Feria del Libro Madrid ’19

Studious Saturday

June is the month of longer and warmer days, summer vibes and of course reading! Here in Madrid it is also the month where books are celebrated and promoted during the festival Feria del Libro which spans over two weeks and takes place in Retiro, one of the most relaxing and beautiful parks in Madrid.

Each year the Feria del Libro hosts publishers big and small and invites authors from all over the world for book signings and more. The organisers work to promote reading by holding talks, round tables and readings from journalists, authors and publicists in order to encourage reading as a hobby for the younger generation as well as advertising some of the recent publications of all genres.

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At the end of Retiro park, stands are put up, displayed with books from all genres and beautifully decorated. Each publisher receives their own stand and it is wonderful to see how different the decorations were according to the type of books they publish, be it comics, children’s books or romance. One of the more ornate stands as pictured above had ribbons and cages descending from the ceiling. Others decided for a more contemporary look with books stacked within reach and displayed by popularity.

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The organisers this year did a wonderful job of providing leaflets to everyone with a layout of the festival and list of author visits and signings so that all its attendees could decide which stand they wanted to visit depending on the event or books they are interested in. Despite the ordered system, the amount of people made it impossible at times to get bearings right. We visited on a Saturday afternoon where Camilla Lackberg was holding a meet and greet and book signing so naturally the queue was already very long but even after getting around to the main entrance we found that it was extremely difficult to get close to some of the more popular stands and at times it was impossible to even walk around the crowds.

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We already discovered that we would have to be strategic as there were too many people that afternoon to allow us to visit every stand. After much thought we decided to start with the ones we were most interested in, comprising of adult contemporary fiction, classics and crime and skip the stands specialising in non-fiction and other sub-genres of fiction. Needless to say, these were some of the most popular stands so, after struggling to walk to the front of the stand, we spent a long time browsing books. Although we didn’t talk to any authors or publishers, we could see that they were all very pleased to be at the event and willing to answer questions and speak to people interested in their books. It was also wonderful to see many people buying books for themselves and discussing with their friends and family or even starting to read already on the grass or under the shade.

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By far the most popular stands of all were those specialising in children’s books as here most authors were hosting readings of their recently published books. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many children interested in books and it was also great how encouraging their parents were. Spain is a country where reading is very popular amongst adults but I am happy that it is also becoming a widespread hobby amongst children.

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Our visit came to an end with our final stop at the stand where Julia Navarro was holding her signing. I was so pleased to see so many people interested in her newest book but disappointed that I came unprepared and didn’t bring my book from home for her to sign.

Although the crowds made it difficult for us to enjoy the Feria del Libro fully, we had a great time and discovered some more books that are going to our TBR lists. I have already decided that next year I will plan my visit better by checking when authors are holding signings on the website and going at a quieter time during the week.

Feria del Libro is on until tomorrow 16th June and I highly recommend it to anyone that is in Madrid  this weekend!

Book review: No Way Out by Cara Hunter


Title: No Way Out

Author: Cara Hunter

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 18th April 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

DID YOU SEE ANYTHING ON THE NIGHT THE ESMOND FAMILY WERE MURDERED?
From the author of CLOSE TO HOME and IN THE DARK comes the third pulse-pounding DI Fawley crime thriller.
It’s one of the most disturbing cases DI Fawley has ever worked.
The Christmas holidays, and two children have just been pulled from the wreckage of their burning home in North Oxford. The toddler is dead, and his brother is soon fighting for his life.
Why were they left in the house alone? Where is their mother, and why is their father not answering his phone?
Then new evidence is discovered, and DI Fawley’s worst nightmare comes true.
Because this fire wasn’t an accident.
It was murder.

My review:

After finishing Close to Home and In the Dark, it quickly became clear that Cara Hunter had become my current favourite Crime author and I couldn’t wait for No Way Out to be published. I had taken a small break from reading before I started this book and looking back, I am glad that I chose this one to get back into reading because I suddenly found myself hurrying through the chapters as I attempted to solve the crime together with the team. Like its predecessors, this book is so gripping and tense that I had to stop myself from devouring it in one sitting. The pace is just right, with not too many facts related to the murder revealed but still enough gradually disclosed to encourage the reader to follow the story until the end in the struggle to catch the murderer.

