Book review: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

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Title: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Author: Stuart Turton

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Publication date: 18th September 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’
It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.
But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.
The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

My review:

This is one of those books – the one that you need to finish before you go to sleep, the one that you will think about weeks after finishing and most likely the one that you would end up recommending to all your friends. I am still in awe of the beautifully portrayed scenery, the multi-layered characters and the cleverly crafted plot Stuart Turton has built. He has a gift for storytelling and the rare ability to draw the reader into an engaging and intense mystery right from the first word. I knew how important it would be to stay focused on every bit of information but still I often found myself flipping back several pages just to memorise the little details. Each peculiarity and character trait is of utmost significance and it is astounding how smoothly these pieces of the puzzle fit as the plot unravels. However, despite paying close attention to these details, I never stopped guessing who killed Evelyn Hardcastle until the very end. It is almost impossible to figure out the ending but on reflection, all the snippets of information were relevant to the murder and crucial to understanding the plot.

Besides the exquisite storytelling and intricate plot, I must highlight my favourite aspect of this book: the superb characters which all develop and merge into one host. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this must have been to accomplish yet the execution is brilliant and exudes ambition and courage. Aiden Bishop visits each of the eight hosts in order to solve the murder and not only does Aiden’s character come to life, every occupant he seizes control of is also presented with unique quirks and virtues. A doctor, an artist, a gambler, Stuart Turton explored all possible character profiles with apparent ease. Identity, patience and vindication are the key themes portrayed throughout the book as Aiden wakes up in a different body each time. He struggles to remember who he is and what his mission comprises of and it is here where the author’s marvellous writing really shines as he poses the ever important questions concerning such as finding out who we really are and if we can trust our emotions and gut feeling to lead us to the right path.

Immensely bold and intelligent, Stuart Turton’s first novel does not disappoint and addresses all the right questions in an attempt to lure the reader into a 20s style murder mystery. The multiple timelines and beautiful setting form only one small part of the brilliance that this novel manifests – the rest is split between the elaborate details and labyrinth of a story line. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is by far the best book I have read this year and perhaps even one of the best ever. It deserves all the hype and I will definitely be recommending it to everyone around me.

 

Book review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers


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Title: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 16th March 2015

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The ship, which has seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.
But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.
Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.
But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

My review:

This book was such a joy to read! My principal concern with Science Fiction is the emphasis on the setting and lack of character development but this really was no issue here; each character’s backstory is unique, personal and intriguing and there are many friendships built and relationships developed on The Wayfarer. The crew is incredibly diverse, including humans and several other species, and the result is an entertaining and delightful mix of conversation and events. Each character has their own voice and opinion and is respected by the other colleagues despite their personal tastes and differences, something which I really valued and admired when following their conversations. Apart from supporting each other on board, I also found the crew’s adventures upon coming across other hostile species fascinating and commendable. The appreciation and understanding for one another really shines here, along with their support and teamwork to fight off villains.

Despite my appreciation for each character, I was slightly disappointed with the slow pace and lack of plot which I felt was missing, especially towards the middle of the story. The main adventure that the crew embarks on is the building of a tunnel towards another planet, but it is not until the midway point until this becomes clear. After this, each chapter involves a confrontation with an enemy and the crew’s combined effort in protecting their ship and escaping from the imminent danger. I greatly enjoyed joining the Wayfarer on these adventures but would have preferred more action and a greater focus on the task, which I felt could have been developed more.

After finishing this book I am keen to join the crew on their further adventures in the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, although I am also curious to explore more of Space Opera in particular. I was not a huge fan of Science Fiction before reading this book but the combination of a fun adventure and unique characters had me hooked from the beginning and laughing until the very end. I highly recommend The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet to anyone hoping to dip their toes in the diverse world of Science Fiction and those looking for a light-hearted and character-driven read.

Book review: In the Dark by Cara Hunter


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Title: In the Dark

Author: Cara Hunter

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Viking

Publication date: 12th July 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“A woman and child are found locked in a basement room, barely alive.
No one knows who they are – the woman can’t speak, and there are no missing persons reports that match their profile. The elderly man who owns the house claims he has never seen them before.
The inhabitants of the quiet Oxford street are in shock. How could this happen right under their noses? But DI Adam Fawley knows that nothing is impossible.
And that no one is as innocent as they seem …”

My review:

It is not often that a sequel is just as good as the first book in the series but in this case, Cara Hunter has really succeeded in producing yet another suspenseful and highly gripping read. As with her first book, Close to Home, she establishes both tension and character building in just the right doses and I was once again stunned at the twists and unexpected discoveries as the plot developed in ways I did not imagine were possible.

