It seems like I have to reintroduce myself to blogging at least once a year. Sometimes twice. Is the whole concept of blogging dead? Should I be trying to set my writing endeavours to weird slowed-down breathy clips of popular music on TikTok instead?
Perish the thought.
Anyway. I had some success with this blog through 2020, didn’t I? I was doing my monthly reading round-ups, linked to my social media, and I was connecting with a lot of people. Beautiful stuff… until, as always seems to happen, I got bored in early 2021 and vanished off the face of the planet again. Hey ho.
At first, I think the structure of having such a regular structure of monthly book reviews was good for my brain, and kept me going. But then it started to become a chore, and I just wasn’t here for it any more. However, I miss blogging; I miss having a good old chat about everything and nothing. So I feel like it’s time to return – not to the fixed monthly reviews or anything like that, but definitely to the occasional ramble about my writing, my reading, my obsession with dresses that have pockets, and anything else that happens to cross my mind.
On which note – what’s been going on in the year since I last wrote?
Short month, February. Those few extra days can make a hell of a difference when you’ve got targets to meet.
Hasn’t seemed to make a difference to my reading, mind you.
Before I get into all my monthly stats and mini-reviews and general rambling, let’s take a little moment for some celebration: the end might be in sight! For the pandemic, that is. Oh, I’m not stupid, I know full well the UK is still drowning in cases and there’s no way we’re ever going to get this fully under control. It’s going to end up being an annual thing, with all of us trotting off to get our vaccinations every winter, like we do for the flu. Well, like some of us do.
But the peril, the lockdown-inducing, death-rate-soaring peril looks like it might finally be coming to a close. Here in the UK, we’ve vaccinated somewhere between 25% and 30% of the adult population now. I have more friends and family members getting vaccinated every week; most importantly of all to me, my mum is getting hers next week. The government (in general, don’t get me started, but this bit is quite positive) has revealed our roadmap out of lockdown, with an optimistic date for the country getting some form of normality back. I’m starting to make tentative, hopeful plans for an autumn holiday. Fingers very, very crossed.
Anyway, this is supposed to be a book blog, not a wistful look at a potential happy Covid-free summer.
My life has been much the same in February as it was in January. Lots of annual leave, lots of sitting on my sofa ‘playing’ trains with my small boy. Not a lot of writing. My NaNoWriMo novel, so promising, has officially stalled right at the last few chapters. I just can’t decide how it’s going to end, no matter how easily I can leap into the main character’s head and see things from her point of view. It’s seeing things from the other characters’ points of view I can’t manage, so although I know what the main one’s going to do… I can’t yet visualise how the others are going to react. And that’s what will decide on my ending.
All in all, it means there’s been a lot of time I should have been writing, but spent the time reading instead. It’s not quite the extreme number of January – I think that was anomalous – but it’s a pretty decent chunk, nonetheless.
And guess what? It’s time to get out those balloons and party poppers I can’t stand, because there’s some minor celebrating to do!
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…
We’ve all been through the wringer, haven’t we? If you’re reading this, then I applaud you just for getting through 2020. Not just the pandemic and all its assorted delights, but my monthly reading round-ups. Well done for pushing through all my inane rambling!
Though, much like Covid-19 (groan), I rather think I’ll be sticking around into 2021. I’ve really enjoyed doing my monthly round-ups and I have no intention of stopping any time soon.
Right, let’s talk books!
I always set myself a goal on the Goodreads challenge, and this year was no different; I decided I’d aim for a thoroughly respectable 52 new books read.
Then… the pandemic hit with full force. Lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, work becoming a ghost-town…
Well, it might have been a decidedly unpleasant atmosphere to be living through, but I found it quite conducive to reading. When I wasn’t building increasingly elaborate wooden railways for my small boy I was sprawling across the sofa, one eye on our new preschool teacher (CBeebies) and the other on one or the other of the reading apps on my phone. I flew through book after book, eating them up like lockdown banana bread.
Once I’d picked up the pace, I couldn’t seem to slow it down. Every time I thought I was about to hit a month of slightly fewer books, I’d find myself finding something new and amazing in which I could get lost, staying up far too late and devouring page after page.
