Books to ease your wanderlust during lockdown

I always associate summer, in particular August, with exploring new places and travelling to see family and friends. However, many of us are currently stuck at home or at least obliged to stay close to home. Books have the powerful ability to immerse the reader in new worlds and beautiful settings and I would like to share some of my favourite books for travel enthusiasts.

The Italian Villa – Daniela Sacerdoti

Beautiful landscapes and summer sensations are at the forefront of this book. I adored the small town Italian scenery and the long descriptions. This book is perfect for anyone wishing to escape the busy city life and enter a world of serenity and sunshine.

City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert

I recently finished this book and am in awe of the storytelling and characters. The 1940s New York setting is alluring and perfect for fans of Historical Fiction who also wish to explore a complex backdrop.

The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah is an expert at developing an authentic and brilliant setting and this book is no exception. The harshness of the Alaskan wilderness is perhaps not the most obvious choice for a summer read however may be a suitable option for anyone wishing to escape the heatwave.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa

One of my favourite books of 2018 was The Travelling Cat Chronicles. Aside from the beautiful storyline, this book also spans city life and village life in Japan and is perfect for anyone looking to read something different.

The Beekeper’s Promise – Fiona Valpy

Set in France and switching between dual timelines, The Beekeeper’s Promise is the perfect summer read. The chateau is a key location in this book and quickly became a place I could imagine spending the summer in.

Question time

Have you recently read any books which transported you to a different setting?

The importance of pace in thrillers

Studious Saturday

After struggling through a strange period during the beginning of the lockdown where I was unable to concentrate on reading for more than 10 minutes, I finally managed to finish several thrillers which were stuck on my TBR list for a while. They each had positive and negative features but a common factor which helped me determine the rating was the use of pace.

I have discussed the importance of beginnings and endings before but had never truly considered pace as a key element of the genre until now. Exceptional additions to the genre usually involve a solid beginning, a compelling plot and a set of charismatic characters. However, after carefully analysing why I didn’t fully enjoy some of the more recent thrillers that I read, I realised that the common trait which ultimately prompted my decision to give an average rating was pace.

Does slow pace make the reader lose interest?

I have noticed that focusing on setting and character development is often the main goal of many authors, particularly in the mystery & thriller genre. Many authors prefer to flesh out their main characters while introducing some other minor characters and others concentrate on creating an atmospheric setting. This works well in many thrillers, especially when the writing is crisp and articulate. However, it sometimes hinders the pace as a huge chunk of the beginning and middle is absorbed by character growth and descriptions and little movement. Although I appreciate a slower pace in historical fiction and contemporary fiction, I often find that setting the pace too slow in thrillers loses emphasis on the suspense and doesn’t engage the reader fully.

Does pace always need to be dynamic?

Pace will always have peaks and valleys in books and the thriller genre is no exception. Keeping the reader fully invested will involve a combination of both highs and lows in pace – lots of action and edge of your seat moments mixed in with reflection of the characters’ decisions. When executed well this combination has the potential to create an unforgettable experience for the reader. It works particularly well in spy and legal thrillers in which the author builds up the tension right before a huge revelation or when delivering a twist. However, in psychological thrillers a constantly changing pace sometimes provokes a sense of unease in the reader as it doesn’t reflect the nature of the genre as the focus is naturally on the characters rather than the pace.

Is fast pace the solution to a gripping thriller?

Many thrillers have a constantly set fast pace with lots of action, the occasional red herring and many twists. These are usually my preferred choice of reading although I don’t believe that fast pace is the answer to a gripping thriller. While it may keep the reader invested for longer, if the characters or plot aren’t interesting enough a fast pace will only create confusion and still make the book fall short of the reader’s expectations. A steady pace with a few unexpected twists coupled with an engaging plot and characters often has a bigger impact than a book with a fast pace but little space for the characters’ backstory.

Pace is an extremely important element in thrillers and one that I believe all authors should consider. Changes in pace are often based on the author’s intentions of how and when twists are delivered and the suspects revealed so it is key that the pace echoes these decisions. Pace is a very powerful tool of building tension and suspense and when used well can create memorable moments that satisfy the reader and have a positive impact on their final verdict of the book. However, authors should not rely only on pace as character growth and plot are equally influential and should not be forgotten.

Question time

Do you believe that pace is an important aspect in thrillers?

My reading and blogging goals for 2020 and a reflection of 2019

Studious Saturday

As tradition calls, I have decided to look back on my achievements from last year and prioritise my goals for this year. 2019 was a difficult year in many ways but it was also very rewarding as I managed to read many wonderful books and grow my blog in a way I never thought was possible.

These were my goals from last year:

Read 55 books – achieved!

