My 2020 in Books

So 2020 finally ended and THANK GOD. However, I would have liked 2021 to begin a little better than being stuck in yet ANOTHER national lockdown here in the UK.

Being furloughed for 7 out of 12 months of the year really worked in my favour, reading more books than I ever have in a year I think.

Here’s a quick reading round-up of how my 2020 went…(courtesy of Goodreads)

5-Star Reads of 2020

Before the Coffee Gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold (Tales from The Café) – Toshikazu Kawaguchi

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë

Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han  

The Shadow Friend – Alex North

Frankissstein – Jeannette Winterson

I See You – Clare Mackintosh

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Once Upon A River – Diane Setterfield

Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

The Whisper Man – Alex North

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig 

And there we have it, my 2020 reading round-up! Here’s to another wonderful year of reading.

ARC REVIEW: The Twelve Dates of Christmas

“A man is like an optional extra: you should only take one on when it’s beneficial to do so. It’s like refraining for the fourth plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to have it.”

Why Did I Read This?

I was accepted to read an ARC of this book by NetGalley and I was thrilled because I had seen this book being posted about all over bookstagram so I knew I’d picked a good one. I requested this because as I’ve said in previous blog posts, Christmas-themed books are something I’ve never really read, and I wanted to try that out this year.

What Did I Think?

Well first things first, let me say if you’re wanting a great romantic, cheese-filled story…then The Twelve Dates of Christmas is one for you.

Love Actually. The Holiday. Who doesn’t love a good rom-com around Christmas time? The Twelve Dates of Christmas follows a young woman named Kate who has moved back to her hometown of Blexford, England from London. Following a recent break-up with a guy she had been with for over five years, Kate’s friend decides to sign her up to a dating agency that promises to help singles find love before the holidays. With twenty-three days until Christmas and twelve dates with twelve different men to go on, we follow Kate in her mission to find Mr. Right.

I told you it was cheesy! What I loved about this book was I warmed to Kate almost instantly and that allowed me to just sit back and relax into the story, enjoying and getting the chance to go on each date with her and imagine how cute and Christmassy it must have been. Without spoiling it for you, each date is…unique…in its own way and I loved watching every date unfold.

One thing that’s great when your single is the sheer amount of different dating experiences you get to ‘enjoy’ but now I’m in a committed, loving relationship, I could not imagine anything worse than having to go back out into the dating scene and deal with all the crap that comes with it. Fun as it may be, none of it compares to going on a date night with your partner.

I also loved Kate’s friendships and her amusing family. I loved how even though Kate had moved away from Blexford for quite some years, she was able to rekindle her old friendships and make them better than they ever were.

Although the storyline is completely obvious from reading about 30% of the book, I loved that it panned out the way it did, and it had such a cute and heart-warming end. Just what you need at Christmas time. A truly up-lifting read that has significantly improved my opinion of Christmas-related novels.

The Twelve Dates of Christmas

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Published: 2020
# of Pages: 320
Genre: Comedy, Christmas
Trigger Warnings: Divorce, cheating, sex, stress, loneliness, death
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Blackwells

2020 Releases I’ve STILL Not Read

I’ve nearly hit my Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge of 100 books…yes, 100 books! (Thank you pandemic) but there are still some fantastic 2020 releases that I still haven’t managed to tick off my TBR.

I thought I’d take you through them and see which ones I’m still yet to read!

The Guest List – Lucy Foley

Lucy Foley’s The Guest List along with her other novel, The Hunting Party has been on my TBR since it came out earlier this year. I am a huge fan of thrillers and can eat them up in a matter of days, but for some reason, other thrillers have taken precedent over this one, which I’m told is worth all the five-star reviews.

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half, like all of Brit Bennett’s books, is simply beautiful and I cannot believe I STILL haven’t read this book yet. Her other book, The Mothers, was one I started and thoroughly enjoyed but due to a water bottle incident ended up completely ruined. I am determined to complete one of her books in the new year.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

2020 winner of The Women’s Prize, Hamnet was a book I managed to find in a local charity shop for 50p and I was over the moon. Yet since purchasing, it has just been sitting (proudly) on my bookshelf as part of my Women’s Prize winner’s collection. I’ve heard mixed reviews and that period of history that Hamnet is based around isn’t usually my sort of history, but I’m determined nevertheless to tick it off my TBR list.

The Girl with The Louding Voice – Abi Daré

I got the hardback edition of this book earlier this year as part of my subscription to Books With A Conscience and have still not managed to read it. I saw hundreds of bookstagrammers raving about this book on my Instagram feed but haven’t yet found the time/been in the mood to delve into it. If I managed a summer holiday next year, I think this one will definitely be coming me with.

Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Shockingly, I read very little horror this year in the run up to Halloween which is probably because around that time I had just lost my job and was being drawn to more uplifting, light, and easy reads to help take my stress away. However, Mexican Gothic has been one I have heard utterly fantastic things about and not only that, the book itself is truly beautiful too. One I will definitely HAVE to read next Halloween or even sooner if I’m feeling it.

Lakewood – Megan Giddings

Lakewood is a book that keeps appearing on my social media feeds and advertisements, so I guess this is the universe’s way of telling me I need to read this book. I first saw it mentioned on Eva at Eva’s Book Corner stories and since then haven’t managed to escape this feeling that I need to read this book. I hope I’m not disappointed when I finally get around to reading it…

Hood Feminism – Mikki Kendall

If you know me, then you know I love anything feminist/female empowerment-related, and Hood Feminism has been on my TBR list ever since it was released. I haven’t got around to actually purchasing the book yet as I couldn’t find a second-hand copy that was in decent condition and doesn’t cost a fortune. However, with any Christmas money that might hopefully be coming my way, I can FINALLY purchase this one and get cracking with it. 

And there we have it…the 2020 releases I still haven’t read yet. All of these sit proudly on my tBR just waiting to be read, hopefully you’ll see my reviews of them featured on here in the not so distant future.

What books have you not had the chance to read yet?

Authors I’ve Found in 2020 That I Now Love

Yes, 2020 has been a year of firsts and it’s been a year of complete craziness but in the midst of all this, I’ve managed to source out a positive. 

2020 (and having 7 months on furlough) enabled me to rekindle my love for reading and blogging and has enabled me to become part of such a huge and wonderful community where I can pick one out of thousands of you to have a conversation about books…what more could a girl want? 

So to commemorate this, I’ve gathered a list of all the wonderful authors (both new and legendary) that 2020 has allowed me the opportunity to find…

Beth O’Leary

I was first introduced to Beth through (not a coincidence I swear) Beth’s book club as we read The Flatshare earlier this year. I fell in love with her witty humour and her loveable characters. I have read two of Beth’s books now and each one has left me with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. I think it is truly incredible how Beth can instantly provide clarity on issues you’ve never thought about yourself.

Elif Shafak

Forgive me but I have only just come across Elif Shafak. I know, don’t hate me. I recently read her novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World and absolutely adore the way she writes and her descriptive narrative. I also love how she writes women back into Turkish history and culture that they are so often left out of. 

I actually received a copy of her other novel, The Bastard of Istanbul in a Books That Matter subscription box and never thought anything of it. Now, that book is sitting proudly at the top of my TBR list, along with her other work.

Alex North

As you are probably aware by now, one of the first books of 2020 that I read and fell in love with was The Whisper Man by Alex North. Now some of you have since read this book and not been overly convinced but for me this book was the first ever book that genuinely terrified me and made me want to explore the dark thriller and horror genre more. 
His second book The Shadow Friend was just as good and now I cannot wait to see what else this man has up his sleeve.

Matt Haig

Now I wouldn’t say that I’ve only just found Matt Haig in 2020 because I read his other book How To Stop Time whilst on holiday in Dubai about two years ago. However, Matt Haig is someone who takes a prominent place on my social media…and rightly so. 

Matt Haig’s 2020 release The Midnight Library made him become one of my favourite authors of all time. Matt is not shy about his problems with mental health and during a year when I’m sure everyone’s mental health has been affected in some way, Matt was there to provide us with the support we needed and the brutal honesty that sometimes, you know what, life can be shit. But it’s what we do during these days to help our mental health (such as walks, hobbies, or simply allowing yourself to feel the emotions you’re feeling) that matter the most and Matt has been there to hold our hand through it all. 

BRB (does anyone even use that any more) just off to read his other novel Humans.

Taylor Jenkins Reid

OK apologies, yet another blog post where I’m banging on about Daisy Jones & The Six but I promise I’ll make this quick. I’m sure like me, you’ve probably come across Taylor Jenkins Reid at some point this year whether that’s through reading Daisy Jones & The Six or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Either way, I’m sure you’ve heard her name lurking about your social media channels and with every right too.

