The Forgotten Garden

Due to it being my birthday, I took Monday off work. It was a lovely sunny day and I had a very enjoyable time pottering around in the garden, mowing the lawn along with the stepford wives up the road, and planting hanging baskets. This was the first time I’ve really done any gardening this year. I think this as well as the fact the daffodils are well and truly out on the York walls says that spring has most definitely sprung.
It’s amazing what a difference a bit of sunshine on an evening has. Everyone seems that much happier and despite there being exactly the same number of hours in the day, for some reason days always seem longer in the sunshine. It is nice to be able to walk home from work in the daylight again. However the sunshine does bring with it other problems, the biggest one for me being guilt.
Whenever the sun is out, I always feel the need to go outside and do something. Not a major three day hike over the dales, but mow the lawn, or visit a National Trust property, or walk someone’s dog. I blame my parents as I think it must be a hangover from when I was a child. Every day during the school holidays I was kicked out of the house in the morning and told to come back in time for tea. We were constantly informed that anything other than being outside was wasting the day. Although admittedly this came from the Mother who also told us that a television would blow up if it was left on for longer than half an hour at a time so we should have been suspicious (note this was only during the day, in the evening it could stay on as long as my parents wanted)
The problem is now as a grown adult, I don’t always want to have to go outside. Sometimes I just want to curl up in front of the television with a glass of wine and do nothing. Sometimes I just want to sit on the sofa and read a book. I’m a grown adult, so of course I should be able to do this. There is no one to tell me I can’t, no one to kick me out of the house until tea time, it is my house and I can sit around all day if I want to. Yet I just can’t do it. It is wasting the day don’t you know?
Sometimes I do long for the dark days of winter, when I can happily sit at home reading a crime novel pretending that if it weren’t for the rain and the sleet I’d actually be doing a 10k run before tea. There was a part of me hoping for rain on Monday so I could start my new SJ Watson book before I see him on Friday. Oh well, at least after a few months of being completely forgotten we now have a stripy front lawn and of course summer is always a good excuse for coffee and a few chapters of a book in the sun.

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The Ice Twins by S.K Tremayne – a review

The Ice Twins by S.K Tremayne was a recent ‘listen to’ rather than actual read. As I’ve previously mentioned I walk most places and occasionally attempt to jog. Both of these are hobbies that are made better with an audible book. Being read to can often be a bit hit and miss though. You are as reliant on the person who is reading it, as you are on the actual quality of the writing. I’ve started listening to a number of books over the years that I have had to give up on due to the really annoying voices of the readers.
This however was not one of them, and despite some of the fake Scottish accents sounding a bit comedy this was a really interesting listen.
Sarah and Angus are mourning the death of one of their identical twins. In order to try and move on with their lives they relocate to a remote island in the Scottish highlands (I think!) with their remaining twin Kirstie. However things don’t go as planned when Kirstie states she is actually Lydia and that they have been mourning the wrong twin.
I really enjoyed this book despite a few reservations. The main one being that I didn’t really like or get a proper feel for any of the main characters. There were times that if I had been reading the actual book, I would have had to flick back through to see if I’d missed something key as to why the characters acted as they did. Obviously it is not that simple when you are listening.
On the plus side, the Ice Twins was incredibly atmospheric. There was a lot of description of the surrounding area which added to the creepy feeling throughout the book. You got the impression of the bleakness and despair that the family felt as they spiralled further down into weirdness. The book was quite slow going, but this added to the overall feel. It was almost like it was written in slow motion, you can see what is about to happen but you can’t stop it.
I did think it was a bit odd that the parents couldn’t tell the twins apart, I don’t know anything about twins so I may be wrong but you’d think that by the time they are 6 there would be something distinctive enough about each of them to tell them apart. Saying that however, our main narrator is Sarah and she is clearly unreliable. It’s almost a chicken and egg situation, what came first, was it Kirstie saying she is Lydia, or did Sarah give her the idea?
I’m usually not a huge fan of ghost stories but this was more thriller than ghost and even by the end I wasn’t really clear was it a haunting or was it just confusion. This story was definitely worth a listen to and made my walk to work much more interesting.

