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

Book CoverBook CoverBook Cover

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

Book CoverBook CoverBook Cover

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?

Book review: The Bridge of Little Jeremy by Indrajit Garai


Title: The Bridge of Little Jeremy

Author: Indrajit Garai

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Indrajit Garai

Publication date: 17th March 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Jeremy’s mother is about to go to prison for their debt to the State. He is trying everything within his means to save her, but his options are running out fast.
Then Jeremy discovers a treasure under Paris.
This discovery may save his mother, but it doesn’t come for free. And he has to ride over several obstacles for his plan to work.
Meanwhile, something else is limiting his time…

My review:

The Bridge of Little Jeremy is a heartfelt story that highlights the importance of family and the need for resilience when life throws an array of struggles at you. Despite his age and lack of life experience, Jeremy is able to help his mother through many financial hardships using his sense of adventure, reflection and wit.

My favourite part of this book was the simplicity in friendship and family relationships that played a vital part in highlighting the main themes. Jeremy  is a quiet and thoughtful boy who spends a lot of time with his dog, Leon, and the beauty of this friendship was wonderfully portrayed. Similarly, Leon’s relationship with his mother was just as special and reciprocated making it great to see both mother fret over her son and son take care of his mother.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much plot and this made the pace seem too uneven. I also felt that there was too much self-doubt and questioning coming from Jeremy as he struggled with many decisions. Several moments in the book were filled with a question/answer section and I found this too repetitive and unnecessary.

It was a pleasure to join Jeremy and Leon in the many adventures around Paris. The beautiful setting and wonderful relationships created a feel good atmosphere that stayed with me a long time after finishing the book. I highly recommend this book to anyone hoping to experience the beauty of humanity and celebrate the simplicity in life.

The Bridge of Little Jeremy is now out to buy!

Many thanks to Estelle for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo


Title: Girl, Woman, Other

Author: Bernardine Evaristo

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

Publication date: 5th November 2019 (Kindle)

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London’s funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, works hard to earn a degree from Oxford and becomes an investment banker; Carole’s mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. Other central characters include a nonbinary social media influencer, a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, and a woman who retires to Barbados harboring a secret of sex and betrayal. Class, race, age, sexuality, and chance separate and connect this constellation of unforgettable characters, as Evaristo shows with great artistry how our worldview is inevitably shaped by our background and how we are all linked by the fabric of society.

Sparklingly witty and filled with emotion, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative and fast-moving form that borrows from poetry, Girl, Woman, Other is a polyphonic and richly textured social novel that reminds us of everything that connects us to our neighbors, even in times when we are encouraged to be split apart.

My review:

Girl, Woman, Other is an ode to identity, strength and perseverance. It follows twelve women of different ages and socioeconomic backgrounds with different pasts and goals whose paths cross at some point in their lives. It narrates the struggles these women have faced, from abuse to social exclusion, and praises the successes of each one however small or big they may be. It explores complex topics like race, sexuality and spirituality through its twelve diverse characters. And most of all, it celebrates these women as the beautifully flawed people they are and gives room for reflection without any bias.

When it comes to character and setting, Evaristo proudly and rightfully shows off her incredible storytelling skills as she builds up to the final chapters where the twelve characters’ journeys collide. Each character is unique in her identity and I adored getting to know them all. Although there were twelve different stories, there was never a moment where I felt that the narrative was too repetitive or the stories too similar. By the end the characters came to life and their adventures felt so vivid that they could easily have been real.

Unfortunately I struggled a lot with the writing style and pace. The book is written in prose with no full stops and, although I admire this unconventional style which fits with the tone of the book, I could not get used to this structure and found my thoughts drifting with the lack of punctuation. As a result it took me a very long time to finish the book as I was forced to keep reading back to understand what had happened. For me this was the biggest drawback and had it not been for this style I would have easily considered this to be the book of the year.

