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.

 

Studious Saturday: meeting Jodi Picoult

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Welcome to another Studious Saturday post! I have been on holiday this past week which meant that I was able to dedicate a lot of time to reading. In addition, I was very lucky to get tickets to the last stop on the Jodi Picoult UK Book Tour which included a pre-signed copy of her latest book A Spark of Light, as well as a Q&A session and photos with her to follow. Jodi Picoult is one of my favourite authors and I had been looking forward to this event for a long time. I really enjoyed the Q&A session in particular, where she shared some insightful details of her life as an author which I would like to share with you today.

The session started with a brief explanation of how and why this book was written and a short reading of the first chapter (which is also the ending of the book because the story is written in reverse). She revealed the backstory to A Spark of Light – the contrasting views of terminating a pregnancy that a woman may experience throughout her lifetime, justifying that one’s view on abortion may change when reaching 15, 30 and 50 years of age. Coupled with the current political controversies surrounding the topic in USA, she felt that now was the right time to write this book.

I was particularly impressed with the research that she carried out prior to writing the book. She interviewed 151 women who had terminated a pregnancy to find out their motives and analyse their experiences which she would later on use to develop her characters. Most astonishingly of all, no more than 10 of those 151 women agreed to be involved in the book with all of them choosing to be written in using a pseudonym. Jodi discussed the stigma surrounding  in the topic with eloquence and impartiality, something which I highly valued.

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Without going into too much detail of the Q&A session, I wanted to provide a quick summary of some of the most interesting and valuable subjects she discussed:

  • When writing a book, she usually begins by drafting several pages of a summary with a brief outline, although she already has the twists planned out. The outline of A Spark of Light was 48 pages, mostly due to the reverse timeline.
  • She discarded the first person narrative in A Spark of Light, which she used in most of her previous books, because there are 10 characters and she wanted to portray each story without confusing the reader.
  • She has one unpublished romance novel written under a pseudonym of a mixture of her children’s names. The editor’s feedback was that it was too well written for the genre.
  • Her favourite author is Alice Hoffman and some recently published books that she has read and recommends include Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak and Vox by Christina Dalcher.
  • Jodi usually writes about topics concerning society and there is an evident trend when looking back on her novels; she started by writing books where human emotions were explored, then proceeded to analyse relationships upon getting married, and finally decided to delve into controversial topics such as gun control and medical rights after her children were born.
  • She explained that once an author sells rights for a movie adaptation, they are no longer involved in the production of the film. She was deeply upset at the ending of the movie adaptation of My Sister’s Keeper and had previously warned the producers that the film would not perform well if they stray far from the original ending of the novel. She hopes that Small Great Things is a bigger success as soon as a screenwriter has been chosen, especially as there are talks that Julia Roberts and Viola Davis have been cast as the main characters.
  • Her next book will pose the question “Who would you be if you weren’t who you are today?” and hinted that elements of Ancient Egypt may also be included.

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The most exciting part of the event was meeting Jodi at the end and having my photo taken with her. As I read chapter after chapter of A Spark of Light, I realise that I also look back more on the points she discussed and start to analyse them in greater detail. It is another though-provoking and moving book and I am greatly enjoying it so far (review to follow shortly!).

This was her last event in the UK but for any fans based in Canada, her final stop will be Toronto on Monday and I highly recommend going!


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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.

Studious Saturday: disappointing books and managing high expectations

studious saturdays

Hello and happy Saturday! I am travelling a lot this weekend and have lots of reading planned (at this stage I think I might be more excited about the reading than the travel!). I have recently had incredibly good luck with picking excellent books several times in a row. This has made me think of several books where I had high expectations but was ultimately disappointed for several varying reasons. I won’t be writing full reviews about these books but I wanted to briefly comment on and explain my thoughts on these, along with how I manage my high expectations now.

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The Four Streets Trilogy was a brilliant series and I found Nadine Dorries’ storytelling engaging and compelling. I was surprised and disappointed to find out that Run to Him doesn’t have the same flow and I could not connect with the characters either. Perhaps if it was developed as a full novel rather than a short story the plot could have developed in a different way more suitable to the writer’s style.

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Stieg Larsson is perhaps one of the best storytellers in the crime fiction genre and I was excited to learn that there would be another book in the Millenium series. It is evident from the start that Lagercrantz’s writing lacks the same complexity and variety as Larsson’s so this book was mediocre at best when compared to its predecessors.

