500 pages, but the different perspectives made it move quicker, and they added something new to the investigation. It looked at sexuality, gender conventions, small communities, medicine, religion and the police system in the 1800s.
I didn’t expect the plot twist at the end – it was so sudden and unexpected. I sat there half an hour after finishing thinking ‘what the hell…’.
The Foundling by Stacey Halls
Of course Stacey Halls’ latest book made it onto this list. She’s a favourite of mine.
So, it’s London, 1754. Six years after leaving her newborn at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the illegitimate daughter she never knew. But her daughter has already been claimed, by her. Less from a mile from Bess is Alexandra, a wealthy housebound woman, who is persuaded to hire a nursemaid to take care of her daughter. Her past is threatening to catch up with her, and will soon tear her carefully constructed world apart…
Halls writes such captivating stories, especially tense and atmospheric historical fiction. Her writing style is simple but elegant. It’s enchanting and addictive. I flew through it in two days, which could have easily been one, because I couldn’t get enough of these characters. Granted, it wasn’t as good as The Familiars, but it was pretty close.
…and those were my favourite books of the year so far. Most will probably make it to my final list, as they were just that good, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
What’s been your favourite book of 2020?
Thanks for reading, Lauren X