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Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly MacMillan – a review

I was given a copy of this book via netgalley.

Burnt Paper Sky is Gilly MacMillan’s debut novel. Rachel’s son goes missing during a walk through a wood. Recently divorced Rachel soon starts to blame herself for focusing more on her ex-husband than on her Son. DI Jim Clamo is called into investigate and the finger soon starts to point at Rachel.

I’m in two minds about this book. There is no doubt it is an excellent story and it kept me hooked throughout. The first half was really good. You can feel the anguish that Rachel is going through, yet still you are not 100 percent certain that she hasn’t been involved somehow.

I enjoyed the way the book was written. The focus is as much on the characters as it is on the mystery of the missing child, with the two main characters telling the story from their differing viewpoints. Rachel is telling her story one year on from her son disappearing, to an unseen audience. Jim is writing a report for the counsellor he was forced to see after the case ended. The story is then interspersed with a mix of police reports, emails, and website pages. This was reminiscent of the most recent Elizabeth Haynes book I’ve read and personally I like the style. You get to feel like you are actually taking part in the investigation. Each chapter started with quotes from missing person reports or text books which helped put everything into context.

I felt the writing of the main characters was very good and their reactions were believable. The way that Rachel acts during the press briefing which leads the public to turn on her makes you want to be both sympathetic to her and angry with her stupidity in equal measure.

My only slight criticism with the story was that there seemed to be almost too many threads thrown in. It’s difficult to explain without giving away any more of the story, but there was a lot of dead bodies thrown into peoples pasts. This seemed to give the impression that the ending was a bit abrupt with a rather tentative motive, but don’t let that put you off as I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of this.

This was a very good debut novel and I look forward to reading more from Gilly MacMillan

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The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook – a review

When an email dropped into my box asking if I would be interested in reviewing a copy of the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook it is true to say that I was rather overly excited. As you’ll know if you read my blog I am a huge fan of crime fiction. As you may not know although it’s still true, I am also a lover of a good cookbook. Notice I don’t say a lover of cooking. Don’t get me wrong when I’ve got the time I really enjoy cooking and I try as often as I can to make something new out of the very large collection of cookbooks I already own. Yet it’s more than that. I like reading cookbooks just as much as fiction sometimes. I love it when I get a new book that isn’t just recipes (although these have their place) but is also more than that. I like those that include history of the people behind the books, the chef’s perspective and what the recipes mean to them.

Therefore it is quite possible that this is my most favourite book in the world (it’s only downside being I’m a vegetarian and the book is American so clearly there is a lot of meat. Luckily Mr F is very far from a vegetarian and is pretty handy in the kitchen himself so all recipes will get some use!)

The book combines some great sounding recipes with some interesting crime facts. Did you know for example that Miss Marple drank 143 cups of tea during her stories. All the recipes are provided by authors, including some of my favourites such as Harlen Coben (myron’s crabmeat dip) and Lee Child (a pot of coffee so not the trickiest of recipes but easy to get wrong) The book is split into sections making it easy to follow, and as well as appetisers and mains there is even a section of drinks at the back.

Obviously as this is an american book there are alot of bits that we don’t have over here, however that’s the joy of the internet. If you can’t find them in the supermarket you know you’ll be able to source an alternative. The recipes are all reasonably simple, and many have a short list of ingredients which makes them nice and easy to follow.