Upon reflection, the most triumphant aspect in this book was the woman found in the basement, Vicky, and the astonishing way in which the author slowly reveals her story. Beware, as what may at first seem like an innocent character can quickly become a deceptive yet major turning point in the story line. I was immediately sucked into the intricacies of Vicky’s story and could not believe the turn of events and the clues I had missed prior to the reveal. However, the hints were delivered in an immensely clever way, ensuring to keep the reader guessing the murderer during the whole police investigation.

As before, DI Adam Fawley is presented as a likable yet flawed character, dealing with his own personal problems while trying his best to guide his team to the killer. I enjoyed the first person narrative from his end and truly believe that it was the right decision to continue with this writing technique to immerse the reader in his world and understand the case from his perspective. The DI Adam Fawley series by Cara Hunter is quickly becoming one of my favourite police crime series and I will be one of the first to read No Way Out upon its publication in April 2019.

 

Book review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances


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Title: The Girlfriend

Author: Michelle Frances

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Pan

Publication date: 6th April 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Laura has it all. A successful career, a long marriage to a rich husband, and a twenty-three year-old son, Daniel, who is kind, handsome, and talented. Then Daniel meets Cherry. Cherry is young, beautiful and smart but she hasn’t had the same opportunities as Daniel. And she wants Laura’s life.
Cherry comes to the family wide-eyed and wants to be welcomed with open arms, but Laura suspects she’s not all that she seems.
When tragedy strikes, an unforgivable lie is told. It is an act of desperation, but the fall-out will change their lives forever.”

My review:

I am sure that we have all stumbled upon a book where we are continuously waiting for a big event to happen and when it does, we want to shake the characters in an attempt to wake them up and make them realise the situation they are facing. Without giving too much away, this book was exactly that. A disastrous accident involving the two main characters, Daniel and Cherry, takes places and Daniel’s mother, Laura, quite understandably becomes attached to her son and pushes Cherry after many hard facts about their relationship are slowly revealed. I didn’t feel frustrated by the accident itself but rather with all three characters at their inability to understand the events occurring around them and appreciate the various lies spread and told with no end. My interest peaked straight after the tragedy took place and I was curious to see how each character would evolve but was unfortunately left feeling disappointed at the lack of growth in both character progression and plot.

On a different note, I wanted to express my thoughts on the beginning of the story which I thought was brilliant and very well paced. Here, the author provides just the right amount of detail to encourage us to continue reading without giving away too much of Cherry’s malicious plans for her future with Daniel. It was slow burning but the level of suspense gradually increased to the moment where disaster strikes and did not disappoint up until this point. Although I was not too fond of how the events unfolded after this turning point, the introductory chapters provided a solid background of where each character is emotionally – something which I really enjoyed exploring.

This book would have been excellent if there was a deeper focus on the plot following the accident as well as a stronger and memorable ending. Ultimately, it disappoints with several of the implausible events and lies coupled with the slow building tension after the main twist. I also believe that it could be classified as a family drama rather than a psychological thriller, particularly due to the lack of suspense after the halfway point and the passive ending. I would recommend this book to fans of domestic dramas but not to those looking for a fast-paced and engaging psychological thriller.

Book review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce


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Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Author: Rachel Joyce

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Transworld Digital

Publication date: 15th March 2012

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else’s life.”

My review:

Oh, what a treat this book was! I had come across many positive reviews before starting it but I didn’t realise what an adventure I was in for and could not have imagined how much I would enjoy the journey. It is one of those books to be read slowly, each moment treasured and savoured with the need to stop and reflect on the story unfolding before us after finishing each chapter. Filled with both lighthearted and heavier elements, it is a true reflection of one’s journey from a quiet and simple life to the contrasting sudden need to embark on an adventure, although somewhat accidental, and let fate decide how each moment unfolds.

My favourite aspect was by far the varied and conflicting characters that Harold stumbles upon during his pilgrimage. From dogs to strangers hoping to use his newfound fame for success, the story really explored every possible character you can imagine meeting during such an endeavour. The circumstances Harold finds himself in are equally diverse and it was a joy following his pilgrimage across the country. Perhaps the most poignant feature is that with each blister and drawback, he never once gave up and continued the journey believing that he could still save his friend.

This book is a great example to others showing how the enthusiasm and willingness to change life’s course can truly make a difference to both ourselves and our surroundings. Despite the uneventful life that Harold led, a sudden change of heart was enough to push him into an exciting and adventurous journey inspired by his desire to help a friend in need. I would truly recommend this book to anyone wishing to read a captivating book with a dash of joy, friendship and dedication.

