The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – a review

This was a book that was being heavily promoted at the recent festival, and although I got a key ring advertising the book I didn’t actually get to pick this one up (lack of money not withstanding, my lack of Olympic weightlifting prowess does mean that you have to draw the line at book buying once the bag becomes too heavy to lift) However the following day when I sat down to go through all my books I was lucky enough to find that the lovely Mr F had snuck a copy of this one into the pile.

The Couple Next Door is about married partners Anne and Marco. They have been invited to a party by their neighbour who is insistent that children are not allowed. When Anne and Marco’s babysitter cancels, rather than stay at home they decide to still go to the party and just take a baby monitor with them. Clearly this is all going to end in tears. When they return the baby has been taken, and their lives start to fall apart.

This was a fast fun read, that would make a perfect holiday book. You know straight from the off that the baby is going to go missing so there is no mystery there, but the story focuses on who has taken the baby and the interplay between the varying cast members.

This was a novel written in the third person which kind of works, although there were some aspects where you almost felt you were being spoon fed a bit too much. There was a lot of telling rather than showing, but that’s down to the style of writing. Once you get used to this then the story soon starts to take off. There were plenty of twists and turns along the way and although bits of it were easy to guess, there was enough red herrings and shocks to keep you interested. One thing that I liked was the fact that it focuses completely on the characters and you don’t really get a sense of place, it could be based anywhere.

The characters are all quite annoying and I didn’t really care about them, but yet I still really wanted to know what was happening. Some of the actions are  bit far fetched but the story carries you along so fast that you don’t mind. Overall I really enjoyed this book and it was clear why it was such a hit at the festival.

 

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Lazybones

I must confess to not normally being a sports fan, much preferring to sit around and read a book. Therefore usually the Olympics passes me by. Only marked by the noticeable lack of Casualty on the TV due to the BBC’s continuous Olympic coverage. However this year due to a) living with someone who is utterly sports obsessed and will watch absolutely anything and b) my newly rekindled love of horses,  I have actually watched quite a lot.

One of the things that really struck me was how easy all the sporting people made things seem to look. Take the equestrian sports for an example. I go riding and recently I’ve been learning both jumping and dressage techniques. Neither of these things are even slightly easy. Attempting to jump a cross bar approximately two inches off the ground at nothing faster than a trot still feels as though you are being asked to jump the Grand Canyon. As for dressage, well my riding style is more windmill like than calm and serene so trying to get a horse to smoothly trot in a circle is neigh-on impossible (see what I did there?) Yet the fantastic Charlotte DuJardin made dancing horses look very cool, and Nick Skelton barely broke a sweat as he took his horse over impossibly high jumps.

I suspect that writing a novel is another of these things that on the surface looks really easy, yet in reality is the exact opposite. It’s not only the writing, but also the coming up with ideas. Last weekend we spent a lovely evening having a dinner party (how very grown up!) with some friends. The conversation as it often does turned to books.  This on the back of a conversation about our dream jobs, led to the suggestion that I should write a novel. Clearly due to my love of reading it was seen that the next logical step was for me to write one myself. However that lead to the first stumbling block, the idea. I think coming up with an original idea is harder than winning gold and silver in the Olympic Triathlon, unless you are the Brownlee brothers of course. One suggestion for an idea was that a group of people at a dinner party agree to murder each other’s enemies. Hmm where have I heard that before?

Even if you do then come up with an idea that hasn’t already been done to death, you have to get round to the actual putting of pen to paper, or fingers to keys in this day and age. Whilst it may seem that the hardest bit is starting and that once you begin the rest will follow I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case. The likes of Mark Billingham and Val Mcdermid may make the whole process of writing a novel seem easy as they put out hit after hit, yet I’m sure in reality just like in sport the hard work that is put in behind the scenes is monumental.

I like most readers would love to have the ability to write a novel, however I’d also like the ability to win a gold medal for dressage at the Olympics, or take the winning trophy at a triathlon yet considering my best 10k race time is 1 hour 4 minutes, and Alistair completed his Triathlon with a 10k time of 31 minutes, I suspect I might be somewhere off, especially when you add in the fact I am actually inherently lazy. In fact I think I’ll stick to reading books and complaining about the lack of Casualty, it is certainly much less exhausting.

