Top Reads of 2020

Maybe I’m being slightly premature writing my Top Reads of 2020 when there’s still a week of the year left (not that I’ve read anything yet in December..), but this year has been the first where I’ve been truly into reading for every single month of the year. It’s crazy to think that prior to October 2019 I hadn’t read properly, other than 1 book a year on holiday, since I was in primary school.

I definitely think I could have read more if I really put my mind to it.. My reading isn’t consistent at the moment, I can read a lot some days and then nothing at all for a few days, or even weeks. A major goal of mine for 2021 is to try and read every day, even if it’s just a few pages or a chapter. Reading is still a habit I’m trying to integrate into my day to day life, but I’m sure I will get there! 

Of my favourite books of the year, 4 of them I read early on in the year before Corona came along and crashed the party. In a way I’m surprised that I didn’t read more over the first lockdown, but at the same time I have to remember that I was in the final stages of my degree and was working non-stop to try and not fail. I then worked A LOT once I’d finished uni. Despite all of this, I still managed to surpass my 50 book reading goal, which I’m super impressed with!!

In no particular order… because I tried ranking them and I just couldn’t… here are my top reads of 2020:

  • The Familiars – Stacey Halls
  • Daisy Jones and The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • Sagas of Anya – Kirsten Mbawa
  • Land of the Nurogons – Aiyven Mbawa
  • The Choices Series – Nia Lucas
  • The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell
  • Wilde About the Girl – Louise Pentland

I also thought I would do my favourite books per genre / category. There are some that overlap with my overall favourites, but a couple of new ones too!

Classic – Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Middle Grade – Sagas of Anya by Kirsten Mbawa AND Land of the Nurogons by Aiyven Mbawa (I’m not willing to choose a favourite between these two girls. If you want me to choose just one then you’ll have to fight me)

Young Adult Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Audiobook – Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Non-Fiction – Educated by Tara Westover

Romance – Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Adult Fiction – The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Historical Fiction The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Series – The Choices Series by Nia Lucas

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November Reading Wrap Up

November was quite a successful month of reading considering I had 3 assignments due in and I was working pretty much non-stop. I was pretty surprised when I had a look back through the books I’d read and seen that I’d managed to read 8 books.

UNRATED BOOKS:

Urban Regeneration in the UK: Theory and Practice – Phil Jones & James Evans

Urban Regeneration – Peter Roberts, Hugh Sykes & Rachel Granger

Let me say one thing about these books. They are DULL. If you’re struggling with insomnia, pick one of these up and I can guarantee you’ll be sound asleep by the end of the introduction. I bet you can guess what one of my essays was about?!

ONE STAR:

A Year of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman

This book has the most glorious cover and I definitely picked it up judging it by its cover. Unfortunately, I hated it. Firstly, the author didn’t use any form of speech marks?! There’s a lot of dialogue in the book and the lack of speech marks made it SO hard to follow along with. Some people on Goodreads said it made it “poetic and beautiful”.. It just left me feeling confused. Secondly, I had no idea what was going on throughout the entire book. It kept switching between periods of time and perspectives and I was so lost. I don’t like books that are hard work and this was definitely hard work.

THREE STAR:

Pine – Francine Toon

I read this as part of a book club read and I was really glad to see that pretty much everyone else felt the same as me about this one. It’s weird. It has a few ideas that are sort of mentioned once or twice and then never mentioned again. For example, people kept denying all knowledge of seeing Lauren’s mum. The book clearly stated that there she was but then when Lauren asked, nobody knew what she was on about?? Another major issue I had with this book is that Lauren is 10 or so years old, but the author portrayed her as being much, much older (17 or 18 at least). I was only brought back to the reality of her being so young when her dad called for a babysitter.

FOUR STAR:

Breaker – Annemarie Allan

This is a middle grade book which I enjoyed reading. Twins Tom and Beth (I think they’re about 10 years old) move to North Berwick in Scotland. The house they move into is falling to pieces and is so far from what they expected. Their parents send them out to explore the local area to get them out of the house and they find themselves at a POP (People Opposing Pollution) meeting. They end up taking the wrong turn and meet with Professor Angus MacBlain who is the founding member of POP, but everyone else kicked him out because they thought he was wrong about something or other. There’s a boat that overturns in the bad weather and there’s a huge concern about oil spilling into the sea and killing the local sea life. I thought this book was a really powerful read for children and adults alike. It covers the important topic of the environment and will hopefully enable children to learn a little bit more about the environment. I’ve now passed this book onto Aiyven and Kirsten at Mbawa Books!

One of us is Lying – Karen M. McManus

I’ve seen this book EVERYWHERE on Bookstagram over the last few months. I read this as part of a book club read and I did actually really enjoy it. At first I was SO confused. The story is told from 4 perspectives and that took me a while to figure out. The ending was definitely not how I expected, but I did manage to guess a few parts of the plot along the way. It was an easy, breezy read which is something I’ve been desperately needing recently.

