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!


Book Review – Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Those of you who have occasionally read this blog or chanced upon my Twitter feed will probably know that this was probably my most anticipated book of 2018. Ever since reading her remarkable debut novel, I Let You Go, anything written by Clare Mackintosh has gone straight to the top of my TBR list.

So naturally I began reading it at the earliest opportunity. I had seen so many top reviews over social media, that my expectation levels were very high. And were they met? Well, after being a bit of a slow-burner to begin with, the answer is, absolutely yes!

It feeds on a fascinating concept, and Mackintosh handles a number of sensitive issues with terrific skill and sensitivity. Throughout the course of Let Me Lie, we encounter themes of suicide, grief, alcoholism, and mental health. The way in which Mackintosh handles one character’s Borderline Personality Disorder is very touching and affecting, not to mention written beautifully.

Like I said, the story takes a little bit of time to get up to speed, but once it does, it is a riveting read and I struggled to put the book down. It is tense and unpredictable. There are dramatic events at every turn. There are some trademark twists, as the case unravels towards its shocking conclusion.

So much happens in the final part of the book, it was almost hard to take everything in. All the same, I was captivated by what ultimately became a truly thrilling read.

What is it about?

It is coming up to Christmas, but for Anna Johnson it is a time that marks the first anniversary of the death of her mother, who apparently committed suicide by jumping off the cliffs at Beachy Head. Her father was declared dead in exactly the same circumstances just five months earlier.

Since then, Anna has moved into a relationship with her grief counsellor Mark, and has a baby daughter called Ella. But she still believes that her parents were murdered, and after receiving a message in the post questioning their deaths, she asks the police to re-open their inquiry.

Retired police officer Murray McKenzie is still volunteering with the force, but decides to investigate the deaths of Anna’s parents himself, and goes on to discover that there is something suspicious about them. The case is shrouded in mystery, but gradually his detective skills help to provide the answers.

As Anna continues to pursue the case, she receives an unexpected visitor, the first of many twists which lead her to question her childhood and her relationships, and put her life and that of her daughter in real danger. These all build to a tense and dramatic conclusion.

How does it compare to Clare Mackintosh’s other books?

For me, I Let You Go was one of those phenomenal books that you only come across once in a while. It was amazing, it was extraordinary. And there are many moments in Let Me Lie which manage to emulate that level of brilliance.

This is maybe actually her best written book to date, both in terms of its tone and its maturity. Just like in I Let You Go, the major twist in the novel sees the whole narrative turn on its head and make you question what you have read before.

It is definitely a more impressive book than her second novel, I See You. That in itself was also very good; my problem was that the characters were not well developed, and the concept seemed a little bit far-fetched. There are no such problems here – the characterisation is strong, and runs right at the heart of the novel.

There is a clear pattern emerging with Mackintosh’s work. Each of her books contains a narrator, who is part of an interesting mystery or crime, and also a police investigation concerning it, where she uses her past career as a police officer to great effect. There are major twists that lead towards a gripping conclusion, and the final lines of the novel provides one last sting in the tail, making us all wonder if there will be a sequel.


This is an excellent book. I was very close to giving it a five-star rating, but I settled on four stars, simply because the pacing early on could have been just a little quicker. But as far as book covers go, I have not seen many better!

Now I cannot wait until her next book, however long that may be!

Happy reading!

One Lovely Blog Award

First of all I would like to thank Merv, of Merv Reads for nominating me and tagging me. It was a really lovely surprise! Please do click the link to see her One Lovely Blogger Award post!

Most of the facts coming up will be book-related. Coming up with seven interesting and random facts about me is kind of difficult, so I have set out to combine the two!


  • Thank the person who nominated you for the award;
  • Share seven facts about yourself;
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers and inform them.

