We have finally waved goodbye to 2020. After filling in 366 pages, a fresh set of 365 days has been given to us. With the conclusion of a year is the commencement of a new one. 2020 has been eventful and filled with uncertainty. The future is also filled with uncertainty but hope still springs eternal. Staying true to what has become my annual tradition, I am kicking off the new year by looking back to the previous year, its hits, and of course, its mishits. It is also an opportunity to take a glimpse on how the coming year is going to shape up.
This book wrap up is a part of a mini-series which will feature the following:
- 2020 Top Ten Not-So Favorite Reads
- 2020 Top Ten Favorite Books
- 2020 Book Wrap Up
- 2020 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part I)
- 2020 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part II)
- 2020 New Favorite Authors
- 2021 Books I Look Forward To List
- 2021 Top 20 Reading List
Because of the pandemic, 2020 is my best year in terms of reading. I managed to complete 93 books, the third time I ended a reading year with at least 90 books (or maybe second, LOL). It was also one of my most diverse as I have read the works of various nationalities, from Japanese, Korean, Russian, Nigerian, Egyptian, Turkish to a couple more. In fact, nearly 30 of the books I have read are translations. Another thing that characterized 2020 is the number of “new books” I have read. As you might already know, I am the backlist type of reader but I ended 2020 with 26 “new books”, a personal best. It was, to say the least, a groundbreaking year on many fronts.
Speaking of “new” books, I am kicking off this blogging series with books I am looking forward in 2021, i.e. books to be published this year. I also made a list of 10 books I look forward to in the past three year but I have never been successful in completing all the books I listed. I did, however, came close in 2020; I was one book short. Nonetheless, I am again preparing a list of 10 books I am looking forward to in 2021. Hopefully, after three failed attempts, I will be able to read all of these books.
The Push, Ashley Audrain
Synopsis: A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family–and a woman whose experience of motherhood is nothing at all what she hoped for–and everything she feared.
Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.
But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do.
Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.
Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.
The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.
Release date: January 5
That Old Country Music, Kevin Barry
Synopsis: From the author of the wildly acclaimed Night Boat to Tangier, one of the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2019, stories of rural Ireland in the classic mode: full of love (and sex), melancholy and magic, bedecked in some of the most gorgeous prose being written today.
With three novels and two short story collections published, Kevin Barry has steadily established his stature as one of the finest writers not just in Ireland but in the English language. All of his prodigious gifts of language, character, and setting in these eleven exquisite stories transport the reader to an Ireland both timeless and recognizably modern. Shot through with dark humor and the uncanny power of the primal and unchanging Irish landscape, the stories in That Old Country Music represent some of the finest fiction being written today.
Release date: January 12
Aftershocks, Nadia Owusu
Synopsis: This poetic, genre-bending work—blending memoir with cultural history—from Whiting Award winner Nadia Owusu grapples with the fault lines of identity, the meaning of home, black womanhood, and the ripple effects, both personal and generational, of emotional trauma.
Nadia Owusu grew up all over the world—from Rome and London to Dar-es-Salaam and Kampala. When her mother abandoned her when she was two years old, the rejection caused Nadia to be confused about her identity. Even after her father died when she was thirteen and she was raised by her stepmother, she was unable to come to terms with who she was since she still felt motherless and alone.
When Nadia went to university in America when she was eighteen she still felt as if she had so many competing personas that she couldn’t keep track of them all without cracking under the pressure of trying to hold herself together. A powerful coming-of-age story that explores timely and universal themes of identity, Aftershocks follows Nadia’s life as she hauls herself out of the wreckage and begins to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one she writes into existence.
Release date: January 12
Mrs. Death Misses Death, Salena Godden
Synopsis: Mrs Death tells her intoxicating story in this life-affirming fire-starter of a novel.
Mrs Death has had enough. She is exhausted from spending eternity doing her job and now she seeks someone to unburden her conscience to. Wolf Willeford, a troubled young writer, is well acquainted with death, but until now hadn’t met Death in person – a black, working-class woman who shape-shifts and does her work unseen.
Enthralled by her stories, Wolf becomes Mrs Death’s scribe, and begins to write her memoirs. Using their desk as a vessel and conduit, Wolf travels across time and place with Mrs Death to witness deaths of past and present and discuss what the future holds for humanity. As the two reflect on the losses they have experienced – or, in the case of Mrs Death, facilitated – their friendship grows into a surprising affirmation of hope, resilience and love. All the while, despite her world-weariness, Death must continue to hold humans’ fates in her hands, appearing in our lives when we least expect her . . .
Release date: January 28
We Are All Birds of Uganda, Hafsa Zayyan
Synopsis: ‘You can’t stop birds from flying, can you, Sameer? They go where they will…’
1960s UGANDA. Hasan is struggling to run his family business following the sudden death of his wife. Just as he begins to see a way forward, a new regime seizes power, and a wave of rising prejudice threatens to sweep away everything he has built.
