Top Five Tuesday – Best reads of 2020

It’s Top Five Tuesday which is hosted by Meeghan Reads, every week we’re given a book related topic and we choose our top five! This week it’s time to pick our favourite reads of the year. This year has been completely mad and very stressful, I have cherished reading and the escapism it provides more than ever.

1. Circe by Madeline Miller

I absolutely loved this book, it’s so cleverly written. I related to Circe’s lonely witch vibes and loved seeing her grow in strength over the course of the story. I learned a lot about the Greek gods and goddesses and if you’re a fan of that era then I strongly recommend it. My full review is here.

2. The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

I read this and my third pick in the middle of lockdown in the UK in my warm sunny garden. I actually didn’t mind spending so much time at home because I was lucky enough to have outside space but this book also helped me travel all the way across Europe with Lyra. I’m so glad we have more stories set in this world so similar to our own but so different. It definitely gave me comfort, despite the tension and brilliant pace of the book. My full review is here.

3. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I was excited about this book as soon as I heard about it and I was not disappointed. I was surprised though at how relatable Collins managed to make some of the Capitol children and seeing the Hunger Games taking shape was truly chilling. My full review is here.

4. The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz

The last in the Millennium series, I’m still sad we won’t get to see anymore dangerous adventures from Lisbeth and Mikael but this book is a fitting finale. It’s really intense and as clever as all the others in the series. My full review is here.

5. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

This is a very clever book, I really enjoyed finding out about all the complex characters. All the twists and turns were brilliant and unexpected. If you enjoy psychological booksI would strongly recommend it. My full review is here.

What are your favourite reads from this year?

Top Five Tuesday – Best book covers of 2020

It’s Top Five Tuesday which is hosted by Meeghan Reads, every week we’re given a book related topic and we choose our top five! This week we’ve got to pick our favourite book covers of the year:

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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2. We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

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3. Sanditon by Jane Austen

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4. The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

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5. Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

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What are some of your favourite covers from this year?

Top Five Tuesday – Books I’m glad I read this year

It’s Top Five Tuesday which is hosted by Meeghan Reads, every week we’re given a book related topic and we choose our top five! This week we’ve got to pick five book that we’re glad we read this year. I’ve had a great reading year so far and here are my favourites:

1. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I really enjoyed this book, my full review is here. It’s a prequel to The Hunger Games series but I found it chilling and interesting to see the Capitol just after the war and witness the coldness of the people in charge.

2. The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

I’m so glad Lyra is back! This is the second book in The Book of Dust and Lyra is an adult and enrolled at Oxford University. I loved being back in Lyra’s world and watching her navigate through it to places we’ve never been before, my full review is here.

3. Circe by Madeline Miller

This book is so great! Circe is a badass witch but more than that she still compassion and love to give. I learnt a lot about the Greek gods and goddesses in it as well, my full review is here.

4. The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans

A sad and beautiful historical fiction novel, I loved this book and the connection that the characters had to their house throughout the 20th century. My full review is here.

5. The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Another witchy tale but this time it was truly terrifying, it’s based on true events and I still can’t get over how awfully women were treated during the witch trials. My full review is here.

What are your favourite reads this year?

Books I Read During Lockdown

Here in Britain we were in lockdown from the end of March and this week I went back to work, so I thought I would list the books I read during lockdown and give them all a rating. All the books I read were a great escape from reality and I loved sitting outside in the sunshine with them.

50095371. sx318 sy475 The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans – 4/5 Stars

Blurb: Nightingale House, 1919. Liddy Horner discovers her husband, the world-famous artist Sir Edward Horner, burning his best-known painting The Garden of Lost and Found days before his sudden death.
Nightingale House was the Horner family’s beloved home – a gem of design created to inspire happiness – and it was here Ned painted ‘The Garden of Lost and Found’, capturing his children on a perfect day, playing in the rambling Eden he and Liddy made for them.
One magical moment. Before it all came tumbling down…
When Ned and Liddy’s great-granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House, she opens the door onto a forgotten world. The house holds its mysteries close but she is in search of answers. For who would choose to destroy what they love most? Whether Ned’s masterpiece – or, in Juliet’s case, her own children’s happiness.
Something shattered this corner of paradise. But what?

I read the end of this during the first week of lockdown. It’s perfect for anyone who loves historical fiction. My full review is here.

11735456A Feast For Crows by George R.R. Martin – 5/5 Stars

Blurb: The war in the Seven Kingdoms has burned itself out, but in its bitter aftermath new conflicts spark to life. The Martells of Dorne and the Starks of Winterfell seek vengeance for their dead. Euron Crow’s Eye, as black a pirate as ever raised a sail, returns from the smoking ruins of Valyria to claim the Iron Isles.

