The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley, Hardback, 416 pages, Harper Collins, £12.99, Waterstones.

As soon as Jess turns up to Ben’s new apartment in Paris, Ben goes missing. With his neighbours reluctant to help, Jess must uncover the truth about his disappearance by herself. In order to find out the truth about Ben, Jess must first uncover the truth about his neighbours.

Foley’s novel follows six POV: Ben – if only briefly, Jess, Nick, Sophie, Mimi and the Concierge. Each character is pivotal to the movement of the plot and helps the reader build an overall viewpoint of Ben.Foley’s characterisation really comes into its own through the characters’ voice. Each voice is so distinctive, different and yet still seems relatable to the reader, despite the scenario the characters find themselves in.

One element which works very well in this book, is the subtle notes to Paris. The french phrases don’t seem shoehorned in and the location is described in a way that, someone who has spent along time there, may describe it. Lucy Foley really allow her readers to spend a few days in Paris along with Jess whilst she investigates her brother’s disappearance.

The Paris Apartment takes the murder mystery/locked room scenario and replaces it with a locked Paris mansion via the Moulin Rouge. If the reader has read Lucy Foley’s other novels then you might have a gut feeling on who to trust and who not to trust.

On a personal note: I much preferred this to The Guest List, as I enjoyed learning more about the relationship between Jess and her brother, despite their upbringings being different and I found there to be much more closure at the end of this book too!

My advice when reading The Paris Apartment?

Expect many twists and enjoy the ride!

You can find The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley, here.

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See you soon!

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.

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Survive the Night by Riley Sager, paperback, 336 pages, Hodder & Stoughton, £8.99, Waterstones.

This is the first book I’ve read from Riley Sager and this definitely won’t be the last.

Survive the Night follows a student called Charlie Jordan, making her way home from university. But what seems like a smooth ride, isn’t as smooth sailing as you may think. Charlie leaves behind her boyfriend in exchange for a ride home from another student. However with the campus killer still on the loose, Charlie can’t seem to grasp that she could be driving home with him. She can’t be the next victim after all… can she?

Sager begins his novel by introducing a handful of characters into Charlie’s life. We discover early in the novel about Charlie’s loss of her best friend Maddy and her boyfriend Robbie. However from the first chapter, the main focus in Survive the Night is around Charlie and Josh’s journey to her hometown. Not only does this keep the scenes intense but it also allows the readers to grow an attachment to the characters on a deeper level. Car journeys are brilliant for getting to know more about someone and as we follow their journey, the readers are well and truly along for the ride. Throughout the journey, Charlie begins to question who the driver is to reassure herself and to find out what his intentions of leaving so soon are.

Throughout Survive the Night, the tension is kept incredibly tight. So tight that suspicions are constantly among the characters and you can’t help but question character’s motives. Some characters you might like at the beginning but by the end, you might have a whole different take on them. If your views on the characters wasn’t change enough, then fasten your seatbelts because this ride is going to be bumpier than you think! If this novel could be summed up in three words they would be:

Don’t trust anyone.

I feel that Sager has built the tension up perfectly and has included more action in his scenes that I strongly favour over previous thriller authors. 

When I first read the blurb of this book, I was so intrigued. I knew it would seem very minimal with most of it taking place in a car but if anything, it showed a rawness to characters that I hadn’t seen before.

For anyone who is a fan of Ruth Ware, Lucy Foley and Allie Reynolds, I would strongly recommend Riley Sager. I was previously torn between reading Ware or Sager for my holidays and thought I’d picked well with Ware. Little did I know both choices would be so amazing.

Riley Sager’s Survive the Night is officially out in paperback in the UK and I strongly recommend anyone with a love of psychological thrillers and plot twists, to give this book a go. Oh, and brace yourselves!

Enjoy the ride!

The Heights by Louise Candlish

The Heights by Louise Candlish, Hardback, 448 Pages, £12.99, Waterstones

The very first book I’ve read by Louise Candlish but definitely not the last.

The blurb itself made me wanting answers before I’d even received the ARC. Imagine bumping into someone you thought to be dead? Especially when you are the one who tried to make it happen. This concept alone sent shivers down my spine – such an intriguing predicament.

Because of this gripping blurb, I began reading, not knowing who I should be sympathising with and as the novel progressed, it appeared that everyone had that little bit of dirt under their nails.

Throughout this novel there were so many twists, gradually increasing the intensity until the very last page. Admittedly, I’d have liked one less twist, although I guess that could depend on the reader’s morals.

