The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

The Last House on Needless Street, Catriona Ward, Hardback, 400 pages, Profile Books Ltd, Waterstones, £7.49

The Last House on Needless Street takes place in an ordinary house on an ordinary street. However what happens in this street is anything but ordinary.

The plot focuses on the disappearance of Lulu, also known as Little Girl with Popsicle, eleven years ago at a lake near Ted Bannerman’s house. Ted Bannerman was always a prime suspect in the case but was never arrested. Eleven years later and Ted is still perceived to be the prime suspect in the case.

The narrative follows four POV, Ted, Lauren, Olivia and Dee, through the form of chapters. Each POV is pivotal to the mystery of the missing girl by the lake. Not only do these narratives help us uncover what has happened to Little Girl with Popsicle, but their distinct voices and attitudes highlight Catriona Ward’s talent for characterisation.

Before reading The Last House on Needless Street, you must banish all predictions and assumptions of the novel you’re expecting to read and focus on the book in the present. This novel has many twists with many secrets unfolding like a spring flower ready to bloom.

Throughout the novel we learn of Ted’s loneliness and the depths he’s willing to go for companionship. In some areas Ward’s novel echoes the loneliness of the creature in Shelley’s Frankenstein, who seeks affection but is afraid of the outcome.

The Last House on Needless Street may leave you with challenging views and conflicting opinions. Regardless of a like or dislike for this book, it cannot be ignored that Catriona Ward’s writing is gripping and well-considered on a topic so delicate. Due to some complexities, the novel has been considered to fit the horror genre, however if you like psychological thrillers, I would urge you to consider a jump into this book, as it provides areas accomodating both genres.

If you would like to read the book, you can find it here.

For more reviews head over to my instagram page @cbarkerwriting for daily updates.

How To Navigate Your Thoughts Into Your Writing

How to Navigate your thoughts into your writing

It’s a great feeling wanting to write, yet finding somewhere to start can be tricky. Even if you know what you want to write, it can sometimes be difficult to start if a plot hasn’t occurred to you yet. This then begs the question: Can you write without an initial plot? This article will focus on the notion of wanting to write but not having a clue where to start. If this behaviour sounds familiar or is something that you know you struggle with, then read on for my top tips for overcoming the beginning of your writing.

Do I just begin writing and see where I go?

This is partially what I tend to do. I’ll have an idea or a style of writing I’m wanting to convey within my work and tend to work my way through it before several drafts of editing. However sometimes you may not know how to get to your destination and therefore become stuck at where to start. If this happens to you, try thinking about your characters’ journeys within the piece of writing too. Many characters tend to take their own route rather than allowing the writer to direct them. It is for this reason as to why I would encourage you to focus on character development, before you jump straight into a story.  Often by doing this a character will help you create a plot to drive your writing forward. So sit back and enjoy the ride!

Wouldn’t a really structured plot help?

This can be extremely useful for long writing projects, however I believe an over-structured plot can hinder a writer’s creativity if too rigid. So how structured is too structured you ask? This is ultimately down to you. Consider how free you are wanting your writing to be. Do you just want to know how to get from A to B or do you want to know every direction and service station that you’ll end up in? When writing, the phrase, ‘I never get lost, I just end up changing where I want to go,’ comes to mind. Sometimes not knowing where you are going, helps you to explore an area you have never been to before. This is similar when it comes to your writing and creativity. Try writing where your stay begins and ends. Now ask yourself, do you need anything else to help you start writing? If yes, include a middle twist and if not, start your engine.

I never get lost, I just end up changing where I want to go

It’s all good writing but how do I get ideas?

Ah, this old chestnut. Sometimes considering the day to day stuff that people get up to can be a great place to start. For example, just before lockdown I was made aware of TikTok (a social media platform that consists of various videos, currently a lot of dancing!). It might be that many teenagers use this platform but what about the elderly? Imagine an old man that uses it to interact with his family and he ends up going viral and there you have it – the beginning of an idea. Make a list of daily tasks that you, a friend or a family member does and try to consider a piece of writing including this daily  task or chore.

Ideas are around us all of the time, so pay close attention to your surroundings and you’ll never have to worry about finding an idea again.

The Last by Hanna Jameson

The Last by Hanna Jameson, paperback, 400 pages, Waterstones, £8.99

Hanna Jameson’s The Last is an immersive read from beginning to end. This novel is unlike anything I have read before as it begins in a situation that no one else has ever experienced. The Last is about the last remaining guests at a hotel in Switzerland During their stay the work ends. The Last tries to exhibit what this situation would be like. Furthermore, with reason to believe a murderer is staying at the hotel – as a body is discovered – the novel begins to question whether morals have ended too.

