Take a Book, Leave a Book

I am so often side tracked by books. For example, if I walk past a bookshop I feel like I almost have to go inside and browse for some time, ranging from 10 minutes to two hours (depends on the size of the shop!).

I’ve been known to spend entire afternoons at libraries, and there have been events I’ve not attended because I am too consumed in a book. And as us readers know, it’s almost always worth it!

Even where I work, books are fairly close at hand. It’s a university, so naturally.

My responsibilities cover five different sites. Many of the books you would come across are very specialist, and for academic purposes. Most of these are not something I would read, but some are very interesting.

Just before Christmas I came across a BBC pronunciation guide from about 1970. Doesn’t sound interesting, but the introduction gave quite an insight into the social attitudes of the time. Let’s just say the language and gender stereotypes used would rightly be considered unacceptable now.

But if there’s somewhere at the university where we have ‘proper’ (I mean non-academic) books, look no further than the home of the student union.

In the entrance hall there is a small bookshop which also sells useful stationery and souvenirs. Across the hall, there is the door that leads into the bar.

This area is a very chilled out. So far i have never paid much attention to the bar and what is served there. Instead I have only ever had eyes for the bookcase at the back of the room.

Thanks to this bookcase I have added several books to my reading list. It is a perfect distraction, so I always need to make sure I don’t spend too long skimming through, as after all I am at work!

The bookcase has a Take a Book, Leave a Book policy, so in order to actually take a book from there, I need to lose one from my collection. That’s a choice I still have to make…

So basically the story of this post is that I get distracted or diverted by books. A lot. Is it the same for you? If it is, I’d love to hear an example!

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Book Review – Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin


Pages: 
372
Published: 29th May 2012
Started reading: 4 August
Finished reading: 9 August

Synopsis (Goodreads)

The letter that turns Tommie McCloud’s world upside down arrives from a stranger only days after her father’s death. The woman who wrote it claims that Tommie is her daughter—and that she was kidnapped as a baby thirty-one years ago.

Tommie wants to believe it’s all a hoax, but suddenly a girl who grew up on a Texas ranch finds herself  linked to a horrific past: the slaughter of a family in Chicago, the murder of an Oklahoma beauty queen, and the kidnapping of a little girl named Adriana.

Tommie races along a twisting, nightmarish path while an unseen stalker is determined to keep old secrets locked inside the dementia-battered brain of the woman who Tommie always thought was her real mother. With everything she has ever believed in question, and no one she can trust, Tommie must discover the truth about the girl who vanished—and the very real threats that still remain.

Review

This is really well written and complex book. It is a story that contains multiple strands and numerous different characters, told in Julia Heaberlin’s own unique, sophisticated and strangely affecting style.

I say strangely affecting, because the narrator does not tell the story in an especially engaging way; in theory the writing style should not allow the reader to connect with them all that easily, but Heaberlin creates such a powerful and emotive tone here that makes Tommie a largely likeable character.

What also helps in this regard is the tense nature of the plot. Tommie is a character shrouded in mystery; she receives a letter from someone claiming to be her birth mother and is then approached by a man who purports to be a journalist. What follows are a series of revelations about her lineage, and a series of threats to her life as she gradually disentangles the many crossed wires that lead towards the truth.

That makes it a fairly gripping read, even if I struggled to read large amounts in one sitting. The tension and the mystery is always there, the plotting is detailed and intricately woven together, unravelling slowly and menacingly.

So far, so good. However, there are a few things I didn’t like, especially the relationship between Tommie and Hudson. Although Hudson is an important character, I just thought the romance element was out of place and irrelevant to the plot.

I also feel that the intricate and complex plot works both ways. It adds a real sense of scale to the story, but it does get a little confusing at times. There were a lot of characters and events I needed to remember later on in the story, and once or twice I found myself having to rack my brains to try and recall the circumstances behind each character that was referenced in passing earlier on in the book.

But overall, this was a very good read, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who likes a tense and complex thriller. The writing is consistently strong, the characters are mostly likeable and well-drawn, and the ending definitely makes it worthwhile.

Verdict

A very well written book that contains many different strands, and plenty to get your head around. The plot in general was great, but some aspects just came up a little short.

I award Playing Dead a rating of 3.5 stars.

