Can you believe it's April already?! This year is going so fast already, I'm pretty sure it was Christmas about three days ago!

If you've read my blog before, you'll probably know that I set myself a goal to read 25 books this year. We're just over three months into 2021 and I've already finished nine books! All these months in lockdown have probably been the contributing factor, but so far I'm definitely on track to hit my 25!

I'm always getting asked by friends for book recommendations, so I thought I would do a little round-up of everything I've read so far, what I thought and a little rating out of 5.

You may have seen me write about some of these books before in my Favourite Reads of the Last Year post - so head over there for more bookish goodness!

Ready? Let's dive in.


Girl, Woman, Other - Bernadine Evaristo

From the top of the country to the bottom, across more than a century of change and growth and struggle and life, Girl, Woman, Other follows twelve very different characters on an entwined journey of discovery.

I LOVED this book. I think Evaristo is a brilliant writer, and although the writing style of this novel took a little bit of getting used to, before long I got so stuck into the story that I barely even noticed. Girl, Woman, Other tackles a multitude of themes like racism, relationships, abuse, class and culture, and it gives the opportunity for the reader to really learn just part of what it means to be a Black woman in Britain. I loved how the characters' stories intertwined at various points too, I was absolutely glued to this book the whole way through.

Rating: 4.5/5

Away With The Penguins - Hazel Prior

Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of tea and a good wildlife documentary. And she's never seen without her ruby-red lipstick...
Veronica doesn't have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway... And she has no idea where she's going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies. 
But today... today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change everything.

I devoured this book in just a few days, and I absolutely adored it. I warmed to Veronica straight away, on the surface she's a grumpy old rich woman, but the more you read, you discover that she's headstrong, stubborn and gutsy. The storyline is a little bit out there in places, but I didn't care because I've never read anything like it before! Plus, I LOVE penguins! It's such a funny, heart-warming story which I never wanted to end, that's how you know it was a good book!

Rating: 5/5



In Five Years - Rebecca Searle

Dannie Kohan has held true to her meticulously crafted five-year plan since she understood the concept. On the day she nails the most important interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfec man, she's well on her way to fulfilling her life goals.
But that night Dannie falls asleep and dreams of a night five years in the future where she's engaged to another man. It was just a dream, she tells herself when she wakes, but it felt so real...

As someone who also feels the need to live her life by a five-year plan, and is terrified of not sticking to life's 'schedule', I thought In Five Years would be perfect for me. It's set in New York, with all the glitz of being a twenty-something in the city, which is my Devil-Wears-Prada-dream. And while there were a few instances where I did relate to Dannie, I just didn't find her incredibly likeable. In all honesty, I didn't love any of the characters, I didn't think they had much depth. And because of that, I found it really hard to get properly into the book. Saying that though, it was a nice easy read, and if you're a fan of chick-lit, you may well love it! Just not my favourite.

Rating: 2.5/5



Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens

For years, rumours of the 'Marsh Girl' have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say...

You've probably seen Where the Crawdads Sing get a lotttttt of hype. And when a book gets a lot of hype, I tend to worry about starting it, in case I'm disappointed. I'll be honest, it took me a while to get into this one, I had to persevere through the first third to see if it picked up. Once I'd fully warmed to Kya's character I was hooked on her story, and I was desperate to know whether or not she got the ending she deserved. I think it's a really original story concept, a murder-mystery and love story hybrid. One which was worth the hype for me, if you've started it and you're struggling, trust me, stick with it!

Rating: 4/5

Normal People - Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation - awkward but electrifying - something life-changing begins.

Normal People is another one while is really hyped up, and I so badly wanted to love it. But I thought it was just... okay? It was an easy read, but I found the story to be really slow in places and the whole 'will-they-won't-they' narrative just got a bit tedious for me. Unpopular opinion, I know! But I just didn't fall in love with it like a lot of other people have. 