Seven Facts About Me

  • Long books freak me out. As someone who loves reading, this is kind of ironic, but whenever I think about reading a really long book I worry about how long it would take me to read it, so I don’t often go over 400-450 pages.
  • The only fantasy I read is Harry Potter. I am a total Harry Potter fanatic, but I have never really been able to engage with any other fantasy books, such as Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire). I just don’t find those as interesting or as (pardon the pun) magical.
  • I hardly read books by male authors. Thinking about it, the only male author I read often is John Green. I guess I just like the writing styles of female authors better, or maybe they seem to do more psychological/domestic thrillers, which are my favourite genre.
  • I obsess over bookish quotes. Every time I see any kind of tweet, picture or gif about books which contains a quote, I can’t get enough of it.
  • I like writing poetry. I don’t always get the time to do it often, but what I love about poetry is that it is flexible and allows me to be creative with words. I have also written some especially for this blog.
  • Me and my brother are reading opposites. I love reading. He hates reading. I read most of the time. He never reads. How does that work? Well, at least I get all the books to myself 😉
  • I like to take part in quizzes. I am kind of obsessed by facts, and so take part in a lot of general knowledge quizzes. I can be quite competitive!

My Nominees

Here are the 15 amazing bloggers I would like to nominate:

  1. A Novel Adventure  2. I Wish I Lived in a Library  3. Bitchin’ in the Kitchen
    4. Alex Reads and Blogs  5. bookmarkchronicles  6. Lili’s Blissful Pages
    7. OwlBeSatReading  8. Nut Free Nerd  9. Writing Wolves
    10. Amiiie’s Books  11. Glimpsing Gembles  12. Victorian Soul Critique
    13. Books-and-Dachshunds  14. Bound to Writing  15. ChocolatePages

If you have done this already, it would be great if you can leave a link to it below. Thank you!

Book Review – The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay

I don’t often visit my nearest library, but last time I did I came out with this book, which I managed to get round to reading last weekend.

Overall, it was a highly impressive read. It is sophisticated, thoughtfully written, and creates an intriguing mystery. Sanjida Kay makes very good use of its rural setting, and has clearly done a good job on researching topics such as abstract art, herbal poisons, and missing persons inquiries.

The opening part of the novel takes a fairly slow pace, but this is probably where the story is at its most refined. It does not go rushing into things – instead Kay almost introduces all of the characters, and then builds a tension-filled plot around them.

Once the main event of the book takes place and the list of suspects is presented, the story keeps you guessing, and should you decide to read this book you may be genuinely surprised by the ending. It is a solid four stars out of five, but for me, it still lacked that special something for it to be a truly outstanding novel.

What is it about?

Narrator Zoe Morley and her husband Ollie have an adopted daughter called Evie, and a young son named Ben. They live a mostly comfortable and happy life, but then Evie begins to receive gifts from somebody purporting to be her real father.

Zoe is an artist whose work is inspired by the nearby moor, and she befriends a man who claims to have have followed her work closely, and her relationship with Ollie becomes strained due to his long working hours and lack of family commitments. Evie’s increasing desire to know her real parents only make matters worse.

Then one day, after Ben is rushed to hospital, Evie goes missing, beginning a nationwide appeal which puts both Zoe and Ollie under suspicion from the police, as well as all of the people they thought they could trust. After a several dead-ends are reached, Zoe’s determination finally uncovers what really happened to her adopted daughter.

The Author

Sanjida Kay has had a varied career, both in writing and in general media. She is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but in the last few years has begun writing psychological thrillers. The Stolen Child is her second thriller. Her next one, My Mother’s Secret, comes out in May 2018.

With a PhD in zoology, she presents wildlife programmes for the BBC in addition to being an author. She lives in Bristol (hooray!), with her husband and daughter.


The Stolen Child is a very thoughtfully written book which Kay unravels with great care and attention. It is not flawless – not all of the protagonists are especially likeable, and the overhanging question of the novel goes unanswered – but it is definitely a book I enjoyed reading.

For that reason, Kay’s other thrillers are heading on to my TBR list. Some parts of The Stolen Child are told beautifully, with eloquence and clarity, and I would like to see more of that through her other work. Just leave out the strange rants about Tesco Granola next time!

Happy reading!

Verdict – Career of Evil

I really liked the TV adaptations of the first two Cormoran Strike books; so I was very much looking forward to seeing Career of Evil, the latest book in the series by Robert Galbraith to be made into a two-part drama by the BBC.

