For many, the first lockdown was a time of forging new habits and picking up new hobbies. We saw everything from baking banana bread to jogging around the local streets. For me, reading was one of the key things that helped me get through lockdown. I basically hadn’t read at all throughout secondary school and only started at the beginning of my third year at university. In the few short months from me picking up this new hobby to the start of lockdown, I’d managed to get together quite a collection of books (all £1 or less from the charity shops!) and they were my saviour throughout the entire of 2020 – it’s almost like I somehow knew 2020 was going to be an awful year when I started collecting a huge stack of books at the end of 2019!
I ended up reading over 50 books in 2020, which for someone who hadn’t read for ‘fun’ for at least 10 years prior to this point, I’d say is quite the achievement.
Here’s a list of some of the best books I read during lockdown, and then some books I’m most excited to read!
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1) – George R.R. Martin
“Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the centre of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.”
The hit TV show was originally a series of books by author George R.R. Martin. I won’t lie, this book is quite chunky and will take a bit of time to read (well it did for me anyway). However, the fantasy element of the book really does take you away from all the troubles of the real world for a little while. The length of the book means that you can be absorbed in a fictional universe and away from the real world for a bit longer too! I actually watched the series for the first time at the start of lockdown and enjoyed it that much that I went straight on to reading the books just so I could re-live the GoT universe and escape from
reality. The books are quite similar to the storyline in the show, but there are some subtle differences which keep it exciting.
Daisy Jones and the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical Fiction
“Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go-Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.
Another band getting noticed is The Six, led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.
Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realises the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.”
I actually listened to this as an audiobook and thought it was phenomenal. It’s the story of a 1970s rock group and their lead singer, Daisy Jones. I had to Google multiple times throughout this book whether they were actually a real band – the writing is so convincing. The book is written in an interview-style format, with each member of the band talking through their experiences – it’s like one big conversation. There is a full cast for the audiobook, meaning that each character is read out by a different person. It is hands down the best audiobook I’ve ever listened to, and I know people have really enjoyed reading the book too!
The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
“Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.
She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighbourhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But
what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.
Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.
The can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.”
This book gripped me from the first page to the last. There are so many twists and turns in the plot. It’s a little bit creepy and dark at points, but fascinating nonetheless. The book is told from 3 different perspectives: Libby, Henry and Lucy, and there’s nothing more satisfying than when the pieces of their puzzle starts to fit together in your brain as you read it. I won’t say anymore – it will spoil it!
Something I realised as lockdown progressed was that some books I was picking up were a little bit dark and sinister for the situation we were in, so I picked up some middle grade and young adult books instead – they generally contain less death, disaster and despair! Here were some of my favourite feel good books. I also found that audiobooks were a great companion throughout lockdown. You can listen to them whilst out walking or running, doing uni work or just whilst doing other things around the house!
Sagas of Anya – Kirsten Mbawa
Genre: Middle Grade | Historical Fiction
“Life for a young Victorian girl living in a working-class family was often harsh, and no less so in South Wales. Despite daily drudgery and many challenges, for eleven-year-old Anya, life also had its joyful moments — the stuff of memories. Soon after her twelfth birthday, the sudden death of her mam as a result of a long-term health condition marks the beginning of a downward spiral for her family. Grieving her loss, Anya has to look on as her remaining parent – her tad – slowly becomes a shadow of the loving and supportive father that he was. When their fortunes reach an all-time low, Anya is packed off to London to become a maid at Tippets House, under the watchful eye and the often cruel controlling hand of Mrs Axton, who is in charge of the ‘downstairs’ staff.”
I love historical fiction. Anything to do with the Victorian era in particular and I’m hooked. Kirsten Mbawa is an extremely talented young writer and this was her debut novel. I’m not going to spoil the ending of the book, but it was an ending I didn’t expect. I really did enjoy this book and I was a little bit sad when I got to the end of it. I loved Anya and just wanted
to keep reading about her and her life. I also find it so interesting how it’s a first person perspective – so the story is told through the eyes of Anya. With historical fiction books I’ve read, the protagonists have always been adults and so seeing the Victorian world through the eyes of a young girl completely fascinated me. Anya is such a brave character considering everything she went through. I know in the grand scheme of things, Anya didn’t have it too badly when comparing her life to the lives of some other Victorian children. Any time I read anything to do with the Victorians, I always count myself very lucky that I was born in the 1990s rather than the 1890s!!
Land of the Nurogons – Aiyven Mbawa (this is Kirsten’s younger sister!)
Genre: Middle Grade | Fantasy / Adventure
“Hi, — I’m Hayden Smith. I’ve always considered myself to be an average high school kid. There’s nothing special about me — or so I thought! But what do I know? Well, I had no idea that I’d been marked out as ‘the Chosen One’. You see, I fell into a hole and ended up in a parallel dimension — the world of Nurogonia. How would you explain to your school that you’ve been missing for days because you’d been with a load of Nurogons? Now some bloke called Sosiri wants to rule Nurogonia and turn it into something awful! If I don’t thwart his plans many will die. No pressure then.”
Everything gets turned upside down when Hayden gets pulled down a black hole and ends up in the parallel universe Nurogonia, a land run by the Nurogons – four-fingered, two-toed, freckled muddy green creatures about the size of a toddler. The concept of a parallel universe reminded me a lot of Stranger Things and the Upside Down, however Nurogonia seemed more like a place I’d be happier to visit, rather than something from my nightmares. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but one thing I will say is that I assumed once he first went down the black hole to Nurogonia, that that’s where he’d stay for the remainder of the story. I was quite surprised when he was allowed to leave and return to the real world, but told he must return at some point to complete a quest. Whilst he was in Nurogonia, the real world carried on as normal – so for this time Hayden was missing. Aiyven Mbawa is the sister of Kirsten who wrote Land of the Nurogons, and the pair are the most fantastically talented young authors who deserve far more recognition than they’ve had.
Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary Fiction
“Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for
class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.”
This is such a lovely, easy breezy, light-hearted read. It’s one of those books perfect for when you want to escape from reality but don’t want to read anything too challenging or dramatic. It’s based in a high school and it’s basically just full of high school dramas. Simon is emailing someone called ‘Blue’ and the chain of emails are great. There’s a character in the book called Leah, and Becky Albertalli went onto write a book about her ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ which is another great, light-hearted read!
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