 

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I See You by Clare Mackintosh – a review

As anyone with any vague interest in the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival will know, Clare Mackintosh really was the author of the weekend, her debut novel I let You Go having won the 12th Crime Novel of the Year. Therefore it would have been criminal of me (I know it’s a clichéd pun but the old ones are often the best!) not to have picked up her newest novel to get signed at the festival. I See You was therefore on the top of my to read pile when I got home and I picked it up that night. Well that was my fatal error, as I couldn’t put it down after that.

I See You begins with Zoe seeing her picture in the classified section of the newspaper. Her boyfriend and teenage children say that it’s obviously a mistake and must just be someone who looks like her. Even her friends are insistent it is just a mistake. Zoe however isn’t convinced and soon finds out that she is not the only person being targeted with photos in the paper. We then meet Police officer Kelly who has been working on a case involving pick pockets on the tube. She believes that there may be some link to the newspaper picture and tries her hardest to be able to investigate.

It’s a difficult book to review without giving away any of the plot, and I think it is definitely a book that is most exciting to read without knowing what is going to happen. Suffice it to say I thought this novel was excellent. This really was a book that I couldn’t put down. Each time I thought I had guessed what was going on another twist would be thrown in and I would realise how wrong I was. The ending was good, although at first I was left a little flat by it, but once I’d finished everything suddenly made sense.

There is an interesting mix of characters, all of whom seem to be living normal mundane lives. It is this ‘normality’ that makes the whole premise of this book all the more disturbing. We are all creatures of habit, and have certain routines that we follow every day whether it be our walk to work, or where we buy our lunchtime sandwich. Yet that routine is exactly what makes Zoe a target in this book. Do you know who is watching you?

This was a fantastic novel that more than lived up to the award winning I Let You Go.  I definitely recommend I See You, if you are a fan of a twisty psychological thriller, best not read whilst on the tube though.

 

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Clinch by Martin Holmen – a review

As you all know I’m a big fan of the New Blood Panel at the festival and am always keen to read these before the event. However to be honest none of them really jumped out at me this year. Obviously wanting to ensure I completed the challenge I still continued and therefore recently finished The Clinch by Martin Holmen.

This is not my usual fair. The cover shows a boxer, and it’s a historical setting which I’m not a fan of usually. However I’m glad I persevered as this was fascinating. Set in 1930s Stockholm, Harry Kvist is an ex-boxer earning a living by collecting debts for people. Mainly this involves him finding people who have defaulted on bike payments, and him repossessing the bikes. Sometimes however he is asked to collect bigger debts, which is how he ends up paying a visit to Zetterberg. Unfortunately the following morning things take a turn for the worst and suddenly Kvist becomes a prime suspect in a crime. His only alibis are either the man he spent the night with, which would send them both to prison, or a prostitute who saw him, but she isn’t around.

Despite my dislike of boxing I really enjoyed this novel. The character of Kvist was a big contradiction in my head. He was standoffish, thuggish and fairly unpleasant, however somehow you still routed for him and wanted things to go his way.

The most fascinating element for me though was the history of Stockholm. My knowledge of the area is pretty limited, mainly drawn from reading writers such as Camilla Lackberg so it was a different perspective to see it from a historical point. There is a lot of description which although does at times slow the story down, for me made it interesting. The writing and setting gave it a distinctly dark feeling, at times claustrophobic, which is made more so by the limited friendships that Kvist seems to have.

It’s quite a graphic novel, but then it is obvious from the description and the cover that this is going to be the case and I don’t always think that is a bad thing. Clinch is the first of a trilogy and I will be interested to see how the books pan out. Martin Holmen said in the New Blood panel that the second and third novels are well on their way so there shouldn’t be too long to wait.

 

 

 

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When the Music’s Over

Once again the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is over for another year. The whirlwind of books, authors, crime and intrigue has finished. The dead bodies have been scraped off the pavements, the books have been transported back inside bricks and mortar buildings and us readers have gone back to our mundane office life hankering after a world where we could get paid to read.

As always this was another great weekend, created by the fantastic team at Harrogate International Festival’s, with a wonderful programme committee lead by the excellent Peter James. The programme was jam packed to the point that it was difficult to find a session that could be missed. Missed, some had to be though, as this isn’t just about listening to talks, there are free books to be collected, passports to be stamped thanks to Crime files on tour, people to chat to and even fingerprints to be taken and crimes to be solved.