From the icy north, where Others threaten the Wall, apprentice Maester Samwell Tarly brings a mysterious babe in arms to the Citadel. As plots, intrigue and battle threaten to engulf Westeros, victory will go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel and the coldest hearts.

I love this book so much, it’s my favourite in ASOIAF so far. Nearly all of my favourites have POV chapters and it’s incredibly dramatic.

27245960The Virgin’s War by Laura Andersen – 4/5 Stars

Blurb: It’s 1585, and the balance of European power is tilting dangerously toward war. It will take all of Elizabeth Tudor’s skill and wiles to defend England from the looming threat of the Spanish Armada.

Complicating matters is Elizabeth’s beloved daughter—the result of the Queen’s tempestuous marriage with her worst enemy: King Philip of Spain.

As Elizabeth commits her riches, her honor, and her people to the coming war, the Queen will risk everything—even her own life—to preserve England’s freedom.

This was a great finale to the Tudor Legacy trilogy. I still miss the characters now! My full review is here.

17452179Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (Audiobook) – 3/5 Stars

Blurb: Yvonne Carmichael sits in the witness box. The charge is murder. Before all of this, she was happily married, a successful scientist, a mother of two. Now she’s a suspect, squirming under fluorescent lights and the penetrating gaze of the alleged accomplice who’s sitting across from her, watching: a man who’s also her lover. As Yvonne faces hostile questioning, she must piece together the story of her affair with this unnamed figure who has charmed and haunted her. This is a tale of sexual intrigue, ruthless urges, and danger, which has blindsided her from a seemingly innocuous angle. Here in the courtroom, everything hinges on one night in a dark alley called Apple Tree Yard.

The book was gripping because it started with a court case but we didn’t know what crime had been committed. Then it flashed back through the characters lives. I enjoyed it but it did drag slightly in the middle.

13337715A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin – 4.5 Stars

Blurb: In the aftermath of a colossal battle, new threats are emerging from every direction.

Tyrion Lannister, having killed his father, and wrongfully accused of killing his nephew, King Joffrey, has escaped from King’s Landing with a price on his head.

To the north lies the great Wall of ice and stone – a structure only as strong as those guarding it. Eddard Stark’s bastard son Jon Snow has been elected 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. But Jon has enemies both inside and beyond the Wall.

And in the east Daenerys Targaryen struggles to hold a city built on dreams and dust.

This destroys me at the end. I just want The Winds of Winter to come out!

49794564. sx318 sy475 Sanditon by Jane Austen – 3/5 Stars

Blurb: Written in the last months of Austen’s life, Sanditon features a glorious cast of hypochondriacs and speculators in a newly established seaside resort, and shows the author contemplating a changing society with scepticism and amusement. It tells the story of Charlotte Heywood, who is transported by a chance accident from her rural hometown to Sanditon, where she is exposed to the intrigues and dalliances of a small town – and encounters the intriguingly handsome Sidney Parker.

I enjoyed this because Jane Austen’s style is great but I actually preferred the television adaptation. To be fair to Jane this is one of her unfinished works but I still really liked all the quirky characters.

23513349Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Blurb: Milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. ‘milk and honey’ takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

A stunning collection of poems, I really related to them. I don’t usually read poetry but I’m glad I read these.

45858619The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris – 3.5/5 Stars

Blurb: Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.

But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…

I enjoyed this book, I liked reading about the subtle magic the characters could do and being transported to the small French village.

34466963. sy475 Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (Audiobook) – 3.5/5 Stars

Blurb: Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don’t sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life—eating, drinking, and reproducing—the purpose of sleep remained elusive.

I love a non-fiction audiobook! This was really interesting and made me think about some of my harmful sleeping habits.

44147077. sy475 The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman – 4.5/5 Stars

Blurb: It is seven years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.
Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .
The second volume of Sir Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed.
Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right
Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost – a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.

I’m so glad this book exists, I really enjoyed it, especially seeing Lyra as an adult. My full review is here.

50794839. sx318 sy475 The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins – 5/5 Stars

Blurb: It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined—every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute . . . and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

I’m still reeling from this book. It’s so clever, I love a prequel and this exceeded all my expectations. My full review is here.

41728472. sy475 Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – 4/5 Stars

Blurb: The retreat at health-and-wellness resort Tranquillum House promises total transformation.
Nine stressed city dwellers are keen to drop their literal and mental baggage, and absorb the meditative ambience while enjoying their hot stone massages.
Miles from anywhere, without cars or phones, they have no way to reach the outside world. Just time to think about themselves, and get to know each other.
Watching over them is the resort’s director, a woman on a mission. But quite a different one from any the guests might have imagined.
For behind the retreat’s glamorous facade lies a dark agenda.
These nine perfect strangers have no idea what’s about to hit them . . .

I really enjoyed this book, the psychological side of it was interesting. My full review is here.

