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The Birds & Other Stories - Daphne du Maurier

Birds are gathering, in the sea, in the trees, in the countryside and in the cities. Then they begin to attack, murders of crows, swarms of starlings, a gunning down by gulls. Why are birds attacking and what can be done to stop them? A conclave high in the mountains is said to offer immortality but at what price? An apple tree seems to haunt a widower who is not mourning the loss of his wife. A photographer steps out from behind the camera with unforseen consequences for him and his subject, a trip to the cinema takes an unexpected turn and a father discovers that three is a crowd.

 

The Birds, immortalised in Hitchcock’s legendary film, is the opening story in this short story collection, the theme tying them together being the magical control the natural world can have on human nature.

 

The Birds is juxtaposed with the final story in the collection, The Old Man, a cleverly told tale of a jealous father who feels that three is definitely a crowd. Both of these were the stand out stories for me.

 

Unusually for me, there was not one story in this book that I didn’t like. All are strong, well written, enthralling tales. There is a hint of the supernatural in some, a more than hint of malice in all.  The Birds is perhaps one of the most famous of Daphne du Maurier’s stories but the rest are all there on merit too. There is sadness, revenge, madness, love and loss wrapped up in these pages. The reader is left with an unsettled feeling, a hint of unease that needs to be shrugged off.

 

The art of short story telling is choosing the right words to give a complete story without the reader feeling short-changed. Here the reader feels as if they have been privy to five mini novels, so complete are the stories. The skill here is that du Maurier often leaves lots unsaid. The unease is created by what is not revealed on the page but what is revealed in the reader’s imagination.

 

A strong, intelligent, immersive, engaging collection. You’ll lift your head up from the book and view the everyday in a new light. And have slightly healthy respect and wariness for the sparrows in your garden.

 

Highly recommended.

I've searched for about ten books I'd like to post reviews on. Not one of them is found. It's very annoying as I don't have time at the moment to add the books individually on here before I post my review.

 

I guess I'll have to post reviews again when I've got a spare day or two to add all the books...

The Enchanted April - Elizabeth von Arnim

Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot meet unexpectedly in their club, both having spotted the advertisement for a month-long rental of an Italian castle by the sea. Both desperate to leave their lives behind for a short while they agree to rent the castle between them, engaging Lady Caroline and Mrs Fisher to share the costs. Soon the magic of Italy casts it spell over the four women and they find themselves changed in unforseen ways.

 

Any of us lucky enough to go on holiday know that they can have a magical effect on the psyche. A break away from the norm, from everyday worries, helps lift the spirits and forget, albeit temporarily, issues that may plague us at home.

 

Mrs Wilkins blossoms, much like the wisteria, almost as soon as her feet land in Italy. She becomes Lotty, first to Mrs Arbuthnot, then to the other women, much to Mrs Fisher’s consternation. She is transformed by the castle, seeing herself and her husband in a new light and is so certain that the others will see themselves differently too. Mrs Arbuthnot, soon to be Rose to her new friends, soon starts to view her own life differently, becoming more melancholy as she begins to perceive that her choices may have impacted her relationship with her husband. Mrs Fisher is determined to separate herself from the others, taking over the best sitting room and studiously ignoring the radiant Lotty. Lady Caroline too is determined to separate herself from others, tired of being pandered to and pawed, too aware her beauty and charm have an odd and not always welcome effect on others. However all four women soon find the magic of Italy changes them in unforseen ways.

 

This is not just a book about four disparate women, thrown together. It is a comedy of manners, of breaking down social barriers, of forging friendships and rekindling passions. It is about finding the time and the inclination to love yourself and your life. And about finding the time to just sit in the sun.

 

My April was enchanted reading this wonderful novel. I could easily imagine myself walking around the grounds, taking in the beautiful views and being caught up in the exuberance of Lotty and the gentle charm of Rose and Lady Caroline. A joyful, fun, and sometimes moving novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

I shall now practise my wafting whilst I look out for more of Elizabeth von Arnim’s work.

The House of Dolls - David Hewson

Three years ago Amsterdam detective Pieter Vos failed to solve the most important case of his career; the disappearance of his daughter Anneliese. Haunted by the fact that she has seemingly vanished without a trace he quits his job, splits from his partner and moves into a decrepit houseboat. Living off his measly pension he spends his days walking his dog and smoking in the local cafes.