Unfortunately one of the biggest crimes this year at the festival was  the signing queues. For some reason WHSmiths decided to ditch the age old Harrogate tradition of one queue for all, instead opting to have separate queues for each author. This meant that if you had more than one author you wanted to meet you had to queue numerous times and it was never certain which queue was for who. However this lack of management did probably lead to one of the biggest shocks of the whole weekend – an unlikely friendship was struck up between me and my arch rival, the bookseller.

Every year the same two booksellers turn up with their big pile of books, they go into no sessions, have little interest in the authors and just want to get the books signed to sell them on. Every year, because I’m known for my calm and tolerant persona, this really winds me up as they are always at the front of the queue. However this year, in the face of adversity me and the Bookseller drew on our great british spirit and joined forces sorting some of the queues ourselves. See there is always a silver lining and its amazing how suddenly having a common aim can unite enemies.

Every year there are some fantastic sessions and this year was no exception. Julia Crouch chaired an interesting discussion about domestic suspense which included Paula Hawkins and the award winning Claire Mackintosh, whereas Tess Gerritsen took to the stage alone and was absolutely amazing. The discussion between Val McDermid and Susan Calman was definitely a highlight for me. Both have a great sense of humour and it’s clear there was a real friendship there which always makes the panels more entertaining. 

Surprise of the weekend was the ‘Out of Africa’ panel. It was informative and entertaining and I came away with another new author to try.That being said though, it does mean that technically I didn’t get to complete the TOPCWFC2016 as I hadn’t been aware Leye Adenle was attending. Yet I’ve created another rule for my challenge which is, if I didn’t know in advance they would be there it doesn’t count. Therefore I have officially ticked off another one on my list of 40 things to do.

The festival is not just all books either, there is beer, wine, football, and even music. I was lucky enough to meet the excellent Mark Billingham, who whilst signing my book asked if I’d ever heard a song called Candi’s Room by Bruce Springsteen. Mark, as well as his main character Thorne, are well known lovers of music, so this would have been a great opportunity to impress him with my expertise. But no, instead of saying something witty  I stuttered that I thought Brotherhood of Man had done something too. Well the look of disappointment on his face was just embarrassing, why couldn’t I have picked something cooler?? That surprisingly was the end of our conversation.

From the Thursday evening awards, through the final session with Yorkshire chap Peter Robinson it has once again been a fantastic weekend. I’ve come away with tons of book, including lots of new authors to try, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

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Nemesis

So with one week and two days left to go until the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival I thought I’d have a bit of a check where I am with the TOPCWFC 2016. I had high hopes this year. Looking through the list there were a lot of authors that I’ve seen before and therefore there was a high chance that I had read something of theirs already. However it does look like sadly I may have taken on more than I can chew yet again. This challenge is beginning to be my nemesis.

On the positive side, I’ve realised I’d counted wrong in my initial plan. I had counted two authors separately although they write as a team, and I’ve also excluded one author on the grounds he only writes true crime and this is a fiction challenge (my challenge my rules!) However with only nine days before the festival I still have 4 authors to go. Now admittedly as I write this I’m about to finish an audio book of one, and I’m halfway through another in hard copy, yet I still suspect it’s going to be a case of so near yet so far.

Out of interest though I’ve listed all those books I have read below. Obviously with some authors I’ve read most of their novels and so I’ve just listed the most recent one. It was actually quite an interesting exercise going through the authors and seeing what I’d read. Although it has made me realise how many new books there are out there that I really want to read. If only I could find a job that would pay me to read books all day, fingers crossed for next year.

