I was going to do a nice blog post all about my 2021 challenges and goals, wasn’t I? That went well. Maybe I’ll do one at some point – I was all set, and then our new full lockdown was announced, my small boy’s nursery had to go into quarantine because of a positive Covid case, and aims and plans all went out the window. 2020, you’re certainly still making yourself known! Anyway, I’ll try and get a coherent analysis of my actual 2021 plans into production as soon as I can, both reading and writing. For now, on with the round up!
So. Remember how I read 135 books last year? Remember how I blamed this anomalously high number on lockdowns and working part-time? Remember how I was absolutely certain I’d never reach such giddy heights again, because a) I work full-time now and b) surely the world would be getting itself back on track before too long?
Yeah. About that.
I’m still working full-time… in name only. I’ve had so many days of annual leave left over to take before the end of the financial year, I’ve not worked a full week since December and I won’t do so until the end of March. And with the advent of Lockdown 3.0 here in the UK, it’s not like my social life has picked up. Indeed, I spend most of my days building increasingly elaborate wooden train layouts for the small boy, then slumping on the sofa to surreptitiously read book after book on my Kindle app.
“Mummy Mummy Mummy look at Thomas, he’s going over the wobbly bridge, oh no he’s going to fall in the ravine, aaargh it’s a dinosaur!!”
All. Day. Long.
Most of the time all that’s required of me is a noncommittal “oh no!” or “oh wow!” every so often and the regular provision of snacks, which leaves plenty of time for reading. The only thing is, the aforementioned small boy gets quite affronted if he sees me cracking open an enormous hardback, thinking I’m not paying him and his trains quite enough attention. Weirdly, though, he doesn’t seem to notice if I’m just looking at an iPhone screen. I’m making a conscious effort this year to stop doing quite so much doom-scrolling, so every time I find myself going goggle-eyed at Twitter for more than a couple of minutes, I force myself to switch to a reading app, either Kindle or BorrowBox. It’s made this month… productive. We’ll call it that.
Stats o’clock! And – pause for drumroll – it’s a record-breaker! In January I have read twenty books. 20. Two-zero. I don’t think I’ve ever read this many books in one month in my entire life. There might have been a couple of months last year where I pushed towards twenty when you counted rereads in, but I’m loathe to do that as I tend to be able to reread a book a lot quicker than I can read one for the first time, so it doesn’t feel like quite so much of an effort. Speaking of rereads, I didn’t finish any in January – however, I did start a Lord of the Rings reread, as I had the sudden realisation I haven’t read the full trilogy in about six years. I’m slowly working my way through The Fellowship Of The Ring and it’s giving me all the feelings already; who knows what state I’ll be in by the time I get to Rohan!
Anyway. I am quite a bad bookworm, despite a very healthy total number for the month. As I said before, the best way for me to read when I’m also supervising the small boy is to flip to the Kindle app on my phone. I’ve been ploughing through both the Bridgerton series and the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, both of which are incredibly addictive and comforting during ‘these unprecedented times’ (I bloody hate that phrase). Once I get into a series, I like to have all the books in said series in the same format. I started both of those on my Kindle, so on my Kindle they will stay.
Even though I got a fabulous collection of new books for Christmas, and I’ve had a couple of recent book hauls too… I didn’t read a single physical book in January. Everything was digital. It’s made it very easy to plough through things, glancing down at my phone every so often for a few minutes at at time, rather than burying myself in an actual book. But I feel quite ridiculously guilty, like I’m a poor excuse for a bookworm. Hopefully next month I’ll get cracking with the piles accumulating on my (extensive) TBR trolley…
Anyway, let’s have a look at some of the (many) books I’ve been reading this month…
Just a quick note: I’m going to treat each of the multi-book series I’ve been reading this month as one book, rather than try and pick my favourite from each one. Largely because, especially with one of them, I’ve read so many books in the series back-to-back, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell you which book was which; they’ve all blended into one fabulous saga in my head. Just thought I’d put that in for clarity’s sake.
The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series – Jodi Taylor
I actually read the first three books in this series back in the mythical, whimsical past of January 2020 – they were cheap on Kindle, and I loved them. The problem was, none of the rest of the series was cheap on Kindle, so, being somewhat poor, I had to leave them. They slipped out of my consciousness except for occasionally thinking “I really need to get back into those books”, then being dismissed with a more pressing item on the TBR trolley.
I really wish I’d got back into them sooner. These books are amazing. In short, they follow a team of historians studying historical events in contemporary time – yes, translated, they’re time travellers (though they don’t like to be called that). St Mary’s is kept out of the way from the rest of society in a slightly rundown manor house in the countryside; they have to be, or else they’d probably blow society up. They’re madcap, chaotic, and run almost entirely on copious quantities of tea. The characters are truly fabulous, from the narrator, fierce and fabulous Max, to the dark horses of the Wardrobe department and the kitchen staff – though my favourites have to be the eccentric professors of the R&D department, and the impervious-to-death Markham from Security.
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed out loud at a book as much as I’ve laughed at these. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I thoroughly recommend them – especially if you’re a bit of a history nerd. History is treated with reverence and respect (even when the St Mary’s team is blowing up everything else around them). Beware, though; Jodi Taylor can be a bit ruthless with her characters, and some of the latter books in particular can be heartbreaking in places. I’m currently reading book number 10 in the series, at least one more has been published, and there’s another one coming out this year. Plus, there’s a whole load of short stories and novellas I’m going to go back and chug through once I’ve finished the main books. I don’t think the end is in sight and I’m very happy with this situation.
