Blog tour: Aether Ones by Wendi Coffman-Porter

Title: Aether Ones

Author: Wendi Coffman-Porter

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Brown Books Publishing Group

Publication date: 13th October 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Leilani Falconi is a top agent for the Imperial Investigative Service, tasked with policing the veil between two realities. Long ago, the Great Sundering tore the universe into two mirrored halves; aether space, which progressed using magical energy or eldrich, and kuldain, which advanced via electromagnetic technology.

But now a series of suspicious deaths stretching back more than a decade has the agent trapped directly between secretive bureaucracies and their peoples. If she can’t solve the mysterious crimes in time, existence as she knows it could erupt into chaos.”

My review:

Aether Ones features a set of intriguing characters and a universe with limitless possibilities. Friends often become foes as fights break out in an attempt to solve unusual crimes. This upbeat pace and constant change in setting at the beginning showed promise for the rest of the book.

The main character, Leilani, is feisty and courageous and the perfect example of how a strong female lead can sometimes be enough even without the addition of minor characters. My main concern throughout the book was the huge mix of other more minor characters and I often found it difficult to understand how characters were related to each other.

The science fiction elements in Aether Ones are at times too ambitious and it felt like the author struggled to fit all the descriptions of the settings into the book. Despite the commendable effort I was sometimes lost and could not understand where one setting was in relation to another. However, the narrative for each setting was original and interesting and I was absorbed by the intensity and imagery of the world building.

Aether Ones has the potential for a sequel, especially with its impressive and original world building. I would have preferred to see less characters and a deeper focus on only a few of the species and worlds. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining read and a book which transported me to a fascinating and vivid universe.

Many thanks to Dave at TheWriteReads for providing an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Aether Ones is now out to buy!

Book review: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield


Title: Once Upon A River

Author: Diane Setterfield

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Transworld Digital

Publication date: 24th January 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

My review:

“There are stories that may be told aloud, and stories that must be told in whispers, and there are stories that are never told at all.”

When a lost girl appears in a pub by the river, carried by a man who collapses as soon as he enters the building, the community is astounded by the situation but quickly come together to care for the girl. The mystery deepens when several people come forward, certain that the lost girl belongs to their family. This intriguing beginning was quick paced and well developed, already showing a lot of promise only a few chapters into the book.

Once Upon A River may be classed as Historical Fiction but often crosses the line into Fantasy with its folklore and fantastical elements. The author does this gradually by dipping into new realms with these writing mechanisms and slowly building up the setting and backstory with hints of possible magical elements that may explain the situation surrounding the lost girl. I found this to be one of the strongest aspects of the book and was pleased to see how well it was incorporated into the main storyline.

Another important factor which explains the richness of this book is the unique setting and the eloquent descriptions and language which worked incredibly well in bringing in the reader to the present moment. I was often completely lost into the book while I was reading which doesn’t often happen to me so I was pleasantly surprised at just how well the setting was mapped out.

Ultimately it is always the characters which make Historical Fiction books feel special and unique and I was happy to see a lot of character progression with most of the characters in the book. I was originally unable to foresee how their stories would overlap as several characters did not seem relevant to the plot until a long way into the book however each character ended up fitting well into the storyline without having a predictable outcome.

Once Upon A River is a vivid and enchanting tale told through the eyes of ordinary people in an extraordinary setting. It flows just like a river would and unfortunately the pace was lost somewhere towards the middle of the book however it quickly picked up speed and ultimately left me satisfied and even wishing for a sequel. The storytelling was exquisite and has left me eager to explore other books by this author.

“And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?” 

Blog tour: Bad Habits by Flynn Meaney

Title: Bad Habits

Author: Flynn Meaney

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 11th February 2021

My rating: ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“Alex is a rebel from the tip of her purple fauxhawk to the toes of her biker boots. She’s tried everything she can think of to get expelled from her strict Catholic boarding school. Nothing has worked so far – but now, Alex has a new plan.

Tired of the sexism she sees in every corner of St Mary’s, Alex decides to stage the school’s first ever production of The Vagina Monologues. Which is going to be a challenge, as no one else at St Mary’s can even bear to say the word ‘vagina’ out loud . . .”

