Review of The Case of the Curious Cook by Cathy Ace – 3.5 Stars

The Case of the Curious Cook (WISE Enquiries Agency #3)The Case of the Curious Cook by Cathy Ace

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review of The Case of the Curious Cook by Cathy Ace – 3.5 Stars

Before you go any further with this book please be aware that it is the third in the series. I picked this up in a store and found the premise intriguing; a book shop that seems to be unknowingly acquiring books, but nowhere on the cover does it mention this apart from the text “A WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery”. Although it is quite an interesting story, I really don’t think this book worked well as a standalone.

As mentioned the premise is really intriguing and in fact it develops nicely to include the story of a brother imprisoned for murdering his sister (both of whom are artists) and a rather questionable old folks home that may be coercing old people to handover their cash to them in their wills. All of this takes place on and around the lovely town of Hay-on-Wye (in Wales), which is a superb setting and well described.

This point probably stems from reading this book as a standalone also, but there just seemed to be far too many characters to keep track of, the duchess, Mavis, Annie, Christine, Carol, the duchess son and daughter, the two book shop owners, the two old folks homes owner, Annie’s love interest (pub landlord), Christine’s love interest (dodgy builder), Carol’s hubby and Son, several old ladies at the old folks’ home, etc, etc (not to mention the pets). For a 197-page book this just seemed so excessive. Perhaps if I had read the first two I would have enjoyed this group of characters more but I found it really confusing and just unnecessary to the story.

However, an important point to make with this book is that the writing is actually really easy to read and flows nicely. I often think it is useful for readers to see a brief extract as they would in a book shop so here is a little passage from the novel:

‘Oh Henry, your face is a picture,’ said the old woman, with a voice he recognized.
The woman pulled her wig from her head to reveal his mother’s neatly-trimmed almost-white hair. She took off the specatcles and he saw her twinkling eyes. The brownish lipstick made her look washed out, and the purple floral dress was – well, it made him feel quite bilious.
‘Ta-daa!’ said his mother with a flourish. ‘You truly had no idea it was me, did you dear?’

I would definitely read other works by this author, especially as a light-hearted mystery (something suitable for a holiday read or something). I hope in future editions they make it obvious on the covers the number of the series each book is. This would help the reader make a better assessment.

So in summary my opinion is; it’s a great setting, easy-to-read, interesting concept. It just doesn’t work well as a standalone with a large cast of characters to keep track off.

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Happiness at Hay Festival 2016 – Barbara Erskine talks with Peter Florence

I am a book geek but I can honestly say I was very excited to attend the launch of the new novel by the bestselling author, Barbara Erskine who returned to Hay Festival in the year that marks the 30th anniversary of her sensational debut bestseller, Lady of Hay.Barbara Erskine

Not only did Barbara return but she launched her brand new book, that is also set in Hay, Sleeper’s Castle. The book isn’t scheduled for release until June 30, 2016, but those that attended the festival were lucky enough to buy an early copy and for Barbara to personally sign each copy. Being an addicted fan and also in the throes of writing my own novel I couldn’t help but also ask her to sign a blank page of my own personal writing notebook that I carry everywhere in my handbag. Kindly Barbara happily obliged and I’m hoping that little bit of inspiration will keep me going at times when I need it.

With 30 years novel-writing experience under her belt, Barbara’s talk was actually really inspiring as a novice writer so I thought I’d share a few of her thoughts on here with you (written from my notes):

When writing about historical characters, what do you owe them?

Difficult question. So many historical records contradict themselves on when something happens, how something happened, sometimes even, if something happened. I always try to look for sources written by academics, professors, etc. I also try to remember it’s a story I am writing, it has to be an enjoyable story for the reader, not just filled with historical information.

Do you have an example of Historic Differences?

Speech. I try not to use an historic voice in my writing. At the same time, I try not to put in any modern slang, habits or references. I want the reader to identify with the characters easily, even those in another time period.

Do you start with a character?

With Lady of Hay, it was the character that first caught my attention. I kept seeing Matilda everywhere and knew I had to research her and find out more. This is often the case, sometimes other characters that I have read about and never intended to use worm their way in and tell their own stories. Sometimes a character is just too good to miss.

Where do your ideas from the past come from?

The past is all around us and there are so many places that have these strong links to the past (Hay being one of them). So many little towns have their own castle or fortified houses and their own history. Sometimes the history of these places is unknown even to the local community.Barbara Erskine - Sleepers Castle

One of the golden rules of fiction is “Never Write Dreams”, yet dreams often feature in one form or another in your novels.

Firstly, I had no idea that was a golden rule. I don’t always write dreams there are so many ways a link to the past can happen, dreams, written accounts, re-incarnation, sleep-walking, etc. Mystical places like the borders often feel that the veil to the past is so thin you could almost reach out and touch it. I guess, if it feels right – write it.

What is your ratio of research-to-writing?

Well, it took me 10 years of research and writing for Lady of Hay but that was because it was just a hobby, something I loved doing and found interesting. With time, this habit has changed. I would say now I spend about a third of the time doing research then just start writing. I write my first draft quite quickly and leave little markers saying fill in detail so that I can go back and add the historical details as I need to.

How do you plot your stories?

I start with a mind map, I then do my research and I then create a linear plot to slot everything together. This gives me a good plan and a clear synopsis of my novels.

Does sitting down to write get easier?

No, you just have to do it, you have to sit down to write. The more you do it the more addictive it becomes. Just keep reading and writing, reading and writing. I think of it as a movie where you get to be the script-writer, director, producer, cast manager, costume designer and more. Only writing a novel lets you do all that and gives you that level of control. You’ve just got to write it.

Who do you enjoy reading?

I try not to read historical fiction novels or time-slip novels they are sometimes called now. I have read Daphne Du Maurier’s House By The Strand and enjoyed it immensely but my favourite genre to read is crime

Any inaccuracies above are from my notes (or memory), my admiration of Barbara’s writing talent is indescribable and I wanted to capture a little bit of her talk here, I later realised I captured Barbara’s answers but not always the questions asked, so I have tried to remember what I could.

Barbara doesn’t have a particularly large online presence so learning from her wouldn’t be an easy thing, seeing her speak so passionately about writing, and noting these little hints and tips has increased my appreciation of her work even more. I hope you enjoyed my notes and got a little glimpse into the talk.

Much Love

KL ❤

Happiness in Hay

I have been a lover of literature ever since… well, does Spot the dog count?

Books have played an enormous part of my life for as long as I can remember and this year I took on the monumental task of writing a novel that has been buzzing around in my brain for the last few years.

Along with my final leap into writing I discovered that I love blogging!  That daily link with people all over the world, getting to share the knowledge you’ve learned and getting to know a bit about their world too.

This progression lead me to my love of literature of the modern day and my enthusiasm to go absorb all the UK has to offer. hay festivalThe “big cheese” of this is of course Hay Festival. Held in one of the most beautiful parts of the world the Kingdom of Hay-on-Wye. Population – approximately 1500, number of book shops – 25, and a book festival attracting over 100,000 visitors. I signed up and at first the tickets I selected were unavailable, so I forgot all about it until a week later an email landed in my inbox. I immediately booked, booked a hotel and a few months later we were off!

I had no idea what to expect, I’d never even attended an author book signing or a creative writing class. Would I like it, would it all go over my head? With hope in my heart (and a fold-up backpack in my handbag for all the books I was sure to buy), we headed in.

The town was amazing, banners and bookshops everywhere. With the sun shining brightly and musicians playing music in the streets, we were all in the mood to party. After a quick lunch we headed along to the festival site.

A quick scout around the tents, at first I must admit we were a bit disappointed, the town had been so fun and lively, the festival seemed a bit..well..drab. There was nothing (free) going on such as music, readings, or even group activities. We wandered around a few of the stalls, then grabbed a cuppa, tried to head to the one bookstall (at a book festival) but it was so packed and Stephen Frywarm and stuffy that we had to leave. The town had offered all this and more.

Eventually we started watching the shows we had paid for, at this point the festival truly shines. The star attraction for me, though it may seem cliché was Stephen Fry. He was truly amazing and gave the most, inspiring, heartfelt and honest answers that my partner and I both left the show in Awe! Although his new book has mixed reviews on amazon, hearing him discuss this and many other things I would now purchase it. More than that I now would like to have the audiobook of it, an area of books I have never before books & teadabbled in.

Finishing up the evening we had the joy of going to see comedian Jason Byrne. He was amazing and after a day of constant intellectual stimulus, getting the opportunity to sit back with a drink and just have someone make you laugh (until I had tears streaming down my face at one point!) made this trip a wonderful, memorable, joyful occasion.

This has been the highlight of my summer this year. My advice to anyone would be, if you think you want something, go for it! Throw yourself all in, you’ll be surprised were the journey will take you!