Books that Stole My Heart in the Pandemic

Note: This blogpost is a top post on Indiblogger.in and has appeared on their homepage.Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian BloggersAs those following my blog will know, this past week I have been recapping the books I read and the craft projects that kept me busy in 2020. I started by listing all the books I read as part of the #BrunchBookChallenge, followed by my accidental success with the #PopSugarReadingChallenge.

This is my third post in the series where I track my reading stats and share a selection of books that earned a place in my heart; books I can’t wait to share with you so you may discover the same joy in reading them, as I did.

2020 Brunch Book Challenge Favourites Resized

When there are so many books to choose from and only one lifetime, it makes sense to track one’s reading to identify the direction it is taking. It helps me set goals for the kind of books I want to read next.

This year, I thought I’d try a visual representation of my reading stats for which I created an elaborate spreadsheet to capture various data sets. The trouble was this brainwave hit me exactly three days ago and I didn’t want to wait until next year to try it. As a result, this is not as refined as I would have liked, but considering I put it together in such a short time, I am mighty proud of it. I’ll refine it as I track my reading for 2021 and will, hopefully, have an improved version next year.

Based on what I managed to put together for 2020, these are what my reading numbers look like:

2020 Final Reading Stats

In reviewing this, the first thing to catch my attention were the 50% books I rated as 5 Star reads. I realise ratings are subjective, everyone having their own criteria. For me, a five star read is one I absolutely loved and can’t stop thinking about, which is why this year’s list of recommendations is longer than I expected.

Now, it may seem overwhelming to go through such a long list of recommendations so I have divided them into four broad categories –
1. Indian Fiction
2. Indian Non-Fiction
3. International Fiction
4. International Non Fiction
 
The following genres have been segregated from the above four as not everyone reads these but I actively track them to make sure they are part of my annual reading:
1. Mystery/Thrillers
2. Children / Middle Grade Fiction (should really be called Books for all Ages)

Lastly, I have added a list of books due to be published in 2021 for which I received Advance Reader Copies courtesy NetGalley and the Publishers.

Do take note this list is in no particular order.

Indian Fiction:
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The Greatest Stories Ever Told – A Selection of Urdu and Bengali Stories 
This set of books published by Aleph Book Company compiles the finest short stories from different Indian languages. I read the Urdu and Bengali anthologies and loved them. The stories capture our history in all its violence, passion, irony, humour and despair. They evoke extreme emotions and leave an indelible imprint on your heart and mind. I intend to read the next two compilations with Odia and Hindi stories in 2021.
Buy on Amazon*:
 