My review:

Bad Habits is set in a Catholic boarding school with traditional values and features a set of fun and outgoing characters keen to make a difference to the way certain taboo topics such as sexuality and sexual health is perceived. With a fun undertone and witty comebacks, it showed a lot of promise from the start and I was keen to find out how these topics will be developed, especially through the actions of the main character, Alex.

The most noteworthy aspect of Bad Habits for me was the character development. Each character started out with their own perceptions and beliefs on how The Vagina Monologues should be produced and this gradually changed throughout the course of the book to allow for wider appreciation and outside of the box thinking without removing the feminist aspect. Alex’s character stood out the most and her constant perseverance to produce The Vagina Monologues was noteworthy and admirable. However, I especially liked seeing the progress in Mary Kate from shy and reserved to assertive and more outgoing.

The writing in Bad Habits is crisp and entertaining and several of the slapstick encounters at the school made me laugh out loud. There were a few cringe worthy moments but they were overshadowed by the witty dialogue and key focus on the important subject matter. The lively and engaging style of the writing fitted the plot and character development well and kept my interest until the end.

I would highly recommend Bad Habits to readers interested in feminism discussed in an unusual setting and anyone looking for a fun and charming read.

Many thanks to Dave at TheWriteReads for providing an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Bad Habits is now out to buy!

Book review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman


Title: A Man Called Ove

Author: Fredrik Backman

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Sceptre

Publication date: 3rd July 2014

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“The word-of-mouth bestseller causing a sensation across Europe, Fredrik Backman’s heartwarming debut is a funny, moving, uplifting tale of love and community that will leave you with a spring in your step.

At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots – neighbours who can’t reverse a trailer properly, joggers, shop assistants who talk in code, and the perpetrators of the vicious coup d’etat that ousted him as Chairman of the Residents’ Association. He will persist in making his daily inspection rounds of the local streets.

But isn’t it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be, and a lifelong dedication to making it just so? In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible..”

My review:

“A time like that comes for every man, when he chooses what sort of man he wants to be. And if you don’t know the story, you don’t know the man.”

A Man Called Ove takes the reader on an adventure from the first page. Ove lives a simple life and doesn’t care for nonsense. He strives to complete his duties and doesn’t understand his neighbours who drive lavish cars and work fancy jobs. I soon began to admire Ove’s outlook on life and was intrigued to find out more about his background.

This book marks some of the most distinct traits of Fredrik Backman’s writing. His main strength is the ability to develop a main character to such an extent that by the end the character seems like a close friend to share secrets with. I often found myself laughing along with Ove at some of the mishaps and events written in a similar fashion to other books by this author. The highs were contrasted by lows when we discover that Ove’s wife had died years ago. Despite the trauma and suffering, Ove bounced back to become a dutiful neighbour and citizen in his own bizarre way.

I admire Fredrik Backman’s unique way of combining tragedy and humour to create a genuine connection and hint that there is always something to look forward to even in our darkest moments. Few authors are able to achieve this without it seeming distasteful yet somehow Fredrik Backman manages to do it with ease.

There are not enough superlatives to use when describing this book. For me it was simply marvelous and a delight to read from beginning to end. I didn’t want it to finish and by the end I could already imagine myself as Ove’s neighbour.  I highly recommend it to readers of all ages and tastes as I am sure that there are many messages to reflect upon no matter what stage of life. Ultimately, it is a celebration of life and a reminder that every moment with loved ones matters.

“Time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead.”

Book review: Serpentine by Jonathan Kellerman

Title: Serpentine

Author: Jonathan Kellerman

Genre: Thriller

Publisher: Random House

Publication date: 4th February 2021

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis is a master detective. He has a near-perfect solve rate and he’s written his own rulebook. Some of those successes–the toughest ones – have involved his best friend, the brilliant psychologist Alex Delaware. But Milo doesn’t call Alex in unless cases are “different.”

This murder warrants an immediate call: Milo’s independence has been compromised as never before, as the department pressures him to cater to the demands of a mogul. A hard-to-fathom, mega-rich young woman obsessed with reopening the coldest of cases: the decades-old death of the mother she never knew.

