Studious Saturday: a reflection on my recent break from reading

studious saturdays

Sometimes we are all faced with surprises and unexpected complications that mean that we have to put aside our work, hobbies and daily routine. For me, reading has always been one of the most essential parts of my day and I had become used to reading on my commute to work and at home every evening. Unfortunately a recent series of events in my life rattled my routine and I found myself thrown into a completely different world where I no longer found joy in reading so decided to take a short break from one of my biggest passions.

During this period, I discovered several things about myself as a reader and the necessity to stop, reflect and take a break that I wanted to share with you. My first thought was that, strangely enough, although reading used to be a key part of my day beforehand, I no longer missed it. My mind was occupied with everything else going on around me and I didn’t feel the need to pick up my kindle even though it was always inside my bag next to me.

Another revelation that soon came to me as my mind started to clear up with all the unease was that I started reflecting on some of the books that I had recently read. Thoughts of the setting, characters along with how I plan to structure my reviews made me realise that I would hopefully soon return to my previous self and desire to pick up a book again.

Finally, I found the urge to start a new book when I was discussing No Way Out, the new book in Cara Hunter’s DI Fawley series, with my mum who was raving about how brilliant it is. I had already downloaded the book a few weeks ago but didn’t feel like reading it up until this point. It was almost like a eureka moment and that evening I devoured half the book in one sitting and finished the rest of it over the next day. (To those that haven’t yet read No Way Out, I highly recommend it!)

During this experience I realised that there are times in life where we are forced to put aside our pastimes or even times where we no longer find pleasure in the things we used to enjoy, and that is perfectly fine. I also now understand that the smallest nudge in the right direction like sharing views with a loved one on a favourite author is sufficient. Sometimes we need a break in order to focus on other more important situations or just to look at things from another perspective. I soon found my desire to read again and have decided to view this experience as a learning curve rather than a fallback.

Have you ever taken a break from reading and if so, how did you find it?

Studious Saturday: exploring bookshops in Edinburgh

studious saturdays

Happy Saturday! It’s been a while since I posted my last bookshop hopping experience in Glasgow and decided that it is time to follow up with some of the bookshops we visited during our day trip to Edinburgh.

Blackwell’s

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Our first stop was Blackwell’s, conveniently located on a main road in the city center. Books are neatly arranged with the bestsellers on one side upon entering and the rest by genre, to the right of the entrance. We spent a long time looking through the contemporary fiction section, recommending books to each other and picking out new ones that looked interesting. The non-fiction area was busy with people hoping to buy some of the more famous books but we still managed to look through these shelves.

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Perhaps the best part of this bookshop was the little Cafe Nero that was set up at the very end, complete with a fun sign that was almost too tempting. However, we decided to carry on with our tour through Edinburgh and move on to the next bookshop.

Lighthouse Bookshop

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Our next stop was Lighthouse Bookshop, a short walk away from Blackwell’s and close to the University of Edinburgh. This was such a delight to visit and by far our favourite bookshop during our visit in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The staff are attentive and the range of books on display are carefully chosen to match their political values and passion for justice and equality around the world. We spent a very long time here, looking through all the shelves and even choosing some rarer books from the Politics section to take home.

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The shop is equipped with comfortable chairs and a variety of eccentric and quirky phrases written out on the notice boards. Lighthouse arranges several events each month, including their own Book Fringe alongside the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Radical Book Fair.

Our experience didn’t end here as we continued our walk up to Armchair Books. Unfortunately, the various staircases and hills led to us feeling very tired as we approached the end of our day in Edinburgh and we decided to only quickly browse through the shelves and head back towards the train station. Nevertheless, it was another fun and worthwhile experience and I greatly enjoyed discussing books and authors with family in this beautiful city.

Have you been to these bookshops in Edinburgh? I would love to hear what you thought of them!

If you are enjoying this series of exploring bookshops in different cities, watch out for my next post in a few weeks’ time which will be based in Madrid!

Book review: Watching You by Lisa Jewell


Book Cover

Title: Watching You

Author: Lisa Jewell

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Cornerstone Digital

Publication date: 12th July 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.
As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenage son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.
One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.
Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

My review:

Watching You starts with one of the most enticing first chapters I’ve recently read in a thriller; a dead body is found in the kitchen of what appears to be the ideal family, viciously stabbed several times. We first hear from one of the protagonists, Joey, who is being interviewed by the police and Lisa Jewell’s fluid writing style really starts to show here. I was immediately compelled to read the next few chapters but was disappointed to find out that we are instead introduced to several other characters in this community in Bristol and the connections between these characters doesn’t start to become clear until around the halfway point of the book, by which point I was already starting to lose interest.