Book Review – The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein


Pages: 
302
Published: 2nd October 2017
Started reading: 29 July
Finished reading: 4 August

Synopsis

The Trauma Cleaner is the story of one woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster, told by Sarah Krasnostein.

Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker,  small businesswoman.

But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.

A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his loungeroom. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.

Over a period Sarah Krasnostein has watched Sandra bring order and care to these clients, and through spending time with her, has drawn up a comprehensive profile of her life

Review

I had almost forgotten what it was like to read a non-fiction book! It is so long since my last one as I have prioritised fiction in 2018, but I am really glad to have read The Trauma Cleaner. It is a fabulous book, so I must thank my wonderful reading buddy Gem of Glimpsing Gembles for suggesting we read this one!

Sandra Pankhurst really has had an extraordinary life. Her story is told in forensic detail by Sarah Krasnostein, who charts an almost uniquely eventful life mixed in with tragedy and horrific ordeals, and how she has had both the strength and the demeanour to overcome them.

The story alternates between the clients she assists in her role as a trauma cleaner, and her biographical story. This ensures that there is less repetition and more variety to the book, although at times it does switch between different time frames and periods of Sandra’s life, which made it a little confusing.

Krasnostein writes so well. It is rich in detail and texture; every aspect of a client’s home is described to the greatest minutiae, and it is exceptionally eloquent with a few inventive similes thrown in. I also appreciated just how much research went into writing the book, such as the various things that Sandra was unable to recall, and Australian transgender legislation history.

Little bits and pieces of her story are reconstructed, but the very raw aspects of Sandra’s life prevail, and it was quite shocking to find out what she has been through. But then, you marvel at the kind of person she is and her overall outlook, and that is where most of emphasis in this book lies.

Despite the title of the book, the actual trauma cleaning side of things, though told very vividly and providing a wonderful insight into Sandra, is a little bit overshadowed. I must admit I was expecting the book to be more about the job, but as a biography, there is very little that I did not find totally compelling.

The Author

Born in the United States, Sarah Krasnostein now primarily lives and works in Melbourne, although she spends some of her time in New York City. A lecturer in law, The Trauma Cleaner is her first book, having originally written an award-winning essay entitled The Secret Life of a Crime Scene Cleaner.

Verdict

I thought this was a strongly written, compelling book, and Sandra shines through as an incredible person, having seen it all and done it all.

I award The Trauma Cleaner a rating of four stars.

Five Books On My TBR – August 2018

Hello everyone,

I have not added many books to my TBR lately, but the list is still long and full of books that I don’t know if I will ever get around to reading!

And every two months, I like to share with you some of the books that I hope to get to in the near (or perhaps distant!) future. Here are my five for August – click on the links below to view them on Goodreads.

Watching Edie by Camilla Way

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

How To Be Brave by Louise Beech

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll

Have you read any of these books? If you have, what did you think? Please let me know in the comments!

Happy reading 🙂

Book Review – Younger Every Day by Rob Santana


Pages:
 251
Published: 26th November 2017
Started reading: 22nd June
Finished reading: 28th June

Synopsis

Tom’s marriage is faltering. His attractive, younger wife Kim is having an affair with her boss, and his teenage daughter Penny is embarrassed by him.

One day Tom allows a chemist to shoot him up with a serum that will age him backward slowly. When he looks 25, he returns from a “business trip” then claims to be Penny’s “cousin.

Soon Penny finds herself competing with Mom for the younger Tom’s attention, to comic and horrific results.

Review

This was a very interesting and uniquely written book, which certainly grew on me as the story progressed. I had some misgivings early on, but from the moment where Tom is injected with the serum, the book really gets going and becomes a fairly enjoyable read.

The situations it creates within the family are crazy and hilarious and contain several laugh out loud moments, but this is also where the depth of character comes through the most. Penny’s insecurities are explored and it is interesting to how Kim responds.

The writing style struck me right from the start. It feels very laid-back and informal most of the time, with an underlying wry humour and a lot of code-switching. It it written in the third-person past tense, which for me took some readjusting because most of the books I have read lately are in the first-person present.

It is hard to place this one into a specific genre. In some ways it is a thriller, but it also has elements of romance and paranormal.

There are some aspects which I didn’t like so much. I thought some of the pacing was slightly inconsistent, and one or two of the scenes were a bit too explicit for me and went into too much unnecessary detail. As I say, it really gets going once Tom injects the serum.

