Studious Saturday: My Top Books of 2018

studious saturdays

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

Top backlist books

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5. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry  

4. We Were the Lucky Ones

3. Kane and Abel

2. The Travelling Cat Chronicles

1. Close to Home

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

Top books published in 2018

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5. A Spark of Light

4. The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae

3. In the Dark

2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz

1. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

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

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

Question time

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

Studious Saturday: What makes a Thriller truly thrilling

studious saturdays

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

A bold start

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

Multi-layered characters

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

An unexpected plot twist

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

Pace

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

An appropriate ending

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

Question time

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

 

Studious Saturday: exploring bookshops in London

 

studious saturdays

Some of you who have read my previous post Studious Saturday: exploring bookshops in Bath would know that I spent part of my time during my last visit to the UK discovering bookshops by taking (or maybe even dragging!) my family and friends with me. Today’s edition includes three beautiful bookshops in different parts of London and I would like to share my thoughts on them with you.

Daunt Books

Right at the heart of Marylebone is a treasured bookshop perfect for lovers of travel and adventure. Daunt Books is an inspiration to anyone planning their next trip, or even those who work in the area and want to get away during their lunch break.

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This bookshop is split in several floors. Upon entering we can find the latest hardbacks and paperbacks in contemporary fiction. I though that this bookshop is like any other and does not have anything special until I walked a little further into the travel section.

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From here Daunt Books splits into three main areas – the downstairs focuses on Asia, Australia and Africa, the upstairs has a wide range of books for UK travel and the main level is filled with European books. I especially liked how each section is divided first by country and then in alphabetical order so it does not take too long to find the book you are looking for.

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The interior is beautifully decorated in an Edwardian style building with oak balconies and gorgeous green walls. Overall, this visit was a huge success and I managed to satisfy both my love of travel and books all in one afternoon.

Persephone Books

Our next visit was a short ride away on the London Underground and a half hour later we found ourselves at Persephone Books, a unique and extraordinary bookshop close to Russell Square station.

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This is not only a bookshop but also a publisher of forgotten female authors. I was intrigued to discover that all covers are the same classic gray so here there was no option of judging the book based on its cover. Instead, the short descriptions beneath each shelf were enough to encourage us to skim through books that most peaked our interest.

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There is a huge variety in books, from memoirs to short stories, and the clean gray  covers coupled with the colourful bookmarks that come with each book are just the perfect present for a loved one.

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The shop was dimly lit (which also explains the grainy photos, apologies for the low quality!) and classical music was softly playing in the background which made for the perfect book shopping experience. I supported their cause by buying a card for a friend who I was going to see later that day but I would also like to go back and buy one of these wonderful books. I encourage you to stop by this bookshop if you are ever in the area as you won’t be disappointed.

Goldsboro Books

Our final stop was a bookshop tucked away on a side street close to Leicester Square which specialises in signed first editions, perfect for collectors. We decided to walk from Persephone Books to here which in hindsight was perhaps not the best idea; it looked close on the map but the walk was nearly 45 minutes long and by the time we arrived it was already dark. Nevertheless, we were immediately transported to one of the most beautiful and rare bookshops upon entering.

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The store is divided into several areas by genre and publication date. The staff were busy at work sorting some of the latest books that had arrived as we walked around in awe of all the first editions out on display. Some of the most remarkable signed editions include The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (or J. K. Rowling) and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (I know what you are thinking… the original first edition signed by Harper Lee?!). My favourite section however was the stack of Bridge of Clay books in one corner of the room.

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It was evident from the hundreds of copies that they had very recently arrived to the store. Each was numbered from 1 to 500, signed by the author and published in collaboration with Goldsboro Books. I was very tempted to buy a copy but managed to stop myself in the end. I now regret it because I really want to read this book and a signed edition would make the experience even more special. However, I know that it won’t be too long until I visit this bookshop again when I’m next back in London because I loved it so much so I can’t say for definite that I won’t grab a copy next time I pass by.

Our day was over but we had a lovely afternoon in London and discovered three wonderful bookshops. Thank you to my mum for joining me in this adventure! I also hope to continue the “exploring bookshops in…” series in Madrid and any other city I find myself in the future. Stay tuned for more editions in this series soon!

Question time

Have you been to any of these bookshops? If not would you like to go? If you have been, what did you think of them?

 

Studious Saturday: exploring bookshops in Bath

studious saturdays

During my holiday in the UK last week I visited family in London and friends in Bath, which I also decided was the perfect opportunity to explore a few bookshops in both cities along the way. This week I will summarise my thoughts on two lovely but very different bookshops in the beautiful city of Bath.

Mr B’s Emporium

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Hidden on a side street in Bath’s city center, Mr B’s emporium is a wonderful celebration of books of all genres. I was immediately drawn to the general fiction area upon entering and spent some time looking through the new releases. I already had my eye on several acclaimed novels but the staff were also kind enough to ask if I needed any help in choosing a book, which I really liked.