The Bridgerton Series – Julia Quinn
Original, me? Nope. Just like the rest of the world, I’ve fallen in love with Bridgerton on Netflix, in all its cheesy Regency love-story glory. As soon as I’d finished all eight episodes (in an embarrassingly short time – did I mention I’ve been bored on annual leave?) I was looking for more, and where better to go than the source material?
If you loved the series on Netflix, you could do a lot worse than go and read Julia Quinn’s original books. Fair warning: they are quite different from the TV show. The showrunners have elaborated a lot on the stories and characters, obviously to make things more fluid and make more sense for the TV screen. Each book follows a different Bridgerton sibling and their love-life in great detail – I do believe the series is going to do the same thing, but to keep things interesting (and bulk out the number of episodes they can do) they’ve added in a lot more character-establishing sub-plots, even entirely new characters that I haven’t seen despite reading the first four of the eight books this month.
I am really enjoying these books but be warned: they’re hardly great literature. You’re not going to delve deep into human psychology or get any of life’s great questions answered. But they’re like a fluffy duvet in literary form – comforting, not mentally taxing in the slightest, and will give you all the warm fuzzy feelings.
And some more…
skinCARE: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide – Caroline Hirons
I posted about this on my Bookstagram (something that’s been sorely neglected lately while I’ve been reading on Kindle, thus rather unphotogenic) and I stand by what I wrote on there. I’m utterly obsessed with skincare at the moment (again, lockdown boredom, and the keen knowledge my face’s ‘good years’ are slipping away while I’m stuck inside the house) and this one-stop, no-nonsense guide to your skin and what should and shouldn’t go on it was a fabulous revelation and an education. I’ve used it to totally change up my routine, swap around some products, and do a good old Get In The Sea (read the book) on others. And my skin has never been better. Now if only I could go anywhere to show it off…
How Do You Like Me Now? – Holly Bourne
I discovered Holly Bourne last year, and she’s a truly excellent writer: in both her Young Adult and Adult novels she just really gets women. She writes about trauma and mental illness in ways that are both believable and insightful while maintaining a sense of humour, and her characters are distinct and human. This particular story follows a best-selling self-help author who, to the outside world, has everything sussed; but beneath the highly-filtered Instagram posts and carefully constructed persona, there’s a whole other story. The main character isn’t entirely likeable, but it’s still a searing look at adjusting to life in your thirties when it feels like all potential is slipping away.
Some parts really struck a chord for me, probably pretty well summed-up in this quote from the book: “It’s not the fun that I miss, it’s the fluidity. Where a chance encounter, or an impromptu night out, or a wrong turn, or a last minute trip could somehow change everything, alter your direction so utterly – without it ever being too late to change course again if you didn’t like the latest view.”
Dear Edward – Janet Napolitano
I picked this up because I saw some rave reviews on Instagram, but I’ve got kind of mixed feelings about it. This story is about Edward, a twelve-year-old boy who survives a plane crash. He’s the only one of 187 people on the plane not to die. The novel follows him as he comes to terms with grief, survivor’s guilt, and just the simple fact of growing up. This was sometimes hard to read, and utterly heartbreaking in places – it does not help that I have a child called Edward, does it? I wasn’t always connected to the characters, and sometimes the author seemed a bit matter-of-fact about certain traumas, not giving me quite the emotional kick I was expecting. The plot ‘twist’ with the letters didn’t really have the impact I think it was supposed to, and nor did Edward’s reaction to it. But I really liked the way the book altered between Edward as a survivor, and the stories of the other people on the plane in the immediate run-up to their inevitable deaths. Not a perfect book by any means, but a good read nonetheless.
And the rest…
Life In Pieces – Dawn O’Porter
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Tales From The Folly – Ben Aaronovitch
Quite – Claudia Winkleman
The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
Take A Hint, Dani Brown – Talia Hibbert
The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
And, for blog-maths, these are the St Mary’s and Bridgerton books I read in January:
Bridgerton Series – Julia Quinn
The Chronicles of St Mary’s – Jodi Taylor
(if you’d like to read the first three books in the series too, which I read last year, they’re available here)
Productive month, right?
I have a feeling I’ll be calming down in February, though. I’m making a bit more of an effort to do other things than just stare goggle-eyed at my phone screen for my entire life. Not that that’s a bad thing, obviously, when it’s a book I’m reading and not just mindless Facebooking, but I need to get cracking with other things too. My writing, which was going so well during November (cheers, NaNoWriMo) ground to a bit of a halt, but inspiration is rearing its head again. I can’t write my own book when my head is constantly in someone else’s.
Aaaand I might as well be honest, I’m getting back into PC gaming again. There’s been some Cities: Skylines. Some epic Sims house-building. I should probably break out the audiobooks again so I can ‘read’ while I play…
But I do have a semi-concrete aim for the next couple of months. My TBR trolley is getting more and more full with each day that passes… I really need to start making inroads. I went on a bit of a pre-ordering spree just before Christmas, in the hope that I forget I’ve ordered them all and when they turn up each time it turns out to be a lovely surprise. Cheerful book mail from myself! I’m pretty sure at least two will be turning up in the next couple of weeks, and I don’t want them to just get chucked straight on the pile and forgotten. January was a month of Kindle-ing – let’s have a February of beautiful hardbacks and paperbacks!