Of course the proof of a good cook book is in the eating. So i wanted to try some recipes before reviewing. My attempts started well with Scott Turow’s ‘Innocent Frittata’ which was very tasty, and Alan Orloff’s ‘Killer Tofu’ which went well with a stir fry. However things went downhill when I attempted Linda Stasi’s baked cheesecake. I was heading to some friends for Sunday dinner so thought I’d enlist their help in testing a recipe and the cheesecake seemed to fit the bill. Unfortunately I’d never made a baked cheesecake before, and I don’t think I’ll be trying again in a hurry. Admittedly part of the problem was that I burnt it, one minute it looked liked a souffle that was about to explode, the next it was like I was building a scale model of the grand canyon, all brown and sunken. My friends being the true friends they are, valiantly battled on, scraping the burnt bits off and trying not to crack their teeth on the base but the remaining was truly dreadful, more scrambled egg than cheesecake. It was that bad even the dogs turned their noses up at it. Yet one bad cheesecake does not a bad book make.

The book is a beautiful thing, with lots of pictures and quotes from authors which makes it a pleasure to read. I love the style of the book with each recipe being introduced by the author saying where the recipe comes from. The Harrogate crime festival even gets a mention under Joseph Finder’s apple crumble. I would highly recommend this book for all fans of crime fiction, whether cooks or not, the only problem being I’ve now got a load of new authors to add to my to read list.

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Alone

Well I’ve been abandoned for two whole weeks whilst Mr F goes on holiday. Whilst he’s off planting trees, or fixing schools, or some other worthwhile activity (He’s actually gone to Lesotho with a charity called Africa’s Gift  find out more here) I’m left behind all alone cleaning up cat sick and sorting out the recycling bins.

Now clearly I would not admit this to Mr F as the truth sometimes gets in the way of a good sulk over my abandonment (where he is there is limited internet access and electricity so I can get away with this admission) However there is a small part of me that is actually looking forward to a couple of weeks on my own.

Whilst of course I love him to bits, I do find men have a habit of getting in the way sometimes. I am someone who quite likes just pottering. I can potter in the garden planting seeds, watching birds, pruning something that I don’t really know what it is. I can potter in the house tidying things up (which actually just means putting anything I find in a big box as if you can’t see things then they don’t exist) or sorting things out. I can even potter round town looking in bookshops, or wondering round the market. However it’s hard to potter properly when there are two of you, as one is always wanting to do something.

I have a theory that the only reason sport was invented is to give people time on their own to potter. If I said to Mr F one Saturday morning, today I’m going to spend sorting out my bookshelves and reading my latest book he’d huff and puff a bit and come up with a list of activities he wanted to do. Clearly none of those would involve anything to do with books. That’s where football comes in. Never in a million years did I ever think I would religiously plot in my diary when the football was going to be on. Yet there I am with each match marked down knowing that no matter what else is going on in the world the football will keep him entertained for a while.

Being on my own for two weeks also means I can eat what I want without having to consult anyone. At the risk of sounding about 90 the first thing I bought after dropping Mr F off at the train station was courgettes. Although he’s not a fussy eater he does have some strange vegetable aversions including courgettes which are one of my favourite vegetables. I have tried to encourage him to eat them, I once made a three course courgette themed meal starting with courgette fritters, then courgette pasta finished with courgette and chocolate cake, yet he’s still not keen.

As well as all the time I’ll get to read books and potter round whilst eating courgettes, I finally get full control of the tv remote. The timing couldn’t be more perfect with the new series of criminal minds back on the television, and Masterchef having started again.

Also in terms of good timing, his departure has coincided with one of the most exciting things of the year. The release of the programme for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. This is a thing that takes time to digest properly. It has to be read through a couple of times, before lists are created of which authors I’ve already read, and which I need to start reading. The sessions have to be planned to see if there are any we could stand to miss to give a bit of breathing and reading space during the weekend. All of this takes time, and I’ll have lots of it on my hands.

Of course saying all that I am obviously going to miss Mr F loads, and am very proud of him, but somehow I think the time is going to fly by and I’ll no doubt wonder where it all went once he’s home.

