The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – a review

As intended, my reading in 2019 is leaning towards mysteries and crime – although there will be a few other genres to break the pattern a little. This mystery read is one of the stranger entries, but still highly enjoyable.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

by

Stuart Turton (Goodreads Author)

The Rules of Blackheath

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m. 

There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit. 

We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer. 

Understood? Then let’s begin…


Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others…

The most inventive debut of the year twists together a mystery of such unexpected creativity it will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

            Review 4.7 stars

This was a ‘must buy’ from the blurb and from reviewers I follow – and I was not disappointed to bump this ahead of other books.

Lost in a forest and unsure who he is, not recognising his body or exactly what’s going on, is where the protagonist and the reader find themselves. An opening that enticed me in as I discovered where ‘I’ was and why – well, not exactly. At first, we meet the first host body for the first-person protagonist that needs to identify the killer of Evelyn Hardcastle to break a cycle that he has become trapped in.

This is Groundhog Day meets Cluedo with Agatha Christie pulling the strings of a cast that echoes the Golden Age of Mystery. Except this world feels darker with death not limited to one-time only. Although the mystery elements are classic and the basic plot may seem easily solved by some readers, it is not the mystery that makes this novel, but the intricacies caused by a repeating day with the hosts and other players evolving with the unravelling of the secrets.  

This is the mysterious world that is Blackheath, a crumbling country house with characters hiding as many secrets as the plot. Everyone seems to be guilty of something or hiding their past. The faded grandeur was evocatively described in a language smeared with decay and dread. A mystery convention twisted by the theme. This was a house of layers that Aiden had to uncover with his host bodies.

Host bodies that added their own idiosyncrasies to the investigation. He must work with their limitations such as ageing bodies or their own agendas. This is no simple body-hopping as he must pull their minds to his task – or in some cases use their own intelligence. And as he hops there are dangers from shadowy antagonists to losing his mind to his host’s.

Each character is distinct especially the hosts, whom the reader gets to experience from their perspective and Aiden’s – in a clever way…without spoiling the gameplay. Full marks to the author for painting such amazing portraits and evolving their behaviour as the day repeats. Some seem to be tortured by their own actions – their consciences perhaps.

I’m trying to avoid spoilers so I’m sounding as devious as the author. There are clever twists to catch out everyone – even readers, even if some are ahead of the game. But I was surprised although I had my suspects. With a sprinkling of clues – and red herrings – to mystify hosts and readers, I enjoyed the ingenious plotting that must have taken a wall of sticky notes. The author’s notes clarify the process and added to my admiration.

My only minor quibbles were ‘shooting’ described as ‘hunting’ – I come from a shooting-hunting country house background – and a few unnecessary dialogue tags where the speaker was obvious.

The ending was unexpectedly artful with even ‘the puppet master’ stunned. After reading this novel, I’d recommend this to mystery readers looking for something different from the norm and open to other genre elements sneaking in. Or are you afraid of getting trapped re-reading this tome?

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – five stars

2018 Reads and Beyond

As a writer, reading is an important part of the process. Reading teaches me many writing lessons while entertaining me. I hope that it’s making me a better writer.

Inspired by some of the writers and readers that I follow, here is my 2018 reading list and top books of the year. Most were not published in 2018, but that’s when I read them so that’s what counts.

First, the list as I reviewed them – with links:

Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3) by Kristina Stanley – 5 stars

The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

For The Winner (Golden Apple Trilogy #2) by Emily Hauser (Goodreads Author) – 5 stars

A Journey of the Heart (When Women Were Warriors #2) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

A Hero’s Tale (When Women Were Warriors #3) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

Death in Dulwich (London Murder Mystery #1) by Alice Castle – 4.7 stars

Apricots and Wolfsbane by K.M. Pohlkamp – 4.9 stars

Air and Ash (TIDES #1) by Alex Lidell – 4.3 stars

The Shepherdess of Siena by Linda Lafferty – 4.3 stars

The Last Wish (Saga o Wiedźminie #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski – 5 stars

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – 4.5 stars

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – 5+ stars

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis – 4.4 stars

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 4.3 stars

Sword of Destiny (Saga o Wiedźminie #2) by Andrzej Sapkowski – 5 stars

Look the Other Way by Kristina Stanley – 4.6 stars

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – 5 stars

Never on Saturday by Sue Barnard – 4.4 stars

Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered? by Sue Barnard – 4.4 stars