 

Then whilst staring at Petronella Oortman’s doll’s house in the Rijksmuseum he’s approached by Laura Bekker, a trainee officer. Another girl has gone missing, in eerily similar circumstances to Anneliese. Soon Vos is drawn into an investigation, one which shows the murky lines linking those who run the city, and those that run the city’s underworld.

 

I have read some of David Hewson’s Nic Costa series and of course was aware that he had written novels based on the hit TV series The Killing. This, The House of Dolls was the first in a new series featuring Pieter Vos.

 

First of all I loved the setting of this book. From David Hewson’s descriptions I could image myself walking along the paths and roads, watching the barges go past on one of Amsterdam’s many canals. It was easy to also imagine the darker side of the city, the red light district and dark alleyways where danger could lurk.

 

I loved the character of Vos and would dearly hoped that he would return in future books. He was damaged and flawed but remarkable in that he maintained an almost unruffled, placid nature. One that charmed many people, helping him in his investigations. His protégé Laura Bakker was a character that grew on me. Her sometimes bolshie attitude seemed a bit extreme and I was wishing she would calm down in places. That said she was a perfect foil for Vos and the two worked well as characters. Its a sign an author has done their job well when you can easily imagine characters and have a reaction to them. This happened here with The House of Dolls. There were many characters I didn’t like, for example Wim Prins, the missing girl’s father and Liesbeth, Vos’ former partner and this added to the story.

 

The story soon draws you in, and this is aided by the short, snappy chapters. I’m a sucker for short chapters in novels. It never fails to draw me in with the temptation of ‘just one more chapter’. It always more than just one more chapter in those circumstances! The influence of creating novels from screenplays is perhaps evidenced here as a lot of the chapters played like scenes in a film or television programme and I could almost see the ‘fade to black’.

 

This is a gritty read, with dark undertones. This is perhaps because of the gangland and political elements to the story, which lent it story strands to make it more than just a police procedural.

 

An enjoyable read, I’ll be seeking out more of David Hewson’s novels. Pieter Vos and Laura Bakker return in The Wrong Girl.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer

When Juliet Ashton receives a letter from Dawsey Adams on Guernsey she thinks it a friendly and welcome piece of correspondence. She writes back, unaware that doing so will spark an idea to circumvent her writer’s block, set up many new correspondences, introduce her to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (and discover the reason for its name), lead her to new friends and to discover what life was like under German occupation. When she visits the island little does she realise that her life will never be the same again.

 

Don’t be fooled by thinking that a book composed of letters won’t be engaging or interesting. This book is  both and then some. From the first letter this reader was caught up in the lives of Juliet, Sidney, Dawsey and the other Guernsey residents. It may be that some find the writing style difficult to engage with. Usually I’m all for not struggling with a novel. In this instance I’d recommend persevering. Soon the reading letters instead of chapters becomes second nature.

 

The epistolary technique works in such a way that the reader is left with the feeling that they are intimately involved with the characters; that they have become true friends. The style of the book requires some filling in of gaps, reading responses to unseen questions but it soon feels as if this is the only way the story could be told. Each character is defined by their letters. Their style of writing, of relating incidents and histories is laid out in each correspondence. They are rounded out by portrayals and discussions in other letters so that a full picture can be formed. There are characters that never write letters who become integral to the story, Elizabeth being the main one. She is the one that ties the characters together, that helps bridge any gap between Juliet and the islanders.

 

The story goes much deeper than a literary society and writer’s block. It is story of the German occupation of Guernsey, an insight into what life was like cut off from the outside world. It is a story of friendship, both old and new, of loyalty and of love.

The moment I turned the last page I wanted to immediately return to the beginning, so loath was I to leave the characters behind. A warm, moving, funny, all-encompassing novel.

 

Highly recommended.

The Crossing Places - Elly Griffiths

Bones that appear to belong to a child have been found on the salt marshes of Norfolk. DCI Harry Nelson calls in archeologist Ruth Galloway to see if his fears that the bones are that of a local girl who vanished ten years ago are confirmed. Whilst these bones are found to be dating from the Iron Age, Nelson is determined not to give up looking for the missing child. He seeks Ruth’s help in deciphering taunting letters sent to him. Then a second child goes missing and Ruth is drawn further into the case, and closer to danger.