This time, I absolutely loved it. Even though I have read the book and know the story, it is gripping and tense. The tone is perfect and it is very well-rounded, as private investigator Strike and his partner Robin encounter their most dangerous case yet and their relationship becomes increasingly complex.

The only negative thing I can say about it is that two parts was not enough to cover the book, and I don’t understand why there couldn’t have been more. A lot is cut from the book and some parts seem a little rushed as far as the case is concerned, but the actors do an unbelievable job to make their characters so likeable and relatable given that so much is crammed into two hours.

What is it about?

Robin is making plans for her upcoming wedding when she receives a package containing a severed leg. This begins a murder case for Strike and the police, and he comes up with three potential suspects who he feels are evil and vengeful enough to commit such a crime.

One is child abuser Noel Brockbank, another is convicted murderer Donald Laing, and the other is James Whitaker, who Strike believes killed his mother. However, as the identity of the victim is revealed, Strike becomes a potential suspect and loses clients as a result.

Meanwhile, Robin finds out fiancee Matthew had an affair while she recovered after being forced to drop out of university. This leaves their relationship strained, and she puts herself at risk as the killer is clearly targeting her in order to get to Strike.

As the case unfolds, Strike and Robin’s working relationship is tested to the limit, as Strike aims to clear his name and track down the killer.

Changes from the book

  • The character of Reg Carver is cut
  • The whole scene with Anstis and looking into Brockbank’s army records is left out.
  • Parts of the book are told from the killer’s point of view
  • Brockbank’s first name is changed from Noel to Nile


I thought it was a brilliant watch, and probably the best adaptation of the books so far. Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger really capture the unique charm and character of Strike and Robin, and ensure that the drama is perhaps more about their working relationships than their actual cases.

My favourite part was the ending, where Strike just about makes it to Robin’s wedding. It is such a beautiful scene in the book, and it was realised perfectly.

Two great episodes – if only there were a few more!

Book Review – The Living by Lean Cullinan

This is another book I came across in the library and decided it was worth a read. It took me a few weeks to get round to starting on it, but thanks to its relatively short length and with a little help from all the snow we’ve had in the UK, I managed to finish it in just a few days.

It is an interesting and innovative read. Some of the issues presented in The Living are things that I have not come across before in the literature I’ve read, mostly because it is based very much around its Irish setting and the overriding theme of sectarianism.

But what Cullinan does really well, is to balance this topic with several other things, which combine to make this book a thriller of sorts. It is very measured and understated, but full of the complexity which keeps you from taking everything at face value.

What is it about?

The main character and narrator is Cate Houlihan, a student who lives alone in Dublin, and has a part-time job with a book publisher. One of the books they are working on is a memoir shrouded in secrecy, and is said to contain incriminating information about an old IRA conspiracy, to which members of Cate’s family have connections.

Cate is also a member of a choir, where she meets a British PhD student called Matthew. Shaking off her initial mistrust, she begins a relationship with Matthew, who purports to be studying Irish Republican history.

But he is evasive, and despite her affection for him, Cate is suspicious of Matthew’s motives and why he is keeping so much from her. She also thinks she is being followed.

Then, a series of unexpected events take place in Belfast, where Cate and her choir are giving a performance. This is where the book really gathers pace and becomes a compulsive read.

Cate is a very strong character, She is fiery and passionate, yet also very innocent, and we see that she clearly has her vulnerabilities. The more and more I got to know her, the more I rooted for her.


This was Lean Cullinan’s debut novel, and for me it was a success. She creates tension and intrigue, but also delivers on originality by coming up with a slightly irregular concept.

The pacing in some areas could be better, and there really should have been chapter breaks, but I enjoyed reading The Living. It is distinctly and unmistakably Irish, but for me that made it all the more enjoyable!

My Reading Target Rules

This is the first year where I have set myself a reading target.

I thought long and hard before choosing how many books I would try and get through in 2018, knowing that whatever number I decided on would be the most books I would try to read in a single year.