The underlying issues of grieving for you child’s accidental death, was written in a way that felt sensitive, yet understanding, as the reader watches Lucas’ death affect many relatives differently.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes psychological thrillers.

This was the first novel I’ve read by Louise Candlish but definitely not my last.

Magpie by Elizabeth Day

Magpie by Elizabeth Day, Hardback, 256 pages, HarperCollins, Waterstones, £14.99

Magpie does not follow the whimsical tune associated with magpies. Instead Elizabeth Day has used other associations with magpies, to help tell this twisted tale.

Magpie begins through the point of view of Marisa, a creative individual who illustrates children’s stories for a living. The reader is soon introduced to Jake and Kate, as they all live together. Magpie is about how their lives weave into each other and how a very complicated love triangle can occur in a very unexacting way. If you were looking for a romance novel however, you would be mistaken with this novel. Magpie tackles women’s issues within family roles and questions what it is that makes a women, a mother.

Magpie is written in three parts, to allow the reader to see Marisa and Kate’s point of view in relation to what’s happening inside their house. The point of views work well in this novel as it gives an insight into Marisa and Kate’s background. The first part of the novel was quite steady and I found it quite tricky to read. It was only at the end of part one that my interest began to peak. The writing in part one seemed a little chaotic, however I believe this to be intentional to suit where the plot is going. For this reason I applaud Day in taking meticulous care with her narrative.

Elizabeth Day appears to have strong female leads within Magpie. This consists of Marisa, Kate and Jake’s mother, Annabelle. Each character is strong with survival instincts, however these traits are expressed differently throughout Day’s novel. As a result, readers are able to feel connected to one of these character’s, whilst the remaining women will likely remind them of someone they know.

Day’s novel is very calculating, gripping and brings to light the depths that women will go to for motherhood. A compelling read.

Magpie by Elizabeth Day is out September 2021.

Pre-order a signed copy at Waterstones today.

Star rating: 3.5/5

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

Holly Jackson, A Good Girl’s Guide to murder, Paperback, 448 pages, Waterstones, £6.49

Holly Jackson’s debut novel is stirring things up in YA Fiction. Holly’s debut is about Pippa Fitz-Amobi, a grade-A student, who is trying to prove a previous student’s innocence in a murder trial, as her independent project for university. Soon Pippa begins learning more about the truths that lie just at her doorstep.

The format of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is very playful for the reader as they are shown snippets of Pippa’s investigation. This itself allows the reader to feel like they are solving the case with Pippa.

The structure of the novel is split into three parts, however, the pace appears to become much more steady as a result. Part 1 seemed initially set up to introduce the characters, however if this was it’s primary focus, it could be questioned as to whether the pace needs to be a touch faster.

When conflict occurs, the readers gain an insight into the characters’ strength and flaws. This act in itself makes them more realistic and relatable to the reader. It is this particular element that seemed to be missing at the beginning of the novel.

Jackson’s characters overall however, are striking and very easy to picture in your mind. Furthermore when her characters are faced with conflict, in parts two and three, they become as believable as your best friend.

Although I was not entirely gripped from the beginning, I would still recommend her books to teens looking for excitement and adventure. As a teenager, I know I would’ve loved this book. Holly’s writing is well thought-out, clear, funny and imaginative – everything sixteen year old me would have devoured in a book.

Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Shiver by Allie Reynolds, Headline Publishing, Hardback, 421 pages, Waterstones, £12.99

They don’t know what I did. And I intend to keep it that way.

Allie Reynolds’ debut novel Shiver has kicked up a storm that readers didn’t even knew they wanted – until now. Failed ex-athlete Milla Anderson attends a ten year reunion, in the hopes that she can rekindle some of her friendships she longed for, off the slopes. However with Saskia still missing, presumed dead, and an ice breaker to set the tone, Milla soon realises that this isn’t the type of reunion that she’d hoped for.

Characterisation

Shiver is the type of novel that runs away with its characters. Each character, whether likeable or not, has a distinct way of acting and speaking. The reader can also relate to each character, which can be tricky to do. At the beginning of the novel Reynolds pulls her readers straight into Milla’s thoughts and allows the reader to become emotionally attached to the circle of friends, up on the mountain. This connection only gets stronger, the more you find out about them. The characters in this novel have been so well thought out, that it hurts that they’re not real in the first place. Wanting the characters to be real, just goes to show how developed these characters actually are. I cannot imagine the time and effort that has gone into the characterisation, in order to get them to this standard.

