Books to Read This Lockdown

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

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 780

“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

Pages: 355

“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

Pages: 340

“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

Pages: 208

“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

Pages: 332

“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

Pages: 303

“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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8 Ways to Organise Your Bookshelf

With my desk, where I spent at least 12hrs a day, being right next to my bookshelf, I spend a fair amount of time staring at it whilst procrastinating. Pretty much every time I look at it I think about how I don’t like the way it looks – although the organisation of my shelf makes the most sense for me… Turns out I just own lots of books that aren’t pretty colours and I’m a sucker for bright colours like pink. I thought I’d make this blog to suggest a few different ways that you can rearrange your bookshelf. Some of these I’ve done myself, others I haven’t. I’ll let you know which I’ve done and what I thought about them!

1 . Rainbow Bookshelf

Now the rainbow bookshelf is the ultimate dream for most bookworms, me included. I think everything in life looks so much better when it’s colour co-ordinated. I had my bookshelves rainbow for a good few months during 2020 (lockdown boredom got to me and I decided I NEEEEEEDED to rearrange to rainbow). The pros of a rainbow shelf are it looks so good!! The cons, however, are it can be pretty hard to find the book you’re looking for, unless you know what colour it is. This will obviously be easier for someone like me, who only has one shelf. But much, much more difficult to find your book if you own multiple shelves.

I’m just going to interject here to say that all of the shelving arrangements I suggest from this point on are far less beautiful, but far more practical.

2 . Alphabetical by Title

This was the first way I ever arranged my bookshelf and it worked quite well, until the rainbow urges came along. I don’t seem to recall having much of a problem with this method of organisation as you can easily find your book (as long as you know the name of it, of course). The main issue I had, which is quite a petty one, was that it separated my series up when I like them to sit beside one another. My bookshelf was actually arranged like this until a few weeks ago.

3 . Alphabetical by Authors Surname

This is the way I currently organise my bookshelf. The pros of this method are that I can have my series put together. I actually cheat a little bit and arrange my series in order within this organisation method.. It just saves me from having to Google the book order whenever I want to read one. For me, the cons of this arrangement method (again, petty), are that all the dull colours are put together (I’m aiming this at A Song of Ice and Fire.. Sorry George R.R. Martin, but what were you thinking with that awful colour scheme?!). 

4 . Separating Hardback and Paperback

I also do this. My hardbacks currently take up the top of my bookshelf, and paperbacks fill the rest.. By the rest I mean the 3 shelves beneath that. I’m not even a proper book blogger that owns a full shelf of books. One shelf is dedicated to the printer and paper shredder – how glamorous. I prefer having my hardbacks all in one place as some are massive, and some are tiny and I don’t like having different shaped and sized books in my ‘main’ area of the shelf (the paperback bit).. This leads me nicely onto my next point..

5 . Height order

Writing this blog has made me realise how much of a hybrid organisation I’ve got going on. I thought I was quite simple with the alphabetical by author’s surname, but didn’t once consider my top shelf of hardbacks. I organise my hardbacks in size order, with the tallest on the left hand side, working down to the smallest on the right. In amongst this shelf I also have a few paperbacks that are strange sizes, like the Penguin classics and one random book from the A Song of Ice and Fire series that’s weirdly little compared to the rest (it drove me MAD, that’s why it was banished to the top shelf).

6 . Genre Order

Now, here’s one method of organisation I haven’t done… I came quite close to doing it, but chickened out because it required too much effort. I think I can understand why people do this with a massive TBR and book collection – you can create your own mini library which is SO cool. But for me I am just too lazy to search up each book to find what genre they are. I also feel like I’d have a hard time when books were multiple genres like historical fiction AND fantasy.. Which category do they go in?!

7 . Books Read vs Books Unread

I’ve seen a few people organise their books like this on Bookstagram and suggest it to me when I’ve asked for ways to rearrange my bookshelf. I haven’t done this, and that’s simply because I tend to pass on books once I’ve read them. Unless they’re really special to me, I choose to donate them as I’m unlikely to re-read (there’s too many books in the world to re-read an average book) and I like to constantly make way for new books. The only books I’ve read and held on to are special hardbacks, classics, and series.

8 . Just Put Them Anywhere!!