Horsemanship by Gina McKnight (Editor) – 5 stars

Mr Churchill’s Secretary (Maggie Hope Mystery #1) by Susan Elia MacNeal – 3.7 stars

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (Fiona Griffiths #3) by Harry Bingham – 5 stars

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth E. Wein – 5+ stars

Joseph Barnaby by Susan Roebuck – 4.6 stars

Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers by

Lisa Hall-Wilson – 5 stars

The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker – 5 stars

What Child Is This by Rhys Bowen – 5 stars

Eadric And The Wolves: A Novel Of The Danish Conquest Of England by David K. Mullaly – 4 stars

I’ve missed a few books – the Children’s ones – but these are the majority. On reflection, there are more five stars awarded than memorable books, and I’ve tended to be unfair to the authors I interact with. Why? Reverse favouritism?

Anyway, thinking back over the year and looking for memorable reads, here’s my top three for each of the genres that I lean towards:

Thrillers- Mystery- Suspense-Crime:
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – 5+ stars

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (Fiona Griffiths #3) by Harry Bingham – 5 stars

Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3) by Kristina Stanley – 5 stars

Fantasy:
The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

The Last Wish (Saga o Wiedźminie #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski – 5 stars

For The Winner (Golden Apple Trilogy #2) by Emily Hauser (Goodreads Author) – 5 stars


Historical Fiction:

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth E. Wein – 5+ stars

The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker – 5 stars

Apricots and Wolfsbane by K.M. Pohlkamp – 4.9 stars


Some of these cross genres and showed that is achievable seamlessly. These lists lead into my top five reads of 2018 – well fiction reads – in order.

Top Five Reads of 2018
1.             Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth E. Wein – 5+ stars

2.            The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – 5+ stars

3.            The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

4.            The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (Fiona Griffiths #3) by Harry Bingham – 5 stars

5.            Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3) by Kristina Stanley – 5 stars

Top Non-fiction has to be my ‘desk-bible’ – Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers by Lisa Hall-Wilson. By the use it has already got, that 5 stars rating is low.

Keeping track of my reading has been my Goodreads account. I’ve now taken part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for the last three years and passed my modest goal each year. I set the bar low as there are days when I struggle to read more than a few pages; not because the books are bad but because of health issues.

In 2018, I read 45 books and passed my target of 3o – call that figure 42 as three books got counted twice. Only 28 got reviewed – as above – but Goodreads did keep tally so I must have some reviews outstanding.

However, despite reading 41 books in 2017, I have kept my goal for 2019 low at 35. I am ahead as I type this, but I’m now reading a chunky 500-page book.

In my next Book Review post, I will list some of the books that I plan to read – with another Challenge as the target.

What Child Is This – a review

Thursday_horizons

I fell behind with my reading during NaNoWriMo in November, although I did finish Book 2 in a fantasy trilogy, but my review of that is pending my reading Book 2.

After my November focus on writing, this month has seen me focused on a beta read – and my WEP/IWSG contribution.

However, I have been reading a novel as well, plus the short story that earns today’s Thursday Creation Review as this was seasonal with an uplifting message.

 

WhatChildIsThis

What Child Is This

by

Rhys Bowen

Christmas during World War II is a time for small miracles in this bittersweet short story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and In Farleigh Field.

Jack and Maggie Harris are adrift on ravaged streets during the London Blitz. Their home is gone. They have nowhere to go and nothing left to lose. With only the memories of their greatest loss—the death of their child during a Christmas years before—Jack and Maggie settle in a seemingly deserted mansion for the night.

Inside they find shelter, warmth, and a bit of cheer. They also discover a surprise. Now, in the darkest of times, the unexpected compassion of strangers will make this Christmas one to remember forever.

 

Review 5 stars

As the festive season drew on, I was treated to this wonderful Christmas read – an Amazon First Reads free with my Prime membership, but I would have willingly bought this.

Set during one of the darker moments in Britain’s history, when the country was locked in the midst of WWII, this short story paints a snapshot of the London Blitz. An image of a time when people tried to remain strong and strive to be positive – as these characters do.