Rating: 2.5/5



Such A Fun Age - Kiley Reid

When Emira is apprehended at a supermarket for 'kidnapping' the white child she's actually babysitting, her employer Alix resolves to make things right. So begins a crash course that will upend everything they think they know - about themselves, each other, and the messy dynamics of privilege. 

I'm not sure I even know where to start when talking about Such A Fun Age. I thought it was incredible. Funny in a lot of places, thought-provoking in many more, and so well-written. I loved Emira as a character, a 26 year old who's still trying to figure herself out (which I can definitely relate to), but she's also strong and sure of herself in equal measure. The themes of the book tackle racism and privilege in a way that made me think about how I would react or think in certain situations, which guides the reader to consider their own privilege, and honestly I think it's essential anti-racism reading. I can't fault Such A Fun Age whatsoever.

Rating: 5/5

The Eve Illusion - Giovanna & Tom Fletcher

After sixteen years imprisoned in the Tower, Eve has escaped with Bram - into the unknown.
Fearing her captors won't rest until she is found, the most famous girl in the world must hide. 
The Freevers - calling for revolution - claim they'll protect her. But is she swapping one prison for another?

For anyone who isn't familiar with the Eve of Man trilogy - written by my favourite celebrity couple ever - it explores the idea of a world where a baby girl isn't born for 50 years - and then Eve arrives. The Eve Illusion is the second in the trilogy, and I started it firm in my opinion that the second instalment of any series is almost always my least favourite. Not this time. The only thing I would say is that I wish I'd read the last couple of chapters of the first book before starting, just to refresh my memory, because I spent the first third of the book slightly confused about who certain characters were and their stories - but apart from that I absolutely loved it. It was exciting, fast-paced and ended on a total cliffhanger, I actually can't wait for the third one! 

Rating - 4/5

Fifty-Fifty - Steve Cavanagh

Alexandra Avellino has just found her father's mutilated body, and needs the police right away. She believes her sister killed him, and that she is still in the house with a knife. Sofia Avellino has just found her father's mutilated body, and needs the police right away. She believes her sister, Alexandra did it, and that she is still in the house, locked in the bathroom. Both women are to go on trial at the same time. A joint trial in front of one jury. But one of these women is lying. One is a murderer.

It's been SO LONG since I read a truly brilliant thriller. While I thought Fifty-Fifty sounded really intriguing, I worried that it would be predictable and cliche. I needn't have worried though. This book is full of twists that I never saw coming, it's fast-paced, gripping and it kept me guessing who the murderer was right up until the very end. If you love a thriller, you need to put this on your To Be Read list!

Reasons To Stay Alive - Matt Haig

This is the true story of how Matt Haig came through crisis, triumphed over a mental illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again. Moving, funny and joyous, Reasons To Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.

Oh my goodness, how I wish that this book had been around when I first suffered from depression and anxiety way back in 2013. I think when you're in the throes of mental illness, it's so easy to feel like you're totally alone in how you are feeling. But Reasons To Stay Alive is the reminder and the comfort in the knowledge that someone else has felt the way you do, and come out the other side. The chapters are short, it's easy to digest, perfect to dip in and out of when you feel your mental health is taking a wobble. An absolute breath of fresh air, and I know it's one I'll always have a copy of on my shelf to go to when I need it.

Rating: 4/5

What books have you read and enjoyed recently? Let me know in the comments, I always need recommendations!

Love, 
Sian xo

 


Let's face it, after Lockdowns 1.0, 2.0 & 3.0, we're getting pretty well versed at them, aren't we? (Doesn't make them any less crap each and every time though!) 

While I can't let myself get too hopeful that we really are coming to the end of this pandemic in the not-too-distant future, now that we're about to be allowed to at least sit in someone's garden (hooray!), I'm feeling a bit reflective about the past year and what this whole experience has taught me. So, here's 10 lessons I've learned over lockdown.