There’s no set rule to say that your bookshelf must be organised in a certain way, I feel that Bookstagram puts pressure on people to have their bookshelves super neat, tidy and organised. Some people find it easier to just put them anywhere on the shelf and that is absolutely ok! I’ve sort of memorised where all of the books are and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’ve seen photos on Instagram of people’s books stacked vertically, as well as just wedged in. You do you!

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*BLOG TOUR* The Alex Cohen Series Books 1-3 by Leopold Borstinski

Alex Cohen Series Books 1-3

Thank you to Emma at DampPebbles for allowing me to join this blog tour! I’ve been sent these three books in exchange for an honest review.

I’m going to keep this review spoiler free so it can be enjoyed by everybody!!

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

Pages: Book 1 – 357

    Book 2 – 263

    Book 3 – 232

My Overall Rating: ☆☆☆☆/5

The Bowery Slugger: When Alex Cohen arrives in 1915 America, he seizes the land of opportunity with both hands and grabs it by the throat. But success breeds distrust and Alex must choose between controlling his gang and keeping his friend alive. What would you do if the person you trusted most is setting you up to die at your enemies’ hands?

East Side Hustler: Alex returns from the Great War almost destroyed by the horrors he has experienced. When he is plucked from certain death by an old friend, he commits to making so much money he’ll never know that agony again. But the route to the top is filled with danger and every time he helps one of his powerful friends like Al Capone, he acquires more enemies who want to see him dead. The turmoil caused by the death of organised crime financier, Arnold Rothstein means Alex must once more fight for his life. How far would you go to seize the American dream? And could you protect your family along the way from the fellas who want to see you dead?

Midtown Huckster: Alex runs Murder Inc for Lucky Luciano. After the death of Prohibition he must find a new way to make money, just as the cops are baying at his heels. When Luciano goes down for racketeering, Alex loses his protection and is arrested for tax evasion-he must decide between saving his skin and ratting out his friends. If he chooses prison time then his gang will fall apart and he will end up with nothing. If he squeals then he will have to flee the city he loves and the family he once adored. What would you do in a world where nobody can be trusted and you have everything to lose?

When Alex arrives in America from Europe in 1915 he straight away falls into bad hands of the gangs of New York. Alex’s parents are struggling to make ends meet and then Alex who is only 15 is bringing in all this money for the family. They’re appreciative but a little concerned about where the money has come from and whose hands it’s been in before theirs. I don’t think at any point throughout all three books he actually discloses to his family what his job is. They know it’s probably crime related, but they know nothing more than that.

Throughout the first book, Alex is known on the streets as Fabian Mustard as that’s the name the immigration people gave him when he first set foot in America. But in the second and third book he’s known as Alex. It was a little bit confusing in the first book when Alex was being called three different names: Alex, Fabian and ‘Slugger’, but it all made sense quite quickly. 

As can be expected when you’re part of a gang, not everything is easy. There’s a lot of deaths involved, a lot of violence and little time for Alex to be alone with his feelings (and family) without something cropping up and getting in the way.

In the second book, Alex becomes acquainted with Al Capone. I found this part of the storyline very interesting as it made Alex, as a character, seem more like he was a real person himself. Immersing a fictional character into the life of a real person is a really clever idea and I’ve never seen it before in a book.

Alex is a character that I’ve not made my mind up whether I loved or hated him. The more he aged and the more he was involved in criminal activity, the more of a jerk he became. Throughout the first book he was a generally ok person and towards the end of the third book he displayed some affection towards his family, but aside from that he was generally quite selfish and just liked killing people and making money.

What I Liked:

Something I really enjoyed about these books was that they were a direct continuation from one another. The Bowery Slugger is set in the 1910s, East Side Hustler the 1920s and Midtown Huckster the 1930s. Where one book finishes, the other one carries on (maybe with a few years skipped out). For example, book 1 finishes with him heading off to Europe to fight in WW1, and book 2 starts when he returns from the war. 

Some mental maths allowed me to deduce that Alex was born around 1900 so that made it easy to work out how old he was at each point in time.. This meant that you get to see Alex’s choices and how he develops from the age of 15 right up until he’s almost 40. 