I am thankful to these books for helping me escape reality during this scary and strange time. I also noticed that my reading speed has got much quicker as well!

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman Review

This book is set 10 years after His Dark Materials. Lyra is twenty years-old and studying at Oxford University. It still follows on from the first in the series La Bell Sauvage, we see Malcolm has grown up to be a professor at Oxford and he even tried to teach Lrya when she was a teenager. She didn’t know, of course that he saved her life when she was just a baby.

Lyra and Pan are launched straight into a mystery surrounding roses. Pan often goes out at night on his own and he witnessed a murder. Lyra and Pan always seem to attract trouble and they are still in danger from the Magisterium. The whole world is being dictated to by the Magisterium, they are scary people and their power is growing.

It broke my heart to see that Pan and Lyra are having trouble connecting. Ever since Lyra had to go to the Underworld in The Anber Spyglass, her and Pan have been able to move around separately but it also seems their relationship has suffered over the years since. Lyra has also lost the ability to read her alethiometer naturally, she now has to rely on books to tell her all the symbol meanings.

The Secret Commonwealth is the secret world of mythical creatures. Faries and many other creatures live in Lyra’s world but most people don’t know they exist or don’t believe in them. I love this idea, I think that’s what our world is like too.

I’m so glad we get to see more of Malcolm and more of the secret organisation he’s a part of. It was created to fight the Magisterium but their nunbers are dwindling. We get to see a lot more of the politics of Lyra’s world in this book. Everything is a lot more complicated.

The way that the humans without their daemons are treated and how they feel is like they have mental health issues. People avoid them unnecessarily, they’re afraid of them. And Lyra feels lonely and broken. Seeing Lyra go through this self loathing is tough, your early twenties are really difficult. I just wanted to give her a hug.

“She felt as if shed woken up in chains and couldn’t free herself, so she had to carry them with her wherever she went, like a badge of shame.”

An incrdible book, very emotional and thought provoking. At the beginning Lyra is reading a lot of philosophy books that question the existence of daemons but on her journey she finds out about the Secret Commonwealth. There is more magic around us than we think and we often forget that as we grow up.

The book ends on a cliffhanger of course! I don’t know when the next book will be published or even what it’s called, but I am eager to read it! Philip Pullman once again has drawn me in to Lyra’s world and I don’t want to leave.

“‘There are philosophers who say that the failure would be to believe, not to disbelieve.’ ‘Then they have separated their intelligences from their other faculties. And that is not an intelligent thing to do.’”

Summer TBR

Well it’s summer, but this will be the strangest one I’ve ever experienced I expect. We’re still in lockdown here in Britain with no true end in sight, the government are making no sense so who knows what is going to happen. Anyway because I’m at home I have taken to reading all the hardbacks and chunky books that I have on my tbr list so until I go back to work that is what I’ll be reading!

44147077. sy475 The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman – June

I have just started this, I’m loving it already. It has all the feels of His Dark Materials even though Lyra is now twenty years old and studying at Oxford University. There’s mystery, the Magisterium are still shady and terrifying. And the first book of this series which was a flashback to when Lyra was a baby gets tied in as well.

51901147. sx318 sy475 The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins – June

I am so excited to read this, normally I don’t read books when they’ve just been released because I tend not to but hardbacks but I decided to treat myself! This is still set in Panem, it’s the tenth Hunger Games and the vile Coriolanus Snow is trying to prove himself as a mentor. This will be so interesting, I’ve missed the dark and twisty world of Panem.

29766895The Lake House by Kate Morton – July

I always read a Kate Morton over the summer, they make me feel warm and the stories are beautiful and complex. This book begins with a summer party where a child goes missing. Alice was sixteen at the time and she has never stopped thinking about what happened to her little brother.

43528707. sy475 The Familiars by Stacey Halls – July

This is set in the 1600s, Fleetwood has had many pregnancies but none of the children have survived. Her husband is anxious for an heir but Fleetwood finds a letter from a doctor saying he doesn’t think she will survive another pregnancy. Fleetwood is already pregnant but when she meets Alice, a midwife her worries are soothed. Until Alice is accused of witchcraft, both women fight to prove Alice’s innocence. It sounds so good, I’m excited to read it.

41728472. sy475 Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – July/August

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

6867Atonement by Ian McEwan – August

One of my favourites, always, I haven’t read it for a long time so I’m really looking forward to re-reading it, especially in the heat of the summer. This book breaks my heart but it’s worth it for the superb story telling.

43107933. sy475 Big Sky by Kate Atkinson – August

I have been looking forward to reading this for a while, it’s the fifth book in the Jackson Brodie series. Jackson is a retired police officer turned private investigator, Jackson always finds himself involved in deeper conspiracies and it seems this book will be no exception.

What is on your reading list this summer?