1. Slow the F down!

For a very long time, I've lived at a hundred miles an hour. I worked 10 hours a day, followed by putting every spare moment into my blog, and when I wasn't doing that I was trying to keep up with all of my other responsibilities or running around making plans, without actually taking time to rest. 

When I found myself on furlough a year ago, I was forced to slow down. I still had my blog and content to give me some sense of purpose and focus, but without spending 8am-6pm in the office, I had no choice but to rest more. Even when I went back to work, without being able to go out at the weekend, those two days per week became mine to actually chill out and reset.

This is something I definitely want to carry through even when lockdown is over. I have a habit of saying yes to everything, even when I'm exhausted because I feel I should. But now that I've realised that cosy days at home are, in fact, one of my favourite things ever, I'm going to be trying to make sure I'm spending time actually resting at home and continuing to slow down a bit. 

2. You don't need to be physically close to your friends to feel like you're closer than ever.

One of the biggest things that I am grateful for at the moment are how this whole pandemic has strengthened my friendships, especially the long-distance ones. I used to see my best friends from uni three times a year, and occasionally speak in-between. Now, we FaceTime once every couple of weeks, check in on each other regularly and I feel like our friendship is stronger than it has been since we graduated. It just goes to show that distance doesn't have to mean all that much! (Although I still can't wait to see their faces again!)

3. To be grateful for the small things.

Small things like driving to the supermarket on a sunny day with the window down. Or spending a cosy afternoon with a blanket and a book. Or like opening a drawing from a friend's little one with a note saying that they miss you. 

And small things that are actually really big things like the fact that my family and friends are all healthy. Or that I have a job when many don't. 

4. That you're very lucky to have great work colleagues - even if they do drive you crazy.

I've been working as normal through lockdowns 2 & 3, and while that's had its own worries and uncertainties, it has meant that I've been able to see people every day and not had to worry about the loneliness that might come with working from home.

My colleagues are like having 6 or 7 siblings that do your head in but you do like them deep down. And on the whole, they have really helped to keep me sane, made me laugh when I've been having a wobbly day and I'm pretty lucky to have that.

5. Zoom quizzes were definitely just a novelty - and that novelty wore off quick.

Don't get me wrong, the first few were fun! But I've definitely had enough now.

6. Being neighbourly is still a thing - and it's lovely.

We started getting to know our neighbours during the Clap for Carers on a Thursday, after we clapped and listened to one of the neighbours playing Somewhere Over The Rainbow on his trombone (which never stopped being cute, by the way), we'd stand on our doorsteps and have a chat. Since then we've started chatting regularly, putting each others bins out, we sent one of our neighbours some brownies when they were having a bit of a rough time. And we love that, who knew being friends with your neighbours was still a thing these days! We keep talking about having a party when lockdown is over, which I can't wait for! 

7. You still need to make an effort with your other half - even when you're in the same house all the time.

It's SO EASY to get stuck in a rut when you can't go out for tea or meet friends or go to the cinema. And it's easy to think that because you're in the same room, you're spending quality time together but that isn't always the case. Making time for each other is still really important - mine and Dan's favourites have been having a picnic on the living room floor with blankets, party food and a Marvel film, or spending an evening playing silly card games! 

8. I miss hugs. A lot.

I can't wait to hug every. Single. Person. I know.

9. Sunshine and exercise are the most underrated mood-lifters.

I didn't do much in the way of exercising in lockdown 1.0, mostly because I just couldn't bring myself to. I felt like I didn't have the mental space for it. But recently, exercise has really helped me through. I've become one of those people who gets up early to exercise! (I know, who am I?!) but I just feel like it sets up my day really well, gets the endorphins going and it's then really difficult for me to go into the office in a bad mood.

And there is no better feeling than the sunshine on your face. The BEST.

10. Bloody hell, I'm much stronger than I thought I was.


What has lockdown taught you?

Love,
Sian xo



I think I've found one of my new favourite blog post topics; testing out the products that constantly show up on your Instagram ads, and reporting back on whether or not they are actually worth the pennies (because let's face it, these products are rarely purse-friendly), or whether their marketing is just really good.