Unlike the previous two books in the series where the focus was the crime scene and investigation, in No Way Out there is a lot of attention on the main character, DI Fawley, and his team. As he is likeable and mysterious, I enjoyed the details related to his personal life just as much as the murder investigation. Other secondary characters such as DC Gislingham were also developed further in this book and by the end it was easy to make a distinction in their character traits and styles of working, something which I felt was lacking in previous book. The character growth did not weaken the plot or decrease the complexity in the investigation but rather complemented these aspects nicely and created a different kind of atmosphere both on and off the police station which I enjoyed following.

The most compelling elements in Cara Hunter’s writing is the level of detail in the investigation and the twists thrown in as the plot unravels. Rarely are crime books so rich in detail but here the reader is forced to pay attention to the smallest facts in order to fully understand the bigger picture and even then the ending is extremely difficult to guess. The additional pieces such as social media posts and fire report are refreshing and effective in registering human emotion through the public’s views on such a horrid event. Through the use of these writing mechanisms, Cara Hunter has successfully produced a striking third addition to the series that is a must-read for all Crime addicts. I have struggled to find a similar author of this caliber in the genre and I cannot wait for the next book in the series to be published so I can experience the same kind of intensity and desire to solve the crime that I did in No Way Out.

Book review: A Face in the Crowd by Kerry Wilkinson


Title: A Face in the Crowd

Author: Kerry Wilkinson

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication date: 6th June 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

Lucy gets the same bus every day. This Friday, her journey home will change her life.
She can barely afford her bus ride, tries to avoid eye contact, and, if she’s really lucky, she gets a seat and reads a chapter of her book.
But it’s a Friday – and the bus is always crammed at the end of the week. Personal space doesn’t exist. She keeps her elbows close and clings to a pole at every juddering stop.
When she gets off, something feels different.
An envelope stuffed with thousands of pounds is in her bag.
Is it the answer to her prayers, or the beginning of a nightmare?

My review:

A Face in the Crowd follows Lucy, an ordinary character struggling to make ends meet as she attempts to pay off debts that her dead ex-boyfriend imposed on her by taking out loans under her name. The first person narrative contributes to an engaging story line and a sympathy for Lucy and her simple life. Unfortunately, as much as I tried, I couldn’t grow to like her because her character was missing the courage and ambition that a main character involved in such a situation is expected to show. After constant complaints and little desire to improve her living situation, there was little else left to her personality. The other minor characters are unnecessary as they weave in and out of the main story line.

In terms of plot, there was much left to be desired as soon as the main reasons for her financial circumstances were revealed. It would be as simple as checking her bank statements each month to avoid getting stuck in her situation but it seemed that she hadn’t learnt this lesson as she continued to make similar mistakes after she found the large sum of money in her purse. Attempts to look for the responsible person in odd ways such as bribing the security man weakened the plot and created a sense of surrealism difficult to relate to, as is the case in almost all psychological thrillers. The sudden change of events, although supported by a strong and unexpected plot twist, did not add up to the previous facts already revealed and instead of answering the main question of who left the money and why, raised more questions that were not addressed in the ending.

Although the plot and characters were missing depth for me, the steady pace and suspense kept me interested. Lucy may not be the most exciting character nor does the original idea behind the plot seem unique but the plot twists were well delivered and mostly unexpected. An unusual choice for the Mystery/Thriller genre, A Face in the Crowd was not what I expected but a good reminder to beware of the people closest to us as they are usually the ones hiding the deepest secrets that could hurt us.

A Face in the Crowd will be out to buy on 6th June!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

One year of blogging: thoughts, goals and reflections

Studious Saturday

I almost can’t believe that I am writing this post! This time last year I decided to finally start my own blog after years of hesitation. My first post was incredibly difficult to write and I spent hours rewriting and editing it before posting. Ever since then, this journey has developed in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined and looking back, I am so glad that I continued and didn’t give it up.

When I think back to my reading choices before I started this blog, I almost can’t believe  that I restricted myself to only one or two genres. My Goodreads account consisted of a rotation of thrillers, contemporary fiction and a few classics thrown in but I never allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone and try a book originally published in a different language or a historical fiction novel set in a time or setting unfamiliar to me. Engaging with other bloggers, authors and publishers inspired me to branch out to so many books that I was initially unsure about but ended up loving.