The writing in these books is INCREDIBLE. Throughout all 3 books the writing is so descriptive and really helps to immerse you within the books and paint a mental picture of each scenario that Alex finds himself in. At no point throughout reading these books was I confused about the plot or what was going on. I’ve read quite a lot of books where I feel like the plot is a bit iffy in patches and I end up getting lost and not following what’s happening, but everything in these books is super clear and easy to follow. I also read all 3 books within the space of 9 days – I was gripped from start to finish.

What I Didn’t Like:

Something I struggled with a little bit throughout these books was the concept of time. It clearly states at the start of each section the month and year, but there were times when 2 or 3 years passed, and it seemed like it could be the next week. It’s almost like the times were changing, but Alex and what he was getting himself up to wasn’t.

For example (hopefully without spoiling too much), Alex ends up getting married and then problems start to occur in the relationship and the two go their separate ways. It seems like it might have been a month or two that had passed between them seeing one another again, but it had actually been more like 2 years?! And then a further 3 years pass but again, it only seems like a few weeks.

Overall Thoughts:

I think the speed I read these books speaks for itself as I’m generally quite a slow reader. Despite being a selfish and obnoxious character, Alex was really quite loveable and I think a lot of this is down to the reader going through 25 years of his life with him. There’s more books in the series and I’m excited to read them and find out what happened to Alex as book 3 was left on a bit of a cliffhanger!

Social Media:

Twitter: @borstinski

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeoBorstinski/

Website: https://www.leopoldborstinski.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/borstinski/

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2K2r7LG 

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/36X9SV7 

Publishing Information:

Published by Sobriety Press in paperback and digital formats on 2nd November 2020

This blog was quite lengthy so congrats if you made it this far! Here’s everyone else who’s involved in this blog tour if you’d like to check out their reviews.

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*BLOG TOUR* Poppy Flowers at the Front – Jonathan Wilkins

Genre – Historical Fiction

Pages – 129

My rating – ☆☆☆☆/5

1917: with her father in the British secret service and her brother Alfie in the trenches, under-age Poppy Loveday volunteers against her parents’ wishes to drive ambulances in France. We follow her adventures, racing to save wounded men driven to the Casualty Clearing Station, and back to the Base Hospital.

During one battle she finds Élodie Proux, a French nurse, at a roadside clutching a dead soldier. Poppy rescues her. Élodie becomes her dearest girl as they fall in love.

Poppy and Élodie encounter frightening adversaries at the Western Front as well as away from it during the closing weeks of World War One.

Firstly, I’d like to say a big thank you to Emma at Damp Pebbles Blog Tours for the opportunity to read this book and be part of the tour.

Poppy Loveday is an ambulance driver on the front line in France during WW1. When she joins, she is underage and shouldn’t really be there. She came from a wealthy background where her family owned a Hall in Leicestershire and their household had staff (nanny when she was younger, cook, etc) so for her to go from everything to nothing must have been a stark reality check for her. She meets French nurse Elodie and instantly they spark a bond.

The bond they share develops into something more than just a friendship and eventually they confess their love for one another. Something I thought the entire way through the book is how hard it must have been to have been gay during this period in time. They were able to show affection towards one another, but it was very much secretive and limited.

This book is very much character driven. I really developed a strong love for Poppy and Elodie. Their relationship with one another was great and it really did warm my stone cold heart.

The plot of the story comprises of the actual storyline, letters to and from Poppy’s family and diary entries. The diary entries are the only real indicator of how much time is passing between chapters. Although the book is relatively short, it definitely felt much longer. The chapters are quite long and jump back and forth a little bit between where Poppy is and what she’s doing at that particular moment. I personally would have preferred it to be broken down into shorter chapters; that way there’s less going back and forth and I think it would make the story flow a little bit better.

There isn’t a particular plot to the storyline, it’s more just following Poppy in her life on the frontline. I enjoy stories that just follow people’s lives and so I did really enjoy this book. I did, however, sometimes forget that there was supposed to be a war going on. Sometimes things were just a little bit too relaxed and under control… But then again I didn’t live through the First World War, so what do I know?!

Today is the first day of the blog tour. Here’s everyone else who will be posting reviews over the next week!