So here it is, I'm about to spill the tea on Function of Beauty haircare. Yep, the customisable hair care brand that is all over your social media, with influencers and celebs alike singing its praises, claiming that they've 'broken up with drugstore shampoo' and using words like 'revolutionised' and 'life-changing'. 

I've had a couple of instances where I went onto the site with the intent of giving it a go, my eyes started watering at the prices, closed the tab and went about my day. 

So when my boyfriend found a code online for 50% off your first order, I decided now was the time to try it, and settle whether or not it was worth the bold claims once and for all.

So, how does it work?

Function of Beauty is fully customisable hair care, which is formulated especially with your hair type and hair goals in mind. You fill in the Hair Quiz on the website, where you're asked about your hair type, and are asked to select up to five hair goals. You can choose a silicone-free formula, and pick from a range of colours and scents (so obvs I went for pink). Et voila, you have haircare which is made just for you, and promises to help you achieve your dream hair!

Function of Beauty works on a subscription, and you can choose whether or not you get your top ups monthly, every other month, or just as and when you need it. But you can cancel at any time. I'd say the only thing to bear in mind is that the products ship from the US, so it takes a few weeks to get to you.

I went for a 250ml shampoo and conditioner, and full-price, it costs £29.95. I know, I know. Hella expensive for haircare. Even at 50% off, circa £15 for a small shampoo and conditioner is a far cry from your standard. I just had to close my eyes, enter my card details and hope it was worth the pennies.

Okay Sian, cut to the chase... what did you think?

You have no idea how much I wanted to tell you that the products were only okay. That they weren't worth the price tag, don't worry my loves, save your pennies and stick with your Herbal Essences or Garnier Hair Food because that's what I'm going to do.

I really wanted to tell you that, but I can't. 

My little Function of Beauty parcel arrived, with personalised pump-bottles, and cute little stickers. The pink products fit my aesthetic perfectly, and I chose a peach scent which was lovely and not overpowering.

For reference, the hair goals I chose were deep condition, fix split ends, colour protection, anti-frizz and shine. My hair is colour-treated, super-thick, subjected to heat styling on the daily and prone to frizz. 

I've been testing my haircare for a good six months or so now, and I'll be honest, I'm way more impressed than I thought I would be. I'd be lying if I said that I saw an instant, dramatic difference from the first use, but I did notice a difference in how soft my hair felt straight away. 

I started to see the biggest difference after about three weeks of use. My hair usually gets really frizzy at the roots, especially in the summer, and I really struggle to get shine into my hair and stop it from looking a bit dull. But I've never had shine like since I've been using Function of Beauty, and the frizz has been non-existent. 

The real test came when I'd run out of one bottle and I was waiting for my next. I temporarily reverted back to my previous shampoo and conditioner and my hair just did not feel the same. No matter how much I tried, it didn't feel properly clean, the frizz was back and my hair generally just seemed pretty unhappy. It was like my hair and scalp has all of a sudden gone boujie and refused to go back! 

So, there you have it. As much as I didn't want it to happen, I am now a Function of Beauty convert, and I ain't going back. I love it! I won't deny that it is expensive, but if you have the pennies to spare and you're curious, definitely give it a go.

Have you ever tried Function of Beauty?

Love,
Sian xo 

 

They say it's never to early to start incorporating anti-ageing products into your routine, and to be honest, I wish I'd started sooner. BUT here we are!

Now I've reached the grand old age of 27, I am starting to notice the occasional fine line around the eye area, and they're just starting to form on my forehead too. 

I wish I could say 'It's all A-OKAY, I'm owning my fine lines and I'm going to grow old gracefully like Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep', but I'll be honest, I just can't and I'm determined to hold off any further signs of ageing for as long as possible. 