FIVE STAR:

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging – Afua Hirsch

I listened to this as an audiobook whilst I was working and it is such an important and powerful read (or listen). Ever since the BLM came about earlier in the year, I really wanted to try and diversify my reading and read books from a broader range of authors. Pretty much all of my books are written by straight, white women. This is something I think everyone should read. I come from a town which is predominantly full of white people. My school only had a handful of black students (there were 1800 students altogether…). Everything about my upbringing has been so stereotypically ‘white’ that I know I need to educate myself on other races, backgrounds and ethnicities. This book definitely ticked a big box on learning more about others. 

Futures Beckon, Pasts Threaten – Nia Lucas

Book two in her Choices series. Book one “Choices Shape, Losses Break” was my favourite book of the year. Book two lived up to all of my expectations. I was so emotionally invested that I did actually sob to myself (sometimes with happiness, sometimes with sadness) throughout the entire book.. and I read the whole thing in one afternoon. You can read my full review here

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October Reading Wrap Up

Today is Sunday 6th December and I’m only just writing my October reading wrap up. Please don’t judge me. It’s not even like I was busy at the start of November. I was just lazy and kept putting it off.. I’ve also got November’s to write. What a mess.

*Frantically checks on Goodreads because I don’t remember a single book I read in October*

October was the start of what I can only call a ‘3 star spree’. I don’t know if I was just choosing books I wasn’t the biggest fan of, or if I was just being a moody arse, but book after book I’ve read recently I’ve ended up giving a 3 star rating to. To clarify, 3 stars IS STILL GOOD!! A lot of people seem to think that a 3 star rating is really bad, but nah, for me it’s still good!

UNRATED BOOKS:

As always I have university books that I read and added towards my reading goal, but they don’t get star ratings

The History of Preston – Alistair Hodge

A History of Preston – David Hunt

Two very very interesting books on the city of Preston and they were invaluable to the assignment I wrote. I’d give them both 5 stars if they weren’t academic related as they helped me achieve a fantastic grade!

3 STAR:

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

I started reading this book on my first week back at uni and it took me pretty much an entire month to read. It was quite fitting because it’s about a girl heading to university but it was pretty dull to be honest. Are American universities actually that extra or was this book majorly dramaticised? 

Love Orange – Natasha Randall

I wrote a review on this book (shock horror I actually wrote a blog post?!). Again, this was another book set in America. Maybe it’s books set in America that I’ve had an issue with?! It’s a good book, but had me a little bit confused at times. It covers a lot of sensitive and taboo topics including opiate drug addiction, which for me was a particularly important subject as a chronic pain sufferer. You can read my full review on Love Orange here.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

I liked how this book was written as a series of diary entries throughout the whole book. I haven’t read a book with this layout prior to reading this. Thinking back to this book now, I don’t remember a single thing that happened.

FIVE STAR:

A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

I finished watching Game of Thrones in September and I felt a little bit lost. I’d never watched it before the pandemic and it basically kept me entertained throughout the entire duration of lockdown. Needless to say, I felt a little bit lost when I’d finished watching the final episode. In order to try and continue with my daily dose of GoT I picked up the books. This book took me over 6 weeks to read. It’s definitely the longest book I’ve ever read. I did plan on reading all of the books but they’re just SO long that I don’t know when I’ll be picking up A Clash of Kings.

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Futures Beckon, Pasts Threaten – Nia Lucas

Synopsis:

Following on from ‘Choices Shape, Losses Break’, eighteen-year-old Lorna Davies is doing everything she can to blend in at University, hiding the challenges of her past. As her closest friends guard the secrets of the girl they love, Lorna tentatively grasps a life less complex.

Terrified of risking everything she holds dear, Lorna discovers that building a secure future is hard when the weight of the past threatens all that she has.

As adulthood beckons and a life is shaped, are safe choices truly the right ones? When the secrets explode from their guarded boxes and the full extent of Lorna’s history is set free, will anyone survive the fallout?

You may or may not know that the first book in this series absolutely glued itself to my heart and soul. Best book of the year? I think yes. And I really wasn’t sure how Nia Lucas would have been able to follow on from such a corker.. But somehow she did.

I actually read this book way over a month ago – Nia kindly sent me a copy before it was released at the end of October – but to call my life hectic would be a massive understatement. (Entirely self inflicted wanting to work umpteen hours a week for extra £££ for Christmas)

This book had my heart, just like book 1.

I always find it a bit tricky to review the second or third book in a series because I always feel like I’m going to end up spoiling something if people haven’t read the first book. What I will say for this one is GO AND READ BOOK ONE. LORNA DAVIES WILL CAPTURE YOUR HEART. YOU WILL BECOME EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED TO A FICTIONAL CHARACTER.