Follow Jon’s Social Media:
Twitter – @WriterJWilkins
Website – jonathanwilkins.co.uk

Liked my review and want to check out the book for yourself? Here’s where you can buy it!
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3owCjPw
Brigand: https://bit.ly/34enzNZ

Jon’s Twitter

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How I’m Reviewing Books in 2021 – The CAWPILE System

A photo of a typewriter with a page that has 'Review' typed onto it.

As I’ve mentioned a million times, 2020 was my first year of reading and reviewing books properly. I went into 2020 giving most books 5 stars, and the more I read and the more I got into the swing of reviewing, the less frequent they became. When I was writing my 2020 wrap up, I noticed just how many 5 star reviews I’d given out and up until around August I don’t think I’d given out a 3 star review (I’d given out lower and higher.. I just didn’t give out 3 stars). I think that the lack of 3 star reviews was because I’d got it in my head that 3 stars = bad book which completely isn’t the case.

When looking at how I could improve my reviewing going into 2021, I came across a blog post which mentioned the CAWPILE reviewing method and I was completely intrigued. After a little bit of digging, I found that this was a system created by Booktuber Book Roast.

The CAWPILE system is a way of reviewing books more critically, and not just plucking a number out of thin air, which is what I’ve been doing for the last year. CAWPILE stands for:

C – Characters

A – Atmosphere

W – Writing

P – Plot

I – Intrigue

L – Logic

E – Entertainment

Each category is given a rating out of 10. Add all of the scores up and then divide the total by 7 (because there’s 7 categories). This will come out with a very exact number which you then reference against this system to get a star rating (or just use her spreadsheet because it does it all for you)



RatingsStars
Up to 1.10
1.1 – 2.2
2.3 – 4.5☆☆
4.6 – 6.9☆☆☆
7 – 8.9☆☆☆☆
9-10☆☆☆☆☆
This table shows what star rating the number you calculate equates to. For example if once you’ve added up the score from every category and divided it by 7 and the number comes out at 7.7, then it is a 4 star read.

I’m really glad that I’ve found this method as it will mean my reviews are more consistent, and not just going off whatever mood I was in when I finished the book (anyone else!?). I’m also not the kind of person who gives for example a 4.25☆/5 or a 3.5☆/5 rating. I like all of my ratings to be round numbers – otherwise it just gets a bit complicated and daft – so this works really well for me with it just coming out with 1 rounded number.

I’m hoping to move away from the ‘it was really good’ or ‘it was alright’ book reviewing system I was using last year as let’s be honest, it wasn’t working. I’m hoping by making me critically think about many different factors rather than the book as a whole that my reviews will become generally better!

A Google Sheet spreadsheet which contains an example of how the CAWPILE rating system works. It has the 7 categories along the top, and then the score I gave for each. With the overall star rating of the book at the end.
Here’s an example of the spreadsheet and how it works. These are my two most recent reads.

If you want to watch a video of G from Book Roast explaining the CAWPILE system, then this is the most recent. In the description of the video there’s the spreadsheet for you to use the CAWPILE rating system for your own book reviews. Click here to watch the video!

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Positives to Take Away From 2020

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!

There’s no denying that 2020 was a notoriously difficult year for everyone. We’ve just been placed in Tier 4 restrictions (which means  yet more shielding and working from home for my poor boyfriend) meaning that 2021 won’t be starting with a bang. But I’m hopeful that with the rolling out of the vaccines will mean that life will be able to return to some level of normality soon. Although it’s been a year where I’ve only been able to see my family twice, I’ve struggled a lot with pain, anxiety and sleep issues, and I’ve cried quite a bit… There have been some positives that have come about this year, and I thought I’d share them… mainly for myself so I can look back at all the good that came from a bad situation when I’m having a down day.

January – I went on a trip to London with uni and had a really lovely time. This was obviously before Covid hit, but it was one of the first and last ‘normal’ activities I did this year. Also in January my boyfriend’s family moved house. This turned out to be the biggest blessing in disguise (at the time nobody wanted to move). I genuinely can’t imagine spending lockdown in that old house. So grateful for the new house.