Anti-ageing skincare is a bit of a minefield, and while I'm trying to hold off using anything too potent whilst I'm still in my twenties, I have discovered a few absolute gems that will help to fight off those pesky first lines for a bit longer.


Elemis Pro-Collagen Eye Serum

I picked up this cult Elemis product on a whim, when I felt a bit like I was at my wits end with the creases under my eyes. It was really getting me down, and when someone on Insta recommended the Elemis Eye Serum to me, I just went for it despite the fact that it was a little heavy on the purse-strings. 

But it was worth it! It's a lovely lightweight serum, absorbs quickly and sits really well under make up. And I've definitely seen a difference since using it, my under-eye creases seem just a tiny bit less prominent and my make-up seems to last a little bit longer with it on, which is a big deal for me when I'm in the office 9-10 hours a day.




The Body Shop Drops of Youth Concentrate

I have a lot of love for this product! I've been using it every single day for about a year, I think I'm on my third bottle now. It's packed with natural ingredients and a little bit of salicylic acid. It's a really gorgeous texture, doesn't irritate my sensitive skin and as soon as I apply I can see that my face looks more fresh and bright. 


[PR PRODUCT] Dermalogica Stress Positive Eye Lift

I recently had a virtual skin consultation with Dermalogica, and the lovely expert recommended the Stress Positive Eye Lift to me when I told her that my under-eye area was one of my biggest concerns. I've been using it every night for the last couple of months and I don't think I could be without it now!

The Eye Lift is designed to brighten, firm and reduce signs of tiredness and ageing. You can use it as a 5-minute mask, but I love putting it on before bed and letting it absorb overnight so that I wake up with fresh eyes in the morning. It has a metal applicator, which feels so lovely and cooling on tired eyes after a long day! 

I put it down for a night and used one of my other night-time creams, and oh my goodness I could see a change straight away. I woke up and my eyes were puffier, my dark circles were more prominent... so I'm sticking with my Dermalogica for now!


Pixi Vit-C Tonic

Vitamin C is a great ingredient for anti-ageing, as well as making your skin look brighter. I've been trying to incorporate a bit more Vitamin C into my morning routine. This toner is absolutely lovely, it smells fabulous, and really helps to boost the brightness in my skin and I know it's helping to keep the pesky lines at bay behind the scenes.




[PR SAMPLE] Dermalogica Retinol Clearing Oil

I think this is the most powerful anti-ageing formula I use. There's a lot of mixed opinion on when you should start incorporating retinol into your routine - spanning from mid-twenties to your thirties. I've been using this just once a week for the last year or so, and I'll probably up that to twice a week once I start approaching 30. 

The Dermalogica Retinol Clearing Oil is so innovative, because it combines retinol and salicylic acid - targeting breakouts at the same time as fighting the signs of ageing. I just use 5-6 drops, pat into the skin, and allow it to absorb for about 30 minutes before applying moisturiser. I love that it targets two skin concerns in one fell swoop, and it's definitely helped to keep any more wrinkles at bay! The ONLY complaint that I have is that I can't stand the smell, I don't know what it is but I just don't like it. But I can cope because the product is good!


What are your favourite products for anti-ageing benefits?

Love,
Sian xo

 

I've always suffered with dry skin, but the recent cold snap, stress and sitting in a heated office for 10 hours a day seems to have made the problem worse. 

I'll soon be switching up my routines ready for the spring and summer months, but I thought I'd share the products that have really helped my dry skin through the winter, for anyone else who is also struggling!

[PR PRODUCT] Dermalogica Intensive Moisture Cleanser

This is a recent one to my collection, but it's SO GOOD. It's the only cleanser I've been reaching for for the last few weeks, because I instantly saw and felt a difference in my skin from the very first use. The texture is creamy and feels lovely on the skin, but it's still fairly lightweight so I feel like I can use it morning and evening. After having real issues with my make up clinging to dry patches on my skin over the course of the day, since adding this cleanser into my routine, that problem has pretty much cleared up. Loveeeeee!