Despite not taking a liking to the writing style, I still found a lot to love in Girl, Woman, Other. It felt revolutionary to me, partly because I am ashamed to say that I did not previously consider the struggles that black women face in society. This book truly opened my eyes to some of these hardships and encouraged me to reflect on this more, which I am very grateful for. After finishing Girl, Woman, Other I can completely understand why it won the 2019 Booker Prize and will continue to encourage others to read this book so they can understand it for themselves.

Girl, Woman, Other is now out to buy!

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

Book review: The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup


Title: The Chestnut Man

Author: Søren Sveistrup

Genre: Thriller

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 10th January 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“The police make a terrible discovery in a suburb of Copenhagen. A young woman has been killed and dumped at a playground. One of her hands has been cut off, and above her hangs a small doll made of chestnuts.

Young detective Naia Thulin is assigned the case. Her partner is Mark Hess, a burned-out investigator who’s just been kicked out of Europol’s headquarters in The Hague. They soon discover a mysterious piece of evidence on the chestnut man – evidence connecting it to a girl who went missing a year earlier and is presumed dead, the daughter of politician Rosa Hartung. A man confessed to her murder, and the case is long since solved.

Soon afterwards, another woman is found murdered, along with another chestnut man. Thulin and Hess suspect that there’s a connection between the Hartung case, the murdered women and a killer who is spreading fear throughout the country. But what is it?

Thulin and Hess are racing against the clock, because it’s clear that the murderer is on a mission that is far from over . . .

My review:

“Chestnut Man, do come in.

Chestnut Man, do come in.

Have you any chestnuts that you’ve brought for me today?

Thank you, kindly… won’t you stay?”

Dark, intense, stunning – there simply aren’t enough words to describe the brilliance of this book! I was awake until the small hours of the night and left guessing right until the end.

After a young girl is found ruthlessly murdered with one of her hands cut off and a small chestnut hanging above her, detectives Thulin and Hess are called in to investigate the ghastly killing. The murderer strikes again soon after and this time the next victim is found with both hands cut off, urging the team to realise that they are running against time, dealing with a skilled murderer who is always one step ahead of them.

The characters are impressive and just enough details revealed of their personal lives to allow the reader to form a connection with both Thulin and Hess. Both detectives are portrayed as talented and resilient and still there were several parts during the book where they took me by surprise. There is also a group of other minor characters who are introduced and sometimes reappear based on how the investigation is progressing and the author handles these transitions effortlessly. Although these minor characters are too many to recall, it never feels overwhelming or confusing and the interactions between the detectives and the other characters is always relevant to the crime.

The plot is intense and filled with surprises and twists. There were many opportunities to guess the murderer as little snippets of information were revealed along the course of the investigation. Although these details may not seem relevant at first, each piece of information is ultimately consistent with the profile of the murderer and is revisited in the last chapters where the chestnut man is revealed.

I believe that the success of this book is ultimately related to the fast pace and brilliant writing style. Sveistrup writes with flair but without unnecessary complications or unnatural word choice. It was shocking to find out that this is a debut as based on the writing style I am surprised that he is not a bestselling author.

A powerful plot and range of diverse characters were the winning points in this book for me, along with the fast-paced and never ending action and excellent writing. I was certain that I couldn’t love The Chestnut Man more until I reached the ending and was left in shock when the murderer was unmasked. It surpasses many other books in the Nordic Noir genre and is easily the best Thriller I have read this year.

Book review: Woman in the Water by Katerina Diamond


Title: Woman in the Water

Author: Katerina Diamond

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Avon

Publication date: 11th November 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“I’m alive. But I can’t be saved . . .

When a woman’s body is found submerged in icy water, police are shocked to find she is alive. But she won’t disclose her name, or what happened to her – even when a second body is discovered. And then she disappears from her hospital bed.

Detectives Adrian Miles and Imogen Grey follow their only lead to the home of Reece Corrigan, and when his wife Angela walks in, they immediately recognise her. She’s the woman from the river, with her injuries carefully masked.

The more they dig into the couple, the less they understand about them.

Why have people in their past been hurt, or vanished?

And why doesn’t Angela want to be saved?