 

Book review: In Her Shadow by Mark Edwards


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Title: In Her Shadow

Author: Mark Edwards

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 4th October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Isabel’s life seemed perfect. Successful business, beautiful house, adoring husband. And then she was dead.
For four years Jessica has never doubted that her sister Isabel’s death was an accident. But when Jessica’s young daughter seems to know long-forgotten details about her aunt’s past, Jessica can’t shake the feeling that there’s a more sinister truth behind the tragedy.
As Jessica unearths disturbing revelations about her sister, and about the people she loved and trusted most, it becomes clear Isabel’s life was less than perfect and that Jessica’s might also be at risk.
Did someone murder Isabel? Are they now after Jessica and her family? The key seems to lie in the hands of a child. Can Isabel reveal the truth from beyond the grave, or is the answer closer to home?”

My review:

I decided to request an advance reader’s copy of this book after finishing The Retreat by Mark Edwards which I found exciting and wanted to analyse his writing in greater depth. He has the ability to combine intense and dramatic moments with hints of paranormal activity in a unique and gripping way and I admire his bravery to incorporate this method in his books as a way of peaking the reader’s interest. Unfortunately, I felt that the plot lost focus for me due to the emphasis on the supernatural elements which I think were too excessive here, especially when Jessica’s daughter, Olivia, claimed to know the details surrounding Isabel’s death without ever having met her. I was impressed with the way Jessica was portrayed as a multilayered character with secrets and regrets but simultaneously I would have liked to explore the other minor characters such as Darpak further.

The other drawback from my perspective was the intense change in pace halfway through the book. It starts off at a relatively slow pace and quickly picks up after one of the many secrets is revealed. I realise that this was perhaps done intentionally to draw the reader’s attention back to the main suspects while discarding several others but I also felt that it disrupted the natural flow. Further on this note, I found the ending exhilarating and was kept on the edge of my seat until the last few chapters which I believe was partly due to the fast pace and plot twists disclosed at the very end. Exposing the murderer was a complete surprise and I appreciated the flashbacks leading up to this point to reveal Isabel’s killer as a different and fresh writing technique.

Overall, I found this book more difficult to follow and dig into in comparison with The Retreat but liked the fast-paced unexpected ending. If there had been a deeper focus on the characters and less of an emphasis on the paranormal elements from Olivia’s perspective I would probably have enjoyed this book more.

In Her Shadow is available to all this Thursday 4th October!

Many thanks to the publisher for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

Book review: An American Family by Jackson Baer


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Title: An American Family

Author: Jackson Baer

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Evolved Publishing

Publication date: 1st October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Isaac Childs has the perfect life—until that life comes crashing down when his wife Ramie vanishes.
Isaac learns that his wife’s disappearance is the ninth in a string of similar cases. In the wake of this news, he struggles to cope, to be a good father to his daughter and college-bound son, and to reclaim something of an ordinary life even as he conceals his troubled past.
After the FBI makes an arrest, and his wife is presumed dead, Isaac begins to move on. Yet will his secrets catch up with him? Has he conquered his vices for good? And what of the FBI’s theory that the case isn’t completely resolved, after all?”

My review:

This book offers something to every reader. It is an excellent choice for those who appreciate flawed characters and perfect for anyone interested in an engrossing mystery. It becomes apparent as the story line progresses that the characters are vital to moving the plot along and simultaneously, as the plot develops, we discover secrets and imperfections of each character that transpire into an appealing and exciting story. I really admired the powerful use of both these writing techniques and I feel the author accomplished this exceptionally well.

Although all characters were multilayered and engaging, I could not find myself interested enough to follow their conversations. Perhaps it is based on my personal preference on dialogue, but their discussions felt strained and very matter-of-fact which attributed to several forced interactions. Nevertheless, the descriptions in between and after the direct speech were eloquent and concise. I would have preferred a more prominent emphasis on this as the period between Ramie vanishing and Isaac meeting Julia felt somewhat rushed. However, I also realise that this was intended to describe their accidental meeting and therefore the focus soon shifted to their life afterwards.

Few thrillers manage to incorporate emotion and grief in the story line and those that do often fall short of inducing empathy in the reader. In contrast, An American Family shines in this field and from the first page we are introduced to a mix of emotions from despair to heartbreak. I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, although it seemed somewhat implausible, and can safely say that this book left me with a sense of relief which was comforting after the rollercoaster of a ride we travelled on.

An American Family is out next Monday 1st October!

Many thanks to the author for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.