The Body Shop Vitamin E Hydrating Toner

This toner is bloody gorgeous, it feels like a huge drink for when my skin is dehydrated. My skin can be a bit sensitive but this is really gentle and doesn't irritate at all. It's a little thicker than the toners that I've used previously, but absorbs fairly quickly and just leaves the skin super-soft.

[PR PRODUCT] Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll definitely have seen me race about the Daily Microfoliant a lot. It's an absolute staple in my skincare routine and I can't see that changing any time soon! It leaves my skin feeling brand-new every time I use it, getting rid of all of the dead skin cells every time makes it feel so lovely and soft!

Glossier Moon Mask

I am honestly obsessed with this mask. I picked it up on a whim on the Glossier website, and I'm so glad I did! I wouldn't be without it now. I just pop it on for 20 minutes when my skin is feeling dry and dehydrated and the difference is amazing. My skin just drinks in alllllllll the moisture, and always feels so much better for it!

The Body Shop Vitamin E Intensive Moisturiser

This is without a doubt my favourite night cream EVER. It's really lovely and rich, and sinks into the skin so well, and I'm guaranteed to wake up with softer skin in the morning.

[PR PRODUCT] Lily & Loaf Bedtime Cream

The Lily & Loaf night cream is another new product to my routine, but ever since it landed on my doorstep I've been reaching for it every night since. While it's a light, almost mousse-like texture, it adds so much moisture to my skin. I love popping on a generous layer before bed and letting it absorb over night and letting it do its thing, waking up with super-hydrated skin in the morning. And it smells like a spa which is just dreamy!

What are your favourite skincare products?

Love,
Sian xo 

 




This bloody pandemic. It's changed everything, hasn't it? Work routines, commutes, social norms and even beauty routines.

Even though I've been going into the office as normal for lockdowns 2 and 3, I've definitely noticed some changes in my makeup and skincare routines that began to shift in lockdown 1 and have continued. My obsession with skincare has grown so much, I think that being at home all the time has really encouraged me to embrace my natural skin and take care of it. And with me not leaving the house much except for work and the supermarket, there are a fair few products that are gathering dust on my dressing table and bathroom shelf, which I do every so often look at longingly, wishing I had the need to use them. So I'm going to give them some love! Do you spot any products that you've been abandoning too?


Eyeshadow Palettes

When I first went back to work in July, I was still using my eyeshadow palettes on the daily, and I loved it. But lockdown 3 has made me less inclined to put that much effort into my make up for some reason! Now would be about the time of year that my lovely Spring palettes, with their pastel hues and pretty pinks start to make more of an appearance, but instead they're just sitting there unused. And while I am a bit sad about that fact, I just can't be bothered! One day, when I can go further than from the car to the office!

Full-Coverage Foundation

Okay so there has been the odd day where I have worn a full-coverage foundation for work, either because I'm having a bit of a breakout, or I feel like my foundations are being neglected! But as a rule, I'm just not feeling it! I tend to save full-coverage foundations for nights out, or dinners with friends, or cocktail nights (sob, I miss those!) but lockdown has given me a new-found appreciation for letting my skin breathe without foundation on. But it's such a shame, there are so many foundations that I love and I'm just not getting to use!




Fancy Perfume

Oh Marc Jacobs, how I miss you! I save my favourite perfumes like my Daisy Dream Forever for special occasions, but I just can't bring myself to count Friday office days or sitting in my living room watching the Avengers as a special occasion! I got a fresh bottle from my other half for Christmas and it's barely been touched, and I'm longing to use it! 



Lipstick

The AMOUNT of times I've picked up a lipstick, gone to apply it and then remembered that I'm about to put a mask on so there's no point. Sigh. I can't stand the thought of getting lipstick smeared all over my face and all over my mask, plus my lips are so dry with the cold weather, it's easier to just pop on a lipbalm and be done with it. But how I miss going on a night out wearing a classic red lip!