Setting

Although the characters could be anywhere, the thought of isolating a circle of friends in such stark conditions reminds me of the sublime. Whilst the mountains are mesmerising and the snowfall magical, there’s also the risk of an avalanche, hidden cliff drops and sharp ice that could do some damage. Now, stop the cable cars, remove their phones and disconnect the electricity. What are you left with? Survival instincts.

Experience

Before reading Shiver, the most I knew about snowboarding was from the game SSX Tricky. Thankfully I didn’t need to know much about snowboarding as Allie Reynolds guided me through the snowboarding jargon. Reynolds was previously ranked in the top ten for UK Snowboarding. Not only did her knowledge help me understand the tricks of snowboarding, it also highlighted the difficulty in the tricks – yes, I’m looking at you, Crippler. This is the first novel that I’ve been able to read, knowing that the author has experience in subject that would normally just be research. This really made a difference as it allows the reader to be immersed in Milla’s experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed Shiver. It was the characterisation and the setting that kept me turning the pages. It could be argued that this novel may peak the interest of Ruth Ware readers, however this novel itself has more grit within. I was initially apprehensive about reading this as I’d just finished reading a novel in a similar setting. How wrong I was. They were completely different in plot and perspective. In all honesty, I preferred Shiver out of the two and the other was written by an author I read constantly. It looks like I may have found a new author to watch out for.

After all, what’s life without a little competition?

The Flip Side by James Bailey

James Bailey, The Flip Side, Paperback, 358 pages, Waterstones, £7.99

Who says you can’t leave love to chance?

The Flip Side begins straight in the disaster zone for Josh. It’s New Year’s Eve and Josh has thought long and hard about proposing to his girlfriend Jade. However it’s only when Josh is left single, with no job or home to go to, that we really begin to go on this heads-or-tails journey. Every choice he makes from this point onwards will be made through the flip of a coin. The Flip Side follows Josh’s journey of finding his confidence and the right girl, in this life-changing year.

Narrative

Interestingly this is the first rom-com I’ve read with a male author. It’s therefore no surprise to be told that it’s written from a male’s perspective. This has quite a different approach to what is normally considered as a rom-com. The reader may find it unusual to hear about Josh’s feeling towards #Sunflowergirl as the readers of rom-com never really see this type of story from a male’s point of view. It really did make me wonder what goes on in the mind of male characters from other books I’ve read!

Pace and Structure

At the beginning of this book, the pace was really fast. It was gripping as you could see the story developing rapidly and it was flooded with humour. At times, the pace did seem to slow a little and I began to feel that the driving force for the remainder of the plot felt more like a to-do list.

Some of the scenes didn’t seem realistic to me which made me question the characters’ choices. I really liked reading about Josh and his #sunflowergirl however I would’ve liked the book to contain more of this at times. Their conversations were so interesting that it made me question why we had to wait so long to finally reach this point. I was initially reading this book in the hope that I would see their relationship blossom. However the novel’s focus tended to be more on finding #sunflowergirl rather than their relationship.

I did enjoy this book and found it a pleasant read but it wasn’t the book I thought I’d picked up. I wanted to know more about Josh’s relationship with #sunflowergirl, the types of problems they’d faced and how they felt about the coin toss. For me though, I felt that it ended a little too quickly as I felt like I was just starting to get to know #sunflowergirl. It was as if she wasn’t considered a main character to the novel and I would’ve liked her to be.

I would still recommend this book to my friends and family but perhaps with a bit more insight into the structure of the novel.

One by One by Ruth Ware

One by One by Ruth Ware, Hardback (signed), 352 pages, Waterstones, £12.99

One by One is a cosy novel, perfect for those winter nights. The novel begins by following two characters and their journeys that bring them to the luxury cabin, in St. Antoine. After an avalanche cuts the guests off from the village below, it’s not soon after when guests keep disappearing one by one.

POV

Interestingly Ruth Ware uses several perspectives in One by One. Readers follow the perspective of Erin, the chalet host and Liz, a shareholder in a tech company. Having two perspectives is a new structure for Ware’s novels. However, these perspectives are vital to the plot and the development of her characters. Both perspectives are needed to demonstrate a staff’s point of view, as well as a guest in the lodge. As the novel unfolds and clues are given to the reader, he dual perspectives are used at times to compliment the plot twists. This is certainly a new technique that Ware has explored well within her writing of One by One.