I read this entire book in one afternoon and sat sobbing through most of it because I just loved it that much. This is not an exaggeration. I sat sobbing for 4 or 5 hours solid. There’s a MAJOR plot twist quite early on that absolutely ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped on it (that’s when the sobbing began)… but there was also so much of the book when I was sobbing with happiness because Lorna is just such an incredible character. It’s sad, it’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s a little bit sexy at times, and it’s just the most perfect book. It captures true and raw emotions. It’s real – it talks about things that a lot of other authors would try and sugar coat or just miss out completely. This series was something I wasn’t sure about at first, I’ll be honest, but I am SO glad I gave it a shot.

The first book is all about Lorna when she was between 16 and 18 years old. She was a complete wildchild and her life started to head down an avenue no one would have ever have expected. The end of the first book ended with her being offered a place to study at the University of Leeds. 10 bonus points to Nia for choosing my home city as the university Lorna went to. The second book goes from Lorna’s time at university and covers quite a few years of her life. The majority of the book is told from Lorna’s perspective, but like in book one, the last 20ish% of the book switches perspectives which I love.

It deals with more serious topics like loss, grief, needing therapy, not having parents present in your life etc.. I think without these woven into the chapters, the story wouldn’t be half as powerful as it is.

I loved how the relationships with the characters progressed. There were some new people on the scene, but a lot of old faithfuls from book 1 like Dan, Han, Nico and Rosa… and a few people from book 1 who were no longer around. The writing is beautiful. I love Nia’s writing style. The way she writes about Lorna perfectly captures Lorna’s personality.

I’m not really sure what else I can say without spoiling absolutely everything. I desperately want to just blab the entire plot but I won’t. This was another 5 star read and it’s definitely on par with Choices Shape, Losses Break. I instantly went and bought book 3 and I’m waiting to get a Kindle for Christmas to get stuck in to that! Speaking of Kindles, you all 3 books in the series are 99p at the moment! I one million, billion percent recommend these books. I wish there were paperback editions so that I could love and cherish them forever.

I just want to say, Nia hasn’t paid me to pour my heart out about this book, despite this sounding like one big advert! These books have been my favourite books of the year without a single doubt. That’s all I’ve got to say really.

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Happier Every Chapter Subscription Boxes

The contents of November’s box!

My lovely friends over at Mbawa Books have continued to amaze me by bringing out a monthly book subscription box called Happier Every Chapter. The box is aimed at middle grade children (age 8-14) and is full of diverse stories, short stories written by the Mbawa sisters and lots of other fun things! If you buy the box, it also gives you exclusive online content in their member-only community. Last week they had an interview on their Facebook page with author Sharna Jackson (who wrote High-Rise Mystery, one of the books in the subscription box).

If you are new around here, you might not have seen my posts about the Mbawa sisters before, so I’ll do a quick recap! Aiyven and Kirsten Mbawa are sisters from England who released their debut novels this year. The most amazing thing about this pair is that they are 11 and 12 years old!!!! They reached out to me on Instagram before their books were published and asked me if I’d like to read a sample chapter from each of their books and I was BLOWN AWAY. These girls have the most incredible talent for writing and their writing skills are way above their age… You genuinely wouldn’t know that the authors were so young if nobody told you! Ever since reading their sample chapters I’ve become emotionally invested in the pair and their incredible journeys as young authors. 

I won’t talk too much about the books they’ve written on this post as I’ve reviewed them both on my blog in the past (but I will no doubt end up waffling on about how much I adore these two girls for the next 20 minutes). But if you are looking for some Middle Grade books for your children, or if you just fancy something a bit lighter to read then I would highly, highly recommend the books (and I’m not just saying that. They are genuinely incredible, I promise!!!)

If you would like to read my reviews of their books, you can check them out here:

Sagas of Anya – Kirsten Mbawa

Land of the Nurogons – Aiyven Mbawa

ANYWAY back to their subscription boxes. You are able to buy November’s box right now as a one off (whilst stocks last – head to the ‘one off box’ section on their shop), and December’s box “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reader” is available to reserve now with shipping between the 6th and 12th of December! In order to guarantee arrival by Christmas, they’ve suggested that you buy the box before the 12th to avoid any disappointment. The Christmas box has over £40 worth of goodies in for a fraction of that price, and you also get access to the live author interview! Christmas is coming up and they’d make fantastic presents (wink wink)

You can get different offers on the subscription boxes, you can either buy just one month, or a 3 month, 6 month or 12 month plan (the more months you buy at once, the cheaper each box becomes!).

If anyone is interested in buying their books, or the subscription boxes, you can click HERE to check out their subscription boxes and use the discount code THEVERYBOOKISH at the checkout for a discount!

(Please note: The links provided to their website are affiliate links. This means if you shop via these links, I will earn a small amount of commission)

Hi friends, thank you for checking out my blog. If you’d like to donate to my blog (or just buy me a hot drink!) then click here to be taken to my Ko-fi page.