February – I can’t really think of anything that happened in February. I did my first ever Park Run. I went and saw my family for a few days at the very end of February (not realising at the time that would be the last time I saw them until August). I was also really starting to enjoy university and I was working really hard. I don’t know if I’ve explained on here before but second year at university was extremely difficult for me mentally and physically. I wasn’t in a good place and I really wanted to drop out. The tutors I had at the time were absolutely NOT understanding of me having a chronic illness and quite frankly couldn’t care less about me or my wellbeing.

March – I bought lots of books from charity shops, made my bookshelf a rainbow and lived in blissful ignorance that the coronavirus was just a cold. When lockdown hit I was at my boyfriends and this is where I’ve been ever since. He can’t get rid of me now. 

April – A tricky month for obvious reasons. But in April I started going for runs and walks and managed a few times to run 5km – pretty impressive for someone whose foot only half works. I was working seriously hard at this point to get my degree finished.

May – We built a swing chair for the garden. The back of our garden is a complete sun trap and it was so nice to relax and read on those hot days. I also accidentally walked 11km one day whilst I was supposed to be finishing up my uni work. 

June – I HANDED IN MY DEGREE! This was honestly something I never thought I’d be able to do. During second year I thought I’d end up dropping out.. But my parents didn’t raise a quitter and I managed to get it all finished. The biggest sigh of relief ever.

July – I graduated with a 2:1 in Architecture!! I mean… I haven’t actually had a graduation.. yet.. but apparently it’ll happen. I cried many happy tears, applied for my dream Masters course and got myself a little summer job working in the Admissions department of my uni.

August – I worked a lot. I read a lot. I got accepted onto the masters degree I applied for. I was able to see my family. Eat out to help out and the end of shielding meant that my boyfriend and I could actually go outdoors and not just for walks (where I thought Covid was gone and life was back to normal lol poor Leah) Things were great to be honest.

September – I started my masters degree and I’ve absolutely loved it since the moment I first stepped into the classroom. My classes are face to face on campus, I’m very lucky

October – It was my birthday. I received lots of books as part of a Birthday Book Group I’m in on Instagram. I also really started to accept myself for who I am and what I look like. Bought myself some clothes that actually fit in the size I am, rather than the size I think I am. It was also mine and my boyfriend’s 5th anniversary. We spent a few days in Northumberland and it was BLISS to get away, especially after all of those months shielding.

November – Looking back through my photos and I can’t really find anything of note that happened in November. I just worked a lot, handed in assignments and read a lot. I think I hit my 2020 reading goal in November though! I can’t remember whether it was late November or early December, but Mbawa Books asked me to join their little team as their social media content creator. 

December – I received fantastic grades for the 3 assignments I submitted. I FINALLY saw a new consultant for my foot and walked out of that hospital with a diagnosis after 6 years in pain. The admissions department I worked for over summer asked to have me back for a week.. that week has now become 2 months. It’s really reassuring to know that I’ll have some extra money in at least January – March.

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2020 Favourites

In the year where the world went slightly pear shaped, not everything was completely horrendous. 2020 allowed the opportunity for me to do lots of things which would have ordinarily been possible. I promise to stop doing blog posts that are just lists soon, but not yet!

Favourite Book – As talked about in my Top Books of 2020 blog post, I had more than one favourite because I’m indecisive and can’t choose just one. I thought long and hard about it (whilst in the shower, where all my best thinking occurs), and I managed to whittle it down to my top 3..

  • The Familiars by Stacey Halls;
  • Choices Shape, Losses Break by Nia Lucas; and 
  • Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Favourite TV Show – Before lockdown and moving in with my boyfriend I didn’t watch TV… ever. I didn’t own a TV in my university accommodation. I’m more of a Youtube gal. However, lockdown meant LOTS of extra time on our hands so I figured watching a bit of TV wouldn’t hurt. I have two favourite shows, both of which got us through lockdown. One is Benidorm – lighthearted and hilarious; the other is Game of Thrones – not lighthearted but deeply engrossing. 

Favourite Film – I have two films here. One of them I can’t remember if I even watched this year or whether it was the very end of 2019 but I’m putting it in regardless. Knives Out and Enola Holmes. Loved them both a lot. 

Favourite Youtuber – Like I just mentioned, I’m a Youtube gal. I can’t pick just one favourite, that’s impossible, so here’s a list of my top 5 (we love a list).