At first I was over-ambitious, thinking about trying to read 70. That would have been some target, and I definitely would have had the motivation, but it just seemed too big a step-up for me. Then it gradually came down to 50, but I thought about the pressure of reading around one book per week, so I finally settled on 45, a number that felt much more realistic and achievable.

I try to read as much as I can – but combining it with working full-time (35 hours per week) is not always easy. Then I also need to find more time in order to do my writing/blogging and a few other things, so it’s no wonder that I feel tired a lot of the time!

But like I said, I am motivated and very much embracing my target of 45. My TBR list is getting longer and longer, so I don’t have a hard time choosing my next book, and there are a few things which I am trying to stick to in order to reach my goal:

1. Read four books per month

In the past I have chosen to read at my own pace, but I have been inspired by the book blogging community to be a bit more dedicated. The maths is simple: If I read four books during each month, I shall reach my target,and I am currently on my eighth book now. So far, so good.

2. Borrow more library books

I get most of my physical books from the library, but I used to just borrow one book at a time and swap it for a new one when I finished it. Now, I have taken to borrowing multiple books at the same time, and this has allowed me to plan ahead and decide the next four or five books I am going to read.

3. Prioritise and don’t procrastinate

I have long been a procrastinator, sidetracked by things which I have realised are less rewarding and fulfilling. My target has helped me to eliminate that and set time aside for reading. Although I have always loved books, I have never made them a priority, so that is a resolution I am hoping to stick to!

If you have an annual reading target, are there anything in particular that you do in order to achieve it? If so, please comment and let me know!

Book Review – Dead Secret by Ava McCarthy

One word to describe this book? Wow.

I picked it up almost randomly from a library one day, thinking that it simply looked like the kind of book that I normally like to read. It turned out (for me, at least), to be the very definition of a thriller; with unbelievable, almost heart-stopping twists unravelling a multi-layered and mysterious plot.

It is a book that is truly amazing, yet enormously shocking at the same time, because of the issues that are explored, and the truth surrounding the protagonist, Jodie. She is a really compelling character, and I found it impossible not to like her despite some obvious flaws.

So much happens over the course of 357 pages. There are multiple settings – we experience prisons, hospitals, hotels, motels, care homes, wintry forest, airports, and Jodie even takes a trip to Belize. It is almost like The Shawshank Redemption meets Spotlight.

There is no anti-climax in Dead Secret. The final ‘showdown’ is outstandingly written, full of tension, drama, and outrageous revelations that had me audibly gasping. It was what convinced me to give this novel five stars!

What is it about?

Jodie Garrett has set out to kill her husband, Ethan, who she believes is responsible for the death of her young daughter, Abby. She apparently succeeds, as we next see her having spent two years in prison for his murder.

However, a revelation from a journalist called Novak prompts her to make an escape, and together they help to piece together the truth about Ethan, which brings Jodie’s horrific family history right to the forefront. And all the while, she is a hunted fugitive, desperate for answers, but desperate to avoid being recaptured by police.

I really can’t say anymore – otherwise I would be giving too much away!


The book contains depictions of strong violence, serious sexual assault and exploitation, identity theft, and minor drug use. If these issues are likely to trigger a negative response, then this book is probably one to avoid.

The Author

Ava McCarthy is an Irish former medical physicist, and analyst for the London Stock Exchange, who became an author in 2009 upon the publication of her debut novel The Insider, the first in the Harry Martinez series.

Dead Secret is her first standalone thriller, released in January 2016. McCarthy currently lives in her home city of Dublin, with her husband and two children, and her novels have been translated into 13 languages worldwide.


This is an incredible book, which keeps delivering right up to the final page. Jodie is one of the best characters I have come across in a modern thriller, and what makes McCarthy’s writing even better, is that the answers are actually hidden in plain sight.

I took a few chapters to fully get to grips with the book, but once I did I was fully absorbed. The story may shock you. The truth may disgust you. But whatever way I look at it, this is a fantastic book.

Results Release

Hello, everyone!

Tonight I got another poem for you all. Some weeks ago it was exam time at the University of Bristol, and I posted a poem about that.