I was also excited to learn that Mr B’s Emporium would be one of the stops on Markus Zusak’s book tour of Bridge of Clay, although unfortunately several days after my visit when I would no longer be in Bath!

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The ground floor has several fun features including a heart shaped collage of other readers’ favourite books and a guestbook gallery full of recommendations. I loved reading other’s recommendations and was touched to find that I also share the same  tastes as other book lovers who had previously stopped at this shop.

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The top floor is beautifully decorated with a reading nook at the very end and many fascinating non-fiction books as well as an area with books written in different languages. I loved the comfortable armchairs and tray of tea and coffee on the side for readers to help themselves after choosing a book to read. I could have spent the whole afternoon here! Later on I also discovered that the owners hold their book signings, talks and other events on this floor and I can already imagine how cozy this must be, especially on a cold winter’s day.

I really liked the personalised service that this bookseller offers and enjoyed the beautifully decorated and unique interior. If you have a stopover at Bath in the future I fully recommend visiting this bookstore!

Topping & Company Booksellers

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Bright and bold on one of the main streets in Bath, Topping & Company is the perfect place to visit if you are looking for a specific book. They hold book signings almost every day and have a wide variety of literature, from poetry to non-fiction. My favourite aspect was the signed first editions, which are highlighted on almost all book covers upon entering.

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I had a great time looking through the various genres and found several books that I had not previously heard of that are now added to my TBR list. The classical music in the background was the perfect touch to a relaxing afternoon. I recommend visiting to anyone looking for a specific signed first edition as a gift to a loved one, as well as those hoping to meet their favourite author, as this bookseller hosts several book signings each week (full list of events available on their website).

Thank you to my friends for their company during our visit to these two bookshops, especially to Ioli for recommending them!

Studious Saturday: meeting Jodi Picoult

studious saturdays

Welcome to another Studious Saturday post! I have been on holiday this past week which meant that I was able to dedicate a lot of time to reading. In addition, I was very lucky to get tickets to the last stop on the Jodi Picoult UK Book Tour which included a pre-signed copy of her latest book A Spark of Light, as well as a Q&A session and photos with her to follow. Jodi Picoult is one of my favourite authors and I had been looking forward to this event for a long time. I really enjoyed the Q&A session in particular, where she shared some insightful details of her life as an author which I would like to share with you today.

The session started with a brief explanation of how and why this book was written and a short reading of the first chapter (which is also the ending of the book because the story is written in reverse). She revealed the backstory to A Spark of Light – the contrasting views of terminating a pregnancy that a woman may experience throughout her lifetime, justifying that one’s view on abortion may change when reaching 15, 30 and 50 years of age. Coupled with the current political controversies surrounding the topic in USA, she felt that now was the right time to write this book.

I was particularly impressed with the research that she carried out prior to writing the book. She interviewed 151 women who had terminated a pregnancy to find out their motives and analyse their experiences which she would later on use to develop her characters. Most astonishingly of all, no more than 10 of those 151 women agreed to be involved in the book with all of them choosing to be written in using a pseudonym. Jodi discussed the stigma surrounding  in the topic with eloquence and impartiality, something which I highly valued.

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Without going into too much detail of the Q&A session, I wanted to provide a quick summary of some of the most interesting and valuable subjects she discussed:

  • When writing a book, she usually begins by drafting several pages of a summary with a brief outline, although she already has the twists planned out. The outline of A Spark of Light was 48 pages, mostly due to the reverse timeline.
  • She discarded the first person narrative in A Spark of Light, which she used in most of her previous books, because there are 10 characters and she wanted to portray each story without confusing the reader.
  • She has one unpublished romance novel written under a pseudonym of a mixture of her children’s names. The editor’s feedback was that it was too well written for the genre.
  • Her favourite author is Alice Hoffman and some recently published books that she has read and recommends include Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak and Vox by Christina Dalcher.
  • Jodi usually writes about topics concerning society and there is an evident trend when looking back on her novels; she started by writing books where human emotions were explored, then proceeded to analyse relationships upon getting married, and finally decided to delve into controversial topics such as gun control and medical rights after her children were born.
  • She explained that once an author sells rights for a movie adaptation, they are no longer involved in the production of the film. She was deeply upset at the ending of the movie adaptation of My Sister’s Keeper and had previously warned the producers that the film would not perform well if they stray far from the original ending of the novel. She hopes that Small Great Things is a bigger success as soon as a screenwriter has been chosen, especially as there are talks that Julia Roberts and Viola Davis have been cast as the main characters.
  • Her next book will pose the question “Who would you be if you weren’t who you are today?” and hinted that elements of Ancient Egypt may also be included.

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The most exciting part of the event was meeting Jodi at the end and having my photo taken with her. As I read chapter after chapter of A Spark of Light, I realise that I also look back more on the points she discussed and start to analyse them in greater detail. It is another though-provoking and moving book and I am greatly enjoying it so far (review to follow shortly!).

