Studious Saturday: My reading and blogging goals for 2019

studious saturdays

Welcome to the first Studious Saturday post of 2019 on Facing the Story! I hope that you have enjoyed the holiday season (I certainly did!) and are feeling refreshed and ready to start the new year. After a short social media and blogging break at the beginning of January, I decided to finally revive my blog again with a burning topic that I think many other book bloggers are currently discussing, namely their goals for the year. Mine are to…

Read 55 books

I have set my Goodreads challenge for 2019 on 55 books which is only 5 more than last year. I surpassed my goal of 50 books in 2019 by finishing one exciting thriller on New Year’s Eve so I feel that this goal is achievable based on my usual reading speed.

Branch out to other genres

It’s no secret that I usually lean towards the Mystery/Thriller, Contemporary Fiction and Historical Fiction genres, however I tried some Science Fiction last year which I enjoyed and I am hoping to carry on exploring the genre. I am also currently reading my first Fantasy novel and loving how different it is to my usual choice of books. This will definitely be one of my reading priorities for the year.

Discover Spanish Contemporary Literature

Living in Spain has its perks and one of them is the huge selection of novels by acclaimed Spanish and Latin American authors. Unfortunately I didn’t plan out my reading for 2018 so well and I only read one book in Spanish. I hope to correct this in 2019 and finally start on the never ending list of Spanish literature that my colleagues have recommended.

Schedule my posts in advance

This will be my main blogging goal for this year, especially as I have many other personal goals which mean that I will have less free time during the week to write and blog hop. I struggled with planning several times last year and I could tell the difference in the quality of my writing between the periods where several posts were scheduled in my queue and those where I was hastily proofreading and editing a post right before publishing it. Essentially, I am hoping to use Kaleena’s 2019 book blogger spreadsheet template to plan out my month in advance so I can fit enough time to blog hop, write out my posts and read ARCs with plenty of time to spare.

Design a new look for my blog

Although I am pleased and proud of my content, a fresh and clean design can really make a difference to a blog as a whole and I admit that my current design is not particularly eye-catching or satisfying. I am a huge lover of a minimalist look but I think the current design is a bit of an overstatement in this category. At some point this year I hope to create a new logo and background and also choose a new theme.

 

Those are my main reading and blogging goals of the year which I hope to achieve, although I know that sometimes life gets in the way and it is not always possible to achieve them all. Nevertheless, I plan to work hard on my blog this year and to enjoy the books I am planning to read. I also wanted to take some time to thank you all for staying with me during my blogging journey – I never believed that so many people would read my reviews and thoughts on books when I created Facing the Story last year and I am extremely grateful for your kind words and support.

Question time

What are your reading and blogging goals for 2019?

Studious Saturday: My Top Books of 2018

studious saturdays

It’s almost 2019 and time to reflect back on some of the best books I have read this year. As I am writing this I have read 48 books out of my goal of 50 (still 2 weeks to go so I know I can reach my goal!) and it has been incredibly difficult to narrow down my top reads. As I tend to read many backlist books due to my never ending TBR list, I decided to split my choices between the best 5 backlist book and the top 5 books published this year. You can find out my full thoughts on each one by clicking on the links below.

Top backlist books

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5. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry  

4. We Were the Lucky Ones

3. Kane and Abel

2. The Travelling Cat Chronicles

1. Close to Home

Some of my top reads in this category were from the Historical Fiction and Contemporary Fiction genre and I was extremely pleased to find these four gems, some from recommendations and others at random. Cara Hunter has been my newfound top author in the Crime/Mystery/Thriller category this year. The ending of Close to Home was mind blowing and deserves the top spot here and the second book in the series, In the Dark, didn’t disappoint either.

Top books published in 2018

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5. A Spark of Light

4. The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae

3. In the Dark

2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz

1. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

A mixture of books from character-driven stories to the poignant tales of A Spark of Light and The Tattooist of Auschwitz are included here. However, I already knew the winner straight after I had finished this book and it was a very clear choice for me. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is incredibly clever and captivating and deserves to win every possible award. I have been recommending this book to everyone around me (I think some people may be getting quite aggravated by now) and will continue to do so going into next year. No words can do this book justice so you will just have to trust me here and read it, you won’t be disappointed!