The main drawback for me was the lack of context behind the spying aspect. At one point it seemed that everyone was watching each other but the reason behind it was vague so I was frustrated that it assumed such a large chunk of the plot. Snippets of the crime scene and day of the death are slowly revealed through the police interviews, a clever backdrop to use, and by discarding characters one by one it is not too difficult to guess who the culprit is behind the murder, which made for a slightly disappointing and predictable conclusion.

Nevertheless, as with many other novels by this author, the best is left until last and her true talent shines in the last chapter. The ending is enough to put into perspective everything that we have learnt so far about these characters, especially one particularly deceitful and malicious character. Few authors are able to deliver such a strong ending despite the predictable murderer and the implications from the final words are enough to justify reading through the slow beginning. I would recommend Watching You to anyone who enjoys a slow burn thriller with a shocking ending, although I encourage others to try Lisa Jewell’s other novels first as the pacing is much stronger and the characters more refined.

Book review: And Then You Were Gone by R.J. Jacobs


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Title: And Then You Were Gone

Author: R. J. Jacobs

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Publication date: 12th March 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“After years of learning how to manage her bipolar disorder, Emily Firestone finally has it under control. Even better, her life is coming together: she’s got a great job, her own place, and a boyfriend, Paolo, who adores her. So when Paolo suggests a weekend sailing trip, Emily agrees—wine, water, and the man she loves? What could be better? But when Emily wakes the morning after they set sail, the boat is still adrift…and Paolo is gone.

A strong swimmer, there’s no way Paolo drowned, but Emily is at a loss for any other explanation. Where else could he have gone? And why? As the hours and days pass by, each moment marking Paolo’s disappearance, Emily’s hard-won stability begins to slip.

But when Emily uncovers evidence suggesting Paolo was murdered, the investigation throws her mania into overdrive, even as she becomes a person of interest in her own personal tragedy. To clear her name, Emily must find the truth—but can she hold onto her own sanity in the process?”

My review:

An unreliable narrator and hazy circumstances surrounding a disappearance seem to be a great recipe for success so I naturally had high hopes for this book. The first few chapters with Emily and Paolo at the cabin felt natural, the writing was concise and the plot promising. I was impressed with the great level of care and attention the writer put into Emily’s bipolar disorder as it is not an easy topic to discuss, yet it was still handled with a lot of sensitivity and thought. I rushed through the first few chapters as I was impatient to understand what had happened to Paolo and if he was still alive.

Unfortunately, the story line and plot were just to weak for me. I quickly started losing interest as more characters were introduced and the attention shifted to Paolo’s co-workers and research the main motive behind his disappearance. It was also around this point where Emily’s character traits started to emerge and I could not connect with her hastiness or impulsiveness to take dangerous measures so she could uncover what she believed to be a conspiracy. I understand that her interpretation of the events of the night Paolo disappeared were distorted due to her mental illness and praise the author on the way this idea was developed but I think this side of the story line could have approached in a different way while still engaging the reader.

The ending where the secrets were revealed was somewhat of an anticlimax because the author gave many hints throughout the book of the suspect so it was not difficult to assume who it was. Despite the strong beginning, this book had too many flaws for me to fully invest my time in reading it in several sittings. Instead I found myself stopping and starting over the course of a few weeks which happens rarely when I read thrillers. I would recommend it only to those looking for a slower paced thriller and would advise not to trust Emily’s reasoning throughout the book.

And Then You Were Gone is out to buy now!

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

Studious Saturday: exploring bookshops in Glasgow

studious saturdays

You may have noticed that exploring bookshops in different cities has become a certain trend on Facing the Story. After posting about my experience in Bath and London, I decided to follow suit with the next city on the list: Glasgow.

Caledonia Books

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Caledonia Books is not only appealing from the outside but also enhances the reading experience with its splendid interior. Books are arranged by genre, with many of the foreign language and non-fiction titles hidden away at the ground floor. I was very impressed with the wide range of second-hand books and spent a long time browsing the fiction section.

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I was even more excited to discover some rare copies of antique books, a feature not so common in the usual high-street book store. Complete with a continuously expanding list of rare finds, this bookshop was definitely an exciting start to our afternoon.