Overall a pretty decent read. It may take a bit of time to get going, but there is definitely a lot of fun to be had later on. It is often a very funny read and from my point of view, it was good to read something slightly different to what I normally do, even if the tone of it was somewhat flawed.

Themes

Younger Every Day contains sexual content and references to drug use. If either of these things could trigger a negative reaction, then it would probably best to skip this book.

Verdict

For an ARC, this was not a bad read and there were definitely some very enjoyable moments in there, but it is not altogether polished, either.

I shall give Younger Every Day a rating of three stars.

Many thanks to Rob Santana for sending me a copy of Younger Every Day in exchange for an honest review.

Monthly Wrap-Up – July 2018

Hello everyone,

We have already reached the end of July! It has come and gone in double quick time and I went through something of a writing slump, but I managed to fit in plenty of reading and that definitely made up for it!

So overall I finished nine books in July, which is more than I have ever read before in a month. After finishing off the buddy read I started in June, I went on a bit of a reading spree which ended in a challenging but incredibly fun 24-hour readathon last weekend.

I am now only five books away from successfully completing my Goodreads challenge for this year. That really is beyond all my wildest expectations – I thought my target of 45 was ambitious, but in 2018 I have embraced reading like never before.

But without further ado, here are the books I completed in July:

    
  

Click on the links to see my reviews 🙂 :

You 
The Accident
No Further Questions
Behind Your Eyes
You Sent Me A Letter
See How They Lie
The Missy Chronicles (Goodreads)
Younger Every Day (Goodreads)

I spent a lot of time with my blog in July, but there was only room for one proper discussion post, about the significance of a synopsis:

Writing A Synopsis

As for my own writing, it was a tough month, as I took three weeks away from my work in progress and found it hard to get motivated, but this week I returned to it and so far things have picked up. Long may that continue!

I had a new magazine article to write, too, and I found that more difficult than normal. But hey, 2018 has been a very productive year of writing so far, so maybe the going had to get trickier at some stage.

And this wrap-up would not be complete without sharing two of my favourite posts from elsewhere in the book blogging community:

I think that is everything…hope you all have a wonderful August!

Happy reading 🙂

YA Book Review – See How They Lie by Sue Wallman


Pages: 
320
Published: 2nd March 2017
Started reading: July 25
Finished reading: July 27

Synopsis

Mae feels lucky to have grown up at Hummingbird Creek, an elite wellness
retreat where rich teens with psychological problems can
get the help they need from her father, a prominent psychiatrist.

The Creek has world-class cuisine, a state-of-the-art sports centre
and the latest spa treatments. Every aspect of daily life is monitored
for optimal health, and there are strict rules for everyone.

When Mae is caught breaking the rules, the response is severe. She
starts to question everything about her highly controlled life.
And at the Creek, asking questions can be dangerous…

Review

This is a magnificent book. It is absorbing, it is thought-provoking, and it is full of unbelievable ideas that for me, make it stand out as one of the better contemporary YA books.

Not too long ago I read Sue Wallman’s most recent YA thriller, Your Turn To Die. It was an entertaining and thoughtful read though not without its flaws. However, I saw more than enough in her writing style, characterisation, and ability to formulate and intriguing plot to convince me to read some of her other work.

There are two things that really drive this book. The first is the setting; a stunningly realised and scarily sinister psychiatric facility. Hummingbird Creek is one massive juxtaposition, and a very skilful one at that. The serenity of the place is unnerving when contrasted with the the dictatorial, dishonest, and cult-like regime within, all orchestrated by Mae’s mysterious father.

And speaking of Mae, she is the other thing that drives this book. She is a fantastic narrator, so strong-willed and selfless and determined. You really experience the whole story with her as it unravels with sophistication at a solid pace. Indeed, all of the characters are very well realised, and I really felt I got to know them all as individuals.

Mae is also such a powerful character because she starts out as so unwilling and so unaware, with very little life experience. As the daughter of the man in charge of the facility and also one of its subjects, she is symbolic of what it represents, and this makes her journey towards discovering the true nature of her existence even more compelling.

There is very little, if anything, that I can criticise. It presents you with a mysterious plot, a compelling narrator, fascinating underlying themes, an engaging writing style, and an outstanding villain.

Verdict

Thank you to Sue Wallman for this fabulous and captivating read. Five perfect stars!

