Reading Round-Up: November 2020

Another month, another round-up! Apologies if this comes out a bit garbled, a bit disjointed, or just straight-up mental this month. I’m exhausted. You will see why shortly. It’s been a weird month here in the UK, with Lockdown 2.0 going on. There’s been more open and fewer restrictions than during Lockdown 1.0, so you’d think November would have gone by far faster than March or April, aka the longest months ever in human existence. But looking back at my calendar and seeing everything that’s happened in November… it feels like it’s lasted about twelve years.

And I think I’ve quite excelled myself this month.

It’s not been my best month for reading, but nor has it been my worst. It’s been thoroughly respectable, actually.

I’m just rather proud of myself because of the other things I’ve achieved as well as doing a sizeable chunk of reading.

Firstly, and most importantly, I’ve been kind of temporarily promoted at work! I’m still doing the same job (violently blowing a whistle and waving at trains) but I’m doing it full-time now, until at least the end of July. This is the first time I’ve worked full-time since I went on maternity leave over four years ago, so it’s a bit of a shock to the system to say the least. I’ve just started my first run of early shifts in a long time (my normal roster only involves lates) and let’s just say, I’d forgotten there was a six o’clock in the morning.

I’m knackered, but I’m loving it. I love my job, it’s a genuine pleasure to go in every day. And now that my small boy is getting less small by the day, I’ve got a lot more time to actually progress in my career. Career. Christ on a bicycle, when did I go and get myself one of those?!

In a similar vein, I also passed my Rules again this month – that being the railway refresher to make sure I can still do my safety-critical job. Being a massive nerd, I properly revised for it complete with colour-coded notes (rest assured I have already been thoroughly mocked for this). So that ate up a bit of time too.

Aaaaaand I did NaNoWriMo. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, where you set yourself a personal challenge to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I started doing it in 2008 and I used to smash that total every year without fail – The Bean Jar is actually a NaNoWriMo novel, at least it started out as one (several incarnations later, it’s on Amazon). But then my son was born on November 1st 2016, which put pay to my winning that year (aah, I fondly recall past me optimistically packing a notebook and pen into my hospital bag, thinking I’d snatch some writing time), and every year since.

But apparently despite all the collective hell 2020 has thrown at us, it’s been marvellous for my productivity, because I actually finished a challenge this year!

I’m really proud of myself for this one and I got a bit emotional when I finished, a couple of days early. I made a vow at the start of this year that 2020 was going to be the year I started to claw a bit of myself back, rather than falling into a void of just being ‘Teddy’s mum’. This has been a massive leap towards that; the Jess of years ago would never have let a NaNoWriMo beat her.

I could ramble on about this all day, but this isn’t a writing post, this is a reading post.

So those are the things that were standing in my way this month (along with a certain small boy’s fourth birthday and, you know, a national lockdown), let’s see what I managed to get read in spite of that!

I have read ten new books this month, and reread one. This brings my total for the year to date up to a whopping 125 books. One hundred and twenty five. I can hardly believe it, especially with everything else going on.

I’m starting to think ahead to next year, and whether I want to up my goal or not. This year I smashed through that 52 book aim so quickly, I’m wondering if I should set my sights a little higher for 2021 – but equally, I’m going to be working full-time through much of it and, fingers crossed, as soon as a vaccine is reliably in place I want to do a bit of touring and gig-travelling with my girls. Reading probably won’t be quite as much of a priority as it was in 2020.

But that’s something to worry about next month. For now, let’s see what I’ve been reading in November!

November Favourite

The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires – Grady Hendrix

I had this recommended to me by my friend Naomi, who had been reading it with her book club. After her recommendation of Helter Skelter last month was such a hit, also one of her book club’s picks, I thought I should definitely give this a go. And it certainly did not disappoint.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires is a horror story, but it’s also about not underestimating people. It follows a book club of ‘nice’ Southern ladies who happen to be a bit obsessed with true crime, and what happens when real crime, real supernatural crime enters their neighbourhood.

It’s gory and gruesome at times, and some of its creepier scenes were so tense, they even thrilled me, and I’m usually the first one to run screaming from horror (give me grim forensics any day of the week). The characters were well-rounded and believable, as were their reactions to the terror unfolding around them. Reading this book you feel a growing frustration at the characters’ refusal to believe in what is happening right under their noses, until you realise that it’s exactly what you’d probably be doing too if the impossible suddenly happened in front of you.