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My Best Friend’s Son’s Wedding – Zarreen Khan
I love Zarreen Khan’s writing for the way she addresses a staunchly feminist issue with rib-tickling humour. Here, she highlights a woman’s right to make her own decisions packaged in a riveting novel. This was clearly the LOL book of the year.
Buy on Amazon*.
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Destination Wedding – Diksha Basu
A caricature of high society set at a bizarre wedding party, with an unusual cast of characters you can’t help but judge, this keeps you engrossed with its absolutely wicked humour.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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Poonachi, or the Story of a Black Goat – Perumal Murugan
An unusual little creature trying to find her place in a strange world, Poonachi’s story reflects on our society, our fears, and the choices we make. It is a mesmerising telling of the miracle of life and the devastating effect of being pushed to conform to society’s rigid ways and for that reason, Poonachi will quickly and easily make her way into your heart.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
Indian Non-Fiction:
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Pukka Indian – Jahnvi Lakĥóta Nandan
In bringing together 100 objects that are the most coveted symbols representing Indian culture, this book traces the history of India through material design. It is a magical trip down memory lane discovering how objects commonly used in our homes since decades, irrespective of origin, can be innately Indian.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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Queeristan – Parmesh Shahani
This is part memoir, part manifesto and part exhaustive reference to understand the challenges of the Queer community and sensitise the reader that Queer rights are basic human rights. The book does a brilliant job of introducing you to a constantly evolving world of possibilities and invites you to join in and create it as per imagination.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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Tharoorosaurus – Shashi Tharoor
In displaying his wizardry of words, Shashi Tharoor chooses fifty-three unusual words to describe how they came into the English language and the trajectory of their meanings being altered over time. In doing so he makes some subtle, some not-so-subtle political comments while guaranteeing belly-aching laughs.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
International Fiction:
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The Deal of a Lifetime; Anxious People – Fredrik Backman
Backman’s books hold a special place in my heart. The first one (a novella) was a re-read from 2018 because I managed to procure a hardcover. Anxious People (his newest release) explores the fears and anxieties troubling humanity with a feather-light tenderness. Although completely different from all his other books, it is hilarious, powerful and uplifting, and will heal you and reinstate your faith in all that’s good in this world.
Buy on Amazon*:
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One Day in December – Josie Silver
A fleeting glance, a serendipitous moment, and the cruel hand of fate bring alive this love story . This one, with plenty of smiles and laughs breaks you into pieces when the tears come.
Everyone may not need the drama of romance in their lives, but everyone does need to read at least one romance novel such as this.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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The Flatshare; The Switch – Beth O’Leary
I loved the premise of her books and the way she explores relevant social issues – gaslighting and toxic relationships in the first, old age and loneliness in the second. Her sharp wit and balanced humour are the other reason her books made it to this list. I am already counting down the days to when her next novel comes out in April.
Buy on Amazon*:
The Flatshare
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Last Tang Standing – Lauren Ho
Written as a Dear Diary account, this is a laugh-out-loud, rib-tickling rom-com with all the drama of meddling Asian families. The narrative is insanely witty and often reminded me of Anuja Chauhan’s writing. If you love her work or Kevin Kwan’s, you will find yourself inhaling this one.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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If I Had Your Face – Frances Cha
Four women navigate the brutal competitiveness in a world dictated by standards of beauty. Each of their stories are driven by aspirations for a better life and how far they are willing to go for it.
Dramatically honest, emotionally taunting, and shockingly cynical, this is a compelling story of female friendships, their strength, resilience, and undying spirit.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
IMG_20200616_105453_545Dear Emmie Blue – Lia Louis
If there’s one book this year I can’t seem to let go of, it is Dear Emmie Blue. The idea of releasing a balloon into the air and someone, miles away, finding it – how can you not attach meaning to it? I love how the story develops with snippets of the past revealing Emmie and Luke’s budding friendship and why it suddenly seems to have taken a different direction.
This book is all heart, from the beginning to the end and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve recommended it.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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The Stationery Shop – Marjan Kamali
This sweeping romance, set in the 1950s, describes a lost world that comes alive between its pages. Between evocative descriptions of Tehran’s culture, people, and food, Roya and Bahman’s story unfolds like delicate flower petals.
With characters that arrest you and secrets that threaten to break you in a city resplendent in its colourful glory, The Stationery Shop of Tehran will captivate all your senses.
Buy on Amazon*.
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Keeping Mum – James Gould-Bourn
A father and son struggle with the loss of the woman who was the glue to their little family. Before you find yourself falling in love with this duo, you realise you’ve become addicted to all the other characters who are the definition of madness and mayhem.
This book is the clean air we crave. The cleanest air you can imagine. It is a refreshing glass of iced tea on a hot summer’s day and a warm slice of chocolate cake on a chilly winter evening. All you need to do is taste it once. The book will handle the rest.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
What starts off as a mystery novel draws you into a world of glamour and glitz and shows a woman’s relentless passion, which lead her to make questionable decisions. A spellbinding tale of a magnetic star, it is bursting with mystery, drama, a forbidden romance and plenty of heartbreak. If you read between the lines, it may teach you a thing or two about standing up for what you want.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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The Liar’s Dictionary – Eley Williams
A Victorian lexicographer inserts false entries into a dictionary and an intern in the present day is tasked with uncovering them before the work is digitised.
If there’s anything you love about the English language, this book is guaranteed to charm you. By chapter two, when a character uses 47 words to describe the colour orange, you realise you are well on your way to falling head over heels in love with this book.