It seems that 2018 was a great reading year for me and I can only hope that 2019 continues this way too. I already have my eye on several 2019 releases although there is still a tall pile of books from this year on my TBR list which I hope to eventually get to.

Question time

Have you read any of these books and what did you think of them? What are your top picks of 2018?

Book review: One Day in December by Josie Silver


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Title: One Day in December

Author: Josie Silver

Genre: Romance

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 23rd August 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn’t exist. After all, life isn’t a scene from the movies, is it? But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic…and then her bus drives away. Laurie thinks she’ll never see the boy from the bus again. But at their Christmas party a year later, her best friend Sarah introduces her to the new love of her life. Who is, of course, the boy from the bus. Determined to let him go, Laurie gets on with her life. But what if fate has other plans?”

My review:

This was the perfect heartwarming and cozy read for a cold winter’s night. Both the writing style and plot worked incredibly well to produce a lovely story that manifests the struggles in a relationship from several points of view. I particularly enjoyed the first person laid-back narrative switching between Jack and Laurie’s perspectives as this made both their personalities shine with the distinct tone and voice, often sarcastic and light although there were some sombre parts too. Despite the strong emphasis on the love story, my favourite aspect was by far the friendship between Sarah and Laurie and I think that we all need a friend like Sarah to get us through the rough moments in life.

Another interesting feature of this book is the timeline that the story follows; all parts are broken up into years and this makes for a rollercoaster of a ride as we follow Laurie through the hardship of accepting her best friend’s relationship with Jack. The New Year’s resolutions were an appealing characteristic of each section of the book although I often felt that there were too many breaks between the chapters, particularly towards the end where several months were omitted.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book as both the characters and plot were engaging and motivating enough to encourage me to read it in only a few sittings. I found the premise of the unrequited love story too predictable at times but was pleasantly surprised to discover that their relationship progressed from friendship to something more without unnecessarily hurting the bond that the girls had developed, as is present in many other romance novels. I can already imagine this book turning into a blockbuster movie that many would love but even without the cinematic element, it is still a beautiful story of a couple who struggle through difficult times before finally finding their way back to each other.

Studious Saturday: 50 things that make me happy

studious saturdays

Happy Holidays! I hope that you will all get to spend a truly relaxing and peaceful time surrounded by people you love. In the spirit of Christmas and holiday time I felt that today was the perfect Saturday to post the 50 Things that Make Me Happy tag after I was tagged by the lovely Molly. Thank you, Molly, for the tag!

50 things that make me happy:
1. The spirit of Christmas
2. Meeting the New Year with high hopes of a successful coming year
3. The excitement when booking flight tickets
4. The even more exciting feeling of stepping on an airplane, ready for an adventure
5. Seeing my mum’s happy smile when I walk into Arrivals
6. Writing out and activating my out of office email at work
7. The chatter of strangers in the Madrid metro every morning
8. Hearing a song I associate with my university days
9. Skyping with a dear friend
10. Mastering a complicated dance routine after hours of practice
11. The frenzy and enthusiasm when stepping out onto the ballroom competition floor
12. The joy of a fast and fun quickstep
13. Starting a new booking
14. Sitting down and relaxing after having cleaned the whole house
15. Watching the latest episode of a TV show that I’ve been following
16. Going to the cinema with my mum
17. Coming up with a good idea for a blog post
18. The satisfying feeling of writing a blog post in advance and scheduling it
19. Watching a loved one open a gift from me
20. Spending time at my aunt’s house with the whole family
21. My aunt’s dogs – Riley and Jacob
22. Any dogs in general
23. Skiing down from the top of a mountain with friends
24. Summer BBQs
25. Seeing friends after months apart
26. Stumbling upon old photos from school and the nostalgia that follows
27. Remembering fun nights in at home with friends at university
28. Planning the next city trip with my boyfriend
29. Spending summers in Bulgaria
30. The joy in my grandma’s expression when she sees me after one year away
31. My grandma’s homemade meals
32. Finding a new favourite restaurant to eat at
33. When a difficult recipe is a success in the end
34. The relief of sitting a final exam
35. Lazy at home Sundays with my boyfriend
36. A crisp but sunny winter’s day
37. When a wish comes true
38. Picking strawberries in summer
39. Cooking a meal for my favourite people
40. Going on a walk in the park
41. Spontaneous spa nights at home on Friday evenings
42. Sleeping in on a weekend
43. Having a bath after a long day
44. Learning a new word or phrase in a different language
45. Reading in coffee shops and blocking out the rest of the world
46. Playing board games with the whole family
47. Remembering the lyrics of a song I haven’t heard in a while
48. Having three places in the world that all feel like home
49. Seeing or hearing something that reminds me of a loved one
50. The prospect of many good moments to follow in the future

