Year in Review 2017 and Bookish Goals for 2018!

Well guys. It’s that time of year when we reflect on the months gone by and see if we managed to stick to all those resolutions we made back in January when we were full of hope for the new year ahead. So I thought I’d do a bit of a recap post to wind up 2017! (Also, thanks for sticking around during my unplanned hiatus this last couple of weeks. It’s been a tough time. I love you for still being here.)

 

What were my 2017 goals and did I achieve/stick to them?

I made 3 bookish resolutions for 2017. They were:-

Review every book I read on Goodreads. I’m delighted to say I did this!

Read more from indie authors. Not only did I do this, I also interviewed some of those indie authors here on my blog! You can read such interviews here and here. I still have a few books from indie authors waiting on my shelf so I’m looking forward to continuing with this goal in the new year.

Read more poetry/short stories. I managed to read 8 books this year that fit into the category of poetry/short story collections. I had hoped to read one a month but it’s been an insanely busy year so I’m happy with what I did manage. And again, I have more on my shelves that I’m sure I will get to next year.

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My non-bookish goal was to practise a more positive mental attitude, which I achieved by keeping a nightly gratitude journal.

 

What did I accomplish in 2017?

I feel like I really stepped up my bookish game this year! I started this blog, as well as a bookish twitter account (@paperbackpiano if any of you are interested). I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time, having wanted to try it for the last few years but never being brave enough! I didn’t ‘win’ but I managed to write 20,000 words of a novel which is a great start. Perhaps most excitingly, I started receiving books for review directly from publishers – not many yet but it’s a start! I also conquered my anxiety to go to Nottingham and meet my bookstagram bestie!

In non-bookish terms, I worked the first six months of the year as a classroom assistant in my local primary school then got a new job where I am now a permanent member of an amazing team of people, supporting children with severe learning disabilities. I also started driving again for the first time in five years and now drive myself around confidently every day. 

Finally, in between everything else, I found the time to read 110 books, which far exceeded my original target of 72. The majority of the books I read I rated 4 stars and I gave fewer 3-star ratings than I did in 2016 and more 5-star ratings too!

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And now the part I know you’re all here for… my top ten reads of the year!

 

Top Ten Books of 2017!

I’ve listed these in the order I read them, from earliest in the year (January 2017) to the most recent. Ranking them would have been too difficult!

 

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

This book was completely magical right from the start. It was like an old fairytale, so atmospheric. The Bear and the Nightingale was a wonderfully immersive debut and I felt completely transported. I loved the characters in this novel, especially those that were morally grey. Even minor characters felt well developed and I felt a rollercoaster of emotions towards them all. Such a magical wintery book that ticked all the boxes for me!

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

I really didn’t expect to love this as much as I did! The author created a fantastic story, situated perfectly in a rich, exotic setting. Every time I picked up the book, I felt transported to the tea plantation in Ceylon. The characters were wonderfully realised and I was completely gripped by the plot. I definitely recommend this one to fans of historical fiction!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

This was my first experience of Laini Taylor’s writing – and let me tell you, it certainly won’t be the last. She is a queen of words. This book had some of the best world-building I have ever encountered, as well as some of my favourite characters. I loved this whole trilogy but the first book was definitely the best.

Our Dark Duet by V. E. Schwab

This follow up to last year’s This Savage Song was just as awesome. Set six months later, it hit the ground running and never stopped. I binge-read the book in a single day, which is something I’m rarely able to do. I just adore the whole concept of this duology. It’s dark and destructive, and highlights the fantastic issue of morality. It’s action-packed, with great characters and a refreshing lack of romance. And Schwab’s writing is excellent. I hope to read her Shades of Magic series in 2018.

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

This is a surprise entry into my top ten; I really didn’t expect to love it as much as I did! I was feeling burned out and looking for something light and fluffy but this was so much better than I thought it would be. I don’t know if it was just a case of perfect timing? The characters, storyline and elements of magical realism were all exactly what I was needing when I read this. I have the rest of van Praag’s books on my wishlist as a result.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

This is the third book I’ve read by Matt Haig and I will never let anyone tell me that his work is not important. His ability to capture humanity in all its glory is outstanding. There is a realness to Haig’s books that I just love and which always makes them very cathartic for me. This one was a great journey through history, filled with humour and nerdy references that made me very happy.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This book is an absolute masterpiece. Eowyn Ivey manages to transform the harsh Alaskan wilderness into a stunning winter wonderland. This is truly a book to savour for its beautiful descriptions and heartfelt story. I don’t have a bad word to say about it. It’s completely magical.