Jack and Maggie Harris are bombed out of their home in the East End, already scarred with the loss of a child during another Christmas. Their unfolding attempt to find shelter, warmth, and a bit of cheer on Christmas Eve was uplifting – light in the darkness.

I liked all the background detail of the period which echoed what I knew of the Blitz from other books and my own research. Having lived in and explored London, I could envisage where this occurred.

And I related to the characters, who, even in this tight tale, rang true with reactions and emotions that added to the story’s magic. The main characters especially had understandable flaws within their positivism.

The ending was a reward for all – including this reader – and it had me smiling and feeling festively satisfied.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

The Ragged Edge of Night – a review

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NaNoWriMo might be my focus for November but I am making time for this Thursday Creation Review as this book seems timely with a strong message.

RaggedEdge

The Ragged Edge of Night

by

Olivia Hawker

For fans of All the Light We Cannot See, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, and The Nightingale comes an emotionally gripping, beautifully written historical novel about extraordinary hope, redemption, and one man’s search for light during the darkest times of World War II.

Germany, 1942. Franciscan friar Anton Starzmann is stripped of his place in the world when his school is seized by the Nazis. He relocates to a small German hamlet to wed Elisabeth Herter, a widow who seeks a marriage—in name only—to a man who can help raise her three children. Anton seeks something too—atonement for failing to protect his young students from the wrath of the Nazis. But neither he nor Elisabeth expects their lives to be shaken once again by the inescapable rumble of war.

As Anton struggles to adapt to the roles of husband and father, he learns of the Red Orchestra, an underground network of resisters plotting to assassinate Hitler. Despite Elisabeth’s reservations, Anton joins this army of shadows. But when the SS discovers his schemes, Anton will embark on a final act of defiance that may cost him his life—even if it means saying goodbye to the family he has come to love more than he ever believed possible.

Review 5 stars

Although the pace was slower than many of my usual reads, the setting of a rural village in World War II Germany made for an underlying threat that drove the story forward. The pace matched the reality portrayed.

The influence of Hitler and his Nazis seeped into the story, although the main protagonist Anton Starzmann was building a new life with Elisabeth Herter, a widow with three children in rural surroundings. His past as a Franciscan friar, whose pupils have been ‘relocated’ by the SS, haunts his gradual attempt to take a stand against the Nazi evil.

Early on he hears a conversation that becomes fundamental:

“Her companion is quick to answer, quick to defend. “It’s only this: I’ve never seen God. Why should I credit Him for a blessing, or leave Him any blame? Men are quite capable of destroying the world on their own, as we can plainly see. They don’t need any help from above.”

Anton observes that he hasn’t met Hitler, but the Fuehrer’s evil exists – and he resists. The musical instruments of his condemned pupils become central to that stand, and not just in their re-use – far better than what the Nazis plan for them.

“I’ve heard the Party are paying good money for brass. The Schutzstaffel want it for casings—ammunition.”

I wondered if music could foil the savage beast and, in a way, it became a means to take a stand. I shared the fear that the resistance within Germany and the village of Unterboihingen, called the Red Orchestra would be exposed and killed.

It didn’t matter that I knew the outcome of WWII as I didn’t know whether anything about that resistance. It’s a sad fact that it became easier for others to see all Germans as evil. Having had a German girlfriend, I know that isn’t true. And this book confirms that there was a lot of good alive, and people trying to survive.

The characters from Anton to minor characters come alive as the story builds and I became invested in their lives.

The village and its surroundings are beautifully described, and the language is so evocative of the hard but special life that Anton and his new family are living. The war rages and the nightly bombing of nearby Stuttgart threaten behind the village life that attempts to continue, using lessons and practises of the past. Barter replaces money – as it did in many countries.

There are highlights to enrich the children’s lives like precious Easter eggs, chocolates and simple handmade gifts.

The end and the impending terror draws closer when a ruthless act forces a final act of defiance.

The story resonated so much with me that I was pleased to discover that it is based on real events. And that makes it relevant to today when Neo-Nazis are on the rise everywhere.

But as the author says:

“We are Widerstand—resistance—you and I. No force can silence us, unless we permit silence. I prefer to roar.”

This book was an Amazon First Reads free with my Prime membership, and even if I’d paid the proper price The Ragged Edge of Night would be a recommended must read.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Joseph Barnaby – a review

Thursday_horizons

When my Kindle died recently, I had to revert to my pile of reconstituted trees and so today’s Thursday Creation Review is the most recent paperback I finished. Beyond that, I will be reviewing a book that I’m reading – drum-roll – on my new Kindle Fire 7.