Present-day LONDON. Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer, senses an emptiness in what he thought was the life of his dreams. Called back to his family home by an unexpected tragedy, Sameer begins to find the missing pieces of himself not in his future plans, but in a past he never knew.
Moving between two continents and several generations over a troubled century, We Are All Birds of Uganda is a multi-layered, moving and immensely resonant novel of love, loss, and what it means to find home.
Release date: January 28
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones
Synopsis: A debut novel in the tradition of Zadie Smith and Marlon James, from a brilliant Caribbean writer, set in Barbados, about four people each desperate to escape their legacy of violence in a so-called “paradise.”
In Baxter Beach, Barbados, moneyed ex-pats clash with the locals who often end up serving them: braiding their hair, minding their children, and selling them drugs. Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal with endless charisma whose thwarted burglary of one of the Baxter Beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences. A gunshot no one was meant to witness. A new mother whose baby is found lifeless on the beach. A woman torn between two worlds and incapacitated by grief. And two men driven by desperation and greed who attempt a crime that will risk their freedom — and their lives.
Release date: February 2
Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford
Synopsis: Lunchtime, a Saturday, 1944: the Woolworths on Bexford High Street in southeast London has a new delivery of aluminum saucepans. A crowd gathers to see the first new metal in ages – after all, everything’s been melted down for the war effort. An instant later, the crowd is gone; incinerated. In it were five little children. Atomised.
Who were they? What future did they lose? Running another reel, another version of time, Perpetual Light is the rest of the twentieth century as the five children’s destinies were extended. Their intimate everyday dramas, as sons and daughters, spouses, parents, grandparents; as the separated, the remarried, the bereaved. Through decades of social, sexual and technological transformation, as bus conductors and landlords, as swindlers and teachers, patients and inmates. Days of personal triumphs, disasters; of second chances and redemption, all amidst the bustling, humming multitudes of London.
Five lives and stories told in beams of light, not ends.
Release date: February 4
Kololo Hill, Neema Shah
Synopsis: Uganda 1972
A devastating decree is issued: all Ugandan Asians must leave the country in ninety days. They must take only what they can carry, give up their money and never return.
For Asha and Pran, married a matter of months, it means abandoning the family business that Pran has worked so hard to save. For his mother, Jaya, it means saying goodbye to the house that has been her home for decades. But violence is escalating in Kampala, and people are disappearing. Will they all make it to safety in Britain and will they be given refuge if they do?
And all the while, a terrible secret about the expulsion hangs over them, threatening to tear the family apart.
From the green hilltops of Kampala, to the terraced houses of London, Neema Shah’s extraordinarily moving debut Kololo Hill explores what it means to leave your home behind, what it takes to start again, and the lengths some will go to protect their loved ones.
Release date: February 18
Caul Baby, Morgan Jerkins
Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Morgan Jerkins makes her fiction debut with this electrifying novel, for fans of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jacqueline Woodson, that brings to life one powerful and enigmatic family in a tale rife with secrets, betrayal, intrigue, and magic.
Laila desperately wants to become a mother, but each of her previous pregnancies has ended in heartbreak. This time has to be different, so she turns to the Melancons, an old and powerful Harlem family known for their caul, a precious layer of skin that is the secret source of their healing power.
When a deal for Laila to acquire a piece of caul falls through, she is heartbroken, but when the child is stillborn, she is overcome with grief and rage. What she doesn’t know is that a baby will soon be delivered in her family—by her niece, Amara, an ambitious college student—and delivered to the Melancons to raise as one of their own. Hallow is special: she’s born with a caul, and their matriarch, Maman, predicts the girl will restore the family’s prosperity.
Growing up, Hallow feels that something in her life is not right. Did Josephine, the woman she calls mother, really bring her into the world? Why does her cousin Helena get to go to school and roam the streets of New York freely while she’s confined to the family’s decrepit brownstone?
As the Melancons’ thirst to maintain their status grows, Amara, now a successful lawyer running for district attorney, looks for a way to avenge her longstanding grudge against the family. When mother and daughter cross paths, Hallow will be forced to decide where she truly belongs.
Engrossing, unique, and page-turning, Caul Baby illuminates the search for familial connection, the enduring power of tradition, and the dark corners of the human heart.
Release date: April 6
The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris
Synopsis: Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.
Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.
It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.
A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
Release date: June 1
The Chosen and the Beautiful, Nghi Vo
Synopsis: Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.
Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society―she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.
But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.
Nghi Vo’s debut novel reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.
Release date: June 1
In this list, I usually enumerate books written by authors whose works I have never read before. This year, I added one memoir because I missed my goal in 2019 of reading at least one non-fiction book. On top of these eleven books, I am also looking forward to the new releases of writers who I adore. Amongst these comeback works I am looking forward to in 2021 are the following:
- My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee – February 9
- Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – March 2
- The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen – March 2
- How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue – March 9
- Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri – May 4
I am fervently hoping that I get to finally complete all books in my yearly list. How about you fellow readers, what books do you look forward to in 2020? Please share them in the comment box or you can do your own list and tag me. It would be a pleasure going through your own lists.