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.

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.

The First Line

First lines matter. Whether they are in a blog post, a newsletter or a novel, the first line is crucial.

Whilst you’re in the editing phase of your writing, it can be easily forgotten to revise your first line. The first line will have different purposes in various texts but there is one thing it needs to be. Good.

Your first line, if writing for a newsletter or a blog, must intrigue your reader and invite them to read more. Your purpose here is to keep them reading right until the very end. A great way to revise your first line is to read your writing as a reader. Would you be interested? Would it stop you scrolling? What could you add to the line to make it more gripping? If you’re still unsure, it could be worth letting someone read the first line to give you another point of view. They may even see something that you didn’t.

If however you are revising a first line of a novel, the aim and purpose of your writing may be different. Your goal, as a writer, is to lose your readers in your novel. Allow your readers to become invested in your characters and don’t settle for anything less. Although you still need to grip the reader with your opening lines, you have a variety of techniques open to you. Here are a few that you may wish to try:

Surprise the reader

This type of hook causes the reader to raise questions or surprises them by catching them off guard. A great example of this is from Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit: ‘It was a pleasure to burn’. The concept that some would like the feeling of burning seems very unusual. The sentence itself could also suggest that someone likes the action of burning something. As your mind begins to question alternatives, it has sparked the interest of the reader to keep reading. 

Begin with dialogue

This can also have a similar effect on the reader as it can catch the reader off guard. An example of this can be seen in the opening lines of Rose Macauley’s, The Towers of Trezibond: ‘”Take my camel dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass’. The animal itself may surprise the reader in this sentence, as well as Aunt Dot’s previous actions. Using dialogue in your first line brings your readers straight into the action and provides them with wanting to figure out what is happening and why.

Setting the Mood and Atmosphere

Although this technique may seem simple, it can be really effective when used correctly. Louise Erdrich does this beautifully in Tracks: ‘We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.’ In this first sentence Louise Erdrich has managed to set the sombre mood perfectly by using the setting to help set the tone and atmosphere. This technique can work really well with the show don’t tell principle, as the sentence has given its readers an insight to what is to come.

Another suggestion could also be to revise what you like to read yourself. If you love a particular author like Lee Child or John Grisham, look at how they start their first lines. How did they interest you? Why did you want to read on? This technique also works if you are wanting to write a blog post or newsletter. If you follow several blogs, which article did you really enjoy and how did it start?

Once you have tried a few of these techniques, reflect on your work and see if any of them work for you. Remember the best way to get your writing noticed is to make your writing the best it can possibly be.

Follow me on Instagram @cbarkerwriting for writing tips on a daily basis.

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…

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.