Discussion post: Focusing on a particular genre

Focusing on a genre

Today I’m going to talk about something I’ve been thinking about for a while – whether not focusing a specific genre for a book blog is a positive or a negative, or whether it can be both.

I read a lot of different genres depending on my mood and what I’m feeling like at the time – and my blog has evolved naturally as a result of this. I quite often have a few different books on the go at once. For example at the moment I’m listening to a crime/thriller audiobook while I’m out and about, reading the latest fiction release as an eBook while on my commute and reading an epic fantasy in paperback at home.

I’m enjoying each of these equally, and sooner or later they’ll all pop up as reviews on this site. However, I’m conscious that for some people, they might be primarily interested in just one of these genres.

I have lots of wonderful followers who are kind enough to read and comment on my posts, no matter what the subject matter. However, I’ve often wondered if my blog would do better if I focused more on one particular genre or topic.

A lot of the blogs I personally follow have a clear identity and have carved out a real niche for themselves in the blogosphere – and this is something that I see as a real positive. For example, I follow a lot of blogs that are mainly focused on YA, on crime or on fantasy or sci fi. I love that there are bloggers that I can come back to time and time again and know that the books they’re reviewing are ones that I know I’ll be interested in.

On the other hand, I also think that not having a specific genre can help to attract a wider audience. I also follow a number of blogs where not all of the reviews are necessarily of books I’d read, but I know that when there’s a book review I’m not personally interested in, I can always skip down and read a discussion post, Q&A or review that does interest me.

Plus, sometimes reviews of books I would never have thought I’d be interested in pop up on my WordPress Reader that sound great, so I’ll add them to my TBR and potentially discover something new.

I’m really interested to hear what you guys think about this one – so please do comment and let me know!

Do you have a primary genre for your blog? Is this because you’ve made a conscious decision that this is the area you’re going to focus on for blogging, or simply because it’s the genre you’re most interested in as a reader?

Do you prefer to read blogs that are mainly about a specific genre, or are you happy to skip past the reviews that aren’t for you if there’s other interesting, non-genre specific posts for you to read?

Review: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie MurdersThe story: When she first starts reading the manuscript for crime writer Alan Conway’s latest novel, editor Susan Ryland has no idea what’s coming. On the surface, the new book is bestseller material – a vintage whodunit set in a quiet English village featuring Alan’s well-loved fictional private investigator, Atticus Pund. The book will change her life.

My thoughts: Magpie Murders has a totally unique format that I’ve never come across before. It is essentially a book within a book. The first half is Alan Conway’s fictional manuscript – which is pure Agatha Christie, a traditional whodunit in a quintessential English village, full of red herrings and suspicious characters.

I loved the traditional setting and that this half of the book is set in the 1950s – which creates a totally different atmosphere to most crime/detective novels that are set in the present day. This is back to the good old days of handprints under windows, squeaky bicycle wheels and big dramatic reveals. It’s comforting in a way, like settling in to watch an episode of your favourite period drama or (if you’re from the UK) Midsomer Murders.

The second half of the book is then the story of Susan and her attempts to get to the bottom of a real life mystery concerning Alan Conway (the fictional author), along with her realisation that the fictional novel may hold a deeper meaning and clues to help her solve her current conundrum.

I’m finding it hard to review this book without giving away spoilers, and I honestly think that it’s better as a reader to come at this book without knowing too much about it. I can say that I loved the way this book was written. It comes together on so many levels, with clues hidden within clues and hidden references throughout. If you love vintage crime, great mysteries and clever links, you’ll love this book.

In conclusion… All in all, this was a really enjoyable read from start to finish, and I can’t wait to read Anthony Horowitz’s next novel.

How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

How to Stop TimeThe story: Tom Hazard, currently working as a teacher living in London, has spent his life hiding a secret – he was actually born in 1581. Tom has a condition that means that he ages so slowly that he has lived through many lifetimes. Now under the protection of others like him through the Albatross society, Tom is given all he needs to reinvent his identity every eight years. The only rule is never to fall in love.