The TOPCWFC 2016

  1. Linwood Barclay – Broken Promise
  2. Mark Billingham – Time of Death (audiobook)
  3. Peter James – A Twist of the Knife
  4. Sharon Bolton – Little Black Lies
  5. Mari Hannah – The Murder Wall
  6. Ysra Sigurdardottir – The Silence of the Sea
  7. Julia Crouch – The Long Fall
  8. Helen Fitzgerald – The Cry
  9. Paula Hawkins – Girl on a Train
  10. Clare Mackintosh – I let you go
  11. Alex Marwood – The Wicked Girls
  12. Simon Brett – The Hanging in the Hotel
  13. Frances Brody – A Death in the Dales
  14. Ann Granger – Dead In the Water (audio)
  15. Catriona McPherson – Quiet Neighbours
  16. Ruth Ware – In a Dark Dark Wood
  17. Elly Griffiths – The Crossing Places
  18. Brooke Magnanti – The Turning Tide
  19. Kate Medina – Fire Damage
  20. Val McDermid – Splinter the Silence
  21. Sophie Hannah – A Game for all the Family (audio)
  22. Simon Kernick – The Murder Exchange
  23. Laura Lippman – After I’m Gone
  24. Martyn Waites – The Dolls House (Yes technically its Tania Carver but its my rules!)
  25. Laura Wilson – The Wrong Girl
  26. Jeffrey Deaver – The Skin Collector
  27. Mark Lawson – The Deaths
  28. Gerald Seymour
  29. Martin Holmen – Clinch
  30. J S Law – Tenacity (audiobook)
  31. Beth Lewis
  32. Abir Mukherjee – A Rising Man
  33. NJ Cooper – Vengence in Mind
  34. Paul Mendleson – The serpentine road
  35. Deon Meyer – Devil’s Peak
  36. Margie Orford – Daddy’s Girl
  37. Michael Stanley –
  38. (Micheal Sears and Stanly Trollop one author above)
  39. Pierre Lemaitre – Blood Wedding
  40. Bernard Minier – The Frozen Dead
  41. SJ Parris – 
  42. Martina Cole – The Life
  43. Tess Gerritsen – Last to Die
  44. Charles Cumming – A Divided Spy
  45. Frank Gardner (True Crime so not in the challenge)
  46. Kate Rhodes – River of Souls
  47. Gillian Slovo – Ten Days
  48. Neil Cross – Captured

 

 

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Mud, Muck and Dead Things

So this weekend was finally the dawning of Mr F’s big challenge. As you may know in his wisdom he had decided that he wanted to raise money for a charity he is involved with. Mr F thought that cycling the length of the Leeds to Liverpool canal and back in two days would be a good way to do this. Of course this meant that being the selfless kind of partner I am, I jumped at the chance to drive the support van. Apparently I’d find lots of lovely café stops along the way, have loads of time to enjoy reading in the sunshine and generally find it a thoroughly relaxing couple of days for me. Well Mr F talks utter nonsense. 

After months of planning and training (Obviously Mr F concentrated on the cycling side of things, my contribution was to make sure I had enough books packed to keep me entertained) things started well. 4.30am the sun was almost shining, the van was full of energy drinks and sandwiches and I had a pre-programmed satnav telling me where to go. Skipton was the first stop for me and an early morning Costa Coffee plus the magic toilet key from the Canal Trust meant it was a nice leisurely start in the sun with a new book (Death in the Dales in case you are interested)20160630_185455

If I now tell you that 4 days later I am reading that same book and some of its pages are still damp, you might guess that it wasn’t the leisurely couple of days I was hoping for.  The weather was horrendous, rain was heavier than I’ve seen it for ages, there was thick mud everywhere, journeys took much longer than they should have done, there were mechanical failures, a crash and at no point were feet dry.  I don’t think Mr F had much fun either!

muppetsThe first day was definitely the worst. The weather meant that everything was running behind. Even when the sun came out there was so much mud that it was dangerous to ride it. Two hours I stood with Mr F Sr. on a bridge waiting for the cyclist to appear, we looked like we were auditioning for the parts of Statler and Waldorf. At least on this stretch Mr F did learn that sometimes it’s best to go round puddles not through them, and flying over the handlebars headfirst into them is definitely not a good plan.

Some of the parts I visited were very pretty, there were some lovely canal moorings and if you managed to see through all the rain it was probably very beautiful. There were some lovely people we met on the way and the fried egg sandwich that Janet and her baps provided on the Friday morning was possibly the best one I’ve had for years. However all in all this was quite possibly one of the most stupid ideas that Mr F has ever had. It does just prove how stubborn he is though as he did the whole 255 mile journey and finally got back to Leeds very wet, very cold, very muddy, but having raised over £2500 for Africa’s Gift which made it all worth while (probably!)

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