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Background

Throughout this novel it is clearly evident that Jameson has given ‘the end of the world’ many thought when creating this novel. Small luxuries we take for granted are stripped away from them in an instant, making us question what we could possible live with – or without. Furthermore with a hotel providing accommodation for a variety of cultures, The Last begins to showcase humanities beliefs to the bare bone.

Format

Interestingly the format of this novel isn’t your standard ‘chapter 1.’ The novel has been written by John, a professor from San Fransisco, who is currently attending a conference. Instead of chapters the novel follows a diary-like structure to recollect the days that have went by. This may not be everyone’s favourite structure style, however it is very suiting and adds a personal touch to the experience.

Themes

There are two main themes underlying in this novel. One is anthropology and the other is mystery. Throughout The Last, all of the characters are significantly different and thus show very different reactions to the end of the world and to each other. Although I found this very interesting, my main reason for reading this novel was due to a murder investigation in a very unusual circumstance.

As the novel progressed I was unsure how the novel was going to end as there was little progress made about the murder. Overall I felt let down as the murderer was only identified after their was a solution to morals and leadership. For this reason, I felt like the mystery element was an afterthought and made the suspense I had, flop like a pancake.

I am still pleased that I read The Last as I did enjoy the characters’ journey. However I would describe this novel as speculative fiction, as I felt misled with this novel being associated as a crime or thriller. If you like alternative fiction, think Lord of the Flies survival in the time of Brave New World, then you’re in for a treat.

Please give it a read and keep an open mind. It may not have been the type of book I wanted to read but I really enjoyed the change.

You can pick this book up here.

This book was received via NetGalley.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, paperback, 391 pages, Waterstones £5.99.

I initially picked this book up out of Tesco’s (currently 2 for £8) as I wanted a funny, happy and uplifting read and I feel that I got just that with this book.

The Flatshare is about two people who decide to share a flat at different times and days of the week. Leon is a nurse that works nightshifts and Tiffy works in publishing craft books. The novel itself reflects the point of view of both Tiffy and Leon in simultaneous chapters. Along with the character’s points of view, comes along various themes to be discovered.

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Friendship – A really strong element to this book is friendship. Although there are two main friends to the main character, the book also shows the importance of friendship in the workplace and how they can also impact our mental state and our enjoyment at work. This is reflected through both Tiffy’s work colleague Rachel and Leon’s patients Holly and Mr.Prior. All of the characters add something extra to each friendship and helps the reader relate to the characters and their experiences.

Love and Gaslighting – Gaslighting is a strong theme in this book, however (pardon the pun) it gradually comes to light for the reader, so that it doesn’t take away from the characters or plot itself. You could argue that this only enriches the characters experience.

Humour – One element that is consistent throughout this novel is humour. Part of this book’s charm is that it is so relatable to many readers that it will have you laughing both at the characters and yourself. Describing someones eyes as being as ‘brown as Lindt chocolate,’ I thought was personally genius. It strikes me as one of those novels where everything you want to say but daren’t, is said. 

After reading The Flatshare I felt it had an uplifting plot that left me with a smile on my face and a few aching stomach muscles. Once I had finished reading it, I looked up Beth O’Leary’s inspiration for the novel. After discovering that O’Leary wanted her book to be ‘a book you reach for when you need a hug,’ I could not believe how well the feeling I had experienced, matched her description.

I normally read thrillers but I wanted a change to something that was a bit more upbeat. Thinking I needed a laugh in lockdown, I gave this a try. I therefore would not say that you don’t need to read Chick Lit, in order to give this book a read. If you want to laugh, have some fun and let your hair down (if you have any!), then this is it!

You can buy this book at most supermarkets (as is her other book, The Switch, which I’ll be reviewing also) or via Waterstones, as mentioned above.

Happy Reading and stay safe!

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, Paperback, 434 pages, £8.99

From the author who provided us with the best-seller and now TV series, Big Little Lies, Moriarty has allowed readers to see the transformations of nine perfect strangers. Moriarty’s latest novel is set in a very glamorous and prestigious health resort in Australia. Tranquillum house offers its guests a 10 day transformation, however does anyone last the full 10 days?

This book is propelled forward by its fantastic characters. Each character has a relatable trait and is very easy to emphasise with. At times the pace of the novel does begin to steady as all of the characters viewpoints need to be taken into consideration. Each chapter provides a character’s viewpoint and moves the story towards another character’s point of view. This is a great tool to create in-depth characters however sometimes the pace of the novel can become a secondary element.

