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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The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton – a review

miniaturistThis is one of those books that I kept seeing everywhere. It has seemingly been on display in every bookshop window I’ve been past recently tempting me with the lovely looking cover. I was therefore strangely drawn to this book despite not being my usual crime fiction. After picking it up and putting it down many times I decided to take the plunge but rather than buy the physical printed version I downloaded it as an Audible book to hopefully keep me entertained during my walk to work.
Set in 17th Century Amsterdam, the story centres around 18 year old Nella. She travels from her home in the country to the city where she marries merchant Johannes. Nella then moves in with him and his sister Marin, as well as maid Cornelia and servant Otto. Shortly after their wedding Johannes presents Nella with a dolls house sized perfect replica of their own home. Nella then contacts the Miniaturist to help her furnish it. She writes requesting some items, but soon things start appearing that seem to suggest the miniaturist knows a lot more about the secrets within the house than people outside should know.
I’m in two minds about this book. I realise that listening to a book is not the same as reading it, and I find that a book has to be even more engaging to be able to listen to it properly. This book did keep me interested so on that side it did the job. I really enjoyed parts of the writing, especially the descriptions of the city and its workings. The interaction between characters gave a good insight into how I imagine daily life would have been during this time where money was the most important thing around.
However despite all the hype, and the cover that I’d found so intriguing, overall I don’t think this was a great book. The Miniaturist element almost seemed to be redundant and from my listening it wasn’t really necessary. I had assumed there would be some kind of supernatural element to the story but unless I misheard there didn’t seem to be and nothing was really explained. I’m not sure of the timescale the book was set over, but everything felt to be a bit too quick. The change in characters actions and the interaction between the main players was all a little too forced to be real and so I didn’t end up particularly caring about their fates, and the constant talk of sugar was a bit dull.
The ending seemed quite abrupt and it felt like nothing was really finished. There were lots of storylines but I struggled to see what the books main story was meant to be. Saying that, it could be because the crime element was very small so it wasn’t my usual type of book plus it is easy to get distracted and miss things when listening rather than reading.
Overall I think this book was just a little bit disappointing, mainly down to the lack of Miniaturist interaction. I had picked it up so many times in bookshops, and had read so many good things about it that I had expected it to be great, whereas it was just ok. It just goes to show you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

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The black box

As anyone who has ever switched on a tv, or read a magazine in the UK will know, this week has been a monumental one for the cheery London based soap that is Eastenders. As well as characters returning from the dead, characters who had returned from the dead actually being dead, characters we’d never seen before walking around carrying bunches of flowers, and characters forgetting they were characters and using the wrong names, there was the all important reveal of the killer of Lucy Beale.

Now I have to confess to feeling incredibly smug at this point as I guessed correctly. No not after the final scene but before it was even aired. I even have witnesses in my office that can testify to the fact I guessed before the perpetrator was revealed. I like to put this clever bit of guess work down to the fact I read an awful lot of crime books. I imagine there are lots of crime readers out there who came to the same conclusion, and for the same reasons no matter how far fetched it might actually seem. Of course the furore surrounding the live Eastenders hasn’t just been about Lucy’s killer. Comments sections online are full of complaints about how unrealistic it has all been. Surely the killer wouldn’t be able to manage it, surely someone would know the dead person wasn’t dead, surely there is no one in the world who actually finds Phil Mitchell scary.

It’s not just Eastenders that have the monopoly on being unrealistic. Broadchurch has been slated for its apparent lack of realism, people wearing the wrong wigs, pacemakers being fitted and ten minutes later the recipient being down the pub, people getting table service in a Nandos. All these things are apparently ruining the enjoyment of many viewers.  Hmmm – those people may have missed one vital point here – it’s not real.

If the rather wooden acting isn’t enough to give it away, you’d think the fact that all the people are really small and seemingly living it a little black box in the corner of the lounge would help.

It’s the same with books, I seem to see loads of reviews recently that have bemoaned the fact that stories are not realistic. In fact I have done it myself, picking up authors on points that in my head seem to be completely unrealistic and just wouldn’t happen. Well fair enough if suddenly the murderer is caught by a pink elephant in a tutu singing a Phil Collin’s track then this may be pushing the boundaries too far, but otherwise does it really matter?

I read books and watch television for entertainment, and on the whole I read and watch fiction. Crime fiction, soap opera fiction the clue is in the word fiction, its not real life.