I’m yet to read a bad novel written by this woman and the sheer amount of detail, research, knowledge, compassion (I could go on…) that goes into her novel is exquisite. She truly is one of my favourite writers purely based on how completely encapsulated I was by the two books I’ve read by her this year. I was equally obsessed with both and equally heartbroken by the ending too…

Brit Bennett

Certainly last but not least is the incredible Brit Bennett. I read her book The Mothers earlier this year and aside from the fact that her book covers are truly a thing of beauty, I did not expect to love the story as much as I did. She beautifully showed the raw and honest reality of being a woman that can sometimes make the world seem like it is against you.

However with the support of empowered females behind you, well… you can be invincible. 

There are obviously MANY more that I could go on and talk about and after posting this, I’ll probably remember about five more I’d wish I’d mentioned. But for now, these are the authors that have had an impact on me this year and authors I hope to continue to do so for me and you.

The Books On My 2020 Christmas Wishlist

Ahhh Christmas…it’s finally in sight and the end to this crazy year is just around the corner.

This year has been a year of firsts and one particular for me has been joining the wonderful Bookstagram community and all the fun things it brings!

So this year, I’m hoping to get LOTS of books (either from friends or gifts to myself) and here are the books on my wishlist!

Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

My favourite book from this year without a doubt and I won’t hear anything bad said about this book hence why the hardback and a signed copy is first on my list. I actually sent a link to this edition to my boyfriend…

Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart

The winner of the 2020 Booker Prize just HAD to feature on my Christmas wishlist. I’ve seen a few people give this a read and said it is a worthy winner…I’m just hoping it’s not going to break my heart as much as ‘A Little Life’ did!

Half of A Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Women’s Prize for Fiction ‘Winner of Winner’ prizes recently and I don’t think there could be a more worthy winner. So, of course, the special limited edition hardback had to be included on my wishlist.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong

This book has been sitting on my Amazon wishlist from the VERY moment it was published and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve still not bought this beautiful book. So Santa for Christmas I would really like this copy.

The Pull of Stars – Emma Donoghue

One I’ve heard INCREDIBLE things about and I think every one of my good friends has told me to read this one so this one is sitting proudly on my list, don’t you worry!

Songbirds – Christy Lefteri

I read (like most of the country it seems) ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ earlier this year and I devoured it in one whole day. Since reading that book, my outlook and opinion on immigration and the inhuman treatment of those just trying to escape a life of torture and violence. I’m hoping ‘Songbirds’ will be just as eye-opening.

The Betrayals – Bridget Collins

I read Bridget Collin’s debut novel ‘The Binding’ back in March and I just wasn’t convinced. Although I liked the concept, I thought the book took some unnecessary turns. I’m willing to give The Betrayals a go just to see if I like this one better and c’mon…LOOK AT IT! It’s absolutely beautiful!

REVIEW: Corrupt

“Things done in the dark hours of the night, behind closed doors, or in the heat of the moment looked a lot different in the morning, out in the open, and with a clear head.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

This is far from the usual genres I read but my local book club picked it as the book for this month and I was up for giving it a go. I think the best thing about book clubs is that you can easily challenge yourself and push yourself out of your comfort zone.

What Did I Think?

Personally, I would say that I am a little crude when it comes to the vocabulary used to describe sex scenes and some of the language in this book definitely made me cringe. But by the end of this book, it’s safe to say I’ve got used to the language.

Just to warn you, if you erotica or dark romance isn’t normally your thing, I wouldn’t start with this book. I had no idea that this book was classed as a dark romance until I got about five chapters in and it was evidently clear. There are some pretty horrific scenes in this book and I would like to urge anyone thinking about delving into this genre, to be careful about which books you pick. For me, I’ve read some pretty dark and disturbing stories over the years, but even for me, this book was eye-opening.

Corrupt follows a rich young woman named Erika who, whilst she was at school, got mixed up with the wrong sort of boys and ended up causing a lot of trouble. Since then, years have passed but the group of four men haven’t forgotten the pain she’s caused them and set out to get their revenge. What makes this difficult is that the leader of the group, Michael Crist, and Erika are both irresistible to each other, blurring the lines between love and hate.

I would say that for my first-ever erotica novel, this one was quite a rollercoaster and one that I didn’t feel comfortable reading in a room full of people. However, the ending for me became too dramatic and over-the-top and began to ruin all the drama, suspense and tension that the author had created prior. Safe to say, I can’t wait to discuss this one with book club!