Wicked like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic

The writing in this book is absolutely gorgeous, with stunning imagery and beautiful descriptions that I just wanted to curl up and live in. The whole book was literally a sensory ASSAULT but in the most amazing way. The dialogue was realistic and I was super happy not to see insta-love. Can’t wait for the second half of the duology!

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

The concept of this book is brilliantly original and the execution is just perfect. Like Hardinge’s previous book, The Lie Tree, it is quite slow-burning but the attention to detail is astonishing and it is clear that the author really researches her material extensively. I definitely want to read more of her work!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This was my first Stiefvater and I felt nervous because her Shiver series doesn’t really appeal to me. I needn’t have worried because I absolutely loved this! The mythology, the setting, the characters… I just loved everything about this and I know for a fact I’ll be rereading it in future.

 

So that’s my top ten! I just realised they are all by female authors… think the men need to step it up a bit next year! Did you notice any trends in your favourite books this year?

 

Goals for 2018

So all that’s left to do is reveal my bookish goals for 2018. Since I like threes, I have made another 3 bookish resolutions for the new year.

Read more of the Discworld series. I started reading Pratchett a couple of years ago but dropped the ball a bit during 2017. My excuse is that I’m collecting the beautiful hardback collector’s library editions and I couldn’t really afford to buy the next one I needed in the series! Amazon gift cards received for Christmas have allowed me to remedy the situation so I will be resuming my journey through the Discworld in the new year.

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Read predominantly from my own bookshelf. I have a huge backload of books that keep staring at me from my shelves and making me feel guilty (which bookworm doesn’t?) So I have decided to try and work my way through as many of them as I can. I’m not going to totally deprive myself of any new releases I’m desperate to read, but I’m making it a rule that any new books I get must be read within a month of acquiring them. Hopefully this will help to cut down the TBR shelves!

Allow myself to reread. I’m not a huge re-reader because it makes me feel guilty (see previous resolution!) However, there have been times throughout 2017 when I have really wanted to revisit a favourite book and I haven’t allowed myself to do so. I’m resolving to change this next year; those other books will all still be there afterwards. Sometimes you just need to comfort read an old favourite.

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And there we have it! If you’ve made it to the end of this mammoth post, I salute you. Go eat something yummy. It’s unlikely that I will get any more posts up this year so I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all good health and happiness in 2018, and thank you for your continued support. I hope you’ll continue on this bookish journey with me in the new year! x

 

 

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‘Last Christmas in Paris’ spoiler-free review!

Hey everyone! Sorry for being quiet recently, life is so full right now. Anyway, no-one cares about that. Let’s review some books!

The very kind people at Harper 360 recently sent me a copy of Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. Both authors were already on my radar due to their upcoming releases in 2018 (one about the Cottingley fairy case and one about the Phantom of the Opera!! You can be sure I’ll be reading both of those.) So I was delighted to read this collaboration. Before I tell you my thoughts, here’s the blurb:-

 

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

 

Last Christmas in Paris was a lovely book, written in the epistolary form which made for a nice quick read. I was initially worried that some depth might be lost and that I wouldn’t be able to get a 3D picture of the characters just by reading a series of letters, but I needn’t have feared. Evie and Tom are wonderful characters that really come to life through their correspondence and they took me through a huge spectrum of emotions.  They felt like old friends. Their voices are distinct and ring out clearly from the pages, drawing you into their lives and keeping you invested.

I’m really glad I got to read this one as it is such a heart-warming story. Seeing the events unfold and the relationships blossoming made for a lovely reading experience. This is the perfect book for this time of year! Even though it was a little predictable, being about a time in history that is SO famous, it was still very moving. The ending was powerful and brought a tear to my eye, which is not something that happens often!