But although Tom tries to stick to the rules, being back in the city where he was born brings back long forgotten memories and desires. He’s also been searching for something for a long time which seems to finally be within his reach.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book and the way it was written, and once I’d started I couldn’t put it down. I loved how Tom’s past was overlaid with the present throughout this book – over the centuries he’s been on a stage with Shakespeare, sailed with great explorers and drank in a bar in Paris with the Fitzgerald’s – and when he’s teaching his students history, he’s drawing on all his own personal experiences to really bring the past to life.

At first glance, he appears to have it all – he’s travelled the world, set up with everything he needs and has enjoyed all that the world has to offer.

But there are of course the inevitable problems. He’s watched loved ones die and been unable to stop it, he’s unable to for any meaningful attachments for fear of questions, and the mundane details of daily life become increasingly insignificant.

Threaded throughout the whole novel are little insights that make us think about what it means to be human.  It raises some really interesting questions – what is life without love and the people that surround us? Are existing and living the same thing?

The villain of the piece, Hendrich, the leader of the Albatross Society, is suitably dastardly and threatening, which keeps the pace moving along well and adds some additional drama to a story that otherwise may have run the risk of becoming a little bogged down in reflection and memories.

The subject matter and style really reminded me of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which I also loved. I’m not surprised to hear that there’s a film of this in the making, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. The skill of Haig’s writing means that in my head I can already imagine exactly how it will play out on screen, and I can’t wait to watch it.

Top 5: My most anticipated summer reads

The Good Daughter
Author: Karin Slaughter
Publication date: 13 July

Amazon/Goodreads summary: Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy smalltown family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father – Pikeville’s notorious defence attorney – devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself – the archetypal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again – and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatised – Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case which can’t help triggering the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime which destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried for ever…

Why I’m looking forward to it: Karin Slaughter is one of my go-to crime writers and one of the few that I auto-buy. She’s great at writing gripping stories with plot twists that I don’t see coming.

The Word is Murder
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Publication date: 24 August

Amazon/Goodreads summary: A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral. A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own. A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control. What do they have in common?

(So far, so enigmatic! But then I saw this blurb on Horowitz’s website…)

Summary from Horowitz’s website: It’s been two years since Injustice aired and Detective Daniel Hawthorne needs cash. Having gotten himself fired from his job at the Metropolitan police, Hawthorne decides to approach Anthony Horowitz. He’s investigating a bizarre and complex murder and he wants Anthony to write a book about it, a bestselling book of course, with a 50/50 split. The only catch is they need to solve the crime.

But award winning crime writer Anthony Horowitz has never been busier in his life. He’s working on Foyle’s War and writing his first Sherlock Holmes novel. He has a life of his own and doesn’t really want to be involved with a man he finds challenging to say the least. And yet he finds himself fascinated by the case and the downright difficult detective with the brilliant, analytical mind. Would it be really such a crazy idea for Anthony to become the Watson to his Holmes? The Hastings to his Poirot? Should he stick to writing about murder? Or should he help investigate?

Why I’m looking forward to it: This sounds really interesting – Anthony Horowitz has actually written himself into this novel as a character. I recently read and really enjoyed Magpie Murders, which featured a book within a book, and this seems like it will be equally unique. I’m hoping that this latest novel lives up to my high expectations!

The Readymade Thief
Author: Augustus Rose
Publication date: 10 August

Amazon/Goodreads summary: Lee Cuddy is seventeen years old and on the run, alone on the streets of Philadelphia. A fugitive with no money, no home and nowhere to go, Lee finds refuge in a deserted building known as the Crystal Castle. But the Castle conceals a sinister agenda, one master-minded by a society of fanatical men set on decoding a series of powerful secrets hidden in plain sight. And they believe Lee holds the key to it all.

Aided by Tomi, a mysterious young hacker, Lee escapes into the unmapped corners of the city. But the deeper she goes underground, the more tightly she finds herself bound in the strange web of the men she’s trying to elude. Aware that the lives of those she cares for are in increasing danger, it is only when Lee steps from the shadows to confront who is chasing her that she discovers what they’re really after, and why.

Why I’m looking forward to it: I haven’t read a good thriller in ages. I also love a conspiracy plot. This sounds like a cross between I Am Pilgrim and The Da Vinci Code, and a perfect summer read.