  • Louise Pentland
  • Footless Jo
  • Grace Booth (Grackle)
  • Ashville (this is a construction channel, completely different to everything else I watch. But my degree and future career are in the construction industry and I just love Daniel and his videos)
  • Hannah Witton

These Youtubers have got me through the hardest and loneliest of times (when I was living in student housing). I live for Ashville Weekly on a Sunday, Louise’s videos on a Thursday and Footless Jo always manages to get a smile on my face. Though I have a foot, I have a lot of problems with it and it’s nice to know there are other people out there who are fighting similar battles.

Favourite Gadget / Item of Technology – Once again, I couldn’t pick just one. These two are completely different from one another but have been a saving grace in 2020.

The first is my iMac. I’ve had it for 2 years now and up until a few months ago I barely used it and was contemplating selling it. Now I have a proper desk space I have somewhere for it and I’ve used it every single day since. I love it. I’m not an Apple person – everything else I own is Samsung – but I can make the exception for this!

The second is the Ninja Foodi 9-in-1 air fryer, pressure cooker, slow cooker etc. This was an expensive investment, but it has been used basically every single day since we bought it. It’s made our cooking healthier (don’t need oil to air fry etc), and quicker and generally more fun. I love cooking, it’s one of my favourite things in the world. It’s one of those things that other people find a chore but I love cooking meals from scratch. The Ninja Foodi has made our lives so much easier and there’s nothing more satisfying than pushing the switch to release the pressure when I’ve been pressure cooking (which in turn releases all the amazing food smells. Yum.)

As you can tell, I have an inability to choose just one favourite but 2020 has been a crazy year so I’m allowing it. Let’s cross our fingers and toes that 2021 will be a better year!

Happy New Year!

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Every Book I Read in 2020 (And What I Rated Them)

Grab a brew and get comfy, this could be a long one. 2020 saw me read 57 books. Not the biggest number in the world, but still something I am immensely proud of. Here’s every single book I read this year and what I rated them. There are some university books in amongst this so I’ll just stick them in at the end to make the count up to 57 even though I don’t rate them.

This is in replacement of December’s reading wrap up. I read 1 book – Tinsel by Sibeal Pounder and I gave it a 4 star. It was a middle grade book about Christmas and I liked it. That’s my wrap up.

5 STAR READS

  1. Leah on the Offbeat – Becky Albertalli
  2. Simon vs. The Homo sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli (Yes I read book 2 before book 1 because I am a true idiot)
  3. The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell
  4. Daisy Jones and the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
  5. The Familiars – Stacey Halls
  6. The Foundling – Stacey Halls
  7. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  8. Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There – Lewis Carroll
  9. Happily Imperfect – Stacey Solomon
  10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling (This was before the JK Rowling Twitter saga)
  11. Wilde About the Girl – Louise Pentland
  12. Wonder – R.J. Palacio
  13. Sagas of Anya – Kirsten Mbawa
  14. Land of the Nurogons – Aiyven Mbawa
  15. Educated – Tara Westover
  16. Choices Shape, Losses Break – Nia Lucas *
  17. The Mum-Minder – Jacqueline Wilson
  18. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  19. MumLife – Louise Pentland
  20. A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
  21. Futures Beckon, Pasts Threaten – Nia Lucas *
  22. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging – Afua Hirsch

4 STAR READS

  1. The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary
  2. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  3. My Mum Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson
  4. Agnes Grey – Anne Bronte
  5. Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata
  6. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay
  7. Get a Life, Chloe Brown – Talia Hibbert
  8. Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future – Ashlee Vance
  9. The Existence of Amy – Lana Grace Riva *
  10. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  11. Wilde Women – Louise Pentland
  12. One of Us is Lying – Karen McManus
  13. Breaker – Annemarie Allan
  14. Tinsel – Sibeal Pounder

3 STAR READS

  1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  2. Fully Functioning Human (Almost) – Melanie Murphy
  3. Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell
  4. The Arrangement – Miranda Rijks *
  5. The Eve Illusion – Giovanna and Tom Fletcher
  6. Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
  7. Love Orange – Natasha Randall *
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
  9. Pine – Francine Toon

