January 2020 Wrap-Up

This month I’ve been trying to get back into blogging properly. The last half of 2019 was a bit of a nightmare if I’m honest. I failed an exam, and therefore my degree, so had to re-sit during the summer ahead of my delayed graduation this month. I was busy trying to find a full-time job with no degree classification. I also had my very busy summer job to contend with. With all of this going on I was barely reading, let alone keeping up with my blog or instagram. So far, 2020 has started off pretty well on the reading and blogging front so hopefully the rest of this year will follow suit.

Here’s what I’ve been getting up to in January.


What I’ve Been Reading

I have managed to read

  1. The Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
  2. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
  3. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
  4. One Of Us Is Lying, Karen M. McManus
  5. One Of Us Is Next, Karen M. McManus
  6. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1), Agatha Christie
  7. The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence #1), Agatha Christie

7 books is a really good reading month for me. I’m finally starting to get back to the numbers I was reading before uni broke me! Here are some of my highlights.


Most Pleasant Surprise: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

2 brilliant 20 somethings running around London and involving themselves in espionage in the 20s?! YES PLEASE. Tuppence is a total bad ass woman! Perfect book to bring a bit of the roaring 20s into the 2020s! Oh, and a little love story on the side! Now a firm favourite and I cannot wait to read the rest of the Tommy and Tuppence novels.

Most Anticipated: One Of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

Holy sh*t, the reigning YA Thriller Queen did NOT disappoint with this sequel. I wondered how on earth a sequel would be written but wow, wow, wow. McManus nailed it. We checked in with the Bayview Four whilst meeting new characters and a new game. This was also a OOUIL switcheroo as this time we were playing catch up and trying to work out who was dead rather than who did it, although we were trying to figure out the mysterious puppet master of the truth or dare game… Already my favourite read of 2020 and it will take a fair amount to knock it off top spot.


Christie 100 – My crazy reading challenge

If you haven’t seen my post already, I’ve decided to read all 66 of Agatha Christie’s novels (written under her own name) this year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Agatha’s first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Because apparently my life isn’t already busy enough…

This is also my own personal celebration of one of the only successful people to come out of my hometown and my reminder that I can absolutely ace my life like she did.

Click here to read all about it!


What I’ve Been Watching

The Crown, Season 3. You, Season 2. The Good Place, Season 4. Gavin & Stacey, Christmas Special 2019. Grace & Frankie, Season 6.
NB. I do not own these images. Image rights belong to Netflix, NBC, and the BBC respectively.

Season 3 of The Crown was the most disappointing so far, in my opinion. The only improvement is that Prince Philip hasn’t been painted as a villain in the same way seasons 1 and 2 did. Princess Anne is woefully under-used, which is a shame because her character has some of the best lines in the series. I also feel like there’s lots of important historical events missing that could have been included and far more interesting than the persistent personal speculation the whole series involves itself in.

Writers and producers should be careful with a historical drama like this that concerns living memory because lots of viewers seem to use this programme as a documentary and a gospel of these events. It needs to be made much clearer that this is a dramatisation based on true events where lots of artistic licence has been taken. Otherwise, it’s a slippery slope that will only get steeper as the seasons bring the show more and more up to date.


The next series of You hit Netflix shortly before the New Year and let’s just say it makes for rather uncomfortable viewing. If you’re thinking of watching this I should point out these trigger warnings:

  • Violence. Big time.
  • Child abuse.
  • Sexual assault.
  • Gaslighting.

After a hiatus from the middle of December until the middle of January, season 4 of The Good Place is finally back! I love this show, it’s so damn wholesome and I really don’t want it to end. Chidi and Eleanor 5eva 😉.


I couldn’t mention my viewing habits this month without shouting about the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special!!! After nearly a decade we finally caught up with the Barry Island and Billericay crews! I have 2 overwhelming thoughts following Christmas Day (and the 15 or more times I’ve re-watched the episode already 😂):

  1. YOU CANNOT LEAVE IT LIKE THAT
  2. WILL WE EVER FIND OUT WHAT THE SH*TTING F*UCK HAPPENED ON THAT FISHING TRIP?!

January 2020 has seen the return of Grace & Frankie on Netflix! Hit, feel-good comedy about 2 women who are forced into friendship (and living together) after their husbands leave them for each other! I devoured this in an afternoon, as I have done with the release of most of the previous series’. I already cannot wait to watch season 7, although I’m very upset that this will be the last…

Next time…

In February I’m planning to finally read Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series, especially with film #2 being released on Netflix on the 12th.