Not only did my reading choices change, but my writing also gradually improved to the point where I now feel comfortable publishing book review posts without having to rewrite the majority of the content. I am still a long way away from producing the kind of content that I aspire to create but I recognise that it takes both time and effort and so I have found myself gradually becoming more eager to work on my writing.

Creating my own brand and sticking with a schedule have been my main struggles with blogging and a huge part of my goals for this year. Today, I am pleased to disclose my new theme as well as a much more appealing logo and banner. Organising my schedule is my next priority and something I hope to overcome in the next few months; I recognise that my ideas for Studious Saturday discussion posts have been limited lately and want to completely focus on these posts rather than book reviews which now come much more easily to me.

Finally, the most pleasantly surprising element of blogging has been the huge support from other fellow bloggers and the interest from publishers and authors. I have read some truly excellent ARCs and connected with so many wonderful members of the book blogging community. As of today I have nearly 300 followers which is so many more than I ever expected and the amount of positive comments and support on my posts is so uplifting and encouraging. The community is full of many lovely people and I am pleased to have found the select few who have become friends and excited to find many more in the years to come. Thank you to all who have supported me during this past year and I cannot wait for the new challenges and ideas to come for Facing the Story!

Book review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens


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Title: Where the Crawdads Sing

Author: Delia Owens

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Corsair

Publication date: 8th November 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“For years, rumors 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. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Celeste Ng, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

My review:

A touching tale of survival, hope and resilience, Where the Crawdads Sing was one of the bestsellers in the Historical Fiction genre in 2018 and rightfully so. There are so many aspects that make this book truly great and a special read to cherish for a long time.

Kya is a young girl, left to face life’s struggles alone after her mother walks away from her abusive father and her siblings soon follow the same path. The beginning of this book explores Kya’s strengths, weaknesses, fears and hopes in great detail and the reader is able to join her on this incredible journey of survival as she bravely faces each challenge. Aside from Kya’s unique character traits, the author successfully portrays the remaining minor characters as vital companions to Kya’s survival, from her close allies Jumpin’ and Mabel, to her first friend, Tate. Each character is so wonderfully developed and integrated in the novel that it becomes hard not to appreciate ones that we should dislike such as Chase Andews and his friends who label Kya as “the Marsh girl”.

Another element that makes this book stand out is the beautiful setting of the marsh and the effortless way in which the author depicts the smallest creatures and atmospheric surroundings of Kya’s home. Nature’s wonders are celebrated throughout this book as Kya learns how to take care of herself by making the marshland her habitat and discovers the hundreds of species that she shares her home with. Not only did I find this aspect educational, but also immensely powerful and engaging. Few books published in this genre have used the environment or countryside as a backdrop to the story line as it seems too complex to achieve or perhaps not suited to the plot. However, in Where the Crawdads Sing, the marsh is so alive that it almost becomes another character:

“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

On a final note, perhaps the most impressive literary element in Where the Crawdads Sing is the beautiful writing. The storytelling is mesmerising and I often felt unable to put the book down as I was so immersed in the plot. Words flow so naturally in this book and there were so many sentences and phrases that I wanted to bookmark and refer to later on. Few authors are able to create such a delightful setting and completely capture the reader’s attention and I found it remarkable just how powerful the writing was.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a celebration of nature and the strength that one needs to overcome tragedy and meet the challenges of life head on. A mixture of unique characters, compelling writing and a beautiful setting make this book a success and one that should be praised in all its forms. It is by far the most special book that I have read this year and one that I will be recommending to everyone around me.

Book review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin


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Title: The Immortalists

Author: Chloe Benjamin

Genre: General Fiction

Publisher: Tinder Press

Publication date: 9th January 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. Four siblings, too young for what they are about to hear, sneak out to hear their fortunes.
We then follow the intertwined paths the siblings take over the course of five decades and, in particular, how they choose to live with the supposed knowledge the fortune-teller gave them that day. This is a story about life, mortality and the choices we make: is it better to live a long and cautious life, or to burn brightly, but for the shortest time?