Overall, this was really well-written and I found myself unable to put it down – but, at the same time, I didn’t want it to end! The writing of both authors formed a seamless blend and I would love to read more collaborations from them in future. For now, I’ll have to content myself with their individual works which I’m sure are equally excellent.

I would recommend Last Christmas in Paris to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or heart-warming festive stories!

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Has anyone else read this one? Can anyone recommend any other books written entirely in letters? 

Interview with Dana Fraedrich!

I recently read Out of the Shadows by Dana Fraedrich (which incidentally turned out to be my 100th book of the year!) It is a steampunk adventure following feisty heroine Lenore and a fantastic cast of characters. You can check out my spoiler-free review here.

Dana was kind enough to agree to an interview which I’m delighted to be presenting to you now! Make sure you read right to the end for an exclusive reveal… 😉

 

Hi Dana, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview! I really enjoyed Out of the Shadows and it’s a pleasure to have you on my blog.

Thank you so much for having me, Alex.  It’s an absolute pleasure. 🙂

For readers who don’t know you from the ‘bookstagram’ community, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure thing! I grew up in Virginia but live in Nashville, TN now, which is a little funny because I have no musical talent whatsoever.  Not that it stops me from singing very loudly (and very badly) in the shower, car, grocery store, etc.  I’ve always written.  Pretty much as soon as I could read, I started writing down whatever little stories came into my head, and writing assignments were always my favorite in school.  I still have a lot of my old pieces too, though I think only one will ever see the light of day…after I do a lot of work on it.  I wrote it over ten years ago, so it’ll need a lot of editing.  Besides that, I enjoy video games (Skyrim and Dragon Age FTW!), cooking, and reading.

When did you decide to start writing Out of the Shadows and why?

I actually started writing Out of the Shadows as a lark. I wanted to see if I could write a steampunk story.  I never imagined it would grab me like it did.  I adore that world and the characters now!  I finished the first draft in under a year.  Given that I wasn’t writing regularly back then and only did it whenever the mood struck, that was pretty impressive for me.

How would you describe your writing process?

I think I write in layers, if that makes sense.  The first draft is always a rough skeleton of what I really want to end up with.  Then I go through and start refining details and setting scenes—I always think of action and dialogue before settings.  I plump this or pare that down.  When I get to about the third or fourth draft (it’s hard to keep track), I do all the fiddly work of searching for problem words like “very” and “that” and trying to refine it.  Only after that do I send it to my editor.

The steampunk elements in Out of the Shadows are particularly detailed and fascinating to read about. Did you have to do a lot of research?

Sort of? See, my dad is an engineer, so I grew up learning about how things fit together and work.  If I had a question about how a machine functions, I’d ask him first.  Anything that had to do with chemical reactions, though, I had to research those.  That made for a really unsettling browser history, especially when it came to gunpowder and poisons.

If you absolutely HAD to choose, which of your characters would you say is your favourite and why?

Ugh, this is like choosing between children.  Haha.  My answer would probably change day to day, but right now I have to say Lowell Thorne.  He has such a beautiful heart, and he’s so clever and fun to write.  He’s featured more in Into the Fire and the new forthcoming novella, so I’m excited for people to get to know him better.

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Who are some of your favourite authors?

Oh my gosh, there are so many amazing ones. Okay, Robin McKinley is my all time favorite.  If I ever met her, I’d probably just giggle uncontrollably.  Also, JK Rowling for her world building and Chris Wooding for action scenes.

Do you have any hobbies that you use to switch off and unwind when you’re not writing?

Playing video games always helps me. Everything I play is pretty immersive, so I can’t think about writing or problems or whatever when I’m busy talking to NPCs and fighting baddies.

Are there any aspects of your work that you find particularly difficult or challenging?