 

The characters help make the story. Nelson and Ruth both clash yet complement each other, he being taciturn to her more gentle yet professional nature. This book very much sets the tone for the series, establishing characters so that the reader will want to read more about them in future novels.

 

I had figured out who the murderer was from quite early in the novel but this didn’t spoil my enjoyment. It was interesting to see how the clues were laid out and either missed or picked up on by the characters. The blend of archeology and detection was just right, it never felt like Elly Griffiths was trying to information dump on the reader. The history of the location blended well with the modern-day mystery.

 

The only issue I had with the novel was the repeated references to Ruth’s weight. I understand that the author has to paint the picture of a character so that the reader can easily visualise them in their mind’s eye. However it almost got to the point where Ruth was defined by her size and not her intelligence, skill or knowledge.

 

The Crossing Places has the air of a Sunday night serial drama about it, and I mean that in a positive way. There was something comfortingly familiar about the novel and the characters, where a fictional world was created that welcomes a regular return.

 

The good thing about being late to an established series is that there are lots more books to catch up on. I have the feeling I’ll be busy for a little while.

The Beautiful Dead - Belinda Bauer

Eve Singer is desperate for the story to save her career. A presenter on the crime beat, she spends her days attending murder scenes. Aware of the competition, from other news channels and from younger presenters, she knows she may soon have to fight to keep her job. Spending her working days at crime scenes and evenings looking after a father hit with early dementia, Eve is running on empty. Little does she realise that a late night encounter will lead her to her biggest story, but one which may also see her loose something even more costly than her job. She may just loose her life.

 

I’ll admit it took me a little while to get into the story. This partly was due to me not being in the mood for reading, so was not a reflection on the book. Part of the reason was also because I wasn’t particularly taken with Eve. She seemed too selfish and distant, one of the macabre press who inappropriately stalk victims of crimes and their families. Slowly though I got used to her. She still had flashes of that selfishness that first appeared, but other facets of her character emerged to counteract this initial impression.

 

The killer plays an integral role in the novel. This may sound obvious but what I mean is that he is present from the opening pages. Belinda Bauer makes him a main character. He has his own chapters, narrating to provide an glimpse into the tormented psyche that has created the monster he has become. Driven by a desire to create true art, art that is only expressed through death, he sees himself as an artist, desperate for an audience. It is this which attracts him to Eve. Eve is his curator, framing his art perfectly through her camera lens, commentating to provide the true interpretation of his vision.

The other characters that emerge from the pages are all vivid and fit perfectly into the story. From Guy, the slimy journalist, to Duncan, Eve’s ill father, each add a dimension to the storyline and make the story what it is. The police in the case are not the driving force of the story, but Huw and Emily who appear later in the story are great characters, adding the necessary presence and skill that makes the story more realistic.

 

There are parts of the story that can be read as commentary on the nature of people’s engagement with each other and the social media age. There are scenes where people film and share gruesome images on social media, where they would rather take images than take steps to help another person and it’s unclear if that failure is due to fear, or the fear of missing out on a story to dine out on.

 

If you like your psychological thrillers with gruesome murders and a chilling psychopath then this story is for you. The mania that drives the killer is interesting and makes the story seem more real, for whilst not justifying the deaths, it makes them easier to understand. The story is well written, action packed and engaging, particularly the last hundred pages which I found myself racing through.

 

This is the story of a deadly artist and his muse. It is fast paced, inventive and highly entertaining. It may have been the first book of Belinda Bauer’s I have read, but it won’t be the last. Recommended.

Ragdoll: A Novel - Daniel Cole

Let me tell you a story about a man who decides to write a screenplay. That screenplay will take five years to create and hone, will gather an impressive collection of rejection letters but is one which the writer kept returning to, eager to see how the story will finish. And so the writer turns it into a novel. And that novel sells to 32 territories at the latest count. And will no doubt be one the hits of 2017. So television's loss is the reader's gain.