This was a fun and rewarding tag to do and I highly recommend it to other bloggers! I won’t tag anyone this time as I am sure that everyone has plans to spend time with family and perhaps even schedule their blog for next year. Next Saturday’s post is the final one of the year and it has been one of the hardest ones to write although equally enjoyable. Stay tuned for more and sending you all warm wishes for the holidays!

Book review: The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

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Title: The Travelling Cat Chronicles

Author: Hiro Arikawa

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Transworld Digital

Publication date: 2nd November 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

Nana is on a road trip, but he is not sure where he is going. All that matters is that he can sit beside his beloved owner Satoru in the front seat of his silver van. Satoru is keen to visit three old friends from his youth, though Nana doesn’t know why and Satoru won’t say.
Set against the backdrop of Japan’s changing seasons and narrated with a rare gentleness and humour, Nana’s story explores the wonder and thrill of life’s unexpected detours. It is about the value of friendship and solitude, and knowing when to give and when to take. TRAVELLING CAT has already demonstrated its power to move thousands of readers with a message of kindness and truth. It shows, above all, how acts of love, both great and small, can transform our lives.

My review:

What a joy of a book! The writing, characters and plot all mold together to create a beautiful and heartfelt story that I will treasure for a long time. Despite preferring dogs over cats, I could not stop myself from laughing at Nana’s adventures and wishing that I was sitting in the backseat of Satoru’s van and looking out towards the waves just as Nana loves doing. The author flawlessly managed to captivate my attention and open up my mind to how cats think and live, especially during the first chapters where Nana is living on the streets and is skeptical to accept Satoru’s help. Their friendship slowly develops into something beautiful as Nana slowly starts to trust Satoru more, an aspect which I think the author handled with lots of sensitivity and patience.

Some of Nana’s feisty expressions made me laugh out loud and the other more naive thoughts were poignant but very genuine so I am glad that the author decided to explore these too. Loss is difficult for an animal as much it may be for a human and, although it was heartbreaking to see Nana’s confusion over Satoru trying to find another home for him, it also addressed the important issue of how pets cope with losing their owner. Many books discuss losing a pet from the owner’s point of view but few explore loss through a pet’s perspective and it was both admirable and tragic to observe this from Nana’s point of view. It was equally difficult to see Satoru struggle with finding a new owner for Nana but this also weaved a path for exploring Japan’s beautiful scenery, with the unique and fun premise of the book as Nana depicted as the most well travelled cat in Japan.

Sometimes the little details add up to create a beautifully crafted book and this was no exception. For me, the highlights of this book were the little quirks such as Nana wishing for a boxy TV to keep him warm and learning more about Satoru’s adventures with his first cat who he named after the number eight. These small moments added authenticity and made the story come alive, with each character feeling more like a friend. I am extremely grateful to have stumbled across this gem and can only wish that it was more well-known because I am sure that many other cat lovers would love this touching story.

 

Studious Saturday: What makes a Thriller truly thrilling

studious saturdays

Shortly after finishing From the Shadows by Neil White, I reflected on thrillers and the various techniques authors use to provoke a wide range of emotions on their readers. I have read some truly wonderful Thrillers this year and, after comparing the aspects that make them stand out to the rest, I decided to summarise my thoughts in this week’s Studious Saturday post.

A bold start

The first few chapters are without a doubt the most vital in engaging the reader and introducing the story line and main characters. In particular, thrillers need a strong start to excite the reader and encourage them to keep reading. Without this technique, the story already feels sluggish and the writing usually falls flat before the main events unfold.

