Wednesday, 19 January 2022

What I read in the last half of 2021 and my reading goals of 2022

 I never quite got around to sharing all the books I read at the end of 2021. I got as far as May which was the best month for me when it comes to reading. I thought I should get this year finished up and aim for a better upkeep on my What I read posts for 2022 because I hope to stay more on top of things this year. 

So in from June through to November I managed to read a total of 15 books which is pretty reasonable. I did enjoy most of these reads although there was one or two I didn't enjoy so much.

The Spark by Jules Wake - ★★★★☆

Jess and Sam are falling for each other, fast. The problem is Sam left his girlfriend but she just won't leave him. Jess is left feeling like she is the other woman in her relationship, despite Sam being single. Between Sam's Ex and the curve balls being thrown at them from everywhere else, the question is can love at first sight stand the test of life?

I enjoyed this read, it was fast paced, kept me intrigued and had me engaged with every emotion the character as going through. I did find the story a little predictable and was able to guess the end but with rom-coms we all know it'll be a happy one. I did get surprised by one or two of the plot twists so it still felt exciting. 

I laughed, cried, shouted in joy and was angry for Jess when everything happened to her and Sam. It felt like I was living the whole thing with her. Which I think proves that Jules Wake is a wonderful writer, being able to immerse yourself into the story effortlessly is not always guaranteed when you open a book. 

That Night by Gillian McAllister - ★★★★★

If you only decide to read one book this year and you love a good psychological thriller, this is the one you should read. 

One terrible phone call, on one normal family holiday to Croatia could change the lives of an entire family. Cathy's sister Frannie has killed a man with her car, it was an accident and she didn't really mean to. However Frannie has a son and is desperate to not end up in a foreign jail away from him. So Frannie is asking the ultimate question of her sister, will Cathy help her to cover it up?  Things start to get entirely more complicated when the police start asking questions, their lies begin to grow and the doubt starts setting in between the sisters. How will this secret affect their sisterly bond?

I know this book was really popular right as it launched but it took me months to get around to reading it. I kept doubting the hype and I had never read any of Gillian McAllister books so I didn't know what to expect. However the opening line of ' "Help me, please help me" I say into the phone. ' had me hooked. I come from a big family and the entire idea of a family hiding a murder for a sister is something I could see being an automatic reaction. Especially in a family as close as this. However the story really lies in the aftermath, the guilt and the dishonesty which slowly changes the very people these characters are. The death of one person creates a whole list of dominoes which will mean life must keep moving if a secret is ever to stay hidden. 

 I absolutely loved it, every word on every page. 

I was unable to put it down, I read cover to cover without even a break because I simply had to know what came next. I found the entire book to be totally unpredictable and it was this which really kept me entranced because anything could have came in the next chapter. I am officially a huge fan of Gillian McAllister and will always be on the lookout for the next books, as well as going back to read all her previous releases. 

Truth and Lies, The Secret Child, Left for Dead and Flesh and Blood by Caroline Mitchell - ★★★★★

I absolutely loved this series of books by Caroline Mitchell, each book connects to the next so I am going to give a brief outline on the entire series without giving away any spoilers.

Truth and Lies:

DI Amy Winter aspires to follow in her father's footsteps to be a well respected police officer. However one letter is about to tear her whole life apart with the revelations it hides inside. 

The letter has come from the cell of Lillian Grimes. One half of a famous husband and wife serial killer duo. They'd been responsible for some horrible murders, Lillian is a psychopath and it turns out that Amy is her daughter. After all these years Lillian claims she is ready to share the location of the three remaining victims. The only catch is that Amy must play along with the twisted game Lillian wants to play. 

While the search for the three bodies of her mother's missing victims gets underway, Amy must face the reality of her own memories and the past she has buried and forgotten.

The Secret Child:

Ellen, a four year old has been taken in the middle of the night by a stranger. Her mother has received four vials along with a note written in familiar handwriting. She knows that one vial will be poison and to free her daughter she needs to drink one. This will mean the kidnapper will tell the police where Ellen is. The sender is claiming to be the dead man Luka Volkov, he died in a fire which still haunts everyone involved. 

