The Watcher by Ross Armstrong

 

It’s really hard to review some books. I have a policy that I *try* to stick to of not revealing any major plot points, which can be difficult sometimes, especially thrillers.

 

I even know one person who get annoyed when she finds out a book has a twist, which I found hard to reconcile at first, because if there were no twists, then we’d have no books. But then I realised she was referring to the unexpected twists that you might get in an Adele Parks or a Jojo Moyes book, rather than in thrillers like Girl on the Train, which are screaming out at you that there is a twist.

 

Speaking of Girl on the Train, I’ve just finished reading The Watcher by Ross Armstrong, the latest but not the last in a long line of books where the publisher is comparing to the Paula Hawkins thriller.

 

There is, of course, a twist, and you read it expecting one, but where and how it comes is what keeps you turning the page.

 

The premise of The Watcher is that Lily lives in an apartment in a part of London where old blocks of flats are being demolished and replaced with luxury apartments. The mix of people on the estate is changing and Lily’s habit of bird-watching has also changed into watching her neighbours.

 

So far, so Rear Window.

 

One of the girls from the old part of the estate has gone missing, and most people are walking past the missing posters as if it’s nothing to do with them. Lily included.

 

But she starts to feel guilty. What if she should get involved. Maybe she can help. And so she starts to investigate and she soon learns that the person responsible may be in the flat opposite hers.

 

Her neighbour-watching steps up a gear.

 

All of this is told as part of a confessional, being recorded for some unknown person. Everything we know is from Lily’s point of view and while things start out as fairly standard, soon things start to become fantastical, and it’s hard to know whether we can really trust Lily, or whether writer is simply relying on some hackneyed clichés.

 

And… that’s all I can say without spoiling anything. It’s good. It’s better than Girl on the Train.

 

Armstrong treads a fine line at some points, and it nearly suffers for it, but he just about gets away with it, and makes for a fun Sunday afternoon read – it’ll make a great movie.

My Top 10 Books of 2016

 

About this time last year I revealed my Top 10 books of the year (check what they were here). I enjoyed doing it so much, that I’m going to do it again this year. One little rule – I’m excluding all the Harry Potters because otherwise my Top four would be dominated by him,.

 

Like many TV clip shows at the end of the year, you’ll have seen most of this before, but there is also some brand new content to keep you interested – as well as the drama of a countdown.

 

We’ll start – as is often traditional in Top Ten countdowns – at Number Ten…

 

  1. This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell

 

A story about the construction then the subsequent demolition of the relationship between Daniel and Claudette. We witness all the moments around the big arguments and the big decisions, and the characters are richer for it. The ending seems inevitable, but it makes it even more satisfying when we get there.

 

  1. The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley

 

A deeply mysterious book, one that describes the cold, wet countryside of England so well, that I feel cold even thinking about it now. What’s it about? It’s hard to describe. A pilgrimage of sorts to the eponymous Loney, an attempt to cure the protagonist’s brother. But it has an ending that stays with you.

 

  1. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

 

A retelling – or in my case, just the telling – of the story of Lizzie Borden. A brilliant piece of writing that presents the facts of the case, plus some suppositions to help the reader come to their own conclusion to what happened on that August day. Fascinating and creepy in equal measure. Definitely one to keep on the bookcase for a re-read.

 

  1. Seven Ways We Lie – Riley Redgate

 

A bit of a guilty pleasure, and am a bit surprised to see it so high up my list for 2016. It’s a fluffy and throwaway story about an American high school and a rumour that rockets around its corridors. I found it very funny, and a great bit of escapism from some of the heavier fare I usually read.

 

  1. Mad Girl – Bryony Gordon

 

One of two non-fiction books on the list…  It’s a book about mental illness, specifically Bryony Gordon’s, but also about YOURS because it’s hard to read about Bryony’s experiences without comparing and contrasting with your own. Some bits make you feel better, some bits make you feel worse, but you’ll come out of this book knowing yourself a bit more (gosh, that sounds American). If you read this and don’t recognise yourself in any of it, then you’re lucky – but hopefully, you’ll understand the rest of us a little bit more.

 

  1. And I Darken – Kiersten White

The tale of Lady Dracul, a take on Vlad the Impaler. A Game of Thrones style epic that pulls you into the politics of a country a million miles and a million years away from where you are. I’m looking forward to reading more books in this series.

 

  1. The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

 

A tough one – because this is real life. My biggest problem when it comes to Non-Fiction, I either don’t care because there’s no sensible narrative (spoiler, there is no sensible narrative in real life) or I care too much because ‘this really happened, damn it!’. This definitely falls into the latter – with the tragic story of a girl growing up coping with the result of a tragic accident involving her brother.

 

  1. The Stranger In My Home – Adele Parks

 

The only title on my list this year that I haven’t done a full review for, so here’s a mini one, right here.

 

I read this back in August, and the main reason for not writing a review is that I didn’t know what to say that I’ve not said about Adele before. This is her first contemporary novel since The State We’re In, which is one of my all-time favourites (And FYI, I’m still waiting for a movie adaptation?), and it tells of a couple who learn that their only daughter may in fact not be theirs.

 

Is everything as it seems? Tense in places, it builds to a wholly surprising but satisfying ending. This is my favourite thing about Adele’s writing. You’re sure you know where it’s going, yet you know there must be something else to it, and there is always something else to it, but until it happens you have absolutely no clue what it is. The clever bit, though, is that it makes perfect sense.

 

This is Adele’s take on the domestic noir genre that The Girl on the Train spawned, but there is more weight to this, more investment in the characters and much less reliant on a cheap twist. Currently only available in e-book, it’ll be released as a real book in January

 

  1. Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt

 

A book that starts off as normal as any other, but soon descends into gothic horror. It blends the contemporary world with the ritualistic world of the past and slowly builds it from a calm acceptance to a complete breakdown of civilisation that leaves both hero and anti-hero in a state of shock.

 

  1. Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

 

I called this way back at the beginning of the year. The sheer poetry of the writing alone was enough to make me fall in love with it, but the characters and plot drag you along with it. There’s no more that can be said that I haven’t already said. Just go and read it.