Keep up to date with what I get up to on a daily basis on my Instagram stories @beauteaful.reads

Review: One Of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

One Of Us Is Next, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 382

Published: 9 January 2020

⭐️ 5 / 5

YEESSSS. I’ve been waiting (very impatiently) for this book ever since it was announced. This is the sequel to Karen M. McManus’s debut novel, One Of Us Is Lying. This, as McManus writes in her acknowledgements, is the ‘Maeve book’, and I adored it! This is definitely my favourite out of the two One Of Us novels and I devoured it in 2 days. Here is my non-spoilery review – and I apologise in advance for the amount of shouty capitals I’m probably going to use. Grab a cup of tea and read on.

Plot

I was mildly concerned about how this book was going to pan out, mainly I didn’t think there was anything left to say after the conclusion to the first book. How on earth is a book like that supposed to be followed. I didn’t want a rehash with new characters – like the nightmare that is Grease 2…I had absolutely nothing to worry about! The mix of new characters is balanced perfectly with checking in on the Bayview Four and co. This allows us to catch up with our favourites to see how their life has moved on after the Simon drama, whilst also allowing One Of Us Is Next to stand on its own. This also builds Bayview more as we move away from the high school and further into the society and local community, which was really great.

We follow 3 point of view characters who start off as friends and/or loose acquaintances, and steadily become a firm friendship group with all the peaks and pitfalls that come with that. Maeve (Rojas! Yes, Bronwyn’s little sis), Phoebe, and Knox feel different to the Bayview Four as these 3 consciously choose to be friends whereas the Bayview Four were total strangers simply thrown together. (I promise I’ll try to stop the comparisons soon but it’s so difficult when the story doesn’t follow straight on). Their friendships really are at the heart of the plot as there’s a lot more ‘downtime’ for the characters in this sequel. Another thing that shines through and really sculpts the plot is sibling relationships in all of their forms. We see every spectrum of what that looks like from joined at the hip, to suffocated, overwhelmed, intimidated and feeling like you’ve got a tough act to follow, and siblings who cannot stand to be in the same room with one another. This book also radiates love. Sibling and family love, platonic friend love, and of course the mushy kind of love which made me CATCH ALL THE FEELINGS.

I really liked the premise of the school-wide truth and dare game, although I do question how on earth everyone’s phone numbers were retrieved and compiled – unless we assume everyone is able to access the school register as was used in One Of Us Is Lying. American readers, tell me: is this a normal thing?? In UK schools there’s no way anyone could gain access to student phone numbers except the school office and data prevention stops that kind of information from being shared. Honestly this is my one niggle with One Of Us Is Next because this isn’t answered even when we eventually find out the culprit. The truth or dare game builds suspense well in the first quarter of the novel, then the pace and tension fizzles out until all of a sudden it rears its ugly head and bites back. The London commuters who witnessed me finishing this book on the bus can attest to that following my very audible reactions…

The plot is very cleverly done and I don’t think I fully appreciated it until all the threads suddenly started dropping into place. At the end of chapter 28 I had it all figured out (still squealed my way through it despite heavily suspecting what was going on. Holy sh*t it was TENSE). And I almost got it completely right. Until one final twist. Damn Karen M. McManus and her genius. SO GOOD. Honestly this book is a masterclass in YA thriller/mystery and I NEED ANOTHER BOOK RIGHT NOW PLEASE.

Characters

I really enjoyed our trio of POVs equally. They all had such different lives, personalities, and personal struggles and I loved exploring all of it. Maeve was a stand out favourite for me, but there was a reappearance from a minor One Of Us Is Lying character who steps up to not only become an almost key player but he’s shot straight up my list of fictional boyfriends 😂. It never fails to impress me how many of the side characters are complete, tangible, 3-dimensional characters. Even the parents of the new characters, who may only get a couple of scenes. We have a very good idea of their lives and what sort of people they are. The only exception would be one boy’s father who drops off the page for no apparent reason after stirring a hint of trouble, but I’m probably just being picky now.

I’ll also say it again: SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS. Love, love, love all of it. It’s wholesome and emotional and raw and it’s glorious.

Final Thoughts

PLEASE. READ. THIS. BOOK.

That is all.