My review:

The premise of this book left me pondering on so many “what-if” moments. Original and daring, the idea of four young children learning the date of their death and living with this knowledge seemed so fascinating that I immediately wanted to read on and find out how it will affect each one of them. The concept seemed unique and one that could develop in endless ways depending on the choices that each sibling makes and, after discovering how different each one is, I was certain that the plot would follow suit.

Several chapters into the book and I was already starting to doubt the concept and wondering why the author had decided to follow such a rigid path for these diverse characters. Klara and Simon both appeared as feisty and impulsive characters at first yet  the choices they made and the consequences of their actions seemed unexciting. I found it equally difficult to follow Daniel and Varya’s lives which at first appeared somewhat more compelling but turned out to be just as bleak as their siblings’. Fear, confusion and distress were the feelings that possessed their lives and unfortunately that compromised other exciting moments that they missed out on. Knowing when they would die but not how or why absorbed their lives completely, and understandably so, but the plot was ultimately lacking in positive emotions and the depressing nature of their paths weighed down the story line and weakened the concept in originality.

Although this book raised some thought-provoking and critical questions, I found the execution to be poor and the plot dull at times. I was disappointed with some of the decisions the characters made and would have enjoyed more diversity in the way they reacted to finding out when they would die. However, the issues covered were powerful enough for me to appreciate this book for what it is and it left a huge impact on me and my thoughts and reflections for a long time after I had finished it.

Book review: The Vanishing Season by Dot Hutchinson


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Title: The Vanishing Season

Author: Dot Hutchison

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 21st May 2019

My rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

Eight-year-old Brooklyn Mercer has gone missing. And as accustomed as FBI agents Eliza Sterling and Brandon Eddison are to such harrowing cases, this one has struck a nerve. It marks the anniversary of the disappearance of Eddison’s own little sister. Disturbing, too, is the girl’s resemblance to Eliza—so uncanny they could be mother and daughter.
With Eddison’s unsettled past rising again with rage and pain, Eliza is determined to solve this case at any cost. But the closer she looks, the more reluctant she is to divulge to her increasingly shaken partner what she finds. Brooklyn isn’t the only girl of her exact description to go missing. She’s just the latest in a frightening pattern going back decades in cities throughout the entire country.
In a race against time, Eliza’s determined to bring Brooklyn home and somehow find the link to the cold case that has haunted Eddison—and the entire Crimes Against Children team—since its inception.

My review:

Most Thriller lovers are familiar with The Butterfly Garden and its incredibly unique setting. More than two years later and I still remember the electrifying sensation that I felt as I read that book which ultimately left me wanting more from this series. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the final book in the Collector series was soon to be published and immediately requested it on Netgalley. Unfortunately, this book left me feeling very disappointed at how the series ended and also confused at the dreariness of the setting and lack of plot. There were several key factors that caused my letdown and my main reasons for disliking this book.

Firstly, the author focused too much on the lives of the FBI agents and too little on Brooklyn’s disappearance. The spotlight was almost always entirely on the main leading investigator Eliza and her past, such as why she decided to take this job and what made her engagement fall apart. As much as I tried I couldn’t take a liking to her or any of the agents on the team and was simply not interested in any of their interactions. Some conversations felt forced and, although I liked the appearances of some of the girls from the Garden, the continuous references to them started to feel irrelevant after a while.

The plot slowly began to come together towards the second half when the team connects Brooklyn’s disappearance to that of several other little girls. I was glad to finally see some progress in the case and was hoping to join the team on a rollercoaster ride of solving this complex case. My main issue with this book was around this point when the team very quickly and almost without any research into anyone involved in Brooklyn’s life suddenly discovers the key figure that connects all the disappearances. The lack of investigation really diminished the thrilling element and I felt as if there was a sudden rush to find the perpetrator because the character development had been exhausted and there was no other way for the story line to progress apart from finding the kidnapper.

Other small points which I found irritating included the constant mixture of random Spanish sentences mixed with English speech as well as the almost too perfect ending. I understand the approach that the author was aiming for but the execution felt poor to me overall. Although I strongly recommend The Butterfly Garden to Mystery/Thriller fans, unfortunately there is not much from this book that I can rave about.

The Vanishing Season will be out to buy on 21st May.

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.