This might sound kind of unbelievable, but I never really dealt with proper insecurity before I started pursuing my career as a writer. I’ve always been pretty confident and good at adapting to general life stuff, but publishing my writing introduced me to a whole new world of self-doubt.  You go into these spirals of “Actually, I don’t know if I’m any good at this…like, at all” and “Is this entire story terrible?  Because I really can’t tell anymore.”  Because I’ve never had to develop coping mechanisms for the kind of deep, soul-wrenching insecurity that comes from putting your passion out there for the world to see, it feels like I’m flailing at the bottom of a pit when it hits me.  I still struggle with regaining objectivity when I start slipping down that path, but I’ve never been good at sitting still.  Thankfully, so far in this journey, when I’ve fallen prey to dark thoughts, the urge to move and do something—whether it’s going to someone I trust for encouragement or just pushing forward even if I’m not certain what I’m doing—has outweighed my fear.

I’m especially eager to read your second book, Into the Fire. For those readers who might not know what it’s about, can you tantalise us with anything specific (but non-spoilery!)?

I’d be happy to! In Into the Fire, readers get to explore a part of Invarnis we haven’t seen before.  Of course, all the loose ends from Out of the Shadows cause trouble for everyone.  I found myself really challenging my characters in this second book.  They’re in unfamiliar, disadvantageous, painful, and/or dangerous situations wherein they have to make difficult choices.  Not gonna lie, my heart hurt for my characters as I was writing this book.

Can you give us any hints about projects you currently have in the works?

My current WIP is a standalone story set in the Broken Gears universe. In it, readers will see the history of Invarnis and how we got to the current point in its history.  A lot of secrets will be revealed in the book, and some familiar side characters will get spotlight roles.  I plan on releasing it during the first half of 2018.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t included?

I do a lot of live events like book festivals and author signings because I love meeting people and geeking out about books. If any organizers/bookstore owners/etc. out there would like to have me attend their event, drop me a line on my website.  And speaking of book festivals…Alex, I didn’t tell you this was coming.  I haven’t announced this anywhere just yet, so what better place than here?  I am very excited to let you all know I will have at table at BookCon in New York City this June.  I’ll be at booth #1140, so feel free to come by and say hi.  I met some amazing people there last year and cannot wait to go back!

 

Well, I absolutely loved finding out more about Dana! It’s great to remember that those authors are real people 😉 If you are interested in finding out even more or following any of Dana’s social media accounts, I have included some handy links below.

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Website and Blog: http://www.wordsbydana.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danafraedrich/

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Dana-Fraedrich/e/B008QB3QXI

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6494889.Dana_Fraedrich

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wordsbydana/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanaFraedrich

 

And there you have it! I hope you all enjoyed reading this interview – huge thanks to Dana for giving up her time for it! If anyone goes on to read Out of the Shadows, be sure to let me know so we can chat about it!

‘The House’ spoiler-free review!

I recently received a copy of The House by Simon Lelic for review (thank you to the lovely Elke/Penguin for allowing me to take part in the Instagram tour!) I was immediately intrigued by the blurb and thought the book sounded thrilling.

Here’s what the book is about:-

 

What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door.

And now the police are watching them…

 

Sadly, I don’t feel as though I connected with The House in the way I had hoped. While I enjoyed the casual writing style of the two characters’ diary-like entries, I didn’t find the characters very likeable. Syd and Jack are both incredibly toxic people in my opinion (or at the very least they are in a toxic relationship) and I did not feel a bond with them. This is something I always look for in a book, so I was understandably disappointed.

I do not consider myself a prude but Syd’s swearing felt a bit excessive at times and I just wanted to shout at her and Jack half the time! Their actions were often extremely frustrating. I suppose it’s good that the author made me feel these strong emotions but I can’t say they were particularly pleasant.

However! It wasn’t all bad. (I always feel bad giving negative reviews so I try to mention things I did actually like.) I will happily admit that there were some genuinely spine-tingling moments that creeped me out when I was reading before bed! Definitely not one to read with the lights off. The author was apparently inspired by his love of Hitchcock movies and this definitely shines through. 

I also liked the way information was gradually revealed, adding to the feelings of horror and tension. Things did not quite go in the direction I expected and I’m still not sure how I feel about it! I feel as though my mixed feelings about this book were partly the result of my own false expectations. This perhaps wasn’t the book for me but I would urge other readers to try it for themselves if they are intrigued by the premise! 

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Has anyone else read this one? What did you think of it? Have you read many books that turned out to be different from what you expected?