Back to your cup of tea. ❤️

Blurb:

Welcome back to Bayview High… It’s been a year since the events of One Of Us Is Lying.But nothing has settled for the residents of Bayview. Not now someone has started playing a sinister game of Truth or Dare. Choose truth? You must reveal your darkest secret. Choose dare? Well, that could be even more dangerous. Even deadly. When the game takes an even darker turn, suddenly no one at Bayview High knows who to trust. But they need to find out who is behind the game, before it’s too late.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop

The ‘Maeve book’, the sibling book, the ‘YOU MUST READ THIS’ book! #OneOfUsIsNext

Review: Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep A Secret, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 336

Published: 10th January 2019

⭐️ 5 / 5

After reading One Of Us Is Lying, I was excited to read another Karen M. McManus book as soon as possible. I would go as far to say that she is a contender for one of my favourite authors. I love that crime/thriller/mystery (a genre I LOVE) is starting to appear as a leading sub-genre of young adult and it’s being done SO WELL. McManus is leading the charge with excellently written YA mysteries and I hope she’s publishing books annually for a long time to come. Those of you who have read my review for One Of Us Is Lying will know that I really enjoyed it, and I preferred this novel so get ready for me to blow the trumpets at Two Can Keep A Secret!

Plot

Two Can Keep A Secret is told from two narrative points of view: Ellery, niece of a girl who vanished during her senior prom decades ago; and Malcolm, brother of the prime suspect in the murder of a second prom queen 5 years ago. This worked really well for weaving the plot threads of the two previous unsolved murders into the central action of this novel. I usually struggle with multiple narrators because I tend to favour one and resent having to endure the other POV, however McManus uses this to build tension and set the pacing which drove me mad – a clear indication of a good mystery novel for me. I got the sense of multiple timelines without time jumping (which is another trope I dislike for the most part and was glad it was so expertly worked around) giving me 3 murder mysteries for the price of one. The choice of narrators was also very cleverly calculated as this expanded the world building. Although Ellery and Malcolm were friends, they didn’t cross over too much meaning that we could explore more of the town through each of our narrators. The small-town setting was done really well and used very well too. Coming from a small(ish) town myself, I felt the local drama/curtain twitching/nosey neighbour elements of the plot were very accurate and added to the mystery as you’re left wondering how such a busy-body community could be harbouring so many unsolvable secrets. I got absolutely lost in this novel and easily polished it off in one sitting, which I would happily do again and again. Honestly, I did guess part of the outcome around half way through (far later than I did with One Of Us Is Lying though) however there were plenty of other twists that I didn’t predict. This book was definitely a firm favourite YA Murder Mystery read of 2019 for me.

Characters

I really enjoyed the point of view of both POV characters. Ellery was very relatable for me as a fellow true-crime addict. I love that fictional young women obsessed with true crime and murder mysteries are starting to emerge in novels, especially in this section of YA. It’s nice to see myself in books – and come on, we all secretly adore serial killer documentaries don’t we 😉 ? She’s a feisty, intelligent character and we need more Ellerys in our fiction. Ellery and her twin Ezra have an excellent rapport/banter going on and McManus has written this sibling relationship very well. Malcolm is the second POV character and I honestly just want to give him a hug. Mia finishes off the 4-strong friend squad that’s central to the novel and she is a diamond of a character too. The extended cast include popular Katrin, who happens to be Malcolm’s step sister, work colleague Brooke, and the twins’ gem of a grandmother. Each of the characters are fully realised and flawed and believable. McManus constructs an air of suspicion around each of them too which constantly played with my opinions of them. I really hope she finds a way back to these characters as she has with Bayview High and One Of Us Is Lying.

Final Thoughts

I hope this somewhat lengthy review conveys just how great this book was. One of the easiest 5 stars I’ve given for all of my 2019 reads, and a book I fully intend to re-read this year too. Keep an eye out for my next Karen M. McManus book review this month as I read One Of Us Is Next after its release this week!

Blurb:

A perfect town is hiding secrets. Two teenagers are dead. Two murders unsolved. And a killer who claims to be coming back. Ellery’s never been to Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen’s murder five years ago made national news and where Ellery now has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, after her failed-actress mother lands in rehab. Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen’s death. His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace. His mother’s remarriage vaulted them to Echo Ridge’s upper crust, but it could all change when mysterious threats around town hint that a killer plans to strike again. And the return of Malcolm’s brother doesn’t help matters. But his return is just a coincidence… isn’t it? Ellery and Malcolm both know it’s hard to let go when you don’t have closure. Then another girl disappears. As they race to unravel what happened, they realise every secret has layers in Echo Ridge. The truth might be closer to home than either of them want to believe. And somebody would kill to keep it hidden.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Review: One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 368

Published: 1 June 2017

⭐️ 4 / 5

Breakfast Club meets Gossip Girl meets Pretty Little Liars. Karen M. McManus’s debut novel is an excellent read and if this is the first book she has published, we really are in for a treat in years to come. This is a young adult thriller told from multiple points of view. A group of teenagers all find themselves in detention and are thrown into a classic ‘who dunnit’ when one of them drops dead in an unpleasant way. Prepare to question everything you’ve ever known about contemporary YA.