Books I Own That I Might Never Actually Read

When I first got into reading a year ago, the first thing I did was head to the charity shops and spend a little bit too much money on lots of different books. My plan at the time was to get books from as many different genres as possible, as I had no idea what I was going to enjoy the most or the least. Fast forward a year, I have a bookshelf with at least 100 unread books on. There’s quite a few books that I look at daily and think to myself “I can’t wait to read you”, but then there’s also a lot of books that I look at and think “Will I ever read you or are you just there to bulk out my bookshelf?”.

Here’s a run down of 10 books that I’m least looking forward to reading / don’t know if I will ever read. I’m basically making this blog post to see if anyone can sway my opinion on any of these books. I’d really like to read all of the books I own (is that even possible?) as I don’t want to keep buying lots of new books. My head has very much a minimalist mindset in every single aspect of my life except my bookshelf. I’m now at the stage where I can’t face buying any new books, mainly because my bookshelf is full and I really don’t want to clutter up the house with another bookshelf which I would then have to fill!

I will be honest, a lot of these books I don’t really have an explanation as to why I don’t think I’ll ever reach for them. I think my problem is that I own so many that I just feel a little bit overwhelmed whenever I look at my shelf. I usually find myself reaching for the books I bought most recently. A lot of these books were some of the first I bought when trying to build my collection.

Maybe I should make it a challenge to myself to read through these books before any others?!

  1. The Bees by Laline Paull. Are the characters in this book actually bees? I’ve read the blurb about 10 times and I can’t work it out. It was shortlisted for a Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2015, so maybe it isn’t as weird as my brain is telling me it will be.
  1. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I bought this book from a charity shop a while before JK Rowling went on her most recent transphobic Twitter escapades. I love Harry Potter, and I will never stop loving the HP world because of the idiotic opinions of the author. I’m just not sure whether I want to read another book she wrote. I know  if I do read this book, I will be donating it once I’ve read it whether I liked it or not.
  1. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. This was a book I bought as part of my quest to read all the genres. I’m a bit of a wimp though and I don’t know if reading a horror book will scare me half to death. Ever since I was little I’ve had an issue with sleeping and have very frequent nightmares which are often triggered by things I’ve watched or read, and I don’t really want to sleep any less than I already do!
  1. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. This was a book I was originally quite excited to have found in the charity shops, however I then saw quite a lot of negative reviews about it. The reviews said that this book contains a lot of racism, and quite frankly I don’t want to be reading a book that’s full of racist remarks. The reviews for this book are VERY split though. Some people are giving it a 1* and others a 5*.
  1. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. I don’t really have a reason for not wanting to read this book. I have definitely judged this book by it’s very dull cover.
  1. The Prison Doctor by Dr Amanda Brown. When I first got into reading, I was convinced I only liked non-fiction and didn’t like fiction. Oh how wrong I was. This was one of the first books I picked up. I don’t think it looks like a bad book, I just have so many other books I end up picking up instead.
  1. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Like some other books in this list, I was SO excited when I found this in a charity shop and I did plan on reading it when I’d bought it. However, I’ve seen quite a few reviews of people who have read it and didn’t like it / couldn’t get into it / DNFed it and that has kind of put me off.
  1. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. I bought this book from The Works for £2. Considering the book has 918 pages of reasonably small writing, I thought it was good value for money. 918 pages is a lot though. I’ve just read A Game of Thrones and that took me the best part of 2 months to finish and I think I need a break from long books for a while.
  1. The Woman in the Window by A J Finn (and thrillers in general). I’ve gone off thrillers a little bit recently. The last few I’ve read I felt have been a bit underwhelming. Similarly to why I don’t want to read Doctor Sleep, thrillers sometimes cause me to have bad nightmares (how pathetic is that, seriously?!). I’m just a bit scared and reluctant to choose thrillers at the moment and prefer happier books!
  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (and classics in general). I tried reading Wuthering Heights in April and I really struggled with it. I ended up abandoning it at around Chapter 8. Classics are so much harder to read than contemporaries, or so I’ve found anyway. I want to read for enjoyment, rather than reading and feeling like it’s homework. I feel quite determined to give it another go (just so I can say I’ve read it and never have to read it ever again). There’s quite a lot of classics I own that I want to read, but my experience of Wuthering Heights has put me off and I always find myself reaching for contemporaries instead.

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Books I Own That I’m MOST Excited to Read

My desk where I work every single day is right next to my bookshelf. I probably spend longer staring at all of the books on my shelf than I do actually doing work. I’ve developed quite a collection of books. This week marks one year since I picked up a book *for fun* and read it and I then got completely addicted to books and reading, so it’s been one year since the collection started to grow.

I have also written a blog post about books I own that I’m least excited to read / don’t think I’ll ever get round to reading, which I’ll be posting next week, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Here’s 10 books I own that I’m super excited to read!