Amy Winter must find the victim and starts a race against time when another victim goes missing. Although she is still reeling from the revelation that she's the daughter of a serial killer, she might have to ask for help from the one person she never wants to. 

Left for Dead: 

A beautiful Valentine's window display has caught DI Amy Winter's eye on a shopping trip. A perfect bride in a diamond encrusted lace dress, sits upon a throne. All is not what it seems when Amy notices blood trickling from the mouth of the mannequin. The post mortem reveals the victim was left to die on the 'throne'. 

Things become ever more urgent when a second victim shows up and they both have a connection to the 'Sugar babes' site, where the women  have been arranging dates with older men. While trying to track down the killer, Amy is faced with her own senses going crazy after the owner of the staging agency gets overly excited about the fact Amy is the daughter of two notorious killers. He is fascinated by the connection and when a third victim goes missing Amy breaks the police procedure, but is she in as much danger as the others without realising? All while battling the fact her mother, Lillian Grimes is trying to appeal her conviction.

Flesh and Blood:

A string of suicides is happening at various seaside resorts when a police officer is named as the latest victim DI Amy Winter suspects there may be more than coincidences going on. However what is it that is causing all these people to throw themselves into the freezing North Sea?

Nobody seems willing to help Amy solve the mystery, however a small group of teenagers may end up being the key she needs to discover what is going on. Why then can't she get them to open up, why are they so afraid to talk? 

What is it that is so terrible it is worth killing off a police officer over and can Amy finally confront her past?

I have to say I loved this whole series, I really struggled to get through the books. Which looking back now would have been a very easy fix had I not been so stubborn. I didn't read the books, I listened to the audio books, which is a first for me. A first which I won't be repeating because I hated the voice of the voice actor and I felt like I wasn't enjoying the books themselves. Well until I realised I couldn't leave them not knowing what happened next in the series and how DI Amy Winter would solve the cases. I was hooked! 

These books are on my list to reread which I plan to do as soon as the next book is about to come out. I think I will love the books even more since I feel they certainly deserve a 5 star rating despite the experience I had with my dislike of the voice actor and their job of portraying the book. I highly recommend the series which is full of plot twists, exciting and equally frustrating crime from a perspective of the police service when your the child of a convicted murderer. It is a very unique perspective which isn't seen often but it absolutely wonderful anyway. 

Finn by Melody Anne - ★★★☆☆

Finn is a military veteran who doesn't want to live the life of ease and luxury even though he has the means to. Although this suddenly gets a whole lot harder when he and his four brothers find out they are long lost relatives of  the famous and extremely wealthy Joseph Anderson. 

Joseph has a new project for the four brothers, one which is very close to their hearts, he wants them to build a veterans centre. Finn doesn't want an easy life and so he's determined not to have one, however he's not expecting to meet Brooke at a self defence class he's teaching. She catches I'm off guard when she literally sweeps him off his feet. 

Finn knows that he wants to be with Brooke and he's not willing to compromise. The problem is Brooke is still heartbroken over the loss of her brother and she doesn't feel she'll ever be ready to love anyone again, never mind letting herself love Finn and risk losing him. 

Can the two get their lives together and deal with their issues before they lose each other?

I was actually enjoying reading this book until I realised I really didn't love it as much as I have loved the other series by Melody Anne about this wonderful Anderson family. While Finn is a great stand alone book I struggled with keeping it separate from the main and then extended Anderson family books. This one in comparison has been knocked down a notch. 

The story is still good, I just wanted it to be better I guess. I attempted to read the next book in this series and spent a month getting through four chapters before I finally declared it my first ever did not finish. It was heart breaking to do it when she is one of my favourite authors.  

The Harry Potter books (all 7) by JK Rowling - ★★★★★

I am not going to be going into great detail about the synopsis of each book since they are famous the world over. 

