In a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware – a review

As I’ve mentioned many many times, one of the most exciting things about the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is that you not only get lots of free books, but often you are also lucky enough to get proof copies of some novels before they go on general sale. Although this isn’t always straightforward, and the fabulous people at Dead Good Books made us work for a copy of In a dark, dark wood by dressing up in feather boas with a very large hat in order to recreate a murderous hen do. In return I received a copy of the book, which was completely worth the embarrassment.
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In a dark, dark wood is Ruth Ware’s debut novel. It centres on crime writer Nora who is suddenly invited to the hen do of her child hood friend Claire despite not having seen her for 10 years. She decides to go along in the hope of putting the past behind her, but things go wrong and Nora ends up in hospital with no memory of how she got there or what happened.

This was a thoroughly good read. Whilst I don’t think it was a particularly suspenseful or dramatic book, I really enjoyed it and it was one of those books that kept me wanting to read just one more chapter before sleep. The story itself is reasonably predictable and there are few twists, yet the writing is good and it was a fun quick read. The story keeps you interested although it isn’t especially scary, however having spent the past few weeks reading altogether darker crime novels this actually felt like it was a great change of direction for me. There is a very limited number of characters which works really well and gives the story a claustrophobic air that’s adds to the tension.

In a dark, dark wood is definitely worth a read, and if you’ve ever been on a hen do and wondered why on earth we go through it, you’ll love this book.

 

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The facts of life and death (in Harrogate)

What do the following statements have in common:

  • Patricia Highsmith used to breed snails and was so attached to them that when she moved to France she smuggled them in her bra.
  • The north is better than the south at playing football
  • I am really rubbish at quizzes.
  • The name Jack Reacher came about because Lee Child could reach things from high shelves in supermarkets.
  • Knitting can be taken anywhere.
  • I have the same first name as Simon Theakston’s wife – sadly for Mr F that doesn’t allow me a discount on his favourite Old Peculier.
  • If turning around a hotel room from theatre to cabaret style was an Olympic sport the Old Swan would definitely take the gold medal.
  • In Iceland they suck on boiled sheep heads as a tasty snack.
  • Crime writers make me look a complete amateur when it comes to drinking in the bar.

The common thread? Yes you guessed it, these are just some of the many fascinating facts that I learnt at this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Once again the festival is over and I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel the disappointment. Having spent three days immersed in crime books, crime authors and crime discussion, having to return to the boring minutiae of work really is rather dull. It’s difficult to remember that when my boss tells me about her recent vandalism problem she just wants a bit of sympathy and head nodding – not a ten minute monologue on why fingerprints are only fingerprints once they’ve been identified.

It was as always another fantastic festival. This year the sister and me had agreed not to make our usual mistake of spending three full days rushing from session to signing queue to coffee queue to session and to take time to enjoy the atmosphere a bit more. We were very selective with what sessions we actually attended and managed to have at least one each day that we kept spare. This gave us a great chance to chat to people outside, sit in the sun and get even more free books than previously.

The atmosphere at this festival is always the best; it’s no exaggeration to say that for people who spend their time conjuring up the most gruesome ways possible to kill and scare people, crime writers really are the most friendly bunch. To me the writers at this festival are the equivalent of A List celebrities to the readers of Hello, but you can actually talk and walk amongst them. I bet not many festivals include an award winning actor browsing in the bookshop (on being asked to say a few impromptu words at an awards ceremony their reply was I can’t I’m pissed) or the winner of the 2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Novel of the Year standing next to us in a signing queue. (The winner was the lovely Sarah Hilary)

The programme for this year again gave a great range of authors and topics. Apart from my favourite New Blood panel led by Val McDermid, some of the highlights for me this year included the Perfect Match with David Mark and Anya Lipska discussing reviewing and choosing that next new book, the Forensics panel which was fascinating and gave an interesting insight into the real world of detection, as well as the surprise of the weekend which was Eddie Izzard talking to Mark Billingham. Not strictly crime but very entertaining.

Of course no matter how excellent the weekend there is always a downside. This one being the amount of books I returned with. Despite my best acting I’m not sure Mr F believed that they were all ones I already had and had taken with me! I’ve definitely got my work cut out to read my way through them all before the next festival. Which reminds me of one final fact:

  • Its only 52 weeks until the next TOPCWF.

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The Good Girl by Mary Kubica – a review

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica was a book I had heard good things of. Whilst it was technically not part of the TOPCWFC2015 I wanted something that was going to be interesting enough to keep me occupied on my recent plane ride. Therefore I added this to my very large download pile.

This was another book told from three viewpoints (I seem to have had a run of these recently) split into before and after time frames. Firstly there is Eve who is the mother of missing Mia and married to a Judge. Gabe is the policeman who is investigating Mia’s disappearance. Then there is Colin, who kidnaps Mia. Early on in the story Mia returns but it is clear that something very disturbing has happened, as she has complete amnesia about the time she was away. The story progresses through a series of flashbacks as Eve tries to help her daughter come to terms with her kidnapping and find out what went on.