  1. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I was very kindly gifted this book for my birthday as it was on my Amazon wishlist. Since this book was first published I have seen it EVERYWHERE. I’ve followed Matt Haig on social media for some time, but this will be the first book of his that I’m going to read. Let’s hope it lives up to the Bookstagram expectations that have been set (I’m sure it will!)
  1. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo. This was another birthday wishlist gift. Around the time when the BLM protests were happening earlier in the year, I went through every single book on my shelf and searched for a photo of the author. I came to realise pretty quickly that my shelf was dominated by straight, white, female authors. Ever since lockdown first happened I’ve only bought a handful of books for myself (I think 2), but I’m making it my mission for 2021 to diversify my reading. This book also has the most gorgeous cover so bonus points for that.
  1. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. This was one of the 2 books I’ve picked up in a charity shop since lockdown started and I was so excited to find it. I love history and finding out new things about events that happened in the past. I remember learning about Jack the Ripper in school, but this was quite a few years ago and I remember nothing on the subject now. This is one of very few non-fiction books I’m actually excited to read
  1. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. Again, another birthday present! I started listening to this as an audiobook in February or March, just before covid came and ruined our lives, and for one reason or another I never finished it. I think lockdown happened and then the book was a library loan and it expired and I haven’t listened to an audiobook since. But the part of it I listened to I really enjoyed and I’m looking forward to actually finishing it.
  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Okay. I’m going to put my hands up and confess that I’ve never read The Hunger Games. I’m sorry. I watched the first film in school and really enjoyed it, but I’m not the type of person who will actively put a film on whilst at home, so I never watched the rest of them.
  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Every time I finish a book I always have a long and hard think about picking this book up next, but I’ve become a bit wary of classics because I find them so hard to read, so I always end up reading something else instead. So many people have read this book and find it one of the easier of the classics to read. I definitely want to give it a go soon!
  1. The Rosie Project by Grame Simsion. It is kind of ironic how I’m including this in my list of books I’m most excited to read. This was the first book I bought way back a year ago when I ventured into the Oxfam Bookshop for the very first time. I don’t have an explanation as to why I’ve never read it, but I know a lot of people loved it.
  1. The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley. My lovely Grandma is obsessed with this book series and has read them all multiple times. The only reason I haven’t read it yet is because other books keep coming up for me to read first. This is the case with most of these books. I always end up reading ARCs / books authors have gifted me first and all these physical copies on my shelf just sit there waiting for the day I will eventually get round to them.
  1. Solitaire by Alice Oseman. How embarrassing. I think this was also one of the first books I ever bought. The first paragraph of the blurb lured me in as it’s very very similar to my personal situation. “My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now”. That is me to a tee, except I’m not called Tori Spring. That’s literally the only difference between me and that extract.
  1. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Once again, another birthday present, so a more recent addition to my bookshelf. I can’t believe that in my list of 10 books I’m most excited to read that there’s two non-fictions in this! From what I’ve heard, this is a book that everybody should read. Race / racism etc is a topic I really want and need to educate myself on a lot more. This is a reasonably small book (250ish pages), but I already know that the content is going to be educational and powerful

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Love Orange – Natasha Randall

Natasha Randall’s debut novel, Love Orange, tackles a magnitude of issues surrounding modern day life as an American.

Jenny and Hank live with their two sons Jesse and Luke. Hank is technology obsessed. He has turned their house into a ‘smart home’ which is listening into their every conversation and monitoring their every move. The house is able to order the family groceries by them just saying ‘house, order milk’. This smart home, which Hank so much adores, is much less liked by the rest of his household. Hank is very much infatuated with protecting his family from things like the dark web and his sons from porn on the internet. The boys don’t enjoy their lack of privacy and Jenny just hates the smart house. Everything in their world seems to rotate around technology, even the priest at their church has turned to the congregation texting their anonymous sins to the God Phone so that people don’t actually have to speak to one another and have proper conversations. This was a concept I found rather amusing.

Jenny is a little bit fed up with her life; she is unfulfilled by the way her life has turned out and is annoyed at the existence of her smart home. As a way to take her mind off her reality, she starts writing letters to prison inmates which is her little secret from her family. Letters to and from her prison pen pal, John, become frequent and Jenny notices that John’s letters are always sealed with a sweet-smelling orange substance. Jenny couldn’t help but try the substance, and noticed that it numbed some of her pain. Jenny searches high and low for whatever this orange substance could be, but is unsuccessful. She is also in contact with John’s husband, Shona, who is also locked up but coming close to the end of her time in prison. At first Shona wants nothing to do with Jenny through fear that her time in prison might get increased, but once she’s released the two start to get along. It transpires that this sweet-smelling orange substance is an opiate drug called Suboxone, which is used to treat chronic pain conditions (and is just generally pretty good at numbing people).

All in all I thought this book was an interesting snippet of modern day family life and it shows just how bleak and dissatisfying life can be, especially for Jenny. Hank and Jenny were pretty dead-set on gender stereotype roles and I did honestly feel a bit for Jenny.. She must be so bored in her life. My main issue with the book was that it’s written in quite a smart way in which the author didn’t draw up any opinions of the characters, this meant that I really struggled to engage with any of them.