I finished my 55th book on New Year’s Eve! I don’t know how this always happens but in 2017 and 2018 I found myself flipping through the pages of a tense thriller which made reaching my Goodreads challenge so much easier. The same happened on New Year’s Eve 2019 when I was halfway through The Whisper Man and just couldn’t wait to see what happens.

Branch out to other genres – achieved!

This was probably the goal that I was most focused on last year and I am happy to say that I managed to achieve it. I read several Science Fiction and Dystopia novels as well as a Poetry book and a few Non-Fiction books for book club. This has made my reading experience much more valuable and I find myself reflecting on the books I have read a lot more as I am no longer reading just thrillers and contemporary literature.

Discover Spanish Contemporary Literature – failed miserably!

I feel ashamed to say that, despite living in Spain and being surrounded by books in Spanish, I didn’t read even one Spanish book last year. I already have 2 Spanish novels at home waiting for me in my bookcase but I kept putting off reading them until the end of the year when it was already too late. I hope to rectify this in 2020 as I am sure that reading in Spanish will benefit my knowledge and use of the language a lot.

Schedule my posts in advance – achieved!

Although I didn’t always schedule my posts in advance, I usually had a clear idea of the blog posts I want to write and book for the next month. Most of my book reviews were usually written and scheduled at least one day before publication which made organising my blog so much easier than before.

Design a new look for my blog – sort of achieved?

I redesigned my blog in April last year in time for my one year blogiversary however I am still not too pleased with the new design. I hope to do some more research this year to understand how I can use WordPress custom designs to my advantage and will hopefully redesign my blog layout again.

Summary: I reached most of my goals for 2019 and I am especially pleased to have read a much more diverse range of literature. I didn’t focus much on my blog design and layout after the redesign at the beginning of the year but I managed to organise my blogging to fit my schedule by planning and writing posts in advance.

My goals for 2020

Read 55 books from a variety of genres

I have decided to keep the same Goodreads challenge as 2019 and also keep my goal of reading books from many different genres. I hope to branch out into Young Adult and Fantasy this year and maybe try a few Romance books again.

Discover Spanish Contemporary Literature

I will try to reach this goal this year after completely discarding it at the end of last year. As I already have some books in Spanish at home I hope that it won’t be too difficult to achieve as long as I put time aside to focus on them rather than my most recent ARCs or my kindle.

Don’t overload myself with ARCs

I went overboard with ARCs last year and at one point found myself too overwhelmed with deadlines and had to force myself to write  reviews. I don’t enjoy this part of blogging and have decided that for this year I will only read one ARC per month to spread them out across the year. I also want to keep my Netgalley average above 80% so hopefully this goal will help me meet that target.

Redesign my blog

There is still a long way to go until I feel completely happy with my blog design. I am not very knowledgeable in this area so I know that I will have to do some research beforehand so it is quite possible that this goal might be postponed until the end of the year. However, I know that design is very important for first impressions so I want to ensure that I focus on this area as well.

Get more involved in the book blogging community

I am so pleased to have found many wonderful book bloggers who I have formed connections with through this community but lately I feel like I am less inclined to blog hop and find new bloggers. I hope to correct this in 2020 as this is a fundamental part of book blogging and also a great way to get to know others, find new books and share new ideas. I have set a preliminary target of blog hopping at least twice per week although I know that this might be hard to reach over the next three months when I know that I will have other career and travel related goals planned.

Those are my goals for 2020. Most of all, I hope to read many more interesting books across different genres and also try to read more in Spanish. I enjoy blogging but I hope to focus more on design and also find time to discover new bloggers in the community.

Question time

What are your reading and blogging goals for 2020?

My top books of 2019

Studious Saturday

It feels surreal to write this but… it’s almost 2020! This year has had some great and not so great moments but one of my favourite aspects to reflect on is my favourite books of the year. Before I started writing this post a few books immediately jumped out without me even having to think too hard. I decided to split my top books into backlist and those published in 2019, similar to last year’s post Studious Saturday: My Top Books of 2018. You can read my thoughts in full for each book in the below links.

Top books published in 2019

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5. Girl, Woman, Other

4. No Way Out

3. The Passengers

2. Twisted

1. The Chestnut Man

There was no doubt for me that The Chestnut Man deserves the top spot on my list; it was dark, original and gripping. However, it was difficult to narrow down the other 3 thrillers as they were all extremely well written. Twisted won the battle for me as it had the most intense plot but The Passengers was equally engrossing as it comprised of a set of especially unique characters. Cara Hunter’s addition to the DI Fawley series, No Way Out, did not disappoint and I felt had to be included in this list. Finally, although I found some issues with the writing style of Girl, Woman, Other, the subject matter was perhaps the most interesting I have read this year and is a book I have been recommending a lot lately.

