Disclaimer by Renee Knight – a review

This was a book I had picked up and looked at a few times in bookshops recently. So I was very pleased to see that it was to be featured in my favourite panel of the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival, the New Blood one. As I’ve said before if it’s good enough for Val McDermid it is good enough for me so I purchased my copy.
Disclaimer centres on Catherine. She’s a successful film  maker, who has recently moved into a new house with her husband Robert. One night she picks up a book that she finds on her bedside cabinet, which she has no recollection of buying (not quite sure why she doesn’t think a book just arriving like this is strange but let’s gloss over that bit!) The standard disclaimer at the front that states ‘the characters are not based on real life’ has been crossed out. As Catherine starts to read she realises that the strange book is about her. The story in it is describing a secret relating to her son that she has tried to bury. Things become even more sinister when her drop-out son also says he’s recently read a copy of the book which had been pushed through his flat door one day. The other main character in Disclaimer is Stephen who has recently lost his wife, and spends his days talking to her in his head whilst he sorts out her clothes. It soon becomes clear that Catherine and Stephen are linked.
Disclaimer is one of those stories that to really enjoy you are best not knowing much about it, so it’s difficult to review properly. However I can say I thought it was a really good story that I read over 5 days (whilst going to work and having the occasional social outing) Every time I thought I was going to guess the ending, there was another twist and off it went again. 
Throughout the story I kept changing my perspective of who was good and who was bad, and I can’t say any of them were particularly likeable but that’s often the case with this type of novel. It would all have been much simpler had Catherine just told her husband the truth, but then she thought she would never be found out.
There were a few unnecessary bits, and i thought the ending was a little weak. Yet despite this I thought Renee Knight’s debut novel was excellent and look forward to seeing her at the festival in July. 

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The Sick Rose by Erin Kelly – a review

I picked this book up on a recent trip to a fantastic bookshop in the middle of Helmsley. I had tried to buy this from amazon once before but I had obviously gone too click happy and had ended up with The Poison Tree instead (review here) That of course is one of the bonuses of a real bookshop, you know you are getting the right thing. Slightly confusingly though, at the same time I was reading this, my current audio book was another Erin Kelly, this time the Burning Air. Luckily I really enjoyed them both.

The Sick Rose centres on Louisa and Paul. Louisa is a gardener who is working on recreating a garden at an Elizabethan Mansion. Paul is a witness to a crime and is sent to the garden to hide until he has to testify. Both of them are hiding their backgrounds from those around them, and begin to form a relationship with each other.

This was an excellent book. I realise that I use the phrase ‘I couldn’t put down’ in nearly all of my reviews. I also realise that it is not strictly true as unless I’d had an unfortunate incident with some super glue of course I can put it down. However what I should say is, I didn’t want to put it down. 

The gradual unveiling of what had happened to Louisa as a naive rebellious teenage was really interesting. You could see from the outside it was all going to end in tears, but equally you can see how it’s the way the teenage mind works. Both characters had childhoods with little guidance and so they get caught up in things they don’t know how to get out of.

The way the two are drawn together despite their age difference is cleverly written, and by the end you really hope they will work out. Despite Louisa being older, she’s also the more naive having spent most of her life hiding from her past. Wheras Paul knows where things went wrong in his past, but was still powerless to stop it.

The final chapter of the book was something I didn’t see coming at all, and I thought the epilogue was a great addition. Often they can be seen as just a way of tying up lose ends, whereas this epilogue left me shocked.

I would definitely recommend this book, and if Erin Kelly is an author you haven’t yet tried, but are a fan of psychological crime novels I would urge you to try it (I’d also urge you to visit the bookshop in the centre of Helmsley if you are ever that way!)

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The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson – a review

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of this via netgalley. Although I’ve since found out that Catriona McPherson has an extensive back catalogue of books, this was the first of her books I’d read. I have got one of her previous novels, ‘As she left it’ on my to be read pile but for some reason it never made it to the top.

The Child Garden, centres on an old school called Eden. It was a school (I think set in Scotland) that prided itself on being an alternative school for happy children. The school was shut down after a child died during an overnight camping trip, and is now being run as a care home. The ex-school’s only neighbour is Gloria who has a son in the home. She lives in Rough House which is a spooky old place that belongs to one of the home’s residents, Miss Drumm.  Gloria’s life starts to change when an old school friend, and previous Eden pupil turns up on her doorstep. He claims that he is being stalked by an old friend from the school, and that she wants to meet him. Things are clearly not that simple however.

This book quickly hooked me in. During the first few pages I thought it was going to be a bit of a run of the mill, nasty man harasses naive reclusive women novel. However I was soon surprised. This was a really interesting story that was full of twists and turns. There were some bits that I thought were a little predictable, but there were enough surprises that this didn’t matter, and it soon swept you along. Equally at first I thought I was going to dislike Gloria as she started off seemingly rather meek and mild, yet as the story progressed I began to see that actually she was just lonely and mourning a son who wasn’t yet dead.

The plot was quick moving, and I liked the way the characters were introduced. There was almost a sense of each character having a seperate story. You found out their story and what had happened to them, then the chapter was closed and you moved onto the next one. This appealed to the soap opera fan in me, where each character has its own spotlight, and it is not til the end they all come together.

My only slight critiscism was the prologue at the end which I felt was all a little bit too ‘happy ever after’ for those involved. However saying that I don’t like it when a story isn’t concluded properly, so maybe its better this way.

Overall I would say this was a thoroughly good read, and I’m definitely going to give ‘As she left it’ a go shortly.

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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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