Thistle Books

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Hidden away at the end of a side street, Thistle Books is a real treasure. Although it may appear plain from the outside, the inside is a complete contrast and pleasure to explore. Upon entering we were immediately intrigued by the various shelves of sheet music and array of music related books. There was a noticeboard for musicians to advertise their services and the soft tunes playing in the background created a calming and enjoyable browsing experience.

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Just as in Caledonia Books, I spent a very long time looking through the books out on display in the fiction area. All shelves were very well arranged and it was easy to find books that were high up on my reading list. After much thought and inner discussion of how I would fit yet another item in my suitcase, I settled on All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which I cannot wait to start reading. I highly recommend Thistle Books for any bookworms passing through Glasgow.

Hyndland Bookshop

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Our lost stop was an independent bookseller which not only offers the latest bestsellers in children and adult fiction but also a wonderful selection of beautifully handcrafted cards. Hyndland Bookshop provides the perfect setting for an afternoon spent picking out the next book. I recognised a lot of the bestsellers on the shelves but was also pleasantly surprised to discover books written by local authors and several thrillers set in Glasgow also caught my eye.

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Perhaps my favourite feature of this store was the dog-friendly environment and I was thrilled when a customer with an energetic labrador retriever walked in and delighted to see the treats that the owner offered. Despite our short visit we were pleased with our fun-filled afternoon and happy to have ended our day in this bright and welcoming bookshop.

Have you visited these bookshops or would you like to? Stay tuned to read about my next bookshop hopping adventure in Edinburgh!

Book review: The Last Thing She Told Me by Linda Green


Book Cover

Title: The Last Thing She Told Me

Author: Linda Green

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Quercus 

Publication date: 7th March 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Even the deepest buried secrets can find their way to the surface… Moments before she dies, Nicola’s grandmother Betty whispers to her that there are babies at the bottom of the garden. Nicola’s mother claims she was talking nonsense. However, when Nicola’s daughter finds a bone while playing in Betty’s garden, it’s clear that something sinister has taken place. But will unearthing painful family secrets end up tearing Nicola’s family apart?

My review:

I stumbled upon this book on Netgalley and it immediately piqued my interest. After reading other readers’ reviews I was convinced that this would be a brilliant thriller and was excited to start reading it. However, I originally could not connect with any of the characters and was not immediately drawn to the plot either. The pace was slow at first and the interlocking past and present story lines did not seem related. It was Betty’s last words “There are babies at the bottom of the garden” that really motivated me to keep reading.

At around the halfway point into the book the plot started to thicken and new characters were introduced and I found that I suddenly couldn’t stop reading. It is also around this point where we start to understand how the letters and present day story line are linked and the appalling secrets are discovered. The author handles the rainbow of emotions extremely well and provides an excellent insight into each character’s feelings. However, I think that the challenge of addressing these issues over several generations was too demanding even though the impact was much bigger.

Overall, this poignant story was well developed despite the lagging first few chapters. I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading a family drama as I don’t agree that this book should be filed under the Thriller category.

The Last Thing She Told Me is out to buy tomorrow!

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

Book review: Invitation to Poetry by Mihai Brinas


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Title: Invitation to Poetry

Author: Mihai Brinas

Genre: Poetry

Publisher: Amazon

Publication date:  January 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“A book that reveals fantastic feelings all of us have experienced or are going to experience. An invitation to poetry embracing music, nature and love at the same time….

My review:

I needed to break my cycle of Thrillers and Contemporary Fiction and this collection of poems came at just the right time. A refreshing change from the usual writing found in literature, these short poems were so compelling and provoked such a strange mix of emotions that I found myself stopping after nearly every poem to fully digest what I had read.

The words were carefully chosen and each poem was beautifully constructed. I often find poetry difficult to follow, especially when poets decide to use an unusual choice of words or sentence structures, but I was pleased to find that these poems were simple yet effective in meaning. Themes varied from love to friendship but there was one that I found to be particularly special, mostly because of my love of reading:

“i like 

to enter sometimes

the town library

and read one book or another

i leave taking with me

the sadness of so many books left unread”

Impressive and thought-provoking, this collection of short poems is a celebration of the little things in life and provides the perfect opportunity to step back and reflect on many of the wonders of our universe.

Many thanks to the author for providing a free copy in exchange for my honest review.