This week, all the students are getting their results, and it has been crazy busy! I have been almost constantly giving out results sheets to students, coming to collect them from my office, and upon handing them over I have seen some interesting reactions.

So here is another poem, which explores the points of view of the students, and also those of me and my colleagues in the office, free from the pressures of exams!

The verdict has arrived
Lying innocently in gathered piles
Scores of candidates wait with apprehension;
Many quivering with compressed angst
Others are feigning coolness;
And the rest stroll in as if they’re winging it

The truth awaits, and its in our hands
The gatekeepers of the decisive documents
Standing merciful while the weight is elsewhere;
That our own tests are a thing of the past
But now we serve the current band;
The students now with their results at hand

For a moment a sheet of paper defines their lives
Some left to regret they hadn’t revised
We witness the delight, we notice the pain
We feel the fine line between a pass and a fail
Those who triumph feel the pressure subside
But those who lose out, a retake looms ahead

Book Review – Friend Request by Laura Marshall

This book was right near the top of my TBR list. All the reviews I had seen for it were positive, and it had the look of a riveting, truly edge-of-the-seat domestic thriller, so I had pretty high expectations when I began to read it at the start of this week.

Did it meet my expectations? Yes and no. It definitely succeeds in creating a gripping mystery, where the answers are tactfully hidden, and there are several red herrings, which Marshall uses very effectively. But in between all the tense moments and twists, I just felt there was a lack of originality.

That is not to say it isn’t well written, or indeed a well-crafted story which makes strong use of what is actually a reasonably simple concept. I just didn’t connect with it as much as I have with other books in the same genre.

What is it about?

Louise Williams is going about her life, but it is changed in an instant by a new friend request on Facebook. It is said to be from Maria Weston, somebody who she knew from her school days. Just one problem – Maria died over 25 years ago.

As things develop and Louise begins to receive more messages from Maria, the secrets of her past actions are dragged back up to the surface, and she regains contact with some of her former classmates, and all the time we are made aware that Louise blames herself for Maria’s death.

The novel is mainly set in 2016, but occasionally goes back to 1989 to the events which led to Maria’s disappearance. In 2016, a school reunion leads to a major turn of events, which has Louise fearing for her life and that of her four-year-old son, Henry.

But as the terror that engulfs Louise reaches its conclusion, it emerges that the answer to everything lies a little closer to home…

The Author

This was Laura Marshall’s debut novel, having chosen to fulfil her writing ambitions after 20 years working in conference production. Friend Request has been nominated for two literary awards, and she is currently working on her second book, expected to be released later this year.

She lives in Kent with her husband and two children, and just like many new authors in this genre, has produced a bestseller with her opening work.


This is a very rounded and comprehensive thriller, with a mystery that will keep you guessing right up until the end. Marshall uses the themes within the novel to build tension and leave the reader truly engaged and wondering what really did happen to Maria all those years ago. It also provides some very interesting and relevant observations on the use and prominence of social media.

But it is not perfect. I noticed some similarities to other books, such as the final revelation, and the revolving between two different time periods. The ending was also a little rushed, in terms of tying the loose ends. So overall, it is readable and provides a lot of mystique, but it lacks that something special to make it stand out among other books in the genre.

Two Years

Exactly two years ago, I began this blog, and I have to confess that I am surprised to still be writing regular posts on here!

There have been times where I have felt that it was no longer worth it, or that I had nothing useful to contribute, but it is thanks to this community, and every fellow blogger I have connected with on social media that I am still going. You have convinced me that it is definitely worth it!

So I have written a poem to reflect that, and the wonderfully supportive nature of the blogging community.

Founded and grown over time
The healthy pillars of support
Making sure we seldom feel down
By building a community of rapport

We solve each other’s problems
Give helpful words in times of need
And in return, we may discover
Another fine blog to read

You’ve created something special
A strong and unique new site
No matter what your follower count
You have something valuable to write

Many of us have asked ourselves,
Why do we do it?
Is it a pointless exercise?
Does no-one want to read it?

Yet you keep going
Boosted by a network of peers
Their wonderful kind words
Have helped me to two years