Self-Tan

I did tan all summer last year even when we were in lockdown, and I don't usually bother in the winter anyway unless I'm going out. But because we haven't been able to go out, I haven't even used it on the odd occasion, and I miss it! I love getting a little boost from having a bit of a glow, and I'm itching for the spring months to come so I can start tanning regularly again!

What beauty products are you missing in lockdown?

Love,
Sian xo 




This whole concept for a blog post would probably have worked MUCH better if it was a 'My favourite reads of 2020' post, published in January... But never mind, better late than never, right?

I've been reading a lot in the last year. I've always been a bookworm, but lockdowns, cancelled plans and slow days on the sofa have meant that I've been devouring books at a rate never seen before (not by me, anyway!) SO I thought I would share some of my favourite reads from the last year, the ones that have made me laugh, made me ugly-cry, kept me up until 2am and the ones that left me feeling forlorn when I turned the last page.


A Man Called Ove - Frederik Backman

Ove is the quintessential angry old man next door. An isolated retiree with strict principles and a short fuse, who spends his days enforcing block principles only he cares about, and visiting his wife's grave. Ove has given up on life. After a boisterous family moves in next door and accidentally flattens Ove's mailbox, an unlikely friendship forms.

'A Man Called Ove' was the first book I read in 2020, and while it took me a good 75 pages to get into the story, I remember finishing it with tears running down my face on the train home from Birmingham. The more I learned about Ove, the more I loved him. It's a tale of loneliness, friendship, love and growth and the other characters around Ove are just so endearing that you can't not get stuck into the story. 

The Flat Share - Beth O'Leary

Their friends think they're crazy, but it's the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy's at work int he day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time. But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven't met yet, it seems this flatshare is more complicated than expected...

The Flat Share got a LOT of hype, and I'll be honest, I was skeptical when I started that it was going to be a bit over-the-top-cheesy. And yes, it is a bit cheesy, but it's like a warm, rainy day rom-com, hug in almost 400 pages. I fell in love with Tiffy and Leon as characters instantly, rooting for them the whole way through. I love watching their characters develop both separately and together, and O'Leary isn't afraid to tackle sensitive issues such as emotional abuse and mental health and she does so beautifully. If you're a romantic at heart and you haven't read The Flat Share yet, you need to!

The Cactus - Sarah Haywood

Meet Susan Green: a prickly, independent woman who has everything just the way she wants it... Yet following the loss of her mother and, implausibly, the prospect of becoming a mother herself, Susan's life is about to become somewhat messier.

'The Cactus' has been widely compared to 'Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine', which I personally loved but I think people tend to either love it or hate it. If you hated it though, still give 'The Cactus' a go because it is honestly wonderful! Susan is forty-five and unexpectedly discovers she is pregnant. Soon after, she loses her mother, and between fall-outs with her brother and getting used to the idea of her own impending motherhood, the perfect world she has built for herself begins to unravel. Susan had me chuckling out loud all the way through with her unique view of the world and everyone in it, her lack of understanding for social norms, and her candid thought processes as she tries to find her way through the new situations she ends up in. A truly heart-warming story with a unique character that you can't help rooting for!

Queenie - Candice Carty-Williams

A darkly comic and bitingly subversive take on life, love, race and family, Queenie will have you nodding in recognition, crying in solidarity and rooting for this unforgettable character every step of the way.

Queenie is a twenty-something living in Brixton and caught between two cultures, not always knowing where she fits. All while nursing a broken heart, trying to make an impression in her career and battling with her mental health. There was so much in Queenie's story that I could relate to, while there was also so much that I was learning for the very first time about what it means to be a Black woman in Britain. Queenie herself is funny, relatable and just wonderful, you can't help but feel her pain when she is heartbroken, laugh with her, and cheer her on as she goes through the story.



How to Stop Time - Matt Haig

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old history teacher, but he's been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz-Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen it all. As long as he keeps changing identity he can stay one step ahead of his past - and stay alive.