Throughout the novel the reader goes through a rollercoaster of emotions. We laugh, cry and feel for each character and the decisions they make in the book. Moriarty is very aware of her readership. This is emphasised more so towards the end of her novel.

Moriarty demonstrates a clear love of romance through her engagement to the reader. Similarly this also has the same impact as Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Please do not think that this is a romance novel however. Nine Perfect Strangers offers suspense and comedy throughout, so much so, that it is hard to distinguish a clear genre for this novel.

IMG_8257The biggest message from this novel would be to not judge a book by its cover. This message coincidentally also relates to my viewpoints of the novel but also to the nine perfect strangers. The more you read, the more you will realise that nothing is ever just black or white.

If you wish to buy a copy at a discount price of £6.99 you can do so here 

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects By Gillian Flynn, paperback, 254 pages, £7.99

All families have their secrets, but none as twisted as the Preaker family. In a town as small as Wind Gap, Camille Preaker did not realise what she was getting herself into. Sharp Objects begins with Camille Preaker returning to her hometown to cover the murder of 2 young girls for her local paper, Chicago News. Although Camille prepared herself as much as possible for the return of Wind Gap, nothing could prepare her for what she is about to discover about the murders and herself.

This novel allows the reader to view Wind Gap through the eyes of Camille. Points of view are questioned as although the reader learns about Camille’s background of Wind Gap, her approach to what happened in this town appears conventional to her. This may have a conflicting interest with the reader.410c6rsrdbl._sx303_bo1204203200_

The pace throughout the novel appears slow. The frustrations with no one telling Camille news on the murders can at time reflect the readers frustrations. It is only when Camille discovers something about her past that the pace begins to quicken as all of the pieces come together.

Flynn’s novels always involve characters with deep flaws. Although Amy’s mental state was flawed in Gone Girl to represent a psychopath, she was still a likeable character. Interestingly, there are many flawed characters throughout Sharp Objects. This could emphasise the harsh reality of Wind Gap, as nothing is as perfect as it seems. However this could also demonstrate a variety of potential murderers with motives. Interestingly the only character without a flaw is Marian. It is clear that the lack of flaw has been created on purpose however the way in which Flynn has characterised Sharp Objects is a skill in itself.

Sharp Objects would appeal to previous readers of Gillian Flynn, as well as people who like to challenge conventions. The disturbing reality of what appears to be a perfect town appears to be the most conflicting read. The twists and turns in this novel are similar to Paula Hawkins Into the Water as the twists occur right until the last word.

If you are intrigued to discover Wind Gap for yourself then you can buy Sharp Objects here.

However just remember that Curry and his wife won’t be coming to get you.

The Death of Mrs.Westaway

The Death of Mrs.Westaway by Ruth Ware, 400 Pages, paperback, £8.99 at Waterstones.

Get out while you still can. Ruth Ware has created a thrilling house with even darker secrets. The Death of Mrs. Westaway begins with Hal and a mysterious inheritance to someone she has never heard of. Pretending all is well, she returns to the estate and realised that this is more than she bargained for.

The pace in this novel is well thought out. It begins rather fast paced, with the introduction to Hal and her need to escape. After the first meeting with the lawyer Mr.Treswick, the novel seemed to slow a little. However this allows the reader to come to terms with what is happening and to explore the grounds and the rest of the characters with Hal. From this point on, the pace continues to build, leaving the reader with sleepless nights of reading.

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The plot itself plays to Ware’s strengths as her style cannot be unacknowledged in the plot. Ware’s writing style tends to be located in a location that holds memories and secrets that are carefully revealed one by one. The Death of Mrs.Westaway tends to be the most focused towards a mystery novel, with Hal and the reader being the detective. With this being said, this mystery brings the traditional victorian mystery into the contemporary here and now. Therefore do not expect a predictable read with this book. Whilst you are reading one part, Ware is tweaking with something else in the background.

There is some very significant influences to this novel that are very hard to ignore. The past location of Ezra and the estate itself, are strong influences of Daphne Du Maurie’s Rebecca. Throughout the novel the similarities are uncanny. However Ruth Ware makes sure that you don’t read the same novel twice. 

Furthermore superstition also plays a key part in the novel, from tarot cards to magpies that swarm the grounds. This could challenge the reader’s beliefs of what is believed and what is fact. It is this concept that is consistently returned to when trying to uncover the secrets throughout the novel. What are the facts and what is it that you want to believe?