Plot

This book was so readable. I inhaled it in a single 4 hour sitting. Personally, having read a lot of thrillers/murder mysteries, I had the murderer pegged from the first couple of chapters as all the clues are there if you’re looking hard enough. However, McManus had me questioning everything. This woman knows how to write an excellent mystery. I’ve never found myself so backwards and forwards, I doubted myself so many times whilst reading the twists and turns. I still received the ‘big reveal’ moment as towards the end I was ready to throw out my entire theory before I finally had it confirmed, even if I did roll my eyes at it a little. Honestly the storytelling and plot weaving was masterful and impressive, albeit a little trope-heavy at times. Although this book is very clearly a young adult novel, it is definitely something that adults can enjoy. My 80-year-old grandmother read this and really enjoyed it too.

The plot is largely comprised by the daily lives of the teenagers involved in the case. It was very refreshing that the whole ‘who dunnit’ investigation wasn’t the sole focus, rather an undercurrent that carried the rest of the plot aloft. The focus was the kids. This allowed for lots of character development which I really enjoyed. The pacing of the narrative was executed well and the change of narrative point of view was perfectly spaced for me. I usually have a massive problem with changing POV (it all started with Twilight and then Divergent ruined it further…). It really toyed with me and increased the tension. McManus is very good at building suspense and tension, the last couple of chapters, especially, really had me going. I fell into that kind of reading trance where I could barely hear what was going on around me.

There are several very adult themes that are tackled in this book so I would certainly recommend caution with younger teens reading this, however I could have done with a book like this at the age of around 13 – 14 or so to at least discuss this sort of content. The story could certainly serve as a loosely educational tool. Mental illness including depression is a central theme and one of the characters has to deal with being outed as gay against their will. I personally believe both of these themes were handled well, however I’ve seen some mixed reviews including suggestions that portrayals of these storylines were ignorant and damaging. I suppose we all experience things differently so if you’re worried about these ideas, I’d suggest looking at some other reviews.

Characters

Each of the 4 point-of-view characters is the embodiment of a high school/secondary school stereotype. Bronwyn is the straight-A geek, Nate is the ‘bad boy’, Addy is the bimbo Prom Queen, and Cooper is the jock. Conforming to further stereotypes, the dead boy Simon is the awkward misfit who is held in mild contempt by most of his classmates. McManus challenges each of these initial stereotypes and gives the characters nuanced characterisations, and at the same time really captures the struggles of growing up and navigating everything I hated about being a teenager at school. Bronwyn, I loved because I could see my own damaged teenage self through her. Her character grew so much despite all the crap she was going through. Nate was a very heavy bad boy stereotype however I felt like this was unpacked incredibly well and he actually ended up being one of my favourite characters of the book. The turn-around was huge. Each of the characters’ secrets, held against them by the dead character Simon, were slowly revealed throughout the book in a Pretty Little Liars/Gossip Girl style move. I could have done with some of the secrets emerging slightly earlier on in the book, mostly because I’m impatient, however this allowed for the red herrings that I enjoyed for all the problems they caused.

Aside from the main group of characters, I found the smaller players in the plot to be very fleshed out and the whole cast and school were very tangible. I was completely sucked into all of their lives and could really imagine this sort of drama in my own secondary school (and trust me, there was plenty of drama going around there…). Even Simon, the victim in this novel, is a fully realised character which I appreciate for a character who died in the first half a dozen pages.

Final Thoughts

I am really looking forward to reading the sequel in the New Year and kicking off 2020 with an excellent book!

This is easily one of the best YA murder mystery thrillers I’ve read, ever, let alone just in 2019. I’d highly recommend this for a quick, entertaining read if you want a book you’re motivated to read in a single sitting. If you’ve read it, let my know your thoughts in the comments below!

Blurb:

Five students go to detention. Only four leave alive. Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule. Sports star Cooper only knows what he’s doing in the baseball diamond. Bad body Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime. Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life. And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won’t ever talk about any of them again. He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it’s no accident. All of them are suspects. Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you’ll go to protect them.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Look out for my review of One of Us is Next: Coming at the end of January!