William Oliver Layton-Fawkes, or Wolf as he is known to all but his mother, has recently been reinstated to the police stationed at New Scotland Yard. He returns on the back of a violent episode in his life, and some of his colleagues are still wary of him. He is thrust straight into the thick of things when a body is found. This, however, is no ordinary body. It has been created from the body parts of six different victims. That day, the killer contacts the press. There will be more victims, with the dates they are to be killed. Fawkes and his colleagues are in a race against time to stop the killer before he strikes out everyone on the list.

The story starts with a bang. The reader is taken back to 2010, to a high profile murder case, one in which Wolf has a vested interest. Events take a surprising and violent turn and sees Wolf removed from his way of life. The story then sees Wolf reinstated as a detective, returning to work on what looks likely to be a case that will have the world gripped.

The story is peppered with humour, I often found myself chuckling over lines, it is light relief that is welcome to counteract the violence that surrounds the case. And what violence there is. Daniel Cole has managed to conjure up some of the most unusual and original forms of death I've read about, each one grisly, each one inventive, and each one drawing the reader further into the story.

The characters are all perfectly drawn. Wolf is the troubled detective with his own sense of justice, one which has had serious consequences in his past. He is the lone wolf, working with others when he must, but believing he must sometime act alone for the greater good. Baxter is taciturn, hiding a secret that controls her and unsure of her relationship with Wolf. The interaction she has with her colleagues is great to read, as is the working relationship that develops between her and Edwards, her trainee. Edwards, keen to do well since his transfer from Fraud, is initially naïve but grows as the story develops. Driven, focussed and impassioned he is a great counter-balance to the others. Finlay and Simmonds, both older officers add comedy to the story and balance out the team.

This is Daniel Cole's debut novel and he enters the crime writing scene with a bang. I have said before that whether the author is publishing their debut novel or is a seasoned writer in their field should have no bearing on how the book should be received. Deserved praise should be given whatever stage the author is in their career. Great writing is great writing and it this that should be celebrated. And it should be celebrated here. Daniel Cole has written a compulsive crime novel that one is loath to put down. It is the true definition of gripping fiction.

The fact that this novel was originally a screenplay is evident throughout. And that isn't a bad thing. The scenes can be easily imagined, there are cliff-hangers at the end of most chapters and the characters and storyline are ripe for adaptation. I could easily see this wowing viewers as well as readers.

Enthralling, inventive and compelling, Daniel Cole has created a brilliant cast of characters and a truly gripping novel. I can only wait for more from him with baited breath.

Quieter Than Killing - Sarah Hilary

A series of random assaults have been taking place across London. The only thing the victims have in common – they all have criminal records. When assault turns to murder, Marnie and her team have to race to find the culprit before more victims appear. Marnie also has to contend with a burglary at her parents home. And then a child disappears. Soon it seems all three events are linked and Marnie has to unravel the past to find out what is happening in the present.

 

When I pick up a Sarah Hilary novel I know I’m going to be in for a treat. Quieter Than Killing is no different. I was soon drawn into this story and try as I might to make it last, I found myself racing through the end all too soon.

 

This is a more personal case for Marnie. Her family home has been ransacked, her tenants attacked. And personal items, lost since her parents murder, make their way back to her. She must face Stephen and the reasons why her foster brother killed her parents. It’s also much more personal for Noah Jake. The detective finds his brother Sol has gone missing, apparently escaping the gang he is caught up in. We see Noah torn between his career, his lover and his family.

 

The other storyline is as I have come to expect from Sarah Hilary, one that is often missing from crime fiction. Sarah Hilary has the knack for choosing unique crimes and plot devices to create a gripping and thought provoking novel. Quieter Than Killing is no different. Using the idea of vigilante justice with a twist this is fantastic thriller that will have you gripped until the very end.

 

I’ve said this before in a review for a previous Sarah Hilary novel but I’ll say it again. In Someone Else’s Skin Sarah Hilary set herself out as one to watch. She is now an author that is firmly on the crime writing scene, and a standout author at that. It’s often said that genre novels, in particular crime novels, aren’t as ‘worthy’ as literary fiction, not a notion I’d endorse. I’d suggest that whoever says this hasn’t read a novel such as one by Sarah Hilary. She’s author that can be relied upon to create compelling, moving novels, tackling little mentioned crimes, shied away from or unknown in the wider world but which lend themselves to moving, thought-provoking stories.

 

Quieter Than Killing is book four in the Marnie Rome series but it can be read as a standalone. I would though urge you to read them in order if you haven’t read any before. You’ll be in for a treat if you do.