24-Hour Readathon Wrap-Up

Hello everyone,

I have just participated in my first 24-hour readathon, and I can honestly say that it was a different, but very fun and rewarding experience!

The readathon takes place on the final Friday of each month, and is hosted by Lili of Lili’s Blissful Pages and Noriko of Diary of a Bookfiend. The rules are very relaxed – you can take as many breaks as you like and just read as much as you want during the 24 hours.

Still, I was a little worried that I didn’t have the determination to keep going, or the power to stay awake. I did sleep for a few hours, but overall I am very happy with how I managed to get on! I finished off my current read, and then read two more books.

Here are the books I read during the readathon:

  

Having never done a readathon before, it was hard to know how many books I would get through. See How They Lie was my current read and it took me until 11am to finish, so I thought that with sleep and other breaks, two more <300 page books were achievable.

I began The Missy Chronicles at 12.30am, before finally going to sleep at around 3am, waking up again at 7.20am and reading the end of the book at 11.30am. I then took a break of about an hour before starting Younger Every Day, and just about held it together for the rest of the day to finish it just as the clock struck 8pm! And so the readathon was over!

I posted a lot of Twitter  and Goodreads updates and it was just really nice to interact with Lili and Noriko (who are both so lovely to chat to) while reading and share the experience. I would certainly like to take part again!

I shall post my reviews of all three books in the coming days.

Happy reading 🙂

The Sunshine Blogger Award #1

Rules:
  1. Thank blogger(s) who nominated you for the blog post and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
  4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog

I would like to thank Leighann, of With Love, Leighann for tagging me for this award, which makes me feel very flattered! If you do not follow her, please do as she is the loveliest person and an amazing aspiring writer.

Leighann’s Questions

  1. How much time do you spend blogging?About three to four hours per week. It can sometimes take me a long time to write a book review because I like them to be detailed and well thought out 🙂
  2. Coffee or Tea?

    TEA!!

  3. What tv show or book are you currently into?

    I am currently reading See How They Lie, a really nice YA book by Sue Wallman. But I am always into Harry Potter 🙂

  4. What do you like most about blogging?

    I just love being able to write freely and share my love of books! And the blogging community is wonderful, I really enjoy interacting with such lovely people.

  5. Are you a planner or a go with the flow, type of person?

    A bit of both. When I write I go with the flow and make it up as I go along, but with most other things I have it all planned out in my head.

  6. What motivates you to blog?

    That is a great question! I am motivated by my love of writing, and my desire to keep becoming a better writer, especially on the subject of books.

  7. What’s your favourite time of day?

    I don’t really have a favourite time of day. If I had to choose one I would say early evening.

  8. Three wishes…what would they be?

    My first wish is that I could be more socially confident/less self-conscious.
    My second wish is that I could have a library all to myself 🙂
    And finally, I wish there was more time to do everything!

  9. What actor would play you in your life story?

    I really have no idea!

  10. Favorite meal?

    I love pasta, so it would have to be spaghetti bolognese.

  11. What makes you smile?

    Helping others and making them smile.

My Nominations:

@Sapphistication

@Literary Sea

@Charleigh Writes

@A Single Speck

@The Bookworm Daydreamer

@aesthetically_booked

@The Cozy Pages

@The Library Looter

@The Little Book Affair

@ReadingParental

@Bound to Writing

My Questions

I am sorry everyone, but I have written this post in a hurry so I am going to be very lazy and ask you to answer Leighann’s questions. After all they were wonderful questions!

Here they are again:

  1. How much time do you spend blogging?
  2. Coffee or Tea?
  3. What tv show or book are you currently into?
  4. What do you like most about blogging?
  5. Are you a planner or a go with the flow, type of person?
  6. What motivates you to blog?
  7. What’s your favorite time of day?
  8. Three wishes…what would they be?
  9. What actor would play you in your life story?
  10. Favorite meal?
  11. What makes you smile?

Happy reading and writing 🙂

Book Review – You Sent Me a Letter by Lucy Dawson


Pages: 
263
Published: 3rd March 2016
Started reading: 21 July
Finished reading: 24 July

Synopsis

With her fiancee Marc away ahead of her 40th birthday, Sophie is sleeping alone when she is visited by a man who hands her an envelope and threatens her, saying that if she does not open it at precisely 8pm the following evening, he would harm her and her family.