Corrupt

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Publisher: Penelope Douglas LLC
Published: 2015
# of Pages: 461
Genre: Erotica, Dark Romance
Trigger Warnings: Violence, abuse, bondage, rough-sex, crime, abusive relationships
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, ” data-type=”URL” data-id=”"www.blackwells.co.uk"“>Blackwells

REVIEW: The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories

“Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

As you’ve probably gathered, this year, to get in the mood for Spooky Season, I decided to read some spooky books. I’ve read Angela Carter’s other book Nights at The Circus which I loved and I have been recommended The Bloody Chamber SO many times, so I thought it was about time I ticked this one off.

What Did I Think?

I didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did. I’m usually not a huge fan of short stories but have tried to widen my horizons this year by getting involved in the 2020 National Short Story Award and by reading more short stories.

So if you didn’t know, The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short stories that play upon popular fairy tales and folklore. There are 10 short stories featuring different bad-ass female protagonists, that are all based around famous tales such as Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast and Puss In Boots.

Even though I loved the Gothic elements of each story, I think my favourite by far has to be the first story and the one that features in the title of the book, The Bloody Chamber. The reason why I love this one so much is because it is Angela Carter at her finest. Combining sexual desire, fear, passion, virginity and femininity all in one 42-page story, the story follows a young virgin, who has married a secretive bachelor who tells her she can have every key to every room in the house except one…and from there all his dirty, dark secrets come crawling out.

I think what is so excellent about these stories is that they focus heavily on female sexuality and womanhood, making it still as shocking to read now as it was when it was first released in 1979. In the introduction to the book (written by Helen Simpson in 2006) it states that ‘The Bloody Chamber is like a multi-faceted glittering diamond reflecting and refracting a variety of portraits of desire and sexuality – heterosexual female sexuality – which unusually for the time, 1979, are told from the heterosexual female viewpoint’ which I think beautifully sums up exactly what Carter set out to achieve when writing the book.

In true Gothic tradition, Carter uses fiction to draw upon society’s fears. Following the wave of feminism taking over the world during the 1970s, it’s interesting to see how Carter uses violence, gore and the uncanny to explore love and sex from the female POV.

This is definitely one I wish I had studied during University. However, I (thankfully) did get chance to study Carter whilst at University with reading Nights At The Circus which opened my eyes to the journey that femininity has and is still experiencing.

The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Publisher: Vintage Books
Published: Originally 1979 (my copy 2006)
# of Pages: 149
Genre: Gothic, Short Stories, Fantasy
Trigger Warnings:
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Blackwells

REVIEW: Fifty Fifty

“Most killers I’d come across I could make a stab at some kind of explanation for their behaviour. I was always able to rationalise it. This time, there was no easy explanation.
No key. This one I couldn’t rationalise.
There was something dark at the heart of this case.
Something evil.
Watching.
Waiting.”

Why Did I Read This?

This was my local book club pick for October and I have to say this book won all but one vote! Everyone was desperate to read this thriller…and I can see why.

What Did I Think?

OK, guys…it’s been a while since I’ve read a thriller and this book reminded me EXACTLY why I love this genre. 

If this is the first time hearing about this book, Fifty Fifty is about two sisters who are BOTH on trial for the murder of their father. Each thinks each other has killed him. But one is a LIAR.

This was my first time reading a Steve Cavanagh novel, but I had heard extremely great things about his other novel, ‘Th1rte3n’. This book had everything a good thriller needs. Intertwining stories. Different narratives. Twists. Turns. Suspense.

One thing I loved about this book was we get a narrative from the killer herself but Steve Cavanagh does an incredible job of keeping her identity under wraps right until the VERY end. That’s what I love so much about a good thriller, you’re kept guessing right until the final pages and this was certainly the case with Fifty Fifty.

Cavanagh also did a great job of giving us a perspective from a female lawyer within the industry. Kate’s perspective and the experience was one of my favourites throughout the novel because all the odds were against her. She starts the book by being controlled by a horrible, sexist, and pervy boss. Cavanagh was clever and brave to address the sexual abuse and biased behavior within the legal system.

I loved both the lawyers (even though they were fighting on different sides) because they each had their quirks but worked extremely well together. 

There wasn’t anything I didn’t particularly not enjoy about this book because like I said before, I thought it included everything a good thriller should, but when my boyfriend asked me if it was a 5-star, I had to think about it. And for me, if I have to question whether a book deserved 5 stars, then it probably didn’t. However, my opinion might change once we discuss it with the book club because those discussions either go one of two ways; I either end up loving it more or loving it less! 

Safe to say though, I have added a few of Steve Cavanagh’s other books to my TBR!