 

Sarah Hilary is one of the few writers whose books I will always read, and whose books are always eagerly awaited. She could put her name to the Yellow Pages and I’d speed read my way through it. I can only wait impatiently for book five.

 

Taut writing, fantastic characters, a gripping storyline and the bittersweet regret of reaching the end. What more could you want from a book?

The Language of Dying - Sarah   Pinborough

This is a short yet powerful novella that follows a woman as she sits by her dying father. As she narratives his final days we find out more about the man and his family, how each of his children have deal with their grief and how death can both unite and divide them.

 

There is a skill to writing a good novella. The prose has to be fluid yet tightly held together, providing a myriad of information in a succinct but entertaining way. This is such a novella. The unnamed narrator guides us through parts of her life, filling the pages with details of her dysfunctional and broken family history, introducing us to siblings and giving a glimpse into the life of the man that lays close to death upstairs.

It is hard to provide a lengthy review for such a short novella for fear of revealing too much and spoiling the story. That said, every reader will take away something different from the book. It may be for some that the book resonates too close to experiences they have been through, though that may provide comfort to others. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and that is what this book discusses.

 

This book is an essay on grief, on how we can grieve for something that has not yet gone, that we can mourn the loss of an idea, a feeling, a certainty just as much as the loss of a person. Although written from one person’s view this book can resonate with anyone, for grief is a universal emotion, though it may manifest itself in a myriad of ways, the underlying feelings are expertly expressed in The Language of Dying.

Whilst not an easy read this is a moving, thought-provoking look into loss.

I'm catching up on posting old reviews so apologies for the bombardment :-)

There'll be more when I have time to add the books on here as a lot of them aren't found when I search for some reason!

Not That I Could Tell - Jessica Strawser

One Saturday evening six women sit around a fire, drinking, sharing, oversharing and having fun. The next morning one of the women is missing, her children gone too. What happened to Kristen and her children? And what secrets are the beautuful houses on the street hiding?

 

The writing is engaging, pulling the reader into the story and allowing them to wonder what has happened to Kristin and her children. Although she doesn’t really appear, she is a fully formed character, as things are revealed about her by the police that wasn’t apparent to her friends. This allows the reader to care more about her and to be more invested in her disappearance.

 

This is a slow burn of a novel. There are no action sequences, bloody murder scenes or fast paced sections. It is this slow burn that builds the suspense. The reader is always aware that things are not as they seem. As the reality of the situation is revealed the reader is compelled along with Clara to seek out the conclusion to Kristen’s tale.

All of the characters are well drawn. There is Clara, determined to find out what happened to her friend, to figure out what caused her disappearance. Izzy is a completely different character. Where Clara is happily married, Izzy is desperately sad at her single state. Her state of mind is such that, whilst it did grate slightly, is needed for the progression of the story. Then there is Paul, the estranged husband of Kristen, who impinges on the story in many ways.

 

It is more than just Kristen’s tale. This is a novel about the secrets that any respectable house can hold. It is a story of how rumours can spread rapidly, impinging on lifes in a number of ways. It is a tale that shows that everyone is not always as they seem and people shouldn’t be taken on face value, and that we don’t always know people as well as we think we do.

 

I throughly enjoyed Not That I Could Tell. I’ll be looking out for more from Jessica Strawser in the future.

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between) - Lauren Graham

I rarely read autobiographies or biographies. I barely read magazines or newspapers in the effort of avoiding celebrity gossip. So I surprised myself by reading this new book by Lauren Graham, who, whilst having played a wide variety of roles, will be most well known as playing Lorelai Gilmore in The Gilmore Girls.

 

Very few people will be unaware that Netflix recently showed a reboot of the popular TV show. In four ‘mini movies’, the viewer revisits Stars Hollow and it’s wonderfully varied and often quirky characters. I was a fan of the original show, I enjoyed watching the stories of Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory, how they traversed life’s little obstacles on the road to Rory eventually leaving home. Whilst not a super fan, I can’t quote verbatim my favourite lines or scenes, I do remember the series with fondness. I remember how homely and appealing Stars Hollow seemed, the difficult yet often touching relationship Lorelai had with her parents, the will they, won’t they storyline between Lorelai and Luke and the rapid fire nature of the conversations between mother and daughter. Scenes that stayed with me would invariably include Friday night dinner, Sookie discussing the latest Sue Grafton book, Michel being wonderfully curmudgeonly and Lorelai regaling Rory of her long labour.