My review:

A woman is found horribly bruised in a river and moments after a man’s body is also discovered close by. The team of experts, comprising of detectives Adrian Miles, Imogen Grey and their teammates, are working against time to solve the puzzle in order to protect the woman and avoid another murder.

The beginning of this book was exceptional. The first few chapters captured my attention and I was glued to the book as I read on, trying to understand why the mystery woman ran away from the hospital during a murder investigation. The plot thickened as the mystery woman was identified as Angela Corrigan and more characters were introduced who were later revealed to be enemies of her powerful and abusive husband, Reece Corrigan. The pace was steady and seemed perfect for this stage of the novel, with just enough details disclosed to pique the reader’s interest.

Around the halfway point the story line shifted from the murder investigation to Adrian’s and Imogen’s relationship and it was at this point that I lost interest. Although I enjoy seeing snippets into the detectives’ lives in a crime series, I felt that the author took it a little too far in this book as at one point the main crime appeared to be completely forgotten. A series of events lead to a tragedy in Adrian’s story line and, although the author handled this with care and sensitivity, it felt too brusque and unnecessarily detailed. The constant interaction between Adrian and Imogen became stale and the reminders of how inappropriate their relationship is in their professional environment were too repetitive. I was completely invested in the Corrigan’s connection to the murder investigation but had no desire to delve into the detectives’ personal lives.

Several sensitive topics were discussed in Woman in the Water and the author handled them with care. I would have preferred a deeper focus on the crime and less of an emphasis on the recurring characters however I understand that this book is part of a series which also features the detectives so it is fair to bring up past character traits and relationships. An unexpected ending and shocking twist helped to assemble the last few lose ends in a fast-paced and exciting conclusion. Overall, Woman in the Water features a series of interesting characters and despite the few issues I had with this book it still remains a solid addition to the series.

Woman in the Water is out to buy next Monday!

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

Book review: The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul


Title: The Lost Daughter

Author: Gill Paul

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Review

Publication date: 3rd October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

1918
With the country they once ruled turned against them, the future of Russia’s imperial family hangs in the balance. When middle daughter Maria Romanova captivates two of the guards, it will lead to a fateful choice between right and wrong.

Fifty-five years later . . .
Val rushes to her father’s side when she hears of his troubling end-of-life confession: ‘I didn’t want to kill her.’ As she unravels the secrets behind her mother’s disappearance when she was twelve years old, she finds herself caught up in one of the world’s greatest mysteries.

My review:

When it comes to good quality historical fiction I always look for a bold set of main characters coupled with a powerful and compelling plot. I got this and more in The Lost Daughter and I was hoping that this book would become my favourite historical fiction novel of this year until unfortunately right at the very end due to the abrupt ending.

The storytelling aspect in The Lost Daughter is compelling and intense and takes the reader on a journey from 1918 Russia to 1973 Australia. This book captured my attention right from the beginning as I was transported to the luxurious setting of the Romanov household and was left breezing through the chapters, eager to discover Maria’s fate. Although I didn’t know much about the Romanov family before reading this book, this particular version of the story does not seem too farfetched and I enjoyed seeing another opinion on the possible outcome of the events described in all history books.

Parallel timelines are tricky to develop in historical fiction because quite often the focus ends up being on one of the two timelines which makes for a distorted plot. However, the author handled this effortlessly in this book and I truly felt like equal importance was given to each setting until the end when the two stories merged. I was also interested to see how the characters would meet as I originally could not see much similarity between Maria Romanov’s story and that of Val’s father but it becomes clear at around the halfway point and from then on the story develops into an adventurous and fascinating tale of forgiveness, reminiscence and fate.

Although the writing maintains a steady pace throughout the book, I felt that the ending was a little too rushed and in this case I would have preferred a simple but sealed ending rather than the open ending the author chose. It gives the reader the opportunity to interpret the book in their own way but I did not believe that it suited the prior style of the novel. Despite this small drawback, The Lost Daughter still tells a marvelous story that not only focuses on an important family in history but also takes the reader on an amazing journey around the world with its beautiful writing.