Sophie immediately believes that Marc’s ex-wife Claudine is responsible and, consumed by fright and anxiety, does everything in her power to prevent the contents of the envelope from hurting as many of her family and friends as possible.

What could Sophie have possibly done to receive such threats? Does she know what really happened between Marc and Claudine? And who, underneath it all, is really pulling all the strings?

Review

This book does not waste any time in getting started. It begins with a dramatic and suspenseful scene, which sets up a very intriguing premise that automatically caught my attention and caused it not to waver. The scene is set for what is a tense and mostly entertaining story, however it is not completely without its faults.

Let’s start with the positive stuff. The writing style is excellent – I really felt like the urgency and tension was there at all times, but what impressed me most was how Lucy Dawson almost always found the right words to capture each moment, often in a very emotive way which reflected a lot of my feelings as I read.

‘Reflective’ is actually a very good way of describing the writing. It is clear that a lot of thought went into creating this story and each individual character. Sophie is the narrator, and we experience all of her thoughts in very fine detail, almost in an analytical way.

I think the book might have worked slightly better in the third person, but Sophie is an engaging narrator all the same. She has her flaws – some of which are pretty serious – but I do think she meant very well so it was hard not to turn against her in the situation she is in.

The dialogue is very good and the supporting characters in the main are well developed and believable. I did have some issues with the pacing – the context and timeline of the book makes it understandable to an extent, but I do think some of it is a little too drawn out at times.

There are some interesting twists. Indeed, I spent most of the time after the letter was opened on tenterhooks, reading on keenly in search of the killer twist, and although one or two fairly dramatic things did happen, it never truly arrived.

It was actually quite a curious ending, as it all felt a bit low-key and left me with a sense that the story was incomplete. It was all a bit ambiguous, but overall this was very decent and enjoyable read.

The Author

A former magazine editor, Lucy Dawson published her first bestselling book in 2008, and has gone on to write four since then. She lives Devon with her husband and children, and confesses to finding writing in the third person uncomfortable.

That is interesting, because I actually think You Sent Me A Letter would have worked slightly better in the third person!

Verdict

A generally good read which would have been even better but for a consistent pace and more fulfilling ending. I award You Sent Me a Letter a rating of three stars.

Book Review – Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough


Pages: 
367
Published: 31st January 2017
Started reading: 16 July
Finished reading: 20 July

Synopsis (Goodreads)

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

Review

This was a surreal reading experience, and not an entirely enjoyable one. It is all spinning around in my head as I type, and the conclusion I am coming to is that this book’s plot was one of the most unusual and frankly ridiculous that I have come across.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I do not think that this was a good book; in fact it was a disappointment. However, what is really ironic is that it was always interesting and intriguing enough to make me carry on reading, and so I managed to fly through it pretty quickly.

This might be an unpopular opinion. This book is so highly-rated by a lot of readers, but despite some strong foundations and a plot which does lead to a lot of interesting questions swirling through your mind, it just did not do it for me! And here is why:

The characters are, for a start, hugely unlikable. The book tries its best to make you sympathise with all of them at various stages, but they simply do not have enough positive characteristics to make me feel connected with them or especially caring about their eventual fate.

A lot of the dialogue is poorly written and feels a little forced, and supporting characters such as Sophie and Laura seem cliched. Sophie in particular just feels like the kind of character you come across in so many other books – a female best friend who gives bog-standard relationship advice and serves no other purpose.

Now for the strangest part of the book. The Dreams, or The Night Terrors. It is crazy and nonsensical, and makes the book feel like a supernatural thriller, or even a thriller with an element of fantasy thrown in. Some readers might think of it as really clever and innovative and dramatic, and I very much respect that opinion. But to me, it is craziness to the nth degree.

And the massive twist at the end!? Well that just took the biscuit! It was meant to be a jaw-dropping, amazing twist, and to some it will be. But I was just thinking what the… And not in a good way.

I realise I have criticised the book a lot, but I like the varying perspectives. It is written in a way that kind of reminds me of The Girl on the Train. And the way Sarah Pinborough writes to make me want to keep reading a disappointing book deserves to be commended!

Themes

Behind Her Eyes contains strong references to drug and substance abuse, and some mild sexual content.

Verdict

This is a popular book, but although it was intriguing right the way through, as a whole there was too much about it that I did not like. And however incredible the ending was, it was still crazy.

I give Behind Her Eyes a rating of two stars.