I did like that the opioid crisis was a topic brought up though as it is something I can massively resonate with. As a sufferer of chronic pain, I basically depend on pain relief in order to have some quality to my life. I spent quite a while on various opioids in the last few years, and I know all too well how much they can destroy people’s lives. It is so easy to become addicted, and for me, they numbed everything except the pain I am in. As someone from the UK, opioid drugs can only be prescribed by GPs, but I remember so well when I was in Mexico last year, and they had opioid drugs for sale in gift shops.

Overall, I think that Love Orange brought up many important topics which are quite often overshadowed by other things in today’s life. It brings up the American opioid crisis and drug abuse and addiction, but also things like gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity and the book as a whole was something completely different to anything I’ve ever read. I found the book a little bit hard to follow along with at times, I don’t know if this was a problem with me, or with the book itself, but I felt like it was jumping back and forth between points a lot and I kept feeling a little bit lost as to where we were and what was going on.

Thank you to Natasha Randall and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I look forward to seeing what Natasha will bring out next!

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My Favourite Healthy and Cheap Student Meals

Hello All!

This is something completely different to anything I’ve ever blogged about before, but in light of the recent Free School Meal situation going on in the UK, I was thinking about some of the meals I ate whilst I was in student accommodation and I thought I could share a few recipes that got me through university on a VERY tight budget.

I am not currently in a position where I can donate to a foodbank, or donate anything financially to charity. I am hoping this little blog post of a few meal ideas will be able to help some people out and give them new ideas for cheap and healthy meals. I am not a dietician or nutritionist and I don’t have any qualifications in the subject, this is all just from my personal experience as a university student wanting to eat healthily, and cheaply.

One little disclaimer: I generally try to avoid excessive amounts of dairy and soya due to intolerances and I will eat pretty much anything except fish. Whilst at university, I did almost all of my shopping at Aldi or Lidl, and was able to make a week’s worth of meals for around £10. To keep the prices this low, I usually had vegetarian meals throughout the week and only ate meat on a weekend.

Here are some of my favourite meals I made for myself whilst at university!

Breakfasts:

Porridge is probably one of the cheapest and most filling breakfasts there are, you can also have it with lots of different ‘toppings’ (is that the right word? Probably not). I have my porridge with almond milk, but you can also use regular milk or even water. Some of the things I had with my porridge included: chopped banana, defrosted frozen mixed berries, a spoon of peanut butter, a dollop of jam, or even just a spoonful of sugar.

Overnight oats. I think this was the breakfast I had most during second and third year. It takes a little bit of forward thinking as you need to make it the day before, but it’s really worth it.

You will need:

  • Oats
  • Plain natural or Greek style yoghurt (I used fat free, but that was just my own preference)
  • Frozen mixed berries

Method:

In a sealable tub add a layer of the oats, followed by a layer of yoghurt and a layer of berries and repeat until you’re happy with the size of the portion. I use 2 layers of each ingredient. 

I never used any actual measurements for this as I always used the same mason jar and knew that filling it near to the top was a sufficient meal for me.

There are loads of different ways you can make overnight oats and you can google hundreds of recipes, but I found this to be the easiest and cheapest for me. A bag of frozen mixed berries can seem quite expensive when you buy it, but it will last ages!

Lunches:

Most of my lunches were actually left overs from the night befores dinner. (Just so you know, I’m northern and call it ‘tea’, so saying ‘dinner’ makes me feel very uncomfortable). I was particularly good at accidentally making enough food to feed the whole street, and so I often ended up with a few extra portions of meals. Some of them I was able to freeze and keep in the freezer for a later date. I struggle to eat the same meal day in, day out and like to switch things up. By freezing portions, this meant I could keep the food shop costs down in future weeks and it also meant no food went to waste.

My absolute favourite savory food is couscous and I practically lived off packets of flavoured couscous for my lunches. Having a packet of flavoured couscous is quite a bit more expensive than buying plain couscous and adding things to it, but it was more convenient for me whilst at uni as I just had to add boiling water, wait a few minutes, give it a stir and it was ready to eat. Some days I just ate a full packet, and other days I had half a packet and added half a tin of mixed beans to it. This meant it would last for 2 lunches and only cost about £1 in total.

Another couscous favourite was couscous stuffed peppers. I took a whole red pepper, chopped the top off and pulled the seeds out and then stuck it in the oven for 10-15 minutes until it started to go soft. Whilst it was in the oven, I prepared the couscous (you can add any left over veg to this. My favourites were courgettes and mushrooms). Take the pepper out of the oven and stuff it full of the couscous, add a little bit of cheese to the top and pop it back in the oven until the cheese has melted. I think I ate this for my dinner at least once a week for the entire 3 years of my degree.

Pasta is also a great lunch. You can buy a 3kg bag of fusilli pasta for £2.85 in Tesco and it lasts forever. I weigh out my pasta when I cook it and have 100g per portion. This means that you could get 30 portions out of the bag of pasta for less than £3! I love pesto with my pasta. It’s simple and it’s cheap. There are also a few different types of pesto, meaning you can switch it up. A jar of pesto lasts a while too! If you want to add meat to it, you could add some ham or chicken.