 

I was curious to see what would happen in the reboot, and not having a Netflix subscription I thought I’d do the next best thing; I’d let Lauren Graham tell me.

Talking As Fast As I Can is a short book at just over 200 pages but it is packed with information, anecdotes and reminisces that make it a pleasure to read. There are some moments when I genuinely laughed out loud. Obviously I have never met Ms Graham but I can only imagine that this book is how she is in ‘real life’. The book looks at Lauren Graham’s career, how she went from high school plays to the big screen. Quite open about the unstable nature of acting, she is down to earth when assessing her success. Also a breath of fresh air is the awareness of the body conscious aspect of Hollywood. Instead of touting this diet or that exercise plan she discusses that simply eating healthily and getting some exercise is the best way. I am also going to blatantly pilfer the Kitchen Timer technique her friend advised her on when writing her novel, Someday, Someday, Maybe.

 

I found myself speeding through this book. It is written in such a frenetic yet fun way that you feel as if you are having a conversation with Lauren Graham, albeit at the speed of an extremely caffeinated Lorelai Gilmore.

 

There are sections of the book that talk about the new Gilmore episodes. If you intended watch the program I would do so before you read the book. There are also some references to U.S. T.V. and personalities that are not really as well known over in the U.K. so some of the jokes and anecdotes passed me by.

 

Lauren Graham has written a warm, witty and entertaining book, perfect to curl up with for a few hours. Now I just need her to tell me those four last words…

The Dark Circle - Linda Grant

Twins Lenny and Miriam are shocked to discover they have both contracted Tuberculosis. Whisked away to a sanatorium in the Kent countryside, they soon find themselves mixing with people they would never normally be associated with. They bring with them a rebelliousness, one which they discover may not be what sees them through their stay in the Gwendo, but which may have a lasting effect on themselves and their fellow patients.

 

Don’t read this book expecting a happy story. It is quite a dark tale, the claustrophobia and intuitionalism of the sanatorium hanging heavy over the story. The early treatment of TB was often barbaric and Linda Grant’s narrative made it all too easy to imagine the distress and pain the patients went through. The story is peppered with light moments, the slight rebellions of the characters, some which caused less ripples on the surface than others.

 

There are a variety of characters, each unique, showing that the terrible illness crossed social boundaries, was indiscriminate with those it infected. Linda Grant’s characterisation meant that each was well drawn, bringing their own slant to the story. Lenny and Miriam were not particularly likeable, at least at first. They are quite selfish characters, thinking only of what betters their own lives and quite condensing and dismissive of others who are different to them.  As their stay in the sanatorium grew, so did their characters, Lenny becoming less gregarious and more thoughtful, Miriam stepping out somewhat from behind her twin’s shadow. This is very much a character driven piece, a study in how the fledgling NHS started to work away at social boundaries and class divide and though set in the 50s, echoes some of the political and social climate of today.

 

There are echoes of a prison to the sanatorium and indeed many of the patients refer to themselves as inmates, and become institutionalised. There is little freedom for the patients. The fitter of them can attend the local village but most are ordered to remain in bed, sleeping outside in the cold or shut away from the outside world. It is this sense of imprisonment, of control by others that leads some of the characters to rebel, to upset the status quo in order to survive, both physically and mentally.

 

The Dark Circle of the novel’s title can be many things. It is the scars on the lungs of the tuberculosis sufferers. It is the circle created by those patients not chosen for the innovative cure. It is the ripple left by the rebellious actions of the patients and the condescending view of the new National Health service by others. It is the group of survivors from the sanatorium, forever bound together by their time in the Gwendo.

 

I did read this in two parts, with a gap between the second reading, but I am glad I picked up the book again. This is not an easy read, nor is it light entertainment. It is however a well written, intriguing and thought-provoking tale.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart  Turton

Evelyn Hardcastle is going  to die seven times. And it’s up to Aiden Bishop to prevent her death. Aiden finds himself waking up in the body of one the guests at Blackheath. Then he finds out he’ll wake up in seven more bodies. He has to relive the day of Evelyn’s death, until he can find out who is intent on murdering her.