The series follows the teenage life of Harry Potter, an orphan who lives with his Aunt, Uncle and Cousin who have mistreated him since he was left on their doorstop as baby. As his 11th Birthday comes up, Harry Potter is about to have his life changed forever by the revelation that he is actually a wizard and has been given a place at Hogwarts School of witchcraft and wizardry. We follow Harry as he discovers, not only is he a wizard but he is a famous one. He is the one who defeated The Dark Lord. However Lord Voldemort is not as truly gone as the magical world believe and through the entire series we see Harry and his best friends Ron & Hermione fight off the evil wizards and Lord Voldemort himself. The whole wizarding world could be in jeopardy. 

I am a Potter head but I am ashamed to say this was my first time reading the last two books. In my childhood I adored Harry Potter and read the books as they released until the Half Blood Prince which came out during my teenage years. I am not really sure why I didn't read the last two books but I have watched the films on a yearly basis for all my adult life so I knew what happens. However the books are always better so with the 20th anniversary of The Philosophers Stone Movie release in 2022 I decided it was time to read the whole series. 

I was not disappointed, rereading the books gave me a whole new appreciation of the magical world unlocked by the Harry Potter series. It was truly magical to rediscover the missing elements inside the books which the films left out. It was also a great experience to read these books alongside my own son who is at the age I was when I first read the books. I blew his mind by telling him I was his age when J.K. Rowling was still writing the series! Cool mum points earned from that one haha. 

If by any chance you've never read the Harry Potter series but are a magical book fan then you certainly should add the collection to your to be read pile immediately. 

By the end of 2021 I had read a total of 36 books and smashed my original goal of 20! So for 2022 I want to up the stakes and have doubled my goal to 40, which is just 4 more than I read this year but still feels like it's a good stretch to push myself towards. Maybe I'll even hit it early.

You can keep up with what I am reading by following me on Goodreads.

Or why not stay up to date with more than just my reading over on my Instagram. 

Sunday, 2 January 2022

All about my year 2021

 It's now become my yearly tradition to spend at least some of New Year's Day looking back to the year we have just left behind to find the moments I want to remember for years to come. It all started back in 2017 when I was tagged by another blogger in a post that was doing the rounds. I really enjoyed taking the time to look back and share the moments from a whole year, so I continued through 2018, 2019 and of course the year when it meant even more to have good days, 2020.  

When I wrote last year's post I really thought that 2021 would be the year when life felt more normal, that we'd be leaving behind everything as we got further from 2020. That hasn't been true and I think it will continue deep into 2022 so I'm not really going to talk about that much, because I want to come back and look at this post when the days are hard and remember that even in the hardest years we had great days too. I understand that this is not the sentiment that everyone shares but it is one which I need to remember during my darkest times. 

1. What did you do for your birthday this year? 

I had another quiet Birthday this year, although we got to see some family when they came to visit. It was also the last day of term before Christmas for my two school age children so they got out early and we spent the day enjoying my birthday together. There was cake and I even got candles this year! Haha 

It was lovely and just how I prefer my birthday to be celebrated. It was the first year since starting to win competitions that I didn't manage to win on my birthday, there's always next year eh? 

2. What's the biggest thing to happen to you this year? 

I think starting to read again. It sounds so silly but actually I love reading, I always have! I read Harry Potter at age 8 when J K Rowling was still writing the original books. I adored being able to slip inside the world of books and create beautiful places from the authors description in my mind. Since having children my reading time slowly dwindled to nothing so in 2021 I decided to pick the hobby up again and I read a total of 35 books, including all the Harry Potter's again, a huge jump from my original goal of just 24! I even managed to read 11 inside one month.  

So finding my love of reading and creating some time that was solely for me in my everyday has been a real highlight from 2021

3. What was the biggest thing to happen for your child/children this year?

They each had their own big moments again this year, the biggest of course was when Scarlet started school! This year she got to do all the normal things, we take her to school and wait while she goes into class, she can take her school bag with her, unlike in nursery and she has made so many friends. I can't wait to see all the things she will learn and show us. 