The Music Shop
Author: Rachel Joyce
Publication date: 13 July

Amazon/Goodreads summary: 1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind…

Why I’m looking forward to it: I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and while I wasn’t as keen on Perfect, I still think the Rachel Joyce is a really talented author. She has a real skill in creating characters and settings that leap off the page. This sounds like it could be a really interesting story and I’m excited to read it.

The Last Tudor
Author: Philippa Gregory
Publication date: 8 August

Amazon/Goodreads summary: Jane Grey was Queen of England for nine days. Using her position as cousin to the deceased king, her father and his conspirators put her on the throne ahead of the king’s half-sister Mary, who quickly mustered an army, claimed her crown and locked Jane in the Tower. When Jane refused to betray her Protestant faith, Mary sent her to the executioner’s block. There Jane turned her father’s greedy, failed grab for power into her own brave and tragic martyrdom.

‘Learn you to die’ is the advice that Jane gives in a letter to her younger sister Katherine, who has no intention of dying. She intends to enjoy her beauty and her youth and find love. But her lineage makes her a threat to the insecure and infertile Queen Mary and, when Mary dies, to her sister Queen Elizabeth, who will never allow Katherine to marry and produce a potential royal heir before she does.  So when Katherine’s secret marriage is revealed by her pregnancy, she too must go to the Tower.

‘Farewell, my sister,’ writes Katherine to the youngest Grey sister, Mary. A beautiful dwarf, disregarded by the court, Mary finds it easy to keep secrets, especially her own, while avoiding Elizabeth’s suspicious glare. After watching her sisters defy the queen, Mary is aware of her own perilous position as a possible heir to the throne. But she is determined to command her own destiny and be the last Tudor to risk her life in matching wits with her ruthless and unforgiving cousin Elizabeth.

Why I’m looking forward to it: Philippa Gregory is a guilty pleasure of mine. I’m a history graduate who wrote her dissertation on the evolution of the Royal Family – and I’ve always been fascinated by this turbulent period of history. I also love how Gregory’s books always give us a unique (and female) perspective on historical events.

What are your most anticipated summer releases? Did any of mine make your list?

Blood Wedding – Pierre Lemaitre

Blood WeddingThe story: Sophie is convinced she’s losing her mind. She forgets things, has erratic mood swings and there are stretches of time that are complete blanks. Her carefully ordered life has fallen apart. Things come to a head when she’s working as a nanny,  and one morning finds her six year old charge brutally murdered – and all the evidence says it was Sophie that did it. Fleeing the scene, she must find a way to survive while she tries to come to terms with what’s happened.

My thoughts: Sophie as a narrator is as unreliable as they come. While she has fragments of memories that convince her of her own guilt, she cannot explain her actions, even to herself. She has a natural instinct to survive and evade capture, but to do so she must go to places that she never thought she could. She thinks she’s lost her mind, and maybe she has. But then again, maybe she hasn’t.

Pierre Lemaitre specialises in switching up viewpoints mid-way through a story and turning everything we thought we knew completely on its head. He’s done it before, in Alex, and he does it again here superbly. I can’t go into detail or it would completely spoil the story, but there are some intense scenes of psychological torture and violence. It’s very dark and very twisted. It’s like Gone Girl on steroids.

Not everything is as it first seems. We get a unique insight into the minds of two main characters, who are each seeing events from a different point of view and force us to re-examine everything we’ve been told in a new light. Whether or not you believe Sophie is guilty of murdering her charge, she certainly crosses numerous lines as the novel progresses – playing with our concepts of responsibility and blame.

As much as I appreciated the clever plot and the masterful character development that we see in Sophie throughout the novel, I personally found the subject matter to be a bit too intense. I’d like to point out that I read a lot of crime fiction and psychological thrillers, including a number of other books by Pierre Lemaitre (Alex and Camille), and I’d say that generally I’m not too squeamish. However, the more I read of Blood Wedding, the more disturbing I found it. Sophie’s thought processes and experiences are deeply troubling, and I found it a really uncomfortable read.

I still think that Pierre Lemaitre can write a cracking psychological thriller to rival the best in the genre, but this one wasn’t for me. I’m not going to let it put me off reading his books in the future though.