Top backlist books

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5. Beartown

4. I Am the Messenger

3.Circe

2. Where the Crawdads Sing

1. Changeling

 

I am happy that I managed to tackle the long list of backlist books this year and even more pleased that several of those books quickly became some of my favourites. It wasn’t easy to pick the top spot between Changeling and Where the Crawdads Sing because even though I loved them both for different reasons, the writing style and setting is very different. However, Changeling ultimately managed to convince me with its slick plot and excellent storytelling. A surprise for me this year was Circe which I read in January for book club and was a wonderful introduction to a new genre. I also decided to read more of one of my favourite authors, Markus Zusak, and it took me a very long time to get over the brilliant ending of I Am the Messenger. Later on in the year I read Beartown, an excellent book that stayed with me for a long time and made me reflect on several aspects of life.

Some of these books have certainly made their way to my favourites to date and I am so pleased for the recommendations, advanced reader’s copies and other opportunities through the book blogging community. I can’t wait to tackle the remainder of my TBR list next year and for even more exciting thrillers and thought-provoking contemporary and historical fiction.

Question time

What are your favourite books of 2019?

The importance of endings

Studious Saturday

A few months ago I posted my feelings on the influence of opening lines and catchy beginnings and today I wanted to discuss the importance of endings, an aspect which I find can completely change my feelings towards a book, for better or worse.

Unexpected twists

There is something so captivating about stumbling upon a twist that you never saw coming. If executed well it is my favourite writing mechanism in thrillers as it is always surprising and shocking which I feel is the most crucial aspect of mysteries. Many authors choose to throw in twists within the middle of the plot however I always find that some of the best twists are those which the author delivers with precision, ease and skill towards the end of the book.

Bittersweet phase out

Perhaps one of my least favourite types of endings are those in contemporary fiction and romance where the author decides to tie up any lose ends by summarising the events that occurred throughout the book. It is often concluded by the main character sitting in a park/their house/a train station or any other main location, staring off into the distance after they have ended their relationship or someone close to them has died. Although I enjoy delving into the characters’ mind and exploring their emotions, I find these endings repetitive and exaggerated and often feel like the plot slowly drifts away until it reaches the last mediocre sentence. I am often left feeling disappointed with these endings, even though the story line until that point may have been interesting.

Revelations and discoveries

In Historical Fiction which switches from past to present day, authors often try to link the main characters and events but it is only towards the end where their stories merge. It is at this point that the reader understands the significance of their existance as many anecdotes are shared and discoveries made, often through a face-to-face encounter. This type of ending can be very powerful and moving, especially if the main character has been through many obstacles to arrive at this point. It is also very difficult to keep the suspense until the last few chapters and few authors manage to handle this well so I am usually impressed with these kind of endings.

Cliffhangers

To put it simply, cliffhangers as endings can make or break a book. I personally believe that it can be an effective way to encourage the reader to continue reading the next book in the series however I do not understand why many authors decide to end a book cliffhanger style in a standalone book if there is no follow-up. I end up frustrated and upset that I invested so much time in the book and connected with the characters to then read a few closing lines that do not reach any conclusion. However, if there is a sure way to keep the reader interested in a series it is definitely through a cliffhanger and I have read several series where the author uses this mechanism well, for example the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith/J. K. Rowling and the Clifton Chronicles series by Jeffrey Archer, both of which made me rush to buy the following book in the series as soon as I had read the previous one.

Question time

Which type of ending do you enjoy and think is most effective?

Most remarkable character driven books

Studious Saturday

Happy Saturday! This week I have been reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and I am completely in awe of the main character. It has made me recall some of the most memorable and wonderful character driven books that I have read so I decided to share my choices with you in this week’s Studious Saturday post.

Room – Emma Donoghue

Almost unbelievable yet so beautifully told, Room by Emma Donoghue explores the life of 5 year old Jack, held captive and unable to escape, though he is too young to realise it. Children are often written in an unrealistic way leading to many eye rolling moments but Jack’s story line developed in such an unexpected way that it made his character even more interesting and the book so much more fascinating.

The Legacy of Lucy Harte – Emma Heatherington

It’s amazing how a character with no voice or present participation can make such an impact. Lucy Harte saved Maggie O’Hara’s life by donating her heart yet it almost feels like Lucy is alive and living through Maggie which makes for a poignant yet beautiful read.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

No words to describe just how good the characters are in this book – read it and you will not be disappointed!

A River in Darkness – Masaji Ishikawa

This memoir is unique and so raw with emotion that it is hard not to connect with the main character. The fact that it is an autobiography makes it even more fascinating and is a perfect example of where only one main character is needed to truly impress.