The Death of Mrs.Westaway is a perfect choice for readers who loved Rebecca or are curious about superstition. However if you enjoy a good mystery but would wish they kept you guessing, then again, you’re looking at your next read.

If you are still not entranced by this novel then, through the words of Mrs.Warren Get out while you still can.

Although we already know what you are going to read next, don’t we?

To buy The Death of Mrs. Westaway in hardback click hereThe Death of Mrs.Westaway is available to pre order in paperback.

Rebecca By Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, 448 pages, paperback, £6.99, Waterstones.

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

Daphne Du Maurier’s most iconic novel begins in one of the most famous houses of all. Manderley. A sudden flashback to the house brings a sense of intrigue as the reader begins to follow the future Mrs. De Winter in Monte Carlo. However it is only when  Mrs. De Winter gets to Manderley that she realises that all is not what it seems at this enchanting place.Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 11.58.04

Daphne Du Maurier demonstrates descriptive language at its finest whilst balancing the drama perfectly amongst the dialogue. After reading this novel I can see elements of modern literature that has taken certain aspects of this novel into their own. The concept of the pensive in Harry Potter is similar to Du Maurier’s interpretations of memory. Furthermore with certain characters within the novel, it is a little more of a coincidence that Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl takes a similar approach in characterisation.

Reflecting back on Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier appears to have been one of the first influential female writer’s to have written a psychological thriller. Yes, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is a close second, however I would suggest that this takes a more horrific approach as opposed to a psychological view. The closest I have seen writing as similar as this would be Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Sadly this is just a novella, however if you have enjoyed this read previously then Rebecca is the book for you.

Du Maurier’s novel has a strong focus on identification of the self. Her writing shows elements of the beauty myth to emphasise self identity, through becoming the new wife of Mr. De Winter and the new owner of Manderley. It appears as if the main character is in a world where she is being told how to be, that she must break all of these barriers in order to find herself and her courage along the way.

I would suggest this novel to everyone purely because I do not feel that this novel is solely for men, women or children. Rebecca could be casted as a coming of age novel as the main character is trying to find themselves within the world. However if you like thrillers, in particular a psychological one, then again this is a must.

If anyone has already read this please let me know your thoughts. After all, everyone’s views of Manderley are different.

You can buy Rebecca here. Best of Reading.

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

The Girl Before by JP Delaney, 441 Pages, Paperback, £6.99

JP Delaney’s The Girl Before is a modern thriller set in a pristine house with a hefty price for its tenants. Each tenant must follow a certain amount of rules to maintain living in such a prestigous place. However if you had heard of a mysterious death in the house, would it still seem as desirable?Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 17.52.58

Delaney’s novel follows the journey of two tenants at separate times. Will both of their journeys end the same way like their repetitive beginning or differ through their thoughts, opinions and beliefs.

Delaney has used her craft in this novel to create strong characters to withhold the house and the journey. Flaws have carefully been considered in each and every character, including those of minor roles.

The reader becomes at one with the house as the reader is made to feel as if they are looking into the situations and scenarios, similarly as if you were playing Cluedo.

The Girl Before is a novel that you have to make your own mind on but if you are intrigued by this review then perhaps this book is for you…

Have a sneak peak here.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, Hardback, £12.99 at Waterstones.

The Girl in the Tower continues Arden’s first novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, by revealing page by page, what happens to the beloved Vasya. This novel seamlessly follows Vasya on her travels to finding her family and herself.

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In The Girl in the Tower, the reader is given an insight into Moscow and its current struggles. As if power struggles and potential war wasn’t bad enough, traceless bandits are beginning to steal daughters from quiet nearby villages. This novel also gives its readers an insight into the life of Vasya’s other family members, Sasha and Olga. With everyones viewpoints beginning to clash, conflicts begin to rise, as does your reading pace.

The Girl in the Tower remains set in medieval Russia and clearly demonstrates Russian tradition and folklore. Katherine Arden has twisted these concrete concepts with a significant relation to feminism. It is because of this that the novel seems so fresh and current, regardless of its setting.

To conclude, The Girl in the Tower is fast-paced and flows seamlessly from the first novel in the Winternight series. Feminism is embedded throughout the novel, demonstrating current views into a medieval time. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and it has left me wanting more. Closure is given however it does not stop you wanting to read the next one asap! The end of The Girl in the Tower is very fast-paced and gives the impression that the third novel will have a significant beginning.

You can pre-order the paperback here or you can order it from Amazon for the Kindle.