Jacket potatoes. Cheap, simple and versatile. With most students doing university online this year, it’s much easier to cook a jacket potato for lunch than it was when I was doing my undergraduate degree. There’s loads of different toppings you can have but my favourites were just plain and simple baked beans, cheese or baked beans with a little bit of paprika added and chopped up mushrooms.

Dinners:

Since leaving student accommodation and moving in with my boyfriend, I’ve been eating a lot more meat than I did whilst I was a student. I used to eat vegetarian meat substitutes whenever I could afford them, but I developed a soya intolerance and now avoid them and eat meat instead! Most of these recipes I’m going to suggest contain meat, but you could always use a different type of meat, a meat substitute, or just avoid meat all together!

Pasta, a tomato based pasta sauce, veg and chicken sausages. Okay, so chicken sausages from Aldi are one of the best food items I discovered. They’re a little bit more expensive than regular pork sausages (I think they’re £1.90 for 10), but I noticed when I grill them in my George Foreman, that no fat comes out of them whatsoever. In terms of veg, I buy most of my veg frozen. It’s way more convenient as it doesn’t go off quickly, you also get WAY more for your money than buying it fresh! I just threw in whatever veg I had – you will come to realise that I love love love vegetables). If, like me, you accidentally make a boat load of the pasta sauce, you can always freeze it for another day. This is super convenient if you’re getting in from class late and can’t be bothered to make anything!

Another chicken sausage favourite is having them with sweet potato chunks and green veg. Green beans and broccoli are my favourite greens and they go really well with sweet potatoes! I liked to put a little bit of olive oil on the sweet potato chunks and then add a little bit of paprika or salt before putting them in the oven. Keep an eye on them whilst they’re in the oven though, I found if I cut the chunks too thinly that they burnt really easily! This is also a good meal to have with a chicken breast. I have recently discovered bags of frozen chicken breasts and they have changed the game completely! As a student, I tended to avoid fresh chicken breasts as they were SO expensive for what they are. I wish I knew about frozen chicken breasts whilst at uni – you get so much more for your money.

Chilli con carne. This must be a firm favourite in most households! This was something I didn’t eat too often as mince can be quite expensive, especially if you’re choosing the lowest fat options. But you can get some great deals on bigger packs of mince with higher fat content, or frozen mince. Something that is a little bit more expensive than beef/pork mince is turkey mince, but it’s delicious! If you have mince, you can also make spaghetti bolognese. These are meals that you can freeze extra portions of to have another day. Some meals might seem a bit expensive at the time, but if you’re able to get 3, 4 or more portions out of them then they’re definitely worth the money when you divide the cost of the ingredients per meal.

Chicken dinner. A frozen chicken breast, frozen veg, a potato (mashed or made into roast potatoes), yorkshire puddings and some gravy is a really easy and homely meal. I didn’t actually realise how easy it was to make a roast dinner if you’re using frozen veg. You can pick yorkshire puds up for 50p or less in Aldi and they will last you a few roast dinners!

Stir fry. This is probably one of the cheapest dinners you can have. Aldi sells packets of stir fry veg, dry noodles and stir fry sauces. They’re easy to make and still full of vegetables.

Snacks:

Fruit. Bananas are less than 20p each in Aldi. Aldi also has the Super 6 where each week they choose a selection of fruits and vegetables to be extra cheap. The other week I got a packet of 6 plums for 40p!

Sliced apples and peanut butter. Delicious.

Rice Cakes / carrot sticks / celery sticks / chopped peppers and hummus.

Hints and tips for eating healthily as a student:

A few of these things I’ve probably mentioned already, but I think they’re super helpful and need reiterating!

  1. Buy frozen vegetables. Obviously this is dependent on your freezer space. But if you can, it’ll save you lots of money in the long run!
  2. Buy frozen meat. Same as above
  3. If you make too much, have it for lunch/ dinner the next day, or freeze it for a day when you’re short for time. Having something in the freezer is really convenient and will prevent you from potentially eating out and spending extra money!
  4. Aldi and Lidl are your friends. You can get 95% of items from Aldi or Lidl (when compared to a bigger supermarket brand). Despite being cheaper, the items are still good quality.
  5. Give yourself a spending allowance for your weekly shop. Also it might be worth deleting takeaway apps from your phone, so you’re not tempted to grab a takeaway when you can’t be bothered to cook.
  6. If you don’t have an Aldi or Lidl nearby, head to your local supermarket when they start to reduce products at the end of the day. You can pick up some yellow sticker bargains there.
  7. Potatoes and eggs are versatile. You can make so many different variations of food out of them. They are both really cheap to buy too.
  8. PLAN YOUR MEALS. This for me was one of the most important things. Write a plan of everything you’re going to eat throughout the list and write yourself a shopping list accordingly. This will prevent you from impulse buying and spending extra money when going around the supermarket.