I also loved the undercurrent of feminism; in this story, it is the women who are the heroes, and the husbands and other men who are either villains or just plain stupid. In the end, it’s up to the women to Get Shit Done. And my goodness, they really do.

And some more…

Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix

Yes, a second Grady Hendrix novel! I realised after I’d read The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires that I had another one of his books on my shelves – I’d seen Horrorstor recommended on Bookstagram a while ago and bought it, though I was yet to read it.

This is another humdinger; not quite as good as TSBCGTSV (I cannot be typing all that out every time, sorry), in that I didn’t connect with the characters in the same way. But the setting… a very familiar furniture store, built on the site of an old prison? If you’ve ever wondered what might go on after dark in your local Ikea, this is the book for you.

It’s one where I would definitely recommend buying the physical copy of the book, too. It’s set out to look like an incongruous Ikea catalogue, until you look closely. Each chapter is named after an item of furniture, with diagrams to match… and as the story goes on, the catalogue items get more and more unsettling. I was going to have a trip to Ikea next week when lockdown ends to scout out a new bed for my small boy… I may have changed my mind.

One To Watch – Kate Stayman-London

I wasn’t sure about this book when I first saw people on Bookstagram raving about it – I’m not really a fan of reality TV, I’ve never watched The Bachelor (which this is very much based upon) and I figured that combining the two into a book would probably bore me.

I was wrong. One To Watch is the story of a plus-size fashion blogger, Bea, who goes viral with her critique of Main Squeeze, a Bachelor-esque TV show. To her surprise, she is asked to be the next ‘Main Squeeze’. To my surprise, I loved it. I enjoyed reading a reality show far more than I ever enjoy watching them. Don’t dismiss this book as ‘chick-lit’ or fluffy, though – it makes a lot of strong points that hit hard, especially regarding prejudice, body image and the media. Bea’s ‘quest for true love’ is a) not that and b) not the focus of the story, not really, and this book has Levels.

Boy Parts – Eliza Clark

I loved this but I hated it. This is another one I read because Bookstagram told me to, and I’m so conflicted about it. I gave it four stars on Goodreads because I couldn’t put it down, and the writing was absolutely excellent… but that doesn’t mean it’s strictly enjoyable.

This book follows Irina, a young Geordie photographer who take pictures of random men she meets on buses and in the street, in various compromising situations. It’s… grim. Graphic. And twisted. Irina is an unreliable narrator from the start, but gets even more so as the story tracks her self-destructive spiral. It’s an excellent book, but dark. Very, very dark.

Ready Player Two – Ernest Cline

I absolutely LOVED Ready Player One, both the book and the film. I found the universe Cline created absolutely fascinating and when I found out that he’d written a sequel, I was intrigued. Ready Player One was tied off so neatly, how could he expand on it?

The answer is: by essentially rehashing the same plot again. A quest, an Easter Egg, a hell of a lot of pop culture.

This is not to say this is a bad thing. It’s the same characters I loved the first time around, in the same fabulously imaginative world. I really enjoyed the character development, and the fact that some of them rebelled against their proscribed happy ending from Ready Player One – it really showed how these characters grew up from the rag-tag band of teenagers of the first book. I couldn’t give this five stars, because I found some of the pop culture segments to drag a little bit – but then there was a nice long bit based on Tolkien lore, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. It’s a cracking read, anyway, just don’t expect anything too new.

And the rest…

Autumn – Ali Smith

So Close To Being The Sh*T, Y’All Don’t Even Know – Retta (sidenote – I listened to the audiobook of this and it was the BEST antidote to the stress of the US election)

The Windsor Knot – SJ Bennett

Fangirl Vol. 1: The Manga – Rainbow Rowell, Sam Maggs and Gabi Nam

The Hygge Holiday – Rosie Blake

And just the one reread…

Wayward Son – Rainbow Rowell

All in all, it’s been a very good month. For reading, and for everything.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do in December. I’d quite like to inch that total a little bit higher, but also, it’s Christmas, and I’d like to be all snuggly and cosy in my brain as well as in my physical self (slumped on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, hot chocolate all present and correct). I don’t yet know whether this means I’m going to spend an inordinate amount of money on cheesy Christmas-based rom-coms, or if it means I’m just going to reread a stack of old favourites. I suppose time will tell.

In the meantime, here’s a little snapshot of the current situation in my house… this little tinsel number is one of four (yes four) Christmas trees adorning our home. And it’s not even December yet…

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