The facts describe a likely loser case: a mysterious woman found with a bullet in her head in a torched Cadillac that has overturned on infamously treacherous Mulholland Drive. No physical evidence, no witnesses, no apparent motive. And a slew of detectives have already worked the job and failed. But as Delaware and Sturgis begin digging, the mist begins to lift. Too many coincidences. Facts turn out to be anything but. And as they soon discover, very real threats are lurking in the present.

My review:

Detective Milos Sturgis and psychologist Alex Delaware work together on a complex case that leads them to a set of bizarre locations and suspicious characters. The cold case soon turns interesting as the team connect the seemingly unbelievable coincidences to discover that most characters are not who they seem.

Jonathan Kellerman features his most prominent writing traits in Serpentine including his excellent ability to paint a picture of a crime scene and lure the reader into a sense of false security as the crime develops into a race against time. This trait is also one of the key highlights in Serpentine and encouraged me to keep reading despite several slower paced parts in the middle.

The two main characters, Milos Sturgis and Alex Delaware, worked well together and I enjoyed the insightful feedback from both the detective’s view and psychologist’s experience. Whenever one missed an important detail the other would point it out and vice versa and their teamwork was extremely important towards the end when surprising relationships between the characters emerged.

I struggled with the monotonous and matter-of-fact writing style which did not veer far from direct speech and few dispersed descriptions. I realise that this is the preferred style of the author however it didn’t suit many of the adrenaline filled scenes and often read too much like a movie or play script.

Serpentine boasts a set of delightful characters and an impressive plot. It kept my interest until the very end with a surprising reveal and promise for more action in the next book in the series.

Serpentine is out to buy today!

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

My most anticipated books of 2021

The beginning of the year is always an exciting time for book lovers. New books by favourite authors are announced and debuts are publicised across social media. Here are some of my most anticipated books which I hope to read this year.


The Whole Truth (DI Adam Fawley 5) – Cara Hunter

Publish date: 18th March 2021

When an Oxford student accuses one of the university’s professors of sexual assault, DI Adam Fawley’s team think they’ve heard it all before. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

Because this time, the predator is a woman and the shining star of the department, and the student a six-foot male rugby player.

Soon DI Fawley and his team are up against the clock to figure out the truth. What they don’t realise is that someone is watching.

And they have a plan to put Fawley out of action for good…

The DI Adam Fawley series by Cara Hunter has become one of my favourites in the crime genre. The brilliant writing and intriguing plot always encourage me to come back and read the next book in the series and this one will be no exception. I can already tell from the blurb that it will be a delight to read and I cannot wait to see DI Fawley back in action.


The Four Winds – Kristin Hannah

Publish date: 2nd February 2021

Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.

In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

One of the highlights in Kristin Hannah’s books is the beautifully described setting which she always masters right from the start of her books. I also admire the perseverance and determination that she always brings into her main characters and am curious to see how this will be developed into this book.


Of Women and Salt – Gabriela Garcia

Publish date: 30th March 2021

In present-day Miami, Jeanette is battling addiction. Daughter of Carmen, a Cuban immigrant, she is determined to learn more about her family history from her reticent mother and makes the snap decision to take in the daughter of a neighbor detained by ICE. Carmen, still wrestling with the trauma of displacement, must process her difficult relationship with her own mother while trying to raise a wayward Jeanette. Steadfast in her quest for understanding, Jeanette travels to Cuba to see her grandmother and reckon with secrets from the past destined to erupt.

From 19th-century cigar factories to present-day detention centers, from Cuba to Mexico, Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt is a kaleidoscopic portrait of betrayals–personal and political, self-inflicted and those done by others–that have shaped the lives of these extraordinary women. A haunting meditation on the choices of mothers, the legacy of the memories they carry, and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their stories despite those who wish to silence them, this is more than a diaspora story; it is a story of America’s most tangled, honest, human roots.

I stumbled across this book on the Goodreads list of most anticipated books of 2021 and was immediately intrigued by the setting. Multi generational historical fiction has become a favourite of mine in the past few years so I look forward to delving into new territory and discovering a new author.


Every Last Fear – Alex Finlay

Publish date: 2nd March 2021

“They found the bodies on a Tuesday.” So begins this twisty and breathtaking novel that traces the fate of the Pine family, a thriller that will both leave you on the edge of your seat and move you to tears.