Fifty Fifty

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Publisher: Orion
Published: 2020
# of Pages: 349
Genre: Thriller
Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, murder, abuse, graphic scenes, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, inappropriate behaviour at work
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Blackwells

BLOG TOUR: Bent Coppers by Norman Pilcher

So today is my turn to join the Bent Coppers Blog tour hosted by Faye at Authoright. When this blog tour was announced, I was so excited to be part of it because there is nothing I love more than a good police drama but this is the story of the man who arrested some HUGE names which makes it even more special.

Complete with real police reports and Pilcher’s witty humour, Bent Coppers is the perfect read for those who want to experience what it was like being a policeman in the 1960s, when the force was corrupt and had its fair share of cover ups.

The Book

Bent Coppers is the electrifying true story of Norman Pilcher, the most infamous police officer in British law enforcement history. Truth and justice were the tenets of Pilcher’s war against crime in the capital, but they soon collapsed in a landslide of scandal, perjury and blazing newspaper headlines. 

The man who arrested The Beatles and The Rolling Stones would pay the ultimate price for his service. Finally he sets the record straight.

An Extract

My name is Norman Pilcher. I was a policeman in the 1960s in London during a period when the Met Police was rotten to its core. Now I have reached a ripe old age, I plan to set the record straight on a few things concerning my reputation, and that of my team. I write this story not from a bitter or pained place, but one of understanding. I was naïve at the time; I am not anymore. My hope is that in straightening out rumours and hearsay that a record will then exist which is more powerful than gossip and newspaper stories, because this record is the truth and truth is the most powerful thing of all.

The backdrop to my career was the Swinging Sixties, which most people think of as an era of celebration. Beatlemania, counterculture and social revolution were how it became popularised. The sexual revolution, and questioning authority with marijuana, LSD and psychedelic music – that’s what many people stood for. So, as you can imagine, being a policeman arresting pop stars for taking drugs was not going to score me any brownie points with the public during this period of change! The thing was though, I did not join the Met for popularity; I did it for other reasons and it was not to arrest famous people, I can assure you of that. Perhaps without being able to articulate it at the time, I wanted to do something sincerely useful in this world. By preventing something bad from happening, stopping someone doing something wrong or dealing with somebody when they had done wrong, I could make my contribution. What I learnt was that the majority of people were good people. And a lot of people were simply rebelling.

The Author

Pilcher was a policeman in the 1960’s in London during a period when the Met Police was rotten to the core. He grew up in Margate (but now lives in the Tunbridge Wells area.) He had a great family life and never got into trouble, because if he had he’d have got a good old thumping from his dad.

“I went into the building trade on an apprenticeship when school finished. I didn’t like it, so when my dad came back from racing pigeons, I told him that I fancied joining the army which I did. I trained at Woking and joined the Military Police and like my dad, I went to North Africa. As I was part of the Military Police, I was destined to be a copper, so when I came back, I joined the Met Police.”

You can follow Norman on Twitter and Facebook to find out more about the book and to be kept up to date with all his latest ventures!

Bent Coppers

Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
Published: 2020
# of Pages: 184
Genre: Memoir
Links: Goodreads, Amazon

The 2020 BBC National Story Award

As you may already know, I was kindly asked to be involved in the launch of the 2020 BBC Radio 4 Short Story Award by Comma Press and I can’t believe my luck!

The shortlist for the 2020 BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University was announced on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row on Friday 11th September 2020. The stories shortlisted were then broadcasted on BBC Radio 4 to showcase each individual story.

The Shortlist

BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University 2020 shortlist is:

  • ‘Pray’ by Caleb Azumah Nelson
  • ‘In The Car With the Rain Coming Down’ by Jan Carson
  • ‘The Grotesques’ by Sarah Hall
  • ‘Come Down Heavy’ by Jack Houston
  • ‘Scrimshaw’ by Eley Williams

My Winner

‘The Grotesques’ tells a story about a fictional family with its own oppressive rules. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the mother is controlling but there are also hints of other darker secrets hidden in the family as well.

The author, Sarah Hall has been shortlisted for the BBCNSSA four times already, so I’m really rooting for her to win the award this year. Her story, just like all her other entries, perfectly combines the feeling of tension and relief, in ways I never knew possible.

The Award is one of the most prestigious for single short stories, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and the other four further shortlisted authors winning £600 each.

Excitedly, the announcement of the winner of the award will be broadcast live from the award ceremony on BBC Radio 4 from 7:15 pm on Tuesday 6th October 2020.

If you would like to catch up on all the stories broadcasted on BBC Radio 4, check them out on BBC Sounds!