June wrap up


Books read: 8
I started off so well this month but hit a bit of a reading slump towards the end of the month – I’ve been trying to read an arc of a new fantasy novel for a couple of weeks as I know it needs a review soon, but I just can’t get into it. My favourite read this month was The Wise Man’s Fear, but I was really disappointed by The Sense of an Ending. The Power by Naomi Alderman was also a really interesting read and this month won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

  • The Shadow Sister, Lucinda Riley
  • The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
  • The Power, Naomi Alderman
  • House of Names, Colm Tobin
  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  • He Said/She Said, Erin Kelly
  • The Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel


Books acquired: 4
After last month’s buying spree, this month I was a lot more reserved. I only acquired four new books, all of which I’m really looking forward to reading.

  • Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue
  • All Our Wrong Todays, Elan Mastai
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy
  • Three Days and a Life, Pierre Lemaitre


Blog posts published: 6
By far the most popular posts on The Stacked Shelf this month was the discussion on my most overused expressions in my book reviews, which sparked some really interesting comments. I posted less regularly this month than in other recent months, so my ambition for June is to definitely post at least twice each week.


TBR for July:
I managed to read four out of the six books I set for my TBR for June, which was good going for me. I’m hoping I can continue on this successful streak in July. This month, I’m most looking forward to reading A God in Ruins. I loved Life After Life and I’ve been looking forward to reading this follow up for ages. I also have a few arc reads to catch up on this month.

  • Darien, C. F. Iggulden
  • The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood
  • Behold the Dreamers, Imbolob Mbue
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy
  • Three Days and a Life, Pierre Lemaitre
  • A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
  • The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter


Challenge progress:

Goodreads Challenge: My Goodreads reading goal is to read 50 books this year. I’ve now completed 43 books – meaning that I’m currently ahead of schedule by 19 books. This was a conservative goal which I’ve always been confident of achieving, but this challenge was mainly about tracking how many books I’m reading, as I’ve never kept count before. (43/50)

Beat the Backlist Challenge: The Beat the Backlist challenge is all about knocking off titles that have been on your TBR for a while. Books need to have been published prior to 2017, and I’m only including books that I actually bought before 2017 and that have been sitting around waiting for me to read them – so no new purchases or library reads. This month, one of my reads qualified, so my total has crept up to three books towards a goal of twelve. (3/12)


How was your June? What was your favourite read? What do you have planned for July?

Discussion post: Overused expressions in book reviews

Overused phrases in reviews

We all know that sometimes reviewing books can be hard (I’ve written a post on this here), and that finding the right words to express yourself clearly and coherently is sometimes a struggle!

I’ve recently noticed that I tend to fall back on many of the same words and phrasing in many of my reviews because I know they work and help me to get from one part of a review to another more easily. At the risk of all of my reviews sounding the same, I have to actively try and not use these phrases when I’m writing.

Looking back over my posts from the last three years, these five expressions have popped up more times that I can count and stand out as being some of my most overused fall-back phrases…

  1. ‘It soon becomes clear’ – This is the perfect way to round off a plot summary with a bang and get onto the actual analysis of what I thought about a book, and I seem to be able to use it while talking about literally every book!
  2. ‘That said’ or ‘having said that’ – If I’m trying to write a balanced review that looks at both positives and negatives, this is a quick way to get from one to the other. I write it in every review and then have to force myself to go back and rewrite!
  3. ‘I wasn’t overly keen on…’ – Usually to be read as ‘I didn’t like this at all but I’m trying to be polite’.
  4. ‘Kept me gripped’ – If I’m scrambling to explain exactly why I was so absorbed in a book, this phrase inevitably pops up. It says nothing but hopefully conveys there was a certain something that kept me reading!
  5. ‘Ultimately though…’ – I sometimes struggle with ending a review. You can’t just stop, you need a way to round it all off nicely. This is my go-to last sentence starter.

Not using these phrases is harder than you’d think. My fingers type them automatically out of habit. As writing is literally what I do for a living (not the exciting creative writing kind though unfortunately), I feel like I should be better at finding alternative ways to express my opinions about books.

How do you write book reviews? Are there certain words you come back to time and time again? What are your most overused expressions?