2 STAR READS

  1. Maresi – Maria Turtschaninoff
  2. Vox – Christina Dalcher (upon reflection I should have given it a 1. Still traumatised by it)
  3. Discount: A Novel – Casey Gray

1 STAR READS

  1. An Abundance of Katherines – John Green
  2. A Year of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman

UNRATED / ACADEMIC

  1. Urban Regeneration in the UK: Theory and Practice – Phil Jones
  2. Urban Regeneration – Peter Roberts
  3. A History of Preston – David Hunt
  4. The History of Preston – Alistair Hodge
  5. Traditional Buildings of Britain – R.W. Brunskill
  6. How Old is Your House? – Pamela Cunnington
  7. Timber Framed Buildings – Richard Harris

DEBRIEF TIME!!
So there we have it. 57 books I read in 2020. Upon reflection, I was quite heavy handed on the 5 star button at the start of the year and looking back I’d move quite a few of those down. I feel like I was also overly generous on the books I gave 2 stars to, especially Vox. Maybe it was bad timing when I read that as it was at the start of the lockdown and I was anxious as hell, not sleeping due to a change in medication and that book genuinely traumatised me and I ended up flicking through the last 100 or so pages at an alarming pace. That’s what I do with any book I want to DNF – just flick through at a rate of knots.

In terms of rating books, once I started to read a lot more, I got a proper appreciation for what rating I felt the books truly deserved. At the start of the year I’d only read 10 or so books the year before and I quite frankly thought every book was brilliant up until March when I read Maresi. From August onwards, that’s when I really found my way with rating books, and most of the 3 stars came in the final quarter of the year when I finally convinced myself that a 3 star rating is still good (I felt terrible giving 3 stars early in the year and I have no idea why). I’m going to try and really savour the 5 star for books I feel really deserve it in 2021 – those books that make me feel a bit lost and weepy when I’ve finished them.

I have also put a little * next to the books that authors sent me to review. I want to be completely transparent with everyone! Looking back through those, I swear there were like twice that amount!

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2021 Goals

Not all of these goals are book related, but this is the first year where I feel in a good enough position mentally to set myself some realistic goals and targets for the year. I’m looking forward to this time next year when I go back through them and realise I accomplished nothing.

  1. Read 50 books. This reading goal is the same as 2020s, but I’m hopeful that in 2021 we won’t spend a great deal of time hiding in our houses from a deadly virus. I read 57 books in 2020 so anything around the same I’ll be happy with. I did contemplate increasing it, but reading is for fun and I don’t want it to start to feel like homework
  2. Read more consistently. Although I’ve read 57 books, my reading habits are really poor and inconsistent. I can go days or even weeks at a time without picking up a book. I have to remember that reading is only a hobby I picked up at the end of 2019 and I’m still trying to integrate it into my lifestyle properly. I want to read a little bit every day – it doesn’t have to be a huge chunk, even just a few pages a day.
  3. Get my Masters degree. This is a goal I’m fairly certain I will accomplish (unless something goes desperately wrong). It will be an incredible feeling to know I have a Masters degree and it’s something I am working insanely hard to achieve.
  4. Blog more consistently. It’s hard to review a book if you’re not reading anything. Blogging is another thing I’m hoping to integrate into my lifestyle a bit better in 2021. I also want to post more often on my Instagram.
  5. Stay organised. I’m quite organised at the moment and I’m hoping that’s something that will carry on into 2021. I’m juggling university with a desk job and social media content creating for 2 small businesses currently. Although I’m super organised, I can quite often get overwhelmed by everything and just give up.
  6. Take more photographs. Friends always post photos of their days out and things on social media and it made me realise that I don’t take enough photos (not necessarily to post online, just in general). I’m contemplating printing out photos monthly and adding them to a bullet journal / scrap book so I have something physical to look back on in the future.
  7. Save money to buy a house. This is something I’m already in the process of doing, but I’m hopeful that I’ll get a job once I’ve finished my degree and I’ll have a proper income to be able to save like mad.
  8. No spend year. This is a biggie. It ties in directly with saving to buy a house. I have everything I need to live comfortably, but still I find Amazon parcels mysteriously turning up at my door a few times a week and upon reflection it’s always something daft and unnecessary. I have a budget for food and my monthly bus pass and then that’ll be it. Minimalist living some what call it. No new books for me – I have 100 unread ones on my shelf which should keep me busy for 2 years at the rate I read.
  9. Pay off my student overdraft. These goals are getting quite boring now, aren’t they?! My student overdraft is something that really irks me every time I look at it. I didn’t touch it once until the end of my first year at university and then all of a sudden I was at the overdraft limit – what an idiot. This goal is wholly dependent on whether I get a job at the end of my degree (which I’m sure I will otherwise I’ll go insane).