 

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – a review

I always think there is a danger when having read a couple of really good books back to back that rather than being third time lucky the next one is just going to be a let-down. That’s especially true if the third book is one that you are really looking forward to, as was the case with Girl on the Train. Well I didn’t need to worry, this was one of the best books I’ve read for ages.
Rachel travels on the same train every day into and out of London. Whilst on the train each time she goes past the same house and sees the same couple who she names Jess and Jason and in her head she builds up a picture of their perfect lives together. So far so normal, as we all do that kind of thing (don’t we?) Yet one morning she wakes up with no recollection of what happened the night before, and find out ‘Jess’ is missing. We then meet the other two narrators in the novel namely Megan and Anna and things become a bit more sinister.
I read The Girl on the Train over one weekend as I was gripped from the start. I felt the story moves along at an excellent pace, and had me guessing all the way through. The characters are that mix of normal, happy, sad, and weird that makes up real life, albeit with them dumped in a rather unusual situation. Rachel is clearly depressed and as we soon learn she is an alcoholic so therefore a very unreliable narrator. Throughout the novel you see how she is falling further and further into despair. There are many bits when you want to just slap her, but equally in parts you feel tremendously sorry for her as she tries to move on.
I liked the way the writing moved around from the three different viewpoints during different times in the story. Often this kind of thing annoys me as I feel it is done to be clever and rather than move the story on just gets very confusing, but that was not the case with this at all. It just added to the twists and the turns in the book. I would say it is a testament to the good quality writing that I wasn’t constantly having to go backwards and forwards checking what date I was at.
With hindsight I suspect one of the reasons that this book was such a draw was that there are actually very few characters in it. This helps build the suspense, as well as actually making you feel that you are seeing things through the eyes of the narrators, rather than getting a big picture. Therefore the ending comes as a bit of a shock.
I would thoroughly recommend this book and hope to see more from Paula Hawkins soon.

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The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer – a review

I was recently given a copy of this via netgalley and had saved it to read on a train journey to Birmingham. I was very glad I did, as I don’t think it is often that a book gets you thinking long after you finish it. Whilst there are plenty of books I read and thoroughly enjoy most of the time I’m just straight onto the next one. However this story really did pull me up at the end and the morning after I was still thinking about it.

The book starts with the disappearance of Daniel. His Dad worked in the garage over the road and Daniel had run out of the open door across to the garage before disappearing. All that remains is his footprints left behind in the wet concrete. His mother Amy spends her day sitting by these footprints polishing them and trying to protect them from the elements. DI Marvel wants to investigate the missing boy, but after having failed to find another missing girl called Evie he is instead assigned to a different case that he feels is rather beneath him. Amy rarely leaves the house but when she gets a flyer through her door advertising a local physic event (the shut eye of the title) she is so desperate she’ll grasp at any straw she can to find her son. The psychic Latham was previously involved in Evie’s disappearance and it is through him that the differing strands of the stories merge.

The Shut Eye is a very difficult book to review without giving away too much. There is an element of the mystic around it. Yet this is dealt with well and I didn’t get to the end feeling cheated which I usually do when a supernatural element is included.

The writing itself was seamless and I was utterly gripped from start to finish. The story is seen from not only the perspective of the detective but also Amy and Jack the parents of missing Daniel, as well as including the Chief’s wife and an insight into what happened to Evie. Throughout Shut Eye I felt in turn both sorry for and angry at the characters. The sense of isolation, and desperation that came through the pages made me really sorry for some at points, but just as forcefully their actions and stupidity made me want to strangle them.

One of the things that I felt made a refreshing change was that this (although I may be wrong of course) didn’t strike me as a book that was being written to start a series. Often and understandably people write books in order to have their detective at the forefront. However this felt like it was a completely stand along book being written because there was a great idea for a story rather than a great idea for a detective.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and think that any book which is both thought provoking and enjoyable is definitely worth a read. It even made having to go to Birmingham a more pleasant experience.

 

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