'How to Stop Time' is probably in my top three books I have read this year. Not only was I hooked by the story immediately, I just fell in love with Matt Haig's writing style. It's a beautifully written book, and it was so easy to devour. The story itself was so original, and it was wonderful to be whisked between Shakespearean London, to Paris, to New York and back again. I would recommend 'How to Stop Time' to anyone because it's just amazing.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo - Christy Lefteri

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live happily in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo - until the unthinkable happens and they are forced to flee... and they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain. 

'The Beekeeper of Aleppo' is the most moving, heartbreaking novel I've read for a long time. Perhaps made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that Nuri & Afra's story reflects the stories of so many real-life refugees escaping war-torn countries, which is something I was so conscious of the whole way through reading. Lefteri's writing style is nothing short of gorgeous, a story of love, loss and tragedy, and I didn't quite know what to do with myself when I finished it. I was left desperate to know the rest of Nuri's story!

Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader's wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow: from the Gold Coast of Africa to the plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem.

When done well, I love books that switch between different narratives and come from different characters' perspectives, and I think Gyasi does it so beautifully in 'Homegoing'. The way that each character's story threads into the one of their child is wonderful, and there's so much to learn in there about the slave trade, racism and the oppression that Black people have been subject to for generations. Definitely one to put on your list for your anti-racism education.

After The End - Claire Mackintosh

Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. Only now they're facing the most important decision of their lives - and they don't agree.
With the consequences of an impossible choice threatening to devastate them both, nothing will ever be the same again.
But anything can happen after the end...

Oh my goodness, make sure you have tissues for this one. My heart broke over and over again whilst reading. Max and Pip are just both such likeable characters, and even more likeable as a couple. Without spoiling it, they have to make a decision that no parent should ever have to, and you can't help but wonder what decision you would make yourself. I was 100% hooked to After the End, because I loved the characters and I was desperate to know how their story ended!



Girl, Woman, Other - Bernadine Evaristo

From the top of the country to the bottom, across more than a century of change and growth and struggle and life, Girl, Woman, Other follows twelve very different characters on an entwined journey of discovery.
It is future, it is past. It is fiction, it is history. 
It is a novel about who we are now.

I LOVED this book, I think it's another absolute essential if you're looking to expand your anti-racism reading. The writing style does take a bit of getting used to, but once I got accustomed to it I really enjoyed it. As well as racism, Evaristo tackles issues like class, relationships and abuse, and does so in a way that is sensitive but eye-opening and very raw. All twelve stories intertwine throughout the novel which I loved, and I felt like although fictitious, I learned a lot about just some of the prejudice and issues that Black women in Britain have faced in the past and right the way up to now. 

Away With The Penguins - Hazel Prior

Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She a loves a nice cup of tea and a good wildlife documentary. And she's never seen without her ruby-red lipstick
Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at eighty-five, her days are spent mostly at home. Alone.
Veronica doesn't have family or friends nearby... And she has no idea where she's going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies.
But today... today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change everything.

This book is nothing short of wonderful. I think I finished it in about three days, I just loved it so much. Veronica is your typical grumpy-old-lady character, but she endeared me straight away with her funny little routines and her viewpoint of everyone around her. She's stubborn, gutsy and knows what she wants, and I loved it! The story idea is so original too, and it features penguins! What more could you want?? It's such a lovely easy read as well, I'd definitely recommend if you want a light-hearted book to get stuck into.



Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens

For years, rumours of the 'Marsh Girl' have haunted Barkley Cove, a quite town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. 

Okay, I know this book gets a lot of hype, as well as a lot of mixed reviews. And if I'm being totally honest, I didn't get into it straight away, it wasn't until about a third of the way through that I really got invested in the story. But once I was hooked, I was hooked and I just couldn't wait to find out how Kya's story ended because she's just such an intriguing character. One that was worth the hype for me!