 

This is definitely a book that will divide readers. There will be some who find the book is not for them, with too much repetition perhaps, or things not quite making enough sense for them. Then there will be those who get lost in the story and throughly enjoy it.

I’m in the latter camp. I loved this story from the beginning. I was lost in the pages, enveloped in the madcap, wild, nonsensical world of Blackheath. To me it made sense that Aiden could remember things from his other days, that he could flit back and forth. And if it didn’t quite make sense I just let it wash over me and not worry about it.

 

I loved the way the each character added layers to the story. We saw the narrative repeat but with a slight alteration as Aiden visited each of his hosts, the days changing  almost imperceptibly as Aiden’s actions in a future host affected the present one.

 

The characters are all diverse, some likeable, others not so much. Aiden himself is not as clear-cut. And that is the point. We find out more about Aiden by his reaction to his hosts, rather than anything he can directly tell us, as he cannot remember his real self. We can see he is reckless, stubborn, kind, considerate, law-abiding but willing to break the rules as he encounters the true personality of each of his hosts, and fellow guests.

The ending didn’t have me totally surprised as I had guessed some things which were near enough to the actual denouement.

 

I buddy read this with three other people. We would get to a certain point in the story and discuss. It was fun to see everyone’s varying reactions to the novel, and it’s safe to say we didn’t always agree.

 

Don’t spend too much time worrying that the story isn’t making sense. Part of the joy of the book is that it doesn’t have to have too much logic to it. It’s a wonderful excuse for complete suspension of disbelief.

 

To me this book is fun. Fun, perplexing and engaging. It was a pleasure to read and I can imagine that Stuart Turton had fun writing it.

 

Part crime novel, part historical fiction, part time-slip, warped mind fiction, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is enveloping, entertaining, exuberant escapism.  I’m eager (and also a little bit apprehensive) to see what Stuart Turton comes up with next.

The Year of Surprising Acts of Kindness - Laura Kemp, Lowri Walton, Orion

Ceri Price is mourning the loss of her mother. Intent on carrying out her wishes of spreading her ashes in her childhood home of Dwynwen in Wales, Ceri only plans on staying a few nights, then returning to Crewe to carry on her job as head of a successful make up business. However when she is mistaken for the new barmaid, what was going to be just a few days turns into a week, and then two. As the magic of the village and the warmth and friendliness of the locals takes over Ceri finds herself falling for Dwynwen, and for one local in particular. Then the village is threatened with plans for a new housing estate and random acts of kindness occur in the village. Who is behind those acts and can the new housing estate be stopped?

 

There is a lovely, cosy feel to this novel, this arises I think from the small, close-knit village and it’s quirky inhabitants, creating a village I would love to visit. The cast of characters is small, the village depicted so that it was easy to envisage and this all helped towards that cosy feel.

 

Laura Kemp has created a whole host of characters, each one adding something to the story. Ceri grew on me. She came across at first as a little spoiled and shallow but as the story progresses the reader sees that she has been caught up in the whirlwind success of her business and going to Dwynwen opens her eyes as to what she really wants from life. Then there are the locals. Gwil and Gwen, landlord and landlady at the local pub, The Dragon, are the catalyst for Ceri’s life change. When she steps in as barmaid she helps to transform the pub, breathing in new life and the couple bring comedy to the storyline. So too does Mel, who quickly becomes friends with Ceri. Mel holds onto an incident in her past which is making it impossible for her to move forward. The story sees Mel and Ceri helping each other, often times without even realising it. Then there are Rhodri and Logan, both of whom are interested in Ceri for their own reasons.

 

I had figured out who was behind the mysterious acts of kindness from early on in the story but it was nice to read about each one and to wonder what the next act would be.

There’s a warmth to the writing that draws the reader in. At the beginning of the story there were times when it felt a little flat (there were lots of references to bums!) but this soon picked up. There were also a couple of times when the point of Rhodri’s shyness and interest in recycling and the environment seemed a little laboured but again not enough to spoil my enjoyment of the story. There is a friendliness and fun feeling to the writing and that is reflected in the story.

 

A lovely way to spend a few hours, I’ll be interested to read more by Laura Kemp in the future.