After a late night of partying, NYU student Matt Pine returns to his dorm room to devastating news: nearly his entire family—his mom, his dad, his little brother and sister—have been found dead from an apparent gas leak while vacationing in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI and State Department seem far less certain—and they won’t tell Matt why.

The tragedy makes headlines everywhere because this isn’t the first time the Pine family has been thrust into the media spotlight. Matt’s older brother, Danny—currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his teenage girlfriend Charlotte—was the subject of a viral true crime documentary suggesting that Danny was wrongfully convicted. Though the country has rallied behind Danny, Matt holds a secret about his brother that he’s never told anyone: the night Charlotte was killed Matt saw something that makes him believe his brother is guilty of the crime.

When Matt returns to his small hometown to bury his parents and siblings, he’s faced with a hostile community that was villainized by the documentary, a frenzied media, and memories he’d hoped to leave behind forever. Now, as the deaths in Mexico appear increasingly suspicious and connected to Danny’s case, Matt must unearth the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison—putting his own life in peril—and forcing him to confront his every last fear.

I have never read any books by this author before and believe it is a pseudonym however I am very intrigued by the description. I enjoy psychological thrillers with solid writing and lots of suspense and plot twists so I am looking forward to seeing if this book fits that category.


The Paris Library – Janet Skeslien Charles

Publish date: 9th February 2021

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

Historical fiction following dual timelines is very powerful, especially when the connections between the characters from both timelines are clarified and the two timelines merge. I can already tell based on the Parisian setting and dual timelines that I will enjoy this book and the library setting is a bonus for me.


One of the Good Ones – Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

Publish date: 5th January 2021

ISN’T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH?

When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.

One of the good ones.

Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.

This is another book which I stumbled across by accident however I am glad that I did. Social injustice is an important topic which is not discussed enough in Fiction and is an area I want to read about more this year. This book has already been published and has received a lot of praise so I hope to be able to read it soon.


The Maidens – Alex Michaelides

Publish date: 1st June 2021

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.

The Silent Patient was one of my favourite books from last year and perhaps the best psychological thrillers I have read to date. I have been recommending it to friends since finishing it and have been patiently waiting for the next book by Alex Michaelides. It will definitely be one of the books I plan on pre-ordering and reading as soon as it is published.


Those were some of my most anticipated books which will be published this year. Although I plan on focusing on my backlist books and hope to read more Non-Fiction and books written in Spanish this year, I admit that I am always tempted by books soon to be published by some of my favourite authors and also like discovering new authors.


Question time

What are some of your most anticipated books of 2021?

Book review: The Watchmaker of Dachau by Carly Schabowski


Title: The Watchmaker of Dachau

Author: Carly Schabowski

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication date: 20th January 2021

My rating: ★ ★ ★  ☆

Summary:

“‘Snow falls and a woman prepares for a funeral she has long expected, yet hoped would never come. As she pats her hair and straightens her skirt, she tells herself this isn’t the first time she’s lost someone. Lifting a delicate, battered wristwatch from a little box on her dresser, she presses it to her cheek. Suddenly, she’s lost in memory…

January 1945. Dachau, Germany. As the train rattles through the bright, snowy Bavarian countryside, the still beauty outside the window hides the terrible scenes inside the train, where men and women are packed together, cold and terrified. Jewish watchmaker Isaac Schüller can’t understand how he came to be here, and is certain he won’t be leaving alive.

When the prisoners arrive at Dachau concentration camp, Isaac is unexpectedly pulled from the crowd and installed in the nearby household of Senior Officer Becher and his young, pretty, spoiled wife. With his talent for watchmaking, Isaac can be of use to Becher, but he knows his life is only worth something here as long as Becher needs his skills.

Anna Reznick waits table and washes linens for the Bechers, who dine and socialise and carry on as if they don’t constantly have death all around them. When she meets Isaac she knows she’s found a true friend, and maybe more. But Dachau is a dangerous place where you can never take love for granted, and when Isaac discovers a heartbreaking secret hidden in the depths of Becher’s workshop, it will put Anna and Issac in terrible danger…

My review:

In The Watchmaker of Dachau, we meet several characters who are captured in Dachau concentration camp and other characters forced to work in one of the commander’s homes. These mix of characters form the base of a poignant and somber story which is fascinating from the start and is based on a real life story in an attempt to bring more awareness to some of the tragedies during WWII.

