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.

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

The Turn of The Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware, Vintage, paperback, 340 pages, £6.99, Waterstones

Their dream house will become her worst nightmare…

Their Dream will become her worst nightmare-2

The Turn of the Key is Ruth Ware’s latest novel set in the Scottish Highlands. Ruth Ware’s most recent novel is instantly familiar to her other novels as its presence and ending continues to pack a punch.

The Turn of the Key begins it’s journey similar to Ware’s previous novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, as it begins with the main character explaining how she ended up in her current predicament. The novel begins with a job advert about a current nannying role and the main character jumps at the chance. However has the nanny potentially bit off more than she can chew?

Structure

The structure of this novel is very important to point out as it’s not the standard structure you would expect a novel to take. The Turn of the Key begins with the main character writing a letter to a barrister about her recent experiences at Heatherbrae House. The reader can instantly acknowledge that something has happened that they are not aware of, however it is clearly evident that the main character will explain everything in the letters to come. This already gives the reader a sense of intrigue as the reader begins to question whether they can be convinced of the main character’s situation. As the novel progresses the main character makes several points referring back to the prison and demonstrates an interesting narrative style. This in turn reminds the reader to be on edge and to trust no one.

Pace

The pace of this novel is very interesting as there are many subtle elements to be aware of.  Since the narrative keeps referring back to the main characters’s situation, the subtle elements become even more questioning and as a result keep the reader engaged and intrigued. I must warn the readers however to brace yourself in the last hundred pages as it can feel as if you are in a tornado. As the pace and tension begins to build, so does the plot twists. So much so that it feels as if poison ivy is twisting around each scene, making the reader feel glued to the page.

Characters

Each character in this novel seems carefully considered. This novel has three children and one teenager in the heart of the story and how each child reacts and adapts to the new nanny and scenarios they are put in is really realistic. All of the characters are relatable to some extent and the Scottish characters, Jean and Jack, have been written brilliantly. Ruth has not only created characters that are relatable but has also managed to get their dialects right too. I have relatives that currently reside in Edinburgh and when I listen to Jean and Jack talk, even when in Carn bridge, they all sound authentically Scottish. Nothing is thrown in to make the characters seem obviously Scottish but the subtle differences within their language and word choice, highlights exactly where they are in the UK.

Influences

I cannot ignore that there appears to be a potential influence from Alnwick Garden, which again can be seen through the potential location and some of the ‘facilities’ that Alnwick Garden has to offer. Once you begin to read this novel you will begin to see the connection emerge.

Their Dream will become her worst nightmare

Similar novels

Interestingly The Turn of the Key, reminds me of two of Ware’s previous novels, In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Death of Mrs.Westaway. The narrative structure in Ware’s current novel is similar to In a Dark, Dark Wood whereas the ghostly and haunting aspect of a manor house in The Death of Mrs. Westaway, mirrors the more contemporary isolated house of The Turn of the Key. Interestingly when considering the technology that is seen within this novel, I cannot help to compare the house setting of a similar feel to The Girl Before by JP Delaney. Both of these novels make the reader have to get to grips with technology fast, whilst self-policing in the process. Another book that identifies technology as a great driving force is George Orwell’s 1984, as the quote ‘Who controls the past controls the future,’ fits perfectly with Ruth Ware’s most recent novel.

If you find psychological thrillers gripping and enticing then this book is for you. I personally find self-policing an interesting topic and was unaware that this was considered in the book before reading. I personally love how Ruth Ware’s endings always seem satisfying and as soon as I picked the book up, I knew I would enjoy it. I throughly hope that The Turn of the Key has the same effect on you.

You can buy Ruth Ware’s latest novel The Turn of the Key here.

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.

Finding Inspiration at Home

Finding Inspiration at Home

With many of us working from home, it can sometimes be tricky to find inspiration in an area in which you have spent months living and working in. Some may even struggle facing their laptop, especially if they have been working on it all day. I have collated a few ideas that will provide you with a new insight into your home and how your daily routine can help you create new plots and develop characters.

Short on Time?