I’m in two minds about this story. The premise was good, and it was an interesting take on a kidnap story. However there was just something that didn’t work for me. It all seemed a bit too cliché and the fact that I guessed the end twist about three quarters of the way through was a bit disappointing.

I unfortunately didn’t really like the characters and found the relationships to be a bit stilted. I was left really not caring about any of them or what was happening which is never a good way to read a mystery. I do think partly the problem is my expectations were quite high, and this can often lead to disappointment. Equally I don’t know whether my enjoyment was hampered by the fact that I read it whilst travelling and broke off half way through to watch the film of Gone Girl on the plane, or if it was just that the writing wasn’t really my style. I found that the switching between viewpoints was really annoying, and for some reason they didn’t flow very well.

It was a shame as the story could have been really good, and I had high hopes. However I’m afraid to say that for me although it certainly wasn’t a bad read and I wanted to read to the end, neither did I find it particularly ground exciting. Maybe it just goes to show I should stick to reading people who will be at Harrogate and concentrate on the TOPCWFC2015.

 

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BritCrime giveaway – enter the raffle to win

To celebrate the launch of BritCrime’s first free online crime fiction festival, 11-13 July, I have teamed up with BritCrime authors to give away one fabulous prize.

You could win a gift bundle of ten print books, including new releases by Colette McBeth and Sarah Hilary, and MJ McGrath’s Gold Dagger longlisted White Heat. This giveaway is open internationally. One lucky winner will win all ten books.

Please complete the entries in the Rafflecopter before midnight 9th July for a chance to win.

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/230d85cf4/

To learn more about the BritCrime festival, please visit http://www.britcrime.com/ and sign up to the newsletter. There will be giveaways and live Q&As with bestselling British crime fiction authors hosted on BritCrime’s Facebook page 11 & 12 July.

The Magpies + What You Wish For by Mark Edwards
No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary
The Life I Left Behind + Precious Thing by Colette McBeth
White Heat by M J McGrath
Beyond the Rage by Michael J Malone
Follow the Leader + Watching Over You by Mel Sherratt
The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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The End of the Wasp Season

Well the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is only two weeks away. Therefore the 2015 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Challenge (try saying that quickly after a couple of glasses of wine) is very nearly at an end.

By my reckoning there are 56 authors appearing during the main three days of the festival. Of those there are 28 authors that I haven’t read. That is a pretty poor show by anyone’s standards. I’m actually beginning to think that this might be an impossible challenge. I think I need to join forces with some of my fellow bloggers who are attending. I’m sure if we all put our heads together and combined our reviewing forces we’d be able to cover all the authors. Maybe I should arrange for us all to meet for a coffee at Harrogate and we can see if we’ve managed it?

On the positive side however, the TOPCWFC2015 Lite as I’m now calling it is much more manageable. The aim of this one is to read at least one author in every session. Again by my own calculations removing things such the dinner, and the reader awards there are 16 sessions. Currently I have read at least one book by an author in 15 of these sessions. I think with two weeks to go that is pretty good going, so it’s just one more book to go.

Of course the actual blogging is very far behind the reading
I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who was saying they used to write a book review blog, but found that they read more than they had time to review so gave it up. I completely understand what they mean, I definitely read alot more books than I actually review. I suppose it depends on what you like doing most. If you let yourself get bogged down in it, the reviews start taking over your life, the unwritten ones becoming as annoying as a wasp round your glass of wine. I enjoy writing this blog and I like to think that occasionally someone other than my family actually read it, but for me it’s always the actual reading that is the best part. The blog is just an added bonus. On that note, time to stop writing and get on with some more reading I think. Challenge completion here I come.

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Fear Nothing

I’m writing this sitting on my own in a lovely restaurant, on an incredibly busy street in Toronto. I’ve just finished a very tasty risotto with fiddleheads (I had to ask the waiter, they are basically rolled up green beans) whilst enjoying a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve had a very busy day, I’ve been on a bus tour of the city, I’ve been on a boat round the islands, I’ve visited a food market, I’ve found a bookshop that apparently has 12 miles of shelves although I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration and I’ve sat in a sports bar and had a beer amongst a group of blokes watching the blue jays play the Canadian version of rounders.

All in all it’s been a pretty good day. As I’ve been wondering around on my own it seems that everyone wants to talk. Everywhere I go people have been chatting to me, and without fail they always seem surprised I’m travelling on my own, and they tell me how they wish they had that confidence. Obviously it is not something I had a choice in as I’ve come for work (I volunteered purely for the good of the team obviously, I’d hate to put anyone else through this hardship) It was however my choice to fly over a few days early so that I could enjoy the city and have a couple of days holiday on my own.

