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!

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

Keep you close by Karen Cleveland

Keep You Close by Karen Cleveland, paperback, 400 pages, £7.99, Waterstones

This novel is about work/life balance and what happens when they intertwine. Steph works for the internal investigations department in the FBI whilst her son is finishing his studies before heading off to college/university. However it takes just one knock at the door to flip everyone’s life upside down.

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Background

During the novel there are several flashbacks of Steph’s life before the FBI. Although this information is vital to know, I found that this distracted my attention from the original plot I was trying to follow. This could have been resolved by using chapters to represent the past and present of Steph’s life. The constant change of flashbacks within chapters began to hinder the pace of the novel and ultimately my interest.

Characterisation

Cleveland can create some fantastics characters, especially in her first novel Need to KnowHowever the characters in Keep You Close needed more personality. I didn’t like a few of the main characters, particularly Steph as I felt like she had too many flaws. My favourite character was her son, however I felt like his background and personality was overlooked. This could however emphasise what Steph see and believes. Therefore questioning the readers own judgment of Steph’s son.

Prequel or sequel?

My biggest issue with Keep You Close is how it has tarnished my memory of Cleveland’s first novel. I loved Need to Know and was over the moon to find out that previous characters were in this book too. However I was crestfallen once I had read the epilogue. For this reason I would strongly advise reading this book first and then Need to Know. Otherwise, don’t read the epilogue as it made me as a reader lose hope and feel a defeatist.

If you love twists and turns regardless of characterisation then you may find this book a real head turner. You can purchase Keep You Close here.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith, 2010, paperback, £6.99

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This novel had me on the fence from time to time, however that may have been because I was unsure what I was getting myself into. The novel is about a woman called Mma Ramotswe, who is asked to find out who is being a traitor to their football team. Whilst Mma Ramotswe is investigating, he assistant Mma Makutsi is also having troubles with a man-stealing Violet Sepotho. Although this novel was good for escapism as it is set in Botswana, Africa, I cannot help but think that this novel was dated. I understand that  it is just a story, but to highlight that women don’t like football and cook their husbands meals for them after work, I believe is a step too far. I persisted with the book because I was unsure if it was just a cultural difference. The novel itself was strongly led by the narrator, although sometimes I felt that the narrator needed to take a step back. It sometimes felt that the book strayed away from the subject matter and then refocused itself.

I enjoyed the plot, as it was fun and light, something in which I was looking for in a book at the time. However I feel that the language was too wordy and could potentially have been halved. This would have given the novel a bit more action and potentially made it a lot more gripping. Although I enjoyed the first book in this series, I will not be reading the collection anymore as I believe the other novels will follow a similar style. At least I am now more aware of which writing styles I like and dislike. If you want to find escapism in the blazing sun and like a descriptive, narrative style, then this series just may be for you.