Gloriously funny with clever word-play, this is an inimitably ingenious piece of fiction you’d hate to miss.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
International Non-Fiction:
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Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style – Benjamin Dreyer
Whether you write books, short stories, blog posts, tweets, emails or anything else, this is the book you need. Dreyer wants you to clean up the way you write and he does so in a hilarious, almost lyrical way, citing relevant examples from popular texts.
If you read only one book this year, let it be this. No matter what you think, you need this book.
Buy on Amazon*.
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The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire – Francesca Cartier Brickell
A sixth-generation descendant traces the 200-year history of a jewellery dynasty run by four generations of Cartiers that survived despite all odds. This is an encyclopaedic account of a brand that has made a defining mark on world history.
If historical non-fiction is your genre of choice, don’t miss this delightful memoir.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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Becoming Duchess Goldblatt – Anonymous
Her Grace, Duchess Goldblatt is a Twitter celebrity. An 81-year-old literary icon, she has brought people together in her name: in bookstores, museums, concerts, coffee shops. There are a handful of people in this world who have actually met Her Grace.
The book reveals the person behind the anonymous identity – her journey through a difficult childhood, a broken marriage, and the continual part-time separation from her young son. It is soul stirring and relatable in many ways; a truly fascinating account of an anonymous writer with a fictional online personality.
Buy on Amazon*.
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Loud Black Girls: 20 Black Women Writers Ask: What’s Next? – Yomi Adegoke, Elizabeth Uviebinené
In this anthology, the next generation of established and emerging black British women – authors, journalists, actors, activists and artists – explore what it means to them to exist in these turbulent times. In twenty incredibly powerful essays; they emphasize why women need to make themselves heard,
Some authors also draw a parallel between Black and Asian women and their observations and analyses will resonate with Asian readers.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men – Caroline Criado Perez
This book presents the jaw dropping reality of a society that is systemically ignoring half the population. City planning, economic policies, technology, medical research, tax structures are all defined by the absence of data for women and have thus, inevitably, been designed for men.
The shocking gender bias revealed here will make you look at the world from an entirely new perspective. This should be mandatory reading irrespective of gender or area of expertise.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
IMG_20200808_121450_604Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
The author challenges our assumptions of human behaviour by using true stories of deceit and fatal errors to cast doubt on our strategies for dealing with the unknown, inviting us to rethink our thinking in these troubled times.
I strongly recommend listening to an audio book for this title. With original voice recordings of archival interviews and musical scoring, your experience will be far more impactful – not only changing your understanding of people, but also forcing you to look at yourself and how you perceive the world around you.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons – Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
The journeys of eight women leaders are analysed against eight hypotheses to examine whether their lived experiences are in line with or different from what research predicts about women being at the bottom of the pecking order of power positions. The book is essentially a road map and action agenda for women to take control, address prejudices and combat gender bias.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
Mystery/Thrillers:
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The Russian – Ben Coes
I’ve been following the author’s Dewey Andreas series for a few years and The Russian is its spin-off where Dewey’s Friend Rob Tacoma takes the lead. With the next Dewey book due for release this year, I am most excited to see how both series will co-exist with overlapping characters and events. Read it for the heart-pumping action.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
IMG_20200319_090254_074IMG_20200714_121606_426The Donor (Short Story); Let Me Lie – Clare Mackintosh
She is one of my favourite writers from the UK who writes amazing psycho-thrillers. Her plots set you on a roller coaster ride and leave you guessing till the very last word.
Buy on Amazon*:
The Donor
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House on Fire – Joseph Finder
A private spy investigates a pharma company whose bestselling prescription opiate is suspected to be addictive, evidence for which was likely buried from the drug trials. Well researched and reflective of the drug addiction crisis, it offers a view on prescription opiates you would otherwise disregard, set in a high profile espionage thriller.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
IMG_20200410_105139_894Into The Fire – Gregg Hurwitz
Orphan X, the government assassin turned vigilante is ready to retire and will take one last call to save one last person. Will this mission be his last, or will the forces – more lethal than he has ever encountered – choose him as the end.
A razor sharp, high energy thriller where no matter what, you’re always rooting for X to save the day.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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One Minute Out – Mark Greaney
The Gray Man Series was my 2019 Binge-Read when I read all eight books back-to-back. This ninth adventure is explosively intensive but Greaney balances the difficult parts with some light-hearted moments that keep you turning page after page. This book demands your undivided attention from the first page to the last one and you should treat it with nothing less.
Buy on Amazon*.
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The Tracy Crosswhite Series – Robert Dugoni
I read one book in the series two years ago and loved it for its sharp plotting and nail-biting suspense. I read all the other books for my 2020 Binge-Read. Pick it up for the kickass homicide detective who is relentless in her pursuit for justice, and a compelling narrative which keeps you tearing through the pages.
Buy on Amazon*.
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Near Dark – Brad Thor
This was the twenty-first book in a series for which I was promised a free copy under the condition I read it in a single sitting. It was impossible to pass up. I read it in just under seven hours and enjoyed it so much I’ve already collected the first twenty books to binge-read this year.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
Children / Middle Grade Fiction:
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The Beast of Buckingham Palace; Slime – David Walliams
I love David Walliams’s books and make sure I catch up with all his releases. With these two he explores fighting evil with good as well as diversity and inclusion, both valuable lessons for children as well as adults.
Buy on Amazon*:
 