Multi-layered characters

This often applies to all genres because we need to be able to relate to the characters, or at least find them likeable. However, it’s crucial that characters are complex and mysterious in Thrillers, especially murder mysteries, because often the story line rapidly changes to suggest that one character may be the culprit until another piece of evidence is discovered and we find out that another character could be the murderer. I also believe that it’s possible, although difficult, to build a successful character-driven thriller while not focusing as much on the plot, although I know that others may disagree with me here.

An unexpected plot twist

Perhaps the most “thrilling” aspect is a huge plot twist that we didn’t see coming. Without this, the story may feel incomplete and not as gripping. Many Thrillers build up in suspense and and tension slowly until the big reveal whereas others shock with an abrupt and unpredictable twist. Both techniques are incredibly powerful when used correctly and both have their place as the author may decide which to use depending on how they plan on developing the plot.

Pace

It is often difficult for many authors to achieve a good level of rhythm and it usually depends on many other factors – whether they are striving for a plot-driven rather than a character-driven book and if they wish to keep the reader guessing until the final chapter or rather focus on the events surrounding the mystery in a more reflective manner. Personally, I am a huge fan of fast-paced Thrillers as I am usually more eager to carry on reading until finishing the book in a few sittings. However, as pacing depends on other factors, I am open to reading slower-paced Thrillers or ones with a variety in rhythm if well executed.

An appropriate ending

The final chapters are essential for a hard-hitting and noteworthy Thriller and often this is the deciding factor for many readers on whether they found the book successful or not. I have read some brilliant Thrillers that have convinced me to read until the end to only find a disappointing and odd ending that doesn’t correspond to the rest of the story line and doesn’t provide a satisfying conclusion. An excellent Thriller requires an appropriate conclusion to tie up all lose ends and explain the mystery in a convincing manner. Of course, this would depend if the book is a standalone or a part of a series, in which case ending on a cliffhanger could work, but either way the author needs to find the right balance between a gripping final few chapters and the right pace to conclude the story.

Question time

What do you believe are the factors that make a thriller truly thrilling? Do you agree with my suggestions and would you add any other points?

 

Book review: From the Shadows by Neil White


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Title: From the Shadows

Author: Neil White

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication date: 9th March 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“He hides in the shadows, watching, waiting, until the time is right . . .
Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered and Robert Carter is accused of killing her.
When defence lawyer, Dan Grant inherits Carter’s case only weeks before the trial starts, everyone expects him just to babysit it, but Dan’s not that kind of lawyer. He’ll follow the evidence – wherever it takes him.
But as Dan and his investigator Jayne Brett look into the case, they discover that there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to do their jobs they need to push the limits of the system, even if it means putting themselves in danger.
Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost . . .”

My review:

After having stumbled upon many reviews praising Neil White’s work, I decided to start with the first book in the Dan Grant series on a rainy day when I was looking to get lost into a complex court drama. I must admit that this book had me hooked right from the beginning; the third person point of view of the stalker was striking and mysterious and the murder revealed in the first few chapters showed a lot of promise. Similarly, the introduction of Dan Grant as an up-and-coming criminal defense lawyer keen to support his client and simultaneously win his case was a bold start to what appeared to be an intriguing murder mystery.

It was from this point when I found myself struggling to stay interested in the rest of the story. The writing felt disjointed and strained as the plot jumped from the past to the present and suddenly left behind the mysterious third person narrative of the stalker, something which really attracted me in the beginning. I was also not keen on the intent to establish a love interest for Dan as I felt that his character was bright enough without this added element and the sudden attraction to Jayne with barely any foreshadowing. Most of all, the pace during the middle of the plot was too slow without many developments on the murder case. It often felt like Dan and Jayne were following the same leads with no success which eventually became frustrating.

Unlike the middle of the story line, the ending was completely sudden and significantly more fast-paced as Dan and Jayne worked together on the final lead to solve the mystery and defend the client in court as best as they could. I was especially disappointed to find out who the stalker is because this character felt redundant to the story line from the start. Nevertheless, the strong ending had a huge impact on the plot and storytelling and I have to praise the author on these final tense chapters. From the Shadows may not have been the fast-paced and thrilling read I was seeking but I think that others who are looking for a character-driven court drama may find much to love here.