This was her last event in the UK but for any fans based in Canada, her final stop will be Toronto on Monday and I highly recommend going!


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Studious Saturday: disappointing books and managing high expectations

studious saturdays

Hello and happy Saturday! I am travelling a lot this weekend and have lots of reading planned (at this stage I think I might be more excited about the reading than the travel!). I have recently had incredibly good luck with picking excellent books several times in a row. This has made me think of several books where I had high expectations but was ultimately disappointed for several varying reasons. I won’t be writing full reviews about these books but I wanted to briefly comment on and explain my thoughts on these, along with how I manage my high expectations now.

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The Four Streets Trilogy was a brilliant series and I found Nadine Dorries’ storytelling engaging and compelling. I was surprised and disappointed to find out that Run to Him doesn’t have the same flow and I could not connect with the characters either. Perhaps if it was developed as a full novel rather than a short story the plot could have developed in a different way more suitable to the writer’s style.

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Stieg Larsson is perhaps one of the best storytellers in the crime fiction genre and I was excited to learn that there would be another book in the Millenium series. It is evident from the start that Lagercrantz’s writing lacks the same complexity and variety as Larsson’s so this book was mediocre at best when compared to its predecessors.

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I realise that I am one of the few to dislike this book but unfortunatey it just didn’t meet my high expectatations. Prior to reading it I had heard a lot of excellent comments about its unique nature and was expecting it to shine in the dystopian fiction genre. Many others love it but I could not handle the slang and was driven away by the violence.

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I had read very postive reviews on some of David Nicholls’ other books but decided to start with this one. I felt that the whole story was a continuous game of tag with both characters chasing each other with no progression. Neither of the characters were particularly likeable which also resulted in what felt like a very slow paced plot.

The most disappointing book I have read this year (and possibly ever), Go Set a Watchman failed in all aspects including pace, character progression and plot. It was weak and poorly executed when bearing in mind that one of the most renowned classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, was written by the same author.

Upon reflection, I realise that I am perhaps too critical which stems from my admiration for certain authors and my high expectation to deliver a book just as good, if not better, than the previous one.

So how do I manage my high expectations now? I try to put aside thoughts concerning the author or other readers’ views and focus simply on the novel in front of me. It’s  often challenging, especially with new books written by one of my favourite authors, but I find that I approach these books with a fresh perspective and enjoy the journey more.

Question

Which books did you find disappointing and why?

Studious Saturday: Why we should read books in a different genre

studious saturdays

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  – Dr. Seuss

Welcome to another Studious Saturday post! This one is based on genres and why I think it’s a good idea to for us bookworms to step out of our comfort zone and try a book in a different genre. If you read my previous post, Three Bookish Things Book Tag, you may remember that this was one of my goals for this year and I can safely say that I have achieved it by recently finishing one of my Science Fiction choices, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading something completely different to what I usually choose and wanted to share my views on why I think you should do the same.

• Understand your preferences better

Even if we leave the new book half-way through or decide it is not for us, it would still work in our favour because we would now have a much better understanding of our likes and dislikes and the types of books we have no interest in reading. The perfect example is Classics – many of us were forced to read at least one Classic at school and we may have decided that we have no interest in this genre based on the book we read years ago. However, we may be surprised upon reading a different Classic at a later age that we appreciate the characters and plot much more. Alternatively, we may choose a Classic or any other book in a genre we are not used to and soon leave it. It might not mean that we should completely discard this genre based on just one book but at least we would be in a better position to analyse what didn’t work and why we may or may not return to this genre at a later stage.

• Getting out of a reading slump

We all know the dreaded feeling of being unmotivated to start a new book or carry on reading the book we recently started. In these tricky situations I would advise to try a new genre. Changing to something fresh and distinct is always advised in many other circumstances in life so why can we not apply it to reading? In fact, I believe that experimenting with a completely unexpected reading choice is a healthy way to restart our motivation and put us on the right path back to our bookcase/library/book shop. Personally, I was feeling frustrated with some of the Thrillers that I had read before I decided to embark on the new adventure of Science Fiction but shortly after finishing it I realised that I was ready to return to my favourite genre and attack it with a newfound enthusiasm that I was lacking before.

• Different genre, different perspective

For me, the main advantage of switching genres is the fresh perspective we would encounter, a concept that I realise is difficult to grasp if we are used to always reading the same kind of books. New characters, a change in pace and a completely different setting are just some of the aspects we may face and of course there could be many more depending on the degree of the change in genre. In my case, jumping from my usual choice of Thrillers and Crime to Science Fiction felt like a huge step because the setting is  completely contrasting to that of the usual Thriller. However, I would not be surprised to see less disparity between Thrillers and Horror or Romance and Young Fiction, for example.

Question

Is switching to a new genre something that you may consider or do you prefer to stick to genres you know you enjoy?

That’s all for this week! I will spend the weekend looking through my feed and reading all your blog posts as I was not able to follow your posts as usual because of a very hectic and busy week. Have a relaxing weekend and happy reading!