The Man I think I Know – Mike Gayle

Friendship is so hard to develop in writing yet Mike Gayle does this effortlessly in The Man I Think I Know. Danny and James, old rivals from a prestigious boarding school, meet again years later in strange circumstances and enter each other’s lives leading to some truly magnificent moments that show the difficulties in friendship and the beauty of having someone to rely on.

Question time

Are there any books that focus primarily on characters that you have enjoyed and can recommend?

 

The influence of opening lines and catchy beginnings

Studious Saturday


Without a doubt one of the most important elements of a book is the opening line and first chapter. Publishers crave an impressive and memorable opening line and often base their decision on whether to move forward with a manuscript depending on how well the first few chapters are written. Likewise, a powerful beginning sets the tone for the plot and story line and, as the first point of contact with the reader, a strong connection right from the start is vital.

As first impressions are essential, I wanted to share my thoughts on a few books that had a huge impact on me as a reader due to their powerful beginnings.


Lullaby / The Perfect Nanny – Leila Slimani

The baby is dead. It only took few seconds.

Leila Slimani paints a picture of horror and chaos in the opening chapter of Lullaby (published as The Perfect Nanny in USA). Although I ended up disliking this book for many reasons, the events revealed in the first chapter were shocking enough to pique my interest and encourage me to continue reading. The details in the first chapter almost feel too explicit and unnecessary at times but setting the scene with the murder and revealing snippets of the events building up to it is a very powerful technique which I felt worked extremely well in this book.


The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

I forget everything between footsteps.

“Anna!” I finish shouting, snapping my mouth shut in surprise. 

My mind has gone blank. I don’t know who Anna is or why I’m calling her name. I don’t even know how I got here…

The first chapter of The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is as intense and superb as the rest of the book. What makes it stand out is the precise choice of words and unique writing style that immediately transports the reader to the setting. I was impressed with so many aspects of this book and, although I read it almost over one year ago, the opening chapter stayed with me even to this today.


Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and
changed…

 

The first few sentences emphasise the essence of this book by exploring the senses through the eyes of the main character. The writing is so powerful that I could almost feel the heat and blaze as I read the first chapter. It is arguably one of the most notorious opening lines in literature and rightfully so.

As a reader, I am immediately influenced by the first chapter of any book, sometimes almost subconsciously. Although I enjoy slow beginnings if the writing suits the genre of the book, unexpected opening lines or unforeseen events revealed in the first pages almost always convince me that the book I am about to read will be a hit and for that reason I will almost always prefer it to a slower beginning.

Question time

Do the first few paragraphs or chapters of a book have an impact on you as a reader? What are some of your favourite opening lines?

Midyear reflection on my blogging and reading goals

Studious Saturday

The end of June is fast approaching which means that we are almost halfway into 2019! I can’t believe how quickly time is flying past; it almost feels like I was celebrating the new year yesterday! As I am slowly starting to organise my shelves and planning out some posts for the coming months I thought that this week’s Studious Saturday post would be a perfect way to look back over the past six months and tie in with my reading and blogging goals for 2019.

Read 55 books

My first goal was quite simple – I wanted to slightly increase the amount of books I read from 50 last year to 55 this year. I must say that I am managing to keep to this goal and have read 28 books as of today so I am 1 book ahead in the challenge. I am still adamant to only stick to books I really want to read as the TBR list is piled way up high with a mixture of backlisted books and new releases and I know that there is never enough time to get through the entire list.

Branch out to other genres

Despite my wish to start reading a mixture of other genres I always tend to run back to thrillers or contemporary fiction when I’m wondering what next to read. I have definitely improved since last year and have read some interesting Science Fiction books with reviews soon to come, but I want to make it a habit and not an exception so please leave me your suggestions of books that are not categorised under the Mystery/Thriller, Contemporary Fiction or Historical Fiction genre!

Discover Spanish Contemporary Literature

Oh, I have definitely discovered it! (If you don’t know what I am referring to you may want to check out my last Studious Saturday post Feria del Libro Madrid ’19 for more details). However, even after buying a book by Julia Navarro that I really want to read I am still putting off reading in Spanish and I am not sure why. This is definitely the goal I am most planning on working on in the upcoming half of 2019.

Schedule my posts in advance

This is the other goal I am hoping to work on. I use a calendar to schedule my posts but writing has been hard recently and I have found myself slowly retreating back to writing and editing posts the day before they are supposed to be published. As summer is now in full swing here in Madrid (it is 41 degrees outside right now), writing posts is the perfect way to spend the hot afternoons after work and I plan to make full use of it.

Design a new look for my blog

One goal is out of the way! I must admit that this is the goal that I was most worried about which is probably why it took me so long to publish my new design. As my one year blogging anniversary approached a few weeks ago I finally decided to publish my new theme and I am much happier with the new look of my blog.

Do you have any goals for 2019 and are you any closer to reaching them as we approach the midpoint of the year?

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!

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!