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.

If you would like more bookish content, then head over to my insta page @cbarkerwriting

See you soon!

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 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…

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.

Screen Shot 2020-05-30 at 12.20.28

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.

IMG_9598

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!