Many of us may be working full-time, home-schooling your children or have caring responsibilities, which can take a lot of time away from your writing. Whenever I am short on time (my teaching breaks are 15 minutes) I try to come up with a Haiku as a snapshot of how my day is going. A Haiku is a 3 line poem, with each line consisting of so many syllables. The structure is as follows:

Line 1 (5 syllables)

Line 2 ( 7 syllables)

Line 3 ( 5 syllables)

I don’t normally write poetry. However I do like puzzles and I feel like a Haiku poem is a mixture of puzzles and writing that fits really well into my short breaks. You may even prefer to write several Haikus to create a longer form of poetry.

Feeling Lonely?

Living on your own or being around the same type of people can be boring and will not be helping your creativity grow. Instead spark your creativity by inviting your characters over. Jot down every detail: How do they knock on the door/ring the bell? Their posture when you open the door – Do they barge past or ask politely to come in? Once they’re in the house/flat, consider which room they’ll go into. Will it be the study, the kitchen, or maybe even the bathroom? Consider all of their actions, from their fidgeting to their manners. This exercise can be a great way to get to know your characters, as their daily actions may impact their decisions within your story.

Writing tip

Looking for New Ideas?

Consider some of the sacrifices and changes you’ve had to make over the last few months. It could be only seeing your friends via an online chat forum, wearing a mask on public transport or only leaving the house once a day. Once you have a list of these, consider a genre of your choice. This could be any or a mixture of both. When you have decided on the genre/genres you wish to write about, have a look at your changes/sacrifices and try to write a scene in that genre. For example:

If you were writing a crime/thriller novel, your friend might think they’ve left the online chatroom when they haven’t and a crime is committed for the reader to witness?

Perhaps a man in a drive-thru has fallen for the barista who gives him his coffee on a daily commute? Maybe it was the look in their eyes, beyond the mask…

Remember, the possibilities here are endless!

Have a go yourself and see what you come up with.

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.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

The Switch By Beth O’Leary, Hardback, 323 pages, £12.99, Waterstones

Beth O’Leary’s The Switch was released on 16th April and has had a whirlwind of reviews since. The Switch is based around two female characters, Leena and Eileen. After they both go through a difficult time, they decide to switch houses for a change of scenery and to reconnect with themselves. The novel itself is split over London and the Yorkshire Dales which gives the reader a sense of urban and country life. Although this is slightly different from her previous novel, The Flatshare, there are many good qualities that run through both of her books.

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Characterisation

One element that the reader really can acknowledge with The Switch is the fullness of O’Leary’s characters. There are so many characters used, each with their own distinct personality, that it is easy for the reader to relate these characters to people they may know. I’m pretty sure every reader will have lived next to the grumpy man next door or know of a friend who is gorgeous, but has a list down to her arm of qualities a man must have. The amount of depth that O’Leary goes into with her characters is admirable, especially as every single character is so distinctive. It is clearly evident that her characterisation within The Switch is what captivates the audience and propels them through the story.

Family

The concept of family and a sense of belonging is a recurring theme that allows the reader to join Leena and Eileen’s family along the way. At times you may find yourself comparing their family to your own, as you may have shared those many bumps along the road yourself. The family unit in The Switch interprets some areas that may be perceived as unconventional and representing them as the new modern family unit. The support and union can still be seen but feels as if it has almost had a fresh lick of paint to make it seem more realistic.

Reflection

Reflection is also a significant element to the book as so many decisions are left open at the beginning of the novel. It is up to you as a reader to pick up the pieces of this family and to reconnect the dots again. By doing this however, you will begin to reflect on your own life and consider what it is that you want yourself. Admittedly, this book was read during lockdown and time for reflection seems much easier to acquire. However The Switch does make the reader question their own choices and what they define as important to them.

Overall I found this novel an uplifting read in a different way to The Flatshare. Admittedly I found the humour a lot stronger in The Flatshare, however I was looking for a laugh and I found it. The Switch on the other hand is still humorous, but has a more family focused approach. I found Eileen in this novel particularly amusing, especially through the contrast of livelihood and personalities.  I would argue that I felt like I received more closure towards the end of The Switch in comparison to O’Leary’s previous novel, as I felt that the ending was more uplifting and felt like the novel had a strong sense of purpose.