For Avery the biggest moment wasn't actually one moment, it was a slow progression over a few months which all started with our Mum's and Tots group reopening after 2020. This year Avery has started talking! Which is huge for us, he really should have been talking during 2020 but he was quite a bit behind in speech. This year he just started to say words and skipped a whole bunch of stages straight to knowing words and putting 2-3 together too. He's still a little behind where he should be but he's come so far in the last few months. I love listening to him play. 

As for Dylan, this year in school Dylan has joined the choir! He has loved singing for so long now and when he came home to tell us he was in the choir he was so proud, as we had been too. He was part of various projects including a video for a local hospital. It has created such great memories for him.

4. Could you pick a favourite week of the year? 

If I had to choose I would go with the week of the big heatwave during the summer. The rest of the summer was pretty much a wash out with down pours and at the time we didn't appreciate the sunshine because it was so hot. After starting the week off with a picnic and beautiful day out enjoying the sunshine. 

We then spent days in our paddling pool which took up our entire back yard, we ordered cold milkshakes as a treat and ate ice lollies to cool down at least twice a day. 

We rounded out the week with a trip to the beach where we jumped in the waves as they crashed to the beach, wrote our names in the sand, drove cars over washed up tree branches and played games the whole train journey home. 

It was a week full of memories and one I know I'm looking forward to doing again once the sun and warmer weather shows up again. 

5. Do you have a favourite photograph of yourself from 2021?

I do, although as usual I am not the only person in the photo. Back in the spring me and Scarlet took some photos with the blossom trees on one of days out. There are three but this one is my favourite of the set. It reminds me of the great day we had and it's a nice snapshot in time. 

6. What was your best day out? 

That is a tough one, I think the best was when we took a picnic on a walk around the nature reserve. We ended up eating it on a blanket in a lane between two empty grazing fields. 

We walked around the nature reserve and stopped a few times to admire the beauty in the nature left to grow around us. I even managed to get a photo of everyone together a few times! (Well minus me)

We finished the walk by feeding the ducks on our way home, it wasn't a flashy day or one that cost very much to do. It was just a sunny day on a walk that didn't quite go as planned but turned out great anyway. 

7. What is the best film you have seen this year?

I have to go with A Boy Called Christmas, we watched it in December as one of our weekly movie nights and it was fantastic, full of the Christmas spirit and a beautiful story. If you didn't watch it this Christmas then you simply must put it on

8. Is there anything you wish didn't happen this year? 

There are probably parts of the year that I have blocked out, pieces that blended into last year and there have been moments when I didn't know if there'd be easier days again. All in all this year I have been greatful for friendships that have lasted a Pandemic, family who are always there, my children and for the people inside my social media who have kept me going during the hard times, some without even realising it. So no I don't have anything outside the whole pandemic that we all wished never began. This year I've learnt more about myself and my ability to take what I am given and get through it all. 

9. What would you like to achieve or improve for 2022?

I think my biggest downfall up to now has been trying to only share our good bits on the blog. I always feel like I should only give the great moments to remember but actually this year I learnt that sometimes my really bad times have a more profound effect on me. It's during these times I struggle with writing or sharing. In the last year I had investigations to understand why I had a period that didn't stop for over a year, I waited out the health system to find out what was wrong and have no answers, although they did figure out it was my coil and it was removed. That was only 4 months ago. So in 2022 I want to be more open, I want to share the good along with the bad and I want to share more about me, my journey through finding myself after a life of never really embracing myself and the bigger journey of being comfortable in my own body. It's a huge thing for me to do. 

 10. How will you be celebrating/did you celebrate New Years Eve?

We did what we always do, we brought in the New Year in our PJ's on the sofa with a cheeseboard and a glass of Gin (or whiskey for Simon) having paused The Big Fat Quiz of The Year half way through to watch London ring in the new year with fireworks. I also loved that drones had been included this year, maybe next year or the year after we'll ditch the fireworks altogether? I much prefer the drones and it's better for the environment. 


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