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The Top Books of My 2021 TBR

I did a post a bit similar to this a few months ago about books I own that I’m most excited to read.. but a few new books have made their way into my life since. Some books will also be on that previous post, but there’s some new ones too! I’m not really clued up on new releases in 2021, so here’s the top books of my TBR out of the books that I already own.

  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I’ve seen this book talked about EVERYWHERE and even more so in the last few weeks. I feel like I’m big time missing out by not reading it
  • Sh**ged, Married, Annoyed by Chris and Rosie Ramsey. My lovely boyfriend got me a signed copy of this for Christmas as a surprise present. I love their podcast. I love Chris and Rosie in general and I just can’t wait to read the book. I hope it makes me laugh as hard as their podcast does
  • The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal. This is another Christmas book, but one I picked out myself. I read as far as the first sentence of the blurb “London, 1850” and thought YEP this book is for me. As I’ve probably mentioned a million times, historical fiction is my favourite and I definitely need to read more of it in 2021
  • The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. Every time I look at my bookshelf (which is at least 50 times a day) my eyes are always instantly drawn to this book and I’m not sure why. I know little about the Jack the Ripper murders other than a very small amount of information I learnt in year 8 history… which was 9 years ago (9 years?!?!) and I am desperate to find out more.
  • Solitaire by Alice Oseman. I’ve owned this book for over a year. It was in the first handful of books I bought from Oxfam when I decided that I should probably incorporate some reading into my life. I feel really bad that it’s sat on my shelf for so long, but other reads have constantly ended up getting in front of it on my TBR.
  • Ties Bind, Love Finds (Choices Series book #3) by Nia Lucas. I made a bit of a start at this book in November, but my mental health wasn’t in a good enough place for me to read and truly appreciate this book so it has been temporarily abandoned. I’ve harped on about the Choices series a few times on my blog and a lot on Twitter. I love these books. I’m hoping quite early in 2021 my head will be in a good enough place to get through this book. I’m also planning on buying Love Punked, which is by Nia, but not part of the Choices series because I know it will be equally as great.
  • The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley. My grandma loves these books. She’s read them all multiple times and she said she would pass on her collection to me next time I see her… This was in March just as Covid hit and I’ve only seen her in person twice since (both times freezing to death in my grandparent’s back garden). I know I need to read this book for my grandma!
  • The Binding by Bridget Collins. I acquired this book from the book swap shelf at work the week of lockdown and I’ve not been back to the call centre since to return it to the shelf (oops). This book has the most beautiful cover and it’s another one that I stare at a lot.
  • In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park. I don’t own this book (yet), but I’m planning to buy it using a Waterstones gift card my friend got me for Christmas. I first found out about Yeonmi’s story escaping North Korea on Youtube and I’ve been fascinated ever since.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I picked up a copy of this in Aldi recently. I think it’s a children’s copy and I’m hoping it’s dumbed down for me to read and appreciate. I’ve mentioned countless times but classics for me feel like homework and I can’t be dealing with that.
  • The Switch by Beth O’Leary. This is one of those books that I wanted to read for so long, but life (and other books) kept getting in the way. I really enjoyed The Flatshare and the idea of a cute old lady swapping lives with a young person really appeals to me (if she turns out to be a complete hag and not a cute old lady please don’t tell me).

I wanted this list to be 10 books long, but it’s 11. Ah well. My plan for 2021 is to read the books I already own, and not acquire any new ones. I’ve got a house to save for and unfortunately new books fall under the ‘unnecessary spending’ category when I already own around 100 unread ones. My bookshelf is also completely full at the moment and my brain can’t handle books dumped in random places on the shelf… but we shall see. I’m hopeful that if I just avoid town centres and charity shops that I’ll be okay with not spending / not buying new books.

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