Isaac is taken in by Becher, one of the commanders, as soon as he is brought to Dachau concentration camp once the guards discover that he fixes objects. Some of the events that occurred on his way to the camp as well as once he arrived were tragic and I found some parts difficult to read. However, the friendship he forms with Anna, one of Becher’s housekeepers, brings an air of hope and positivity when they find a series of mysterious letters. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this friendship develop despite the bleak contrast of their surroundings.

The most curious character is most certainly Friedrich, Becher’s young son who doesn’t understand much including why his family have hired staff or the events happening at the Dachau camp. Although his character is originally portrayed as juvenile and naive, this brings about an element of positivity as he tries to form a connection with both Isaac and Anna in various ways despite often being scolded with his parents whenever they found out. This bond transforms into something even more beautiful in the epilogue which is ultimately a celebration of life and a bittersweet way to connect these characters and highlight their differences and similarities.

The writing in The Watchmaker of Dachau flows beautifully and the short chapters kept me invested in the storyline until the very end. I would have preferred if the book was more lengthy and descriptive as there were certain parts which skimmed years. However, the connection which this characters formed was a beautiful symbol for the struggles many faced during the war and the story a necessary one to be told.

The Watchmaker of Dachau is out to buy today!

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

My reading and blogging goals for 2021 and a reflection of 2020

studious-saturday

Although 2020 was a tough year, books and blogging were a wonderful escape for me and I still managed to focus on some of the goals I had set for myself at the beginning of the year. As in previous years I decided to review some of those goals and also set new ones for this year.

My goals from last year were:

Read 55 books from a variety of genres – achieved

I kept my goals of reading 55 books the same as in 2019 and I once again managed to reach this goal by reading my last book on New Year’s Eve! I also read a wide variety of genres including Fantasy, Young Adult and Science Fiction in addition to my usual favourites Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction and Thrillers.

Discover Spanish Contemporary Literature – sort of achieved

I read three books in Spanish last year which was an improvement from the previous year however I was hoping to read many more books in Spanish. It feels like my TBR list is ever growing and mostly with recommendations for books written in English so I was constantly trying to beat the backlist and read those books in English that were piling up on my list.

Don’t overload myself with ARCs – achieved

My goal from last year was to only request one ARC per month which I followed however unfortunately a lot of the ARCs were published in October, November and December. Even though I read the ARCs throughout the year my reviews were written and published mostly at the end of the year.

Redesign my blog – achieved

I redesigned my blog in May and at first was happy with the final look however I now want to redesign it again! This often happens a few months after I choose a new theme as I start to find flaws and research new ways to enhance the design.

Get more involved in the book blogging community – not achieved

Unfortunately I did not focus on this goal as much as I would have liked. I had originally planned to blog hop at least twice per week however there were moments in 2020 when I would not blog hop for two-three weeks at a time – something I hope to correct this year! However, I was very pleased to become a member of TheWriteReads and connect with so many wonderful book bloggers!

My goals for 2021

Read 60 books

I have decided to increase my target by 5 books this year and hope to read a total of 60 books by the end of the year. I think this is achievable however I would have to read consistently throughout the year.

Read at least one Spanish book per month

I have several Spanish books on my Kindle and a few paperbacks in my bookcase waiting to be read. There are already several Spanish authors whose work I enjoyed so I hope to read some more of their books and discover new Spanish authors too.

Read at least one Non-Fiction book per month

I discovered Non-Fiction, in particular Self Help and Personal Development books, towards the end of 2020. I like how it breaks up my usual pace in reading Fiction books so I hope to continue with this trend this year. There are already several Non-Fiction books on my bookshelf so I think that this goal should hopefully be easy to achieve.

Restart my Studious Saturday posts

Back in 2018 and 2019 I was regularly publishing discussion posts in a segment called Studious Saturday which involved sharing my thoughts on different aspects of reading and authors. This winded down in 2020 however I have many ideas and hope to continue this segment in 2021.

Refine my blog from a design and statistics point of view

I am still not completely satisfied with my blog’s design and believe that this can be improved. I hope to look into this as well as the possibility to change my blog to self-hosted and use this as a way to improve my stats in the community and wider web. Although I blog for pleasure and don’t focus too much on stats, I recognise that there is still a lot to improve and I hope to research this area more during this year.