Then, to top it all, I made my foray into Bookstagram (the bookish community of Instagram). I’m still only really dabbling my toes into it, but I’ve found so many fabulous recommendations. I wouldn’t have found half of the five-star reads I’ve got through this year without that community, and I hope to continue delving into it in 2021.
Plus, it influenced me into one of my absolute favourite purchases of 2020. Who doesn’t need a librarianly book trolley in their lives?
The upshot of it all is… I’ve done rather well with my Goodreads challenge this year. Some might say I’ve smashed it. Shall we have some stats?
Just a brief note – I’m planning to follow this up with my review of 2020 in general, so this reading round-up might be a little shorter than usual. Rest assured, there’s going to be plenty of rambling from me in the next few days to keep you going!
It’s my last monthly round-up of the year! I’m quite proud to have stuck these out – the last time I tried doing something similar was early in 2016, and I had to stop pretty quickly because I got pregnant, and it would have let the proverbial cat somewhat out of the proverbial bag if my blog had suddenly been full of pregnancy books and stories about baby groups. I’ve been doing them now since we went into the first lockdown, back in March, and let’s face it, there’ll probably be one or two more of those before this whole pandemic delight is over.
I wasn’t expecting to read much this month – I’m working full-time now, plus of course it was Christmas. But I got in a thoroughly respectable number anyway. Disclaimer: I’m including one book in my total that I haven’t quite finished yet, because I know I’ll definitely be done with it before the month is out (if not before the day is out, the speed I’m getting through it). I’m a couple of days early with this post this month after all, so I can fit in my round-up of the year before it ends.
I think I’ve only read one actual physical book this month – I’ve been running around far too much to be hefting hardbacks around. But I’ve been using my new, beautiful iPad to great effect. My poor old Kindle Paperwhite has been on its last legs for a while now (when you’re really into a story, you don’t want to be waiting three seconds for each page to load) so I decided to treat myself last month, justifying it as a NaNoWriMo tool as well as a reading one. It’s certainly been worth its weight in gold already.
I’m not going to reveal my final total for 2020 here, I’ll save that for my full year-in-review (ooh, the suspense). But I’ve read ten new books this month, and reread two. I genuinely meant to reread more, in preparation for deciding on my ultimate favourite reads of 2020, but I realised I wanted to get some new, cosy festive books in before the season ended. So I’ve been kind of skim-rereading instead, for the most part.
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!
Coming in a day early with my round-up this month, to tie in with the photo challenge I’ve been doing on Instagram throughout October. I’ve been doing #RFABOct20 – a very bookish challenge that has been rather fun and has made me want to reread a fair chunk of my bookshelves. Of course, I took a ‘#TBR’ picture at the start of the month, with a lovely little selection of books to both read and reread, and… er, I have read two out of the five. One reread, and one new book. Oh well!
However, if we pretend that little reading wish-list didn’t happen, I’ve actually done reasonably well this month, reading-wise. I’ve had a fair chunk of time to myself – I went up to Edinburgh and locked myself in a hotel room to get some writing done (successfully), which entailed a total of just over six hours on trains over the course of a weekend. Plus, with the nights drawing in, curling up on the sofa at the end of the day with a good book has been particularly appealing. Of course, I’m not getting anything close to my lockdown numbers, but considering the UK could well be thrown into Lockdown: The Sequel any day now, things could be different in the next couple of months!
Anyway, let’s talk some stats.
I have read nine new books this month, and reread three. Like I said, I’ve had better months for reading, but I’ve also had worse! And, of course, this brings my total for the year so far up to 115 new books completed, which frankly amazes me every time I update it. I’m starting to wonder whether I should aim big in 2021 and set 100 books as my goal for the year, or whether that would be shooting for the moon in a year that may or may not be quite as locked down as this one. Something to ponder over the last couple of months of 2020.
Oh, how hopeful I was at the end of August! “Yeah, Ted’s going back to nursery so I’ll be able to read books upon books upon books! Oh, yippee!”
Er, well. About that. My tiny ratbag has indeed swanned back off to nursery for the first time in months, settling back in with his characteristic swagger. That’s three days a week – three! Plus an extra one if he spends Saturday at my mum’s! – where I can chill out, recline on my sofa like the queen of everything, and read to my heart’s content. But… has it gone like that?
No. No it has not.