I hope this blog post is helpful. Like I said at the beginning of this post, it is something completely different to what I’ve written on here before but it seemed like it was something relevant to big topics in the UK at the moment. This is also just a few of my favourite meals, I have SO many more. So if anyone wants to know of any other ideas, then just let me know. I find most of the recipes I use online, so again, let me know if you want me to send you the recipes I use!

Have a great week,

Leah  

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September Reading Wrap Up

Sorry this is so wonky!!

A bit like August’s wrap up, I’m coming with my September wrap up a little bit late. My life (more specifically, the inside of my brain) is completely hectic at the moment. I’ve harped on about it enough, but if you didn’t know in September I started my Masters degree and ever since that moment, my brain has just been goo. This wrap up is coming so late, that I can’t actually remember a single book I read in September (brb whilst I consult my Goodreads).

I’ll be honest, this is going to be quite a boring wrap up. After such an amazing month of reading in August, I was hoping it would continue into September.. However I ended up being asked to do some extra work, and I did a bit of extra sleeping, so I only read 4 books, and two of those were about buildings (for university), but here goes:

1 STAR:

An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

Ah so this book.. As you can tell by the star rating, I wasn’t a fan. The main character, Colin, did my head in. He had had umpteen girlfriends all called Katherine and all of them had dumped him. The storyline itself was pretty bland, nothing of substance happened – it was SO boring. I can’t actually remember anything that happened. Luckily it was a short book and I was able to fly through it quickly. If it was any longer, I would have probably DNF’ed it. I understand that it was a YA book, but there were a lot of ‘alternative’ swear words in it, and they really made me cringe. ‘Fug’, ‘fugger’, ‘fugging’ etc. IF YOU’RE GOING TO INCLUDE SWEARING, JUST INCLUDE THE REAL WORDS.

Something I didn’t pick up on at the time of reading, but I’ve just noticed now, is that Colin’s surname is ‘Singleton’. That mildly amused me, I must admit. Poor (annoying) Colin.

I feel bad for hating this book as much as I did, but it had very very split opinions from people on Goodreads too. I read A Fault in our Stars a few years ago as my annual holiday book and I recall enjoying that. You wouldn’t think that both books were by the same author. I have Paper Towns on my bookshelf, and I’m hoping that has a better outcome when I eventually get around to reading that.

3 STAR:

The Eve Illusion – Giovanna and Tom Fletcher

This is book 2 in the Eve of Man trilogy. I read Eve of Man last year and I rated it a 3 star as well. A bit like with An Abundance of Katherines, nothing really happened (I really did pick some riveting books this month didn’t I?!). At the end of Eve of Man, I commented on the fact that Eve annoyed me. I’m glad to report that in this book she annoyed me less. One thing I have really enjoyed about this trilogy so far is that the books are told from multiple perspectives. In book 1, it was told from two perspectives: Eve and Bram. To provide a bit of background information so this makes sense. Eve was the only female to be born in 50 years (or something like that), and the Extinction Prevention Organisation (EPO) took it upon themselves to save Eve, and the human race. They created a city within a tower for Eve to live in and be ‘protected’ and she is cared for by a group of women who have dedicated their lives to Eve, called the ‘mothers’. Bram’s father owns the EPO and in book 1, he works as Holly, a female hologram who is Eve’s friend. But obviously, with Eve being the only young female on the planet, Holly has to be controlled by males.

In the second book, a third perspective is added. Michael. Without trying to spoil too much, shit hits the fan at the end of the first book, and Michael is another employee of the EPO. His perspective becomes almost a neutral perspective, showing what’s happening inside the tower when things are a little bit crazy. The storyline of The Eve Illusion is basically a huge conflict of interest between what Eve wants, and what everyone else wants for Eve.

UNRATED BOOKS:

As I’ve previously mentioned, any books I read for university I will be counting in my total books read for the year, but I won’t be giving them a rating. I’m saving the ratings for books I’m choosing to read for enjoyment, rather than the books I have to read.

The two books I read for university in September were:

How Old is Your House? By Pamela Cunnington and Traditional Buildings of Britain: An Introduction to Vernacular Architecture by R. W. Brunskill.

Well friends, that’s it for another month. I’m trying my best to keep reading despite my brain being mush. In September I started reading A Game of Thrones, but I’m only about 200 pages into it. Maybe I’ll finish it before the year is out. Who knows.

I also want to try to fit in time each week to write blogs. I’m still trying to find my groove with having a routine and being back at university, but I will get there eventually I’m sure! I apologise for not being very consistent at the moment, but hopefully once I have this routine down to a tee that I will be reading most days and having at least one blog post up a week. Here’s to wishful thinking.

Hi friends, thank you for checking out my blog. If you’d like to donate to my blog (or just buy me a hot drink!) then click here to be taken to my Ko-fi page.