Characterisation

Although Ware writes crime novels, I cannot help but acknowledge that my favourite characters hers are humorous. My favourite character in this novel was Danny. His passion and personality are clearly shown through his actions and dialogue. Danny adds a humorous touch to even the darkest of scenes. At times he can be relatable and sometimes acts like he is projecting the readers thoughts onto the page. Perhaps this is why his character is so amusing…

Location and Setting

A significant detail that continues to be shown in all of Ware’s novels, is her use of setting. Whether it’s Northumbrian forests, a stately home or the French Alps, Ware always uses her setting carefully and strategically. The Earth’s elements always seem to provide good ground for a crime novel and what better setting for One by One than the French Alps? Furthermore with the use of skiing jargon and a little bit of French sprinkled in, emphasises the research that has been taken to deliver such mesmerising landscapes and scenes.

As winter still settles amongst us and many of us are working from home, what could feel better than reading a novel with people stranded in one cabin that are beginning to get a little cabin fever.

Whether you find this read as escapism or as relatable is entirely up to you…

My Top 5 Christmas Book Buys!

If this pandemic has taught us anything this year, its that we all love reading. This could be a psychological thriller, a goofy romance or even a self-help book. Whatever style or genre you are wanting to read, you will always find something. However as there are so many books to choose from, I have whittled my favourites down to a top 5 to help you find the perfect gift for someone this year. There is something so exciting about receiving a book. We all know the shape, yet with so many titles on our ‘to be read’ pile, we still don’t really know what we will get. Here are my top 5 to unwrap this year.

Thriller – One by One by Ruth Ware

What could be better than a psychological thriller located in a snowy setting at Christmas? Ruth Ware has brought a murder mystery concept into the 21st century by the use of realistic – and at times, relatable – settings with current motives. One by One takes place in a lodge that is extremely secluded. It could be perceived as tranquil. However with only a cable car to leave or escape the lodge, the characters begin to think it is anything but peaceful. As killings become more and more frequent, the serenity of the lodge begins to feel like a prison. Who will survive as the characters disappear one by one?

Romance – The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

If crime and murder isn’t your thing, then have a fling with The Flatshare. The Flatshare is about two young professionals that share a flat but never really see each other due to work commitments. This book was my favourite read in lockdown as it made me laugh and smile when times were hard. Please note that is not the type of book that I would normally read and yet, I am now anticipating the release of her latest novel, The Road Trip, out in 2021. A perfect book to lift your mood and to laugh when times are challenging.

Check out my full review of this book here

Classic – Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

How many times have you heard – but have you read the book?- when a film comes out? Yes, very often and why does this get asked? The book is better. Admittedly, the latest adaptation of Rebecca on Netflix is good but at times I found the film slow and it missed a few scenes that the book had solidified in my mind. Yes, readers, I wanted to see the garden at Manderley! The book on the other hand is not slow in the slightest. The novel is an exciting read and is filled with tension and suspense between the main characters, right up to the very end. If you are looking for a classic this Christmas, I would definitely recommend this novel. Who knew a young woman living in Cornwall could have such a dark mind that could write with such suspense! A much welcomed break from Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen.

See my full review here

Non-fiction – The Little book of Clarity by Jamie Smart

This is hands down, one of my favourite books that not only made me realise how people perceive the world, but how non-fiction can be engaging and impactful. Jamie explores clarity in this book in relation to all aspects of an individual’s life. The outward-in method that he discusses really makes you think about your own choices and your own happiness. This book is, as you may have guessed, short, clear and concise. A short but memorable read.

Read my full review here

Self-help – Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight

I too wish I was Sarah Knight, living in the Caribbean and writing books as my profession. Who knows, after reading this book, maybe I will. Get Your Sh*t Together, provides its readers with a little tough love, followed by fantastic strategies that can be applied to all aspects of your life – be it relationships, health or work. Sarah Knight has tried to make the subject comical as it does touch on some serious and quite scary topics. However after reflecting on this book and attempting to actually get your sh*t together, you will begin to realise that this book does exactly what it sets out do. A great gift and motivator to making your dreams become a reality.

Although I have so many other great books I wish I could include, the books above have to be my top 5. Feel free to read any additional reviews I have written on these books to help you make your mind up with which to put on your own ‘to be read’ list. If however you are still wanting some book inspiration, I have provided you with a few more noteworthy reads. Who knows, you may even want to gift one to yourself.

Recommended Reads

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Write Yourself Happy by Megan Hayes

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton