Friday, 28 July 2017

Book review : The Caller - Chris Carter

This week, as I told you in my exclusive interview with author and criminal psychologist Chris Carter, a new Robert Hunter thriller has hit the shelves, and it's just as gripping and unputdownable as the previous ones. As he says himself, what turns Chris Carter's novels into a literary white knuckle ride is that his readers can put themselves in the victims' shoes and imagine the terrifying scenes.

So picture this ... the phone rings, it's your best friend on video call. As the phone pans back, you see that he or she is being held captive. A chilling voice tells you that he has placed a bet with your friend and if you manage to answer two simple questions correctly - questions that any friends should be able to answer without a second's hesitation - the nightmare will end. It couldn't be simpler, right? 

Chris Carter is an absolute master of the genre, still managing to come up with a multitude of shocking and original ways of killing off his victims. The power of the writing comes from the psychological element - for the victims, the mental torture is even worse than the physical pain and for the reader, the horror of the scene is intensified by the fact that you can empathise with them, rather than the gore. In fact, much as I love Chris Carter's novels, I'd advise him to rein in the gore factor slightly - for the last two books, even as a not-very-squeamish crime fiction lover, I've had to skip a few paragraphs because the scene unfolding was just too horrific. Sometimes less is more and the images that the reader's mind can conjure up are more than adequate, without going into overly graphic details of torture and violence.

What sets Chris Carter's work apart from the others is that you frequently end up understanding the killer's mindset and even agreeing with part of his motive. While, obviously, nobody deserves to be horrifically tortured and mutilated, the victims are carefully selected in a way that makes him seem somehow less ruthless than a serial killer picking off totally random victims.

star rating : 4.5/5

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (23 Feb. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471156303
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471156304
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.4 x 23.4 cm

(The hardback is currently only £5 on amazon, reduced from £12.99, or the paperback £4.79 instead of £7.99)

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Brittany diaries : A tale of two villages, Hanvec and Le Faou

On our traditional summertime jaunt down to see the in laws in Finistère, Brittany, we drove around to a few of the local villages. They're very small and have very little to offer except for a boulangerie and a café-bar, but they do have a lot of traditional Breton architecture and features on show. This is the town hall in Hanvec, proudly displaying the flags of Brittany, France and Europe (all a bit poignant in this doubt-riddled era of Brexit). This town hall is also a bit famous (or infamous) locally because it hit the news when someone uncovered an old WWII shell and had the (not) great idea of taking it to the town hall to dispose of it ! The building used to be a pigeon-keeper's house which is why there are rows of holes up near the roof. Only the nobility were allowed to keep pigeons and doves in the Middle Ages apparently.

 The parish church of St Pierre gave us a good giggle because the bells bonged really loudly just as I took these photos, making Sophie jump out of her skin !

Next we headed a little bit further along the river, to the town on Le Faou (pronounced le foo). As you can see, it has a very similar style of church.

This would have been a nice family photo on the bridge into town, but Pierre has obviously got the grumps for some reason ! (I think he wanted to go home because it was starting to drizzle !)

This is classed as a "petite cité de caractère" and you can see why - every single one of the houses looks traditional and well-preserved.

There are lots of signs around the town, pointing out the landmarks and architectural features. Medieval half-timbered houses with wooden panels are particularly prevalent here and explain why the town is considered one of the prettiest in France.

They look German or Austrian to me - I could imagine them in the Tyrolean mountains !

There is not one single building that looks out of place. Even the shops are quaint and old-fashioned looking. You'll find crêperies and restaurants but no McDonalds or kebab shops here !

 As is often the case in France, you suddenly stumble across a poignant reminder of the war years. In Le Faou, at the heart of the town is "La Place des Fusillés et Résistants", the square of those shot by firing squad and of the members of the resistance.

Just in front of the town hall, we came across a fabulous concept that we'd never seen before - a garden shed transformed into a "cabane à don", a "gifting cabin". It's basically a free charity shop - you can come in and drop off anything you don't need any more and help yourself to anything that catches your eye. There were books, puzzles, clothes and lots of bric à brac.

Pierre got his smile back because he found a Smurf Pez dispenser and a magic book, while Sophie grabbed some rusty old candle holder lanterns (that will need some TLC), a mirror and a book.

 After a walk around the church spotting gargoyles, we headed back to the car. 

 There was one final stop before going back to Daoulas - a tiny little beach called Glugeau. This is also typical of the region, with a muddy/sandy cove strewn with oyster shells and seaweed that backs up into woodland and one road heading back up to the nearest town or village.

There are so many little coves and beaches that you can pretty much have the place to yourselves.

After a spot of crab-hunting and stone-skimming, we gave up before the rain set in and headed for home.

An interview with Chris Carter, novelist and criminal psychologist

Chris Carter is one of my favourite authors, so I was very excited to learn that he had a new book coming out this summer - The Caller, published on the 27th July. I was even more excited when Simon & Schuster asked me if I'd like to interview him. Here are the questions I asked him :

- Hi Chris. I love reading your books and am always amazed at the seemingly endless number of original and unexpected ways you manage to come up with for killing people off. How do you still manage to find new ideas?

I am always looking for different ideas. Sometimes I will read something on a newspaper, or see something in a movie or on the streets, or hear something on the radio that will sparkle some new idea in my brain. I then usually add to it to come up with something a little different. I also do a lot of research, especially medieval torturing. A lot of mad ideas can come from that.

- I occasionally have to skip a few paragraphs in your books when it all gets too much (the reading equivalent of hiding behind a cushion for the scary bits in horror films !) - the disc sander episode from I Am Death remains engraved in my memory, even if I squealed and skipped to the next chapter without reading it in full ! What do you think is the key to catching your readers' imagination so they will be wide-eyed and white-knuckled as they turn the pages?

I think that keeping the scenes as close to reality as possible helps a lot when it comes to catching readers’ imaginations. If I come up with a murder method that is too unbelievable, readers won’t relate to it. Keeping everything as close to reality as possible allows readers to not only imagine the crime happening, but also imagine that it could happen to them, or to someone they know. If they can imagine it happening to them, then chances are that I will have a wide-eyed and white-knuckled reader.

- Do you find that people (friends, neighbours, family, ...) look at you differently after reading your books and seeing how dark and twisted some of the characters are ?!

It does happen, yes. Not very long ago I had someone ask my partner if she wasn’t scared of sleeping next to someone who could come up with plots, villains and murders in the way I do.

- I started one of my reviews with the line : For me, picking up a Chris Carter novel is like pushing my feet into my favourite pair of fluffy slippers. I know the enjoyment is going to be immediate and intense and the aches and pains of the day will instantly evaporate as I get swept up into a maelstrom of terror, horror and excitement.
Is it the same for you when you sit down to write a new book? Do you jump straight back into killer thriller writer mode or is it hard to get into the right mindset?

Wow, thank you so much. That’s very kind of you. I’m very flattered.
Well, I do love writing, and I do get into the writing mindset straight away, but some days are a lot harder than others. As I start a new novel, I am always very excited. I usually take a long break between books – one to two months – depending on how late I was with delivering the previous book. After being away from writing for such a long time, I am itching to get back into it. My main problem is that I never have a whole story in my head when I start writing. I usually only have the main plot idea. The rest of the story is developed as I write. Because of that, my writing process goes a little like a snowball. It takes a little while to pick up momentum. The first quarter of the book will move quite slowly, as I organize the story and the sequence of events in head. I then get faster and faster, write for longer and longer.

- Do you have a specific routine for writing? Any advice for budding writers?

I do have a specific routine, yes. I always start my days by reading what I wrote the day before and editing as much as I can. I will then work all day until I reach my desired target (usually a certain number of words) Some days I will get there quite quickly, others I will write all the way into the evening before getting there.

- Do you have one particular favourite character from your books? Do you prefer the good guys or the bad guys in general?

I guess that obviously, Hunter is my favourite character, but there are a few other ones that I had great fun creating and writing them – Mr. J in The Caller, Lucien in An Evil Mind, D King in The Crucifix Killer, Mollie in The Executioner, to name a few.

I don’t really mind writing good guys or bad ones. Once I get into the character, I’m off.

- Who are your favourite writers? What/who inspired you to start writing?

The truth is that I don’t really have a favourite writer and I was not inspired to write by anyone. I never even thought about being a writer until I had a dream about a story, which turned out to be The Crucifix Killer, my first novel. I do respect every single author out there, because this is a tough job, I just don’t have a favourite one.

- Thanks Chris.

Chris Carter's new novel, The Caller, is published today. My review will be live very soon - in the meantime, you might like to check out my reviews for some of his other books : An Evil Mind, I Am Death, One By One and The Death Sculptor. 

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (27 July 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 147115632X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471156328

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Check out these beardy-weirdies ! (Braun S3 #Shave&Style review)

Braun sent a lovely surprise in the post for Madhouse Daddy recently - their S3 Shave&Style, which is a 3-in-1 Electric Cordless Wet and Dry Shaver with Precision Trimmer and 5 Comb Attachments.

These allow you to choose between clean shaving or your desired stubble length for precision beard trimming and styling so that you can get the exact look you want. To give us some inspiration, they included a pack of beard cards in the box and the extended Madhouse family were in fits of giggles trying out some new looks.

I give you ... Madhouse Grandad. This actually quite suits him, in a weird sort of way.

My sister Emily - this is just freaky !

Her boyfriend Jordan, doing a good impression of David Bellamy "in the shwubbery".

This is my favourite - my mum looks like an honorary member of the Hairy Bikers !

But she could also get a bit in Planet of the Apes or a dodgy western !

All Jordan needs is a bit of designer stubble and he could perfect the wannabe boys band look.

Emily looks ready to jump on a Harley Davidson and go vrooming off into the sunset.

Er no, that just killed that one !

All he needs is a parrot on his shoulder - Johnny Depp, eat your heart out !

If this motley crew haven't put you off beards for life, check out @Braun_Grooming and the #Shave&Style hashtag to see how everyone else is styling it out.

Disclosure : We were gifted a Braun Shave&Stye and a pack of beard cards.

Fred's Box - an exciting kids' mystery box subscription (review)

When Fred's Box recently got in touch to ask if we'd like to review one of their monthly mystery subscription boxes for kids, I was intrigued. Firstly, because it was a brand that we'd never heard of and, secondly, because kids have such eclectic tastes that I wondered how they would manage to cater to everyone. Pierre had a different question - who's Fred ? Well, that one was easily answered because he has his very own page on the Fred's Box website - he's a 7-year-old boy who loves receiving things in the post (and the colour orange) and he set up the company, with a little help from his mum. He sounds like a right character and I'm sure he'd hit it off with Pierre immediately if they were in the same room !

This possibly also explains why, as soon as Pierre opened the box and excitedly peeled back the (orange) paper, he burst into a round of "wows" and "look Mum's" ! With Minions and fidget spinners and collectibles, it was like receiving a box put together from a wishlist of all Pierre's favourite things.

As it's the holidays and we were having a lazy morning in bed watching TV, Pierre tipped the whole lot out on the bed and went through the contents, carefully examining everything.

He was instantly attracted to the fidget spinner and the Bumpeez intrigued him, so we looked at all the different ways of playing with them in the enclosed leaflet - bouncing them off the wall, playing "darts" with them on the floor, playing catch with a bounce in the middle, stacking them (obviously you'd need a few more than two for this particular game !) ... You can't see from this photo but they are Minions-themed Bumpeez, which went down well.

Pierre is currently obsessed with his enormous collection of Pokemon trading cards, so the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cards (or are they Hero Turtles now? I can never remember !) were given the seal of approval.

He was also very taken with the slappy wristband, especially as it has a cool hashtag on it (yes, I'm quoting Pierre here !).

There were lots of other things that disappeared before I got to take separate photos of them (which proves how popular they were, as they were shared out between both 8-year-old Pierre and 12-year-old Juliette and squirreled away in their bedrooms) - some blank postcards and a pencil (a nice little holiday project there !), a superhero Ooshie (that's the little figurine in the bottom right corner), a Minions keyring and a reading book, The Planet of Bones, which is perfectly adapted to Pierre's reading level.

I was very impressed at how well-suited it was to Pierre's age and interests, but that is the joy of Fred's Box - they tailor it all to suit your child's profile, taking into account their age, sex and reading level. They explain on their website : "In each mystery subscription box, there will always be an age appropriate reading book, a pack of trading cards, an Ooshie (collectable mini figures which double up as pencil toppers for the over 5's), 4 x Crayola funky shape crayons (for the under 5's) a Fred's Box coloured pencil and sticker, 4 design your own postcards, plus between 2 and 5 mystery gifts."

For the toy collector, Fred's Box also has an Ooshie Subscription Box where you will never receive the same Ooshie twice so you can collect the entire 40 of each theme without having to buy endless packets and do lots of trades with your friends. I think that's a brilliant idea ! In this box, you will also receive a Fred's Box pencil, sticker and 2 design your own postcards.

There is also an option to order a twins box or a box for 2 children, called the Mojo Box. This works out cheaper than buying two separate boxes. One final great idea - all Fred’s Boxes fit through the letterbox so you never have to wait in for it.

Fred's Box costs £11.99 + £2 postage. You can opt for a one-off box or a rolling subscription.

for more information :

Diclosure : We received a box in order to write an honest review.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Giveaway #639 : Win a VR Real Feel Racing system - closing date 20/8

VR Real Feel Racing is a unique 3D system with a steering wheel for intuitive control and movement. With thrilling games and VR apps to download, the VR Real Feel Racing Simulator puts you in the driver's seat for a truly exciting and immersive virtual experience.

 Created by VR Entertainment Ltd, the company behind the popular Teksta range, VR Real Feel™ Racing offers technology that put players inside the action like never before. Featuring a 42mm lens headset that harnesses the power of Apple or Android™ smartphones, VR Real Feel Racing delivers pixel-popping graphics in stereo 3D.

A patented Bluetooth™ steering wheel with Max Force Feedback™, enables players to steer, accelerate, brake and change the view with the steering wheel, far more intuitive than tilting the head!

VR Real Feel Racing is available now for £39.99rrp. Available from Toys R Us, Amazon and Smyths, Halfords and Debenhams.

Main features:
- VR Real Feel Virtual Reality Car Racing Gaming System with Bluetooth Steering Wheel and Headset Goggles Viewer Glasses for iOS iPhone and Android
- Experience stunning 3D high definition graphics with pixel-popping graphics in stereo 3D with 42mm industry standard lenses for optimum viewing
- Patented Bluetooth Max Force steering wheel to steer, accelerate and brake for ultimate control!
- Unlike other VR headsets, no more tilting head to turn - this is the way virtual reality racing was meant to be!
- VR headset has a comfortable foam face, adjustable straps, and an adjustable phone cradle that will hold up to an iPhone 7 Plus

I have a VR Real Feel Racing system to give away to a lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 20/8/17

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after 28 days, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !

You may also like to enter my other giveaways :

Trailclues - a new Urban Treasure Hunt platform

As you'll know if you're a regular reader of my blog, we love geocaching here at The Madhouse. (Click through to my geocaching posts to see our latest adventures.) It's a fabulous way of finding new places, it gets us out in the fresh air and it's always exciting finding a well hidden cache, swapping over treasures and helping travel bugs on their long-distance journeys around the world. It's also great as a totally free activity - I've seen numerous parents on my social media timelines wondering how to keep the kids entertained during the holidays with little or no budget, so geocaching is ideal. You just need to go to, create an account, download the app to your phone or upload caches to a handheld gps and then get out exploring.

When a press release landed in my inbox recently about a new Urban Treasure Hunt platform called Trailclues, it sounded right up our street too. I haven't had a chance to try it yet as it's only available in London and Portsmouth so far, but more will be added across the UK over the coming months. Here's what the release has to say - let me know if you get a chance to try it out. I'd love to hear how it works.


Whether looking for a fun summer holiday activity in their local area or wanting to really explore a new destination, eager explorers have a new tool at their disposal. Taking players on an urban treasure hunt, Trailclues combines uncovering hidden gems, picking up fun, local trivia, and problem solving through a unique platform that’ll take them on an adventure through city landscapes.

Players race against the clock to solve clues along a trail, taking them to the next spot and another cryptic message to crack. Along the way, they’ll discover little known locations, learn fun facts about places that are often overlooked, and much more. Launching just in time for the summer months, Trailclues is the fun, unique way to go out and enjoy the sun. Tourists can get off the beaten track to discover locations that aren’t listed on the usual maps, while locals can expect to unearth charming features and destinations they never knew existed, simply by heading to the Trailclues website. Once signed up, all players need to do is respond to a received text with ‘GO’ to begin receiving clues directly to their phone.

Edward Mula, Founder of Trailclues, said, “Every city is filled with overlooked gems by tourists and locals alike. You might get a chance to glimpse these on a guided tour but Trailclues does away with that, giving people a chance to get involved in urban exploring at their own pace and without a huge cost. From first dates to corporate team building exercises, Trailclues is suitable for a huge range of groups and individuals that want to try something new and exciting in the city.”

For users with a competitive streak, they can even go up against each other. Leaderboards for all the trails give players a chance to race through the clues as fast as possible in an attempt to register an impressive time. Teaming up and competing is also an option through Trailclues. Up to three teams can sign up to simultaneously tackle the tricky clues as they race against each other to get to the finish point first.

Trailclues currently has trails available in London and Portsmouth, with more to be added across the UK over the coming months. Every trail is designed to be completed in an average of two hours and clues are always within walking distance of each other. Eliminating the need for a guide or
expensive hire equipment, Trailclues is set to become the new way to explore the urban environment in the UK.

To find out more visit