On the most part I am very glad of that fact. I’d hate to live in an Eastenders reality, I’d be unemployed for a start as I work in an office which no one on the tv show seems to do, I have a washing machine so would never go to the laundrette, and as much as I like him I wouldn’t want to have an affair with Mr F Senior. Let’s be honest, if fiction actually mirrored reality it would be incredibly dull, I’m sure most people are just like me, and spend the evenings cooking, reading, going to the pub having a quiet drink and watching tv. I’m pretty certain that would make a pretty dull episode of any soap, and certainly not one that would stand to gain national news headlines, for which I’m very grateful.

 

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A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan – a review

This was another of the exciting freebies that I picked up at the festival last year. I have to confess that it is not my usual choice. I’m not keen on political thrillers and by the look of this, that’s exactly what it seemed to be. However I was on my way to bed, it was freezing cold and so I just grabbed the first book to hand. Well it just goes to show that preconceptions can be wrong, as I thoroughly enjoyed this.

A Killing Winter is set in Kyrgyzstan, which is centrally located in Asia and was under Russian control under 1991 (Don’t you just love Wikipedia!) The central character of the book is Inspector Akyl Borubaev of the Bishkek Murder Squad. He is called to investigate when a body of a young women is found. The victim turns out to be the daughter of a high profile politician, which makes the investigation even harder especially when more bodies turn up. Having recently lost his wife Borubaev throws himself into an investigation that covers not only murder, but mafia style gangs, prostitution, corruption, and a gruesome sounding drug that rots flesh. This story depicts a society so corrupt that you sincerely hope it is just the product of a good imagination not a depiction of how life really is.

Yet despite the grimness described above, I really enjoyed this book. It’s certainly not one for fans of a nice cozy fireside crime. The violence that runs throughout is incredibly harsh but it doesn’t come across as gratuitous. It simply added to the overall atmosphere of the story which can only be described as bleak. One of the best bits of A Killing Winter is the descriptions of the landscape. The landscape is a bleak as the storyline, with a climate that even a polar bear would find too cold.

The main character on the surface is someone who you want to feel sorry. He has obviously been devastated by his wife’s death yet he also has a violent hard nosed side that makes him hard to like. However when up against the rest of the cast he probably is the only redeeming person in it.

The twists and turns of the story kept me gripped and I would definitely recommend A Killing Winter. Sometimes you read a book that is not something you’d usually choose, for the only reason that its nearest on the shelf. This was one of those books, but I’m very glad I did.

 

 

 

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The black ice

The ice is out in full force at the moment which means my walk to work takes on a whole new challenge, where just staying on your feet becomes a task equivalent to reading war and peace. This takes on an added dimension when the ice is combined with the fun that is recycling day, where it is not only the invisible black icy patches that have to be avoided.

This being York, nearly everyone recycles. Down our street where the average age is about 152 the recycling boxes are mainly just newspapers, with the odd plastic container that probably contained Horlicks thrown in. We obviously have a few more glass items in ours, although this week I was incredibly embarrassed putting out the bottles. There was only 4 in there, what must people have thought. I promise I’ll try harder this fortnight.

Obviously down the main street there is a much wider variety of recycling coming out of the big houses. Despite the obvious dangers of tripping over escaped caviar pots or rolling champagne bottles I must admit I find the chance to see what people are buying fascinating. Before recycling became popular the only way to know what complete strangers had for tea was to go through their dustbins which is borderline stalking apparently. However now just walking down the street allows those of us with a keen interest in the human race (some people call it nosy, I just like to think I am interested in my surroundings) access behind closed doors.

Of course the problem with that is you don’t get the full picture. It’s easy to see what people had for tea with the abundance of organic M&S ready meal wrappers. There is one house that I swear must buy the same ready meals from waitrose every week. It’s good to have a routine I suppose although personally I prefer a bit more variety in my food.

The ones that really frustrate me are the abundance of amazon parcels, especially the book shaped ones. Short of actually picking them up and hoping the delivery notes have been left inside (which I would do if I thought I’d get away without being seen) there are no clues from the outside as to what was inside. I’d love to be able to see into people’s houses and look through their books. There should be a website where people could post up pictures of their bookshelves for me to peruse. It would be like Waterstones but without the impossible to resist temptation of actually buying books.

Unfortunately until then I’ll just have to continue trying to spot peoples bookshelves through their windows and trying to guess what the latest purchase is. At least once the ice has gone it’ll make the walk a bit safer and I can concentrate on looking at the recycling rather than trying to spot patches of ice.

 

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