Crime, Fiction

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – Agatha on Acid

This book is insane. Stuart Turton said in his author’s note that he wanted to write something inspired by Agatha Christie, but this is Agatha Christie on a mix of steroids and acid with a Groundhog Day chaser. It’s a melange of classic stately home murder and supernatural twists. If you make it to the end, I think it will definitely stick with you.

The narrator lives the same day over and over again, waking up each in day in the body of a different person in the cast of characters who are attending a house party in a stately home. The only way he can escape this living nightmare is to solve the murder of the daughter of the family that owns the house, Evelyn Hardcastle. 

If that’s not enough, as well as the book having multiple characters narrating the book, it spools back and forth between them at different times of the day. 

The blurb on the copy I have has praise from some top authors and I can completely see why. It’s clever, it’s original, it’s gripping and it’s got more twists than an Alpine pass. But man, it’s a hard read. I’d recommend having the cast of characters by your side as you read it, and maybe even making notes. It’s so complicated. Not one to read late at night when you’re tired, or after a large wine – you need to give it your full attention. If you’re prepared, I think you’ll appreciate the cleverness of the plot, but this is not a light read. I gave it four stars, and looking on Amazon there are lots of one star reviews and lots of five star reviews. I can completely see why. Rejoice in the plotting mastery, but I’ll need something a little easier for my next read and a long lie down.

This review is of a purchased copy.

Fiction

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames – Review

It is, perhaps, best to start by saying what Stella Fortuna isn’t. The title might suggest it’s one of those Groundhog Day type books where the same events happen over and over again until something jolts the plot into a new outcome. This is not that book. The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is the story of one woman’s life and family, over the broad sweep of around a hundred years, from the early 20th century until the present day.

I have come to understand Stella as a woman of incredible will and strength, of charisma, of innate intelligence. She was not a woman of her time, and she was made to pay a high price for her unwillingness to conform.

Stella Fortuna is born into a poor family in rural Italy, and her dilemma is that she simply will not conform to the expectations of her family and community as a woman, a wife and a mother. Her name of ‘lucky star’ proves to be more of a curse than a blessing, and as the title suggests she experiences many near-death misfortunes in her long life, both in Italy and America. Cheering this book is not (there are some dark themes) – but it’s utterly believable, compelling, and so, so beautifully written. You can’t help but wish the best for Stella, who pushes back when both fate and family seem so keen to break her.

Every so often I break out from my normal diet of non fiction and thrillers and settle into a slower paced read. At 438 pages, this is a pretty long, rich, tasting menu of a book which deserves to be savoured. The narrator (whose identity is not revealed until much later in the book) draws you in, settles you by the fire and tells you Stella’s story with so much depth and detail you’ll believe you’re in an Italian village eating minestra. To me, it had vibes of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson although clearly in a very different setting – think of that huge sweep through history seen through one person’s eyes. Take your time over this one, it’s really worth it. I was sad to end it, but I know exactly which friend it’s going to next.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames is published on 7th May 2019. This review is of an advance copy provided in return for an honest review.

Fiction, Thriller

Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly – Review

Such a cleverly plotted and worked book. Erin Kelly’s story revolves around a “stone mother” – a Victorian asylum that has, as so many others, been converted into flats. This is a psychological thriller which weaves together families and mothers with the history of the hospital, and which works its way back in time, peeling off layers to get to the core of the story. Prepare to be led down literal and plot corridors as Kelly navigates us through the generations. I read this in one extremely long sitting, I simply couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended and perfect bank holiday reading.

Fiction, Thriller

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – Review

I read this in two sittings and wow. Just wow. A brilliant psychological thriller that totally had me until the final page. Theo Faber is a psychotherapist who begins working in a secure unit. He becomes somewhat obsessed with cracking the case of Alicia, who had murdered her husband and never uttered a word since. Theo is convinced that his skills could bring her speech back and help her move forward, but as he slowly unpicks the circumstances leading up to the murder, his own life starts to unravel. These two plot strands move side by side through the novel as Theo gets deeper and deeper into trying to work out what happened to Alice and her husband.

An utter and complete page turner with an astounding twist. I’ve read that others saw the twist coming, but I guess that might depend how you read a thriller. Sometimes the twist is obvious, but for my part I try not too hard to second guess what’s coming as I genuinely want to be surprised. In this case, i didn’t think it was at all jumping off the page – Michaelides really weaves all the strands together brilliantly. I absolutely could not put it down. Alex Michaelides is also a screenwriter (this is being made into a film) and I think it really shows – the plot is so strong and the dialogue completely believable. Bravo – an amazing debut novel.

This review is of a purchased copy.

Fiction

Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe – Review

There’s nothing better than picking up a book by an author you’ve not read before and discovering an absolute gem. Is it too much to say that Nina Stibbe is a 21st century Austen?

Stibbe’s pen portraits of 18 year-old Lizzie, her mechanic cum novelist mother with an unusual way of getting out of a fix, her siblings, her stepfather and her bonkers dental surgeon employer are a dream. The writing here is dry and witty, and although this book doesn’t scream plot action it pulls you along waiting for the next pearl to fall from someone’s mouth. I’d laughed out loud before I’d finished page one. Situations that would seem utterly preposterous in most books feel completely natural here with this motley crew of characters. This novel is in part a coming of age for Lizzie, part an exploration of families and relationships and part dealing with grief, but as a whole it’s a glorious Eton Mess of a book that’s beautifully written. I’m so pleased to have read it.

This review is of a Netgalley advance copy.

Crime, Fiction, Thriller

The Wych Elm by Tana French – Review

It took me a while to get into this – I felt the set up was quite protracted – but once it got going I was completely hooked. This is the story of Toby, a young man who suffers a serious assault at home. As a result of this, and his uncle’s terminal diagnosis, it’s decided that he should move in with his uncle at the old family home. There he can continue to recuperate whilst supporting his uncle.

When a skull is later found in a Wych Elm in the garden, the story slowly unravels until all sorts of long hidden secrets tumble out. Thoughout the book the police are an almost sinister presence as they try to solve the case in parallel with Toby trying to understand what has happened. This is so cleverly plotted (as you’d expect from Tana French). I wasn’t sure to start with, but loved it by the end. For that reason it’s a four not five star read for me, but very nicely done.

This review is of a purchased copy.

Fiction

Meet Me At The Museum by Anne Youngson – Review

God, how I loved this. It’s a gentle meander of a book in which two people in later life, who’ve never met, strike up a correspondence. Their letters weave back and forth over the months, and as time passes and they gradually reveal more and more of themselves, their relationship deepens. It’s a debut novel, which is astonishing, as I found it so accomplished. I stumbled across it as a Modern Mrs Darcy book club pick, and I’m so very glad I did. Highly recommended as a cozy, sofa read.

This review is of a purchased copy.