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I realise that I am one of the few to dislike this book but unfortunatey it just didn’t meet my high expectatations. Prior to reading it I had heard a lot of excellent comments about its unique nature and was expecting it to shine in the dystopian fiction genre. Many others love it but I could not handle the slang and was driven away by the violence.

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I had read very postive reviews on some of David Nicholls’ other books but decided to start with this one. I felt that the whole story was a continuous game of tag with both characters chasing each other with no progression. Neither of the characters were particularly likeable which also resulted in what felt like a very slow paced plot.

The most disappointing book I have read this year (and possibly ever), Go Set a Watchman failed in all aspects including pace, character progression and plot. It was weak and poorly executed when bearing in mind that one of the most renowned classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, was written by the same author.

Upon reflection, I realise that I am perhaps too critical which stems from my admiration for certain authors and my high expectation to deliver a book just as good, if not better, than the previous one.

So how do I manage my high expectations now? I try to put aside thoughts concerning the author or other readers’ views and focus simply on the novel in front of me. It’s  often challenging, especially with new books written by one of my favourite authors, but I find that I approach these books with a fresh perspective and enjoy the journey more.

Question

Which books did you find disappointing and why?

Studious Saturday: It’s Finally Fall Book Tag

studious saturdays

Autumn is here once again (although with a slight delay as always here in sunny Madrid) and so is the perfect weather to snuggle up under a blanket with a book. Amanda tagged me in the It’s Finally Fall Book Tag. Thank you, Amanda! For those of you who haven’t come across her blog before, she recently shared some very insightful tips for bloggers and writes great reviews so go and check out her blog! I am not sure who created this book tag but please comment if you know so I can link back to them.

I am excited to share with you some of my favourites perfect for rainy weather. Enjoy reading!

IN FALL, THE AIR IS CRISP AND CLEAR | NAME A BOOK WITH A VIVID SETTING!
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I just loved the imagery and vivid descriptions in The Night Circus so much. I haven’t read a book that surpasses the setting since this one.

NATURE IS BEAUTIFUL BUT ALSO DYING | NAME A BOOK THAT IS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN, BUT ALSO DEALS WITH A HEAVY TOPIC LIKE LOSS OR GRIEF.
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I recently received The Coordinates of Loss as an ARC and was blown away by how well  the author handled the complex topic of grief.


FALL IS BACK TO SCHOOL SEASON | SHARE A NON-FICTION BOOK THAT TAUGHT YOU SOMETHING NEW.

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Quiet explores how introverts fit in our society and is a thought-provoking and extremely interesting book.


IN ORDER TO KEEP WARM, IT’S GOOD TO SPEND SOME TIME WITH THE PEOPLE WE LOVE | NAME A FICTIONAL FAMILY/HOUSEHOLD/FRIEND-GROUP THAT YOU’D LIKE TO BE A PART OF.

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I have so much admiration for Durell and I would love to be a part of his animal family. I can imagine it being so much fun!


FALL IS THE PERFECT TIME FOR SOME STORYTELLING BY THE FIRESIDE | SHARE A BOOK WHEREIN SOMEBODY IS TELLING A STORY.

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My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies is a charming story told from the perspective of 7-year-old Elsa. It is unique and the storytelling is just wonderful.


THE NIGHTS ARE GETTING DARKER | SHARE A DARK, CREEPY READ.

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This book was really not what I was expecting after reading the description. It is dark and twisted and hard to take in all at once.


THE DAYS ARE GETTING COLDER | NAME A SHORT, HEARTWARMING READ THAT COULD WARM UP SOMEBODY’S COLD AND RAINY DAY.

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Not especially short but highly entertaining and the perfect heartwarming read!


FALL RETURNS EVERY YEAR | NAME AN OLD FAVOURITE THAT YOU’D LIKE TO RETURN TO SOON.

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Perhaps my favourite book ever written, And the Mountains Echoed is one that I would definitely like to re-read soon.


FALL IS THE PERFECT TIME FOR COZY READING NIGHTS | SHARE YOUR FAVOURITE COZY READING ACCESSORIES!

A warm drink and a thick blanket! I don’t really need much more than that!

I tag:

N S Ford
Katie and Dee at The Brunching Bookworms
Darinda at Nightcap Books
Lily at Sprinkle of Dreams
Jess at Comfort Reads

To those tagged there is no pressure to do the tag but I would love to read your answers so if you decide to post them, please link back to me so I can see your fall favourites. And to anyone not tagged please also feel free to do the tag, it was a lot of fun! Have a great weekend and happy reading!

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.