BUT. (Big but.) (Bigger than my butt, unbelievably, considering the stone I’m unable to shift since lockdown).
I’ve been writing instead.
This started last month, though I couldn’t get fully into my stride while we were moving house and I didn’t have a great deal of time to myself. I was writing in snatched moments during the day, when Ted was fully immersed in CBeebies (and I was probably supposed to be packing). I find it really difficult to write in the evening, when he’s in bed – I’m usually that befuddled and semi brain-dead, I tend to just slump in front of the TV with a cup of tea, and fall into bed by ten. Oh, who am I kidding? By nine.
Now, with the small boy at nursery and the big boy (husband) quietly working from home at the very top of the house, I have found myself with what feels like aeons of time, just stretching out beautifully in front of me. And the words have been pouring out of me in a veritable stream (that sounds dodgy, bad metaphor). I’ve written more in the last month than I have in at least the last two years combined – even if you include my epic self-imposed Edinburgh writing retreat last year (aka quite possibly the catalyst to my writerly burn-out).
It’s really taken away from my reading time and my totals are way down this month.
But, do you know what? I’m not beating myself up about it – especially as, even for me, writing does beat reading in the productivity stakes. Also, though, some of the books I did read this month were pretty epically long, and took some puzzling out. There were a fair few rereads, too – I feel that I deserve some old favourites, after reaching 100 new reads last month.
Oh, I mentioned last month too that I was going to do a full Twilight Saga reread, and blog my ‘grown-up’ impressions of it (under the influence of much alcohol, one would hope). Sadly, this is yet to materialise – I’ve started Twilight, but honestly, holy balls, is this book hard to get through. I started off making notes in it but I’ve given up, because if I carried on all the notes would just disintegrate into one big ‘AAAARGH’. So hopefully I’ll be able to push on with it in October, but we’ll have to see how that goes.
Anyway! Here are my monthly stats: only six new books this month, with four rereads. A dismal reading month, when it comes to numbers, but it does bring my total up to 106 new books read this year, which I still think is pretty impressive. And, to be honest, back in the day I would have considered six new books consumed in a single month as a massive achievement.
Content-wise, it certainly was not a dismal month. And once again, it’s bloody difficult to pick a favourite. But I have made my choice and I’m going to stick with it!
Just a quick round-up, this month, I’m afraid! And yes, I’m a day late. I was at work until 10pm last night and although I planned to come home and do my usual monthly wittering, by the time I got back all I was capable of was sprawling on my sofa nodding off in front of Strike.
I knew this month was going to be busy and it lived up to expectations, that’s for sure. Oh, global pandemic aside, for once: we have not only moved house (and spent most of the month mired in packing, cleaning, and painting, as you do) but I have also, for the first time in forever, been properly inspired for my own writing.
It was also my birthday, and I got my beautiful birthday present – a fabulously bookish tattoo. It’s my biggest tattoo so far and I’m utterly in love. In case you don’t recognise it, it’s a moment from The Lord of the Rings, and a week on, I still can’t stop staring at it.
Reading has taken a bit of a backseat – as has my newly bookish Instagram. I think I’ve only posted on there six times in the last month which, for me, is quite notable.
But I managed something… I finished reading my 100th book of the year!
This month was fairly heavy on the non-fiction, for once, and for the most part the non-fiction was a lot more readable than the fiction. I very, very rarely write reviews on Goodreads (I like to save my opinions for on here) but I was moved to actually review a book on there this month. I’ll copy it in shortly but let’s just say it was, er, not favourable…
If we’re going to throw some stats in here, I read twelve new books this month and reread one, bringing my total up to a nice round 100. I’m rather proud of myself for that one – I set out to read 52 books this year and unless I accidentally lose function in most of my brain in the next four months, I’ll finish the year doubling that and then some. It’s by far the most I’ve ever read in a year without counting rereads; quite possibly even including rereads, seeing as I’m known to reread the same book repeatedly in the same year.
All but two of the books I’ve read this month have been digital – Kindle, BorrowBox or Audible. I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had the time to sit down properly with a pretty hardback; it’s been a case of snatched moments staring at my phone. I took a ‘TBR’ picture on Instagram at the start of the month and I’ll probably take the exact same photo later today for my September TBR, minus two books.