I never think of myself as particularly confident, especially compared to others. I walk into a restaurant and I’ll sit at the table I’m given and stay there even if I don’t like it. I’d hate to cause a scene after all. Yet having sat here that is clearly not what others think as one couple I’ve been watching have sat at five different tables before they eventually ordered some food. I would avoid walking into an empty shop as I’d feel compelled to buy something I didn’t want just because I’d feel bad walking out empty handed. If I pick up a bottle of orange juice instead of apple juice, at the till I’ll pretend it is what I wanted rather than ask to change it and hold up a queue.

Canadian’s don’t seem to have any such qualms when it comes to causing a stir. I visited the CN Tower yesterday and unwittingly ended up causing havoc. I got to the ticket office which was practically empty and obediently stood where I assumed the queue started. Unfortunately this wasn’t the designated area for people to line up. When I stepped forward to buy my ticket a massive queue of people had built up behind me. Whilst I quietly bought my ticket and slipped away pretending it was nothing to do with me, the staff were threatening to call security in order to move people who were refusing to lose their place in the queue and move to the correct side. If anyone had asked me to move in the first place I’d have gone bright red, and moved as fast as I possibly good whilst mumbling apologies to anyone who was nearby.

I think the idea of confidence is often misrepresented though as I don’t believe it is something you are necessarily born with but it is something you can choose to have. I was nervous of flying alone to a foreign country. I could have chosen to wait and come out with others, but I chose to do it on my own. (I should point out here that whilst in my head I am now the modern day Amelia Earhart, I am aware that travelling to Canada is not exactly the same as back packing round India, or trekking through the Amazon rainforest on my own!) Once I got here I could have spent every night sitting on my own in my hotel room cooking my own meals (A handy travel tip for the middle classes – two Gideon bibles and an up turned iron is a great way to cook an egg apparently) yet whilst I’m here I want to experience as much as I can. I have one rule when away which is that I can only eat in places we don’t have in York, that is obviously a lot easier here in Toronto than in Birmingham.

I remember when I was young and went through a phase of thinking I was very cool and trendy and writing great life affirming slogans on my pencil case such as Don’t worry be happy. One such phrase was ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ As annoying as it sounds now, there is some merit in that one. Whilst clearly once I get home and the holiday spirit wears off I’ll revert back to my usual self. Someone who will walk into a shop and wonder round pretending to be really interested in purchasing items, even though I’ve accidently walked into Burtons for men, instead of Dorothy perkins. At the moment I think I am brave enough to return the wine I’ve just bought as it’s a merlot not a cabernet – then again let’s not be silly wine is wine after all.

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Finders Keepers

It has been said to me that I’m quite a nosy person. I don’t think that is true, but I must admit to a complete fascination with other people’s bookshelves. There is nothing better than a nicely organised wall of books. I love walking around at dusk when the lights are on but people haven’t yet shut their curtains and seeing what people have on their shelves.  (That statement sounded better in my head than written down!) That’s why I was really interested to read the recent post by Cleopatra loves books ‘On my bookself‘ and her inspiration Snazzy books.

As you can imagine I have quite a large number of books, although I can’t say they are particularly well organised. I think how a person categorizes their books says a lot about their personality. I imagine some people have a full a-z system going with excel files detailing everything they own and what shelf it is on at any particular time or who is currently borrowing it (that reminds me I must ring my sister)

I’ve seen others who shelve them by colour, others by size, some people don’t keep books in the house donating them straight to charity as soon as they have read them. I imagine there are others of the kindle generation who think bookshelves are all flat screen images.

Clearly none of those enviously organised systems are me. I’m definitely a bit of a hoarder when it comes to books, but whilst I wouldn’t give dewy decimal a run for his money I do try and keep a vague system and always aim to store books by category. By far my smallest category is travel books. 20150602_205254Obviously these are on pride of place by the door – let’s be honest we all put our guidebook selection where it can be seen by guests, unless of course the only travel that’s ever been done is a caravan to Skegness for the weekend.

20150517_130446My next shelf is cookbooks, this is quite a large shelf. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I do love a good cook book. Clearly the majority of my books are vegetarian ones, and I do like to waste a bit of time reading through nice looking recipes whilst waiting for the pizza to be delivered.

By far my largest category of books, is crime novels. Even in here there is a vague system. 20150602_205329The top shelf is full of those books I’ve got signed, there is then a section for those I’ve not yet read, and there is a special section for those I wish I’d read but never going to try which is hidden behind the curtain.

Of course I do wish I was a bit more organised. Over the years I dread to think, not only how many books I’ve acquired by ‘borrowing’ from others and simply forgotten to return, but also how many I’ve lost by lending them and completely forgetting about them. It’s most definitely a case of finders keepers when it comes to books in my house, but I have to admit that to me that’s what books should be about. Whilst I do love seeing the lovely organised shelves of other people, there are not many readers who come to my house and go away empty handed. Although I probably won’t remember what they took the following day, so if you are looking for  a new read pop round!

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