Question time

What are your reading and blogging goals for 2021? Did you achieve your goals from 2020?

Book review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell


Title: My Dark Vanessa

Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: William Morrow

Publication date: 10th March 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★  ☆

Summary:

“‘ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER

Vanessa Wye was fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher.

She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.

Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that.

Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.

Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, and as riveting as it is disturbing, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age is grappling with.

My review:

Not all books are supposed to be entertaining and easy to digest. Some books strive to bring out all forms of humanity and incite the most complex array of emotions in its readers. My Dark Vanessa is most definitely one of those books – daring and ambitious with the intention of delivering a strong message to its readers.

Sexual abuse is hardly ever explored to this degree in books and media. When I originally read the blurb and reviews I was surprised to see that this is the main subject matter of the book with Vanessa, a 15 year old schoolgirl, as the main character. I certainly didn’t expect it to be discussed in such detail and can only admire the author for the courage to explore it to this extent despite the stigmas attached in our modern day society. Although the book was extremely disturbing and difficult to read, it is equally powerful and fearless in its attempt to remove barriers and analyse the deepest and darkest thoughts from the victim’s perspective.

One of the most meaningful strategies used is the first person narrative. There were moments where I felt I was in Vanessa’s shoes, living through the horrors she was facing and that made it even more real and horrifying. It also delivered a more genuine and raw perspective during the parts where Vanessa was left on her own to reflect on some of her choices and try to rationalise the relationship. This would have been less effective without the use of the first person narrative so I am glad that the author decide to use this technique.

The dual alternating timelines is another fundamental technique and one which highlights the effect of sexual abuse later on in life. The impact which Jacob Strane had on Vanessa, even years after finishing school, is tremendous and the way which the author handles this with the introduction of some other characters is noteworthy. I didn’t agree with some of her choices as an adult but upon reflection I believe that this is exactly what the author wanted to emphasise after all the trauma Vanessa experienced as a child.

I struggled a lot with this book but ultimately finished it with the firm idea that, although it is a distressing book to read, it is also a very necessary addition to bring attention to some of the dilemmas in our society. It is technically excellent and emotionally involved which makes its message even more powerful. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone due to the dark nature of the subject matter but readers who are aware of the triggers and are expecting a raw and profound book will likely not be disappointed.

My top books of 2020

studious-saturday

It is finally 2021! It’s been a surreal year on many levels. On a personal level I also struggled several times during the year but books encouraged me to stay positive and escape to many worlds. Similar to my top books of 2018 and top books of 2019 posts, I have split my top books into backlist and those published in 2020. To read my thoughts on each book click on the links below.

Top backlist books

Book CoverBook CoverBook Cover

5. The Muse

4. A Man Called Ove – review to come!

3. Beast

2. After the End

1. The Silent Patient

The year started off strong with The Silent Patient. I was blown away by the ending and was doubtful that any other thriller would impress me more and I was right. The top spot is an easy choice however I struggled to rank After the end, Beast and A Man Called Ove. Although they are different in genre and writing style, there was something to take away from each one. Finally, The Muse took me on a beautiful journey during lockdown when I most needed it and remains one of the books with the most beautiful settings I have read to date.

Top books published in 2020

Book CoverBook CoverBook Cover

5. My Dark Vanessa – review to come!

4. The Water Keeper

3. The Italian Villa

2. What Lies Between Us

1. As the Stars Fall

My top 4 books published in 2020 were all ARCs and I am very grateful for the authors’ and publishers’ kindness to provide such brilliant books to read before their publish date. I loved the character development in As the Stars Fall, the mystery in What Lies Between Us and the setting in The Italian Villa and The Water Keeper. I finished the year reading the seemingly popular My Dark Vanessa which I originally had mixed feelings about but ultimately decided is a book with a very powerful message which deserves its spot in the list.

I am especially pleased to have read such a wide range of genres in 2020. My top books in past years were mostly thrillers with occasional contemporary fiction or historical fiction thrown in however this year I was lucky to enjoy a much greater mix. I still remember how these books made me feel after finishing them, even though for some months have passed. I look forward to reading many more interesting books during 2021 and am curious to how this list will look at the end of this year.

Question time

What are your favourite books of 2020?