IMG_20201201_103711_415The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse – Charlie Mackesy
A priceless work of art, this book speaks a universal language of kindness, friendship, and love. In its elegant calligraphy and simple illustrations, it imparts some of life’s greatest lessons we could all imbibe to make our world joyous and beautiful. Be prepared to surrender to it in entirety.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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The Harry Potter Series – J. K. Rowling
Having actively put off reading this since its publication, I finally listened to the entire series on audio. While I loved the first three books, the rest were either too long or too dark, and, towards the second half, became increasingly complicated to follow. If I had to recommend with my whole heart, I’d recommend reading books One, Two, Three, and maybe, Four. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend the audio version read by Stephen Fry.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
Titles Due to Release in 2021:
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The Dressmaker of Paris – Georgia Kaufmann (to be published on 28th Jan’21)
From being a teenage victim who escapes the Nazi occupation, becomes Christian Dior’s Muse, and grows to be a world famous fashion icon and businesswoman, this is a spellbinding account of a young woman’s journey to self-discovery, spanning decades and continents.
Inspiring, soul-stirring, and hypnotic, this novel will hook you with the first line and reel you in.
Pre-order on Amazon*.
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The Four Winds – Kristin Hannah (to be published on 2nd Feb’21)
An unwaveringly feminist novel, The Four Winds is the journey of one woman as carried forward in heartbreak, friendship and love. It is a mother’s struggle with hope and survival when all the odds are stacked against her.
This was so addictive, it physically hurt to peel myself away for a single moment. By the end I was overwhelmed with such intense emotion it left me shaking. Fans of The Nightingale are going to love this.
Buy on Amazon*.
 
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Before I Saw You – Emily Houghton (to be published on 4th Feb’21)
Two patients suffering from PTSD find themselves side by side in a hospital ward for long-term care. Their story is heartbreaking, tragic, crushing you with pain and longing. In spite of that, it is the power of faith and the brightness of hope that makes the novel beautifully romantic. Once you finish, you’ll be caught between wishing you could turn back time and wondering what happened next.
Buy on Amazon*.

I do hope you enjoyed reading these recommendations. I’d love to hear if any of these titles made it to your list of favourites, about the books you’ve loved this year, or the new releases you’re looking forward to. We bibliophiles need all the help we can get in ensuring the mountain of our TBRs keeps rising 🙂

To know what other titles I read this year, or to know about the crafts I made to pair with the books as seen in the photos above, click here.

Stay safe, stay healthy and may you always find your nose in a book.
Happy reading!
 
*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

4 thoughts on “Books that Stole My Heart in the Pandemic

  1. Pingback: Reading and Crafting Through 2020 | #BrunchBookChallenge – Aquamarine Flavours

  2. Pingback: #PopSugarReadingChallenge2020: A Head-On Collision – Aquamarine Flavours

  3. Pingback: Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis | Book Review – Aquamarine Flavours

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