As cliché as this sounds, The Switch isn’t normally a novel I would go for but as I enjoyed The Flatshare so much, I had to give this a read. Since reading both of O’Leary’s books I feel like I have found a new author that I wouldn’t have even encountered, if I had not stepped out of my comfort zone a little. For that, Beth O’Leary, I thank you. I strongly encourage any other readers to step outside your comfort zone and do the same. Who knows, you may surprise yourself!

If anyone would like to purchase the book, I have included a link at the top of my page. Although I managed to buy this in Tesco (the closest I could get to a bookshop), I would strongly recommend purchasing the book at Waterstones through the link above. The link will locate you to a signed copy of this book. At the moment it’s the same price as a regular hardback version of The Switch (if I’d known about this, I would have totally bought this book first!).

Happy Reading!

How does reading benefit a writer?

How does reading benefit a writer?

We’ve all asked and heard the advice, haven’t we? How do I improve writing? Read more. The pure broadness of this answer really doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not saying it’s not correct but it’s not exactly useful either. This post will delve into this question with a little more focus on what type of reading to consider and how we will be able to use our reading to our writing advantage.

 

What do you like to write?

This is the first question you need to ask yourself. You might like to write a specific genre, ie. thriller, romance etc, or you may prefer to write for a particular audience. Are you writing for a male, female audience for example? Or do you perhaps like to write for a younger audience? Whatever your answer is to this question, this is the type of reading that will help you. If you would like to write romantic YA novel, then that is the genre you know you need to read more. By doing this, you will soon begin to acknowledge what you find gripping and therefore what your readers will find gripping. You might even discover a technique that you really despise and know definitely what NOT to do in your own work. 

 

Whether you like or dislike the book – learn from it.

Just because you did not enjoy reading a certain book, doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from it. I once read a book that was given to me as a gift. At first I thought I would enjoy it but the author kept going off track to explain the characters backgrounds. It was really annoying but I persevered and realised afterwards that my books need to be more concise and fast paced. Quick task: Have a look through your books on your bookshelf and consider what you didn’t like about them. Was it plot, the way the characters were presented to you, or was it unrealistic? Once you have done this, consider what would have made it a better read. Whatever you think the improvements should be, take that advice and include it within your own writing. Remember you have been a reader here and have been disappointed with the outcome – only you as a reader can put that right by doing so in your own writing.

person writing on notebook
Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

Learn from your heroes.

If you have a favourite author you jump to when you pick up a new book, consider what you like about them. You might like the author because of how they grab your attention within the first few paragraphs, or you may find their dialogue really engaging. Here is were you can learn from them. If you struggle with dialogue for example, pick a scene that your author has created the demonstrates a great conversation. Now begin to analyse what makes their writing so engaging. Is it the word choice, the action that is placed in-between the conversation or perhaps it just seems effortless? Keep this scene in front of you and then have a go at mimicking this style in a scene of your own writing. You may find that this really helps you with your dialogue, you may even think that it doesn’t sound like you – and that’s okay. That just shows that you already know your own writing style.

 

Write a book review

Writing a book review can really help you understand the main themes of a book and help you consider how these can impact your own work. Sometimes when writing it can be easy to get lost in the genre you’re writing. However if you read a book in the genre you are wanting to write, you will be able to acknowledge any underlying themes that occur in this genre. Writing a review also helps you analyse plot, pacing and characterisation in greater detail. Sometimes the author can even write in such a way that the characters take over and drive the rest of the plot forward. However it is only with writing a book review that all of the authors hard labour of writing the book can be acknowledged.

By doing all of the above, the concept of ‘read more’ seems more solidified to me. Ultimately you can interpret the answer to the original question whichever you like. However I stand by that the concept of reading more was to be subjective to a writer’s own interpretation to their chosen genre. Feel free to have a go at my suggestions and let me know if they work for you. 

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!