That new acquisition was a problem as almost all my 500+ Kindle titles are on my UK account – and Amazon stopped me buying a new device from their UK site to send to my US address. So, the new Kindle is linked to my US account which has only a couple of dozen titles – enough for now, even if some are in my paperback collection.

Anyway, time for this review.

NOTE: book release on October 5th 2018.

 JosephBarnaby

Joseph Barnaby

by

Susan Roebuck (Goodreads Author)

Stand by your beliefs – even if it means going to the end of the Earth.

By standing up for his principles, horse farrier Joseph Barnaby lost everything. Now, when a personal vendetta goes too deep to fight, he escapes to the Portuguese island of Madeira where he finds work on a small farm only accessible by boat.

The balmy climate and never-ending supply of exotic fruit, vegetables, and honey make it sound like paradise. But, for Joseph, it’s the ideal place to hide from the world.

Not everyone is prepared to give up on life’s misfortunes. The local fishing village has its own surprises and the inhabitants of Quinta da Esperança have more grit in them than the pebbled beach that borders the property.

Review 4.6 stars

When I discovered that the main protagonist was “horse farrier Joseph Barnaby”, my ears pricked, and the Portuguese island of Madeira made this a Must Read. When I won this excellent novel in an Advance Giveaway from author Susan Roebuck – but with no obligation to write anything about Joseph Barnaby – the book moved to the top of my reading pile.

The exact reason why Joe Barnaby escapes his life with horses in England is carefully revealed in flashbacks that felt at moments like a Dick Francis mystery. In contrast, his new life working on a small farm near the fishing village of Quinta da Esperança became a wonderful romance with both the island and with a young deaf woman, Sofia – although there are obstacles thrown in their path, including Joe’s past.

For me, the romance worked, and I was swept along; plus, the horseracing mystery spurred my ‘detective’ skills. I began to suspect what might have happened as the clues were slipped out, and the resolution satisfied me – as did the romantic denouement.

I must admit that there were some minor moments where my equestrian brain questioned the odd bit of phrasing, but slight, and even as an equestrian journalist, I have made mistakes. I was interested in the way that Riding for the Disabled featured – having personal connections to that inspiring movement.

The settings were vividly described, and I was immersed in the story because of those descriptions – and through the wonderful cast.

There were some great characters, from the main protagonists of Joe and Sofia to the supporting cast, from memorable fishermen to the two principal antagonists. The latter were not as devious as the ones that challenge my brain in crime novels, but they displayed traits that kept the protagonists challenged. Sofia’s bees are characters themselves as well as an inspirational community. And I must mention Ed the donkey – just read and find out.

One woman was elusively mysterious, adding a clever thread to the story that wove through so many elements – I’m avoiding spoilers here. I want to say that there are a few clever threads, from the island’s past to the medical themes.

Sofia’s deafness seemed to be understood by the author and sensitively handled – adding to my engagement with the character. How others interacted with her was well contrasted, with some signing, others lip-reading, and those frustrated by her.

This novel was the perfect combination for me – horses and romance in a Portuguese setting. A strong 4.6 stars and a recommended quick read.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Code Name Verity – a review

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Three troubled weeks and mounting problems have delayed this review – apologies. I finished reading Code Name Verity on September 5, but a bad head cold laid me low, and now financial hurdles have arisen.

However, I am attempting this edition of my Thursday Creation Review and hope that I can catch up as there are full reviews outstanding from early in the year – and I’ve just finished another book.

Verity

Code Name Verity

(Code Name Verity #1)

by

Elizabeth E. Wein (Goodreads Author)

Two young women become unlikely best friends during World War II, until one is captured by the Gestapo.

Only in wartime could a stalwart lass from Manchester rub shoulders with a Scottish aristocrat. But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in “Verity”’s own words, as she writes her account for her captors. Truth or lies? Honour or betrayal? Everything they’ve ever believed in is put to the test . . .

A gripping thriller, Code Name Verity blends a work of fiction into 20th century history with spine-tingling results. A book for young adults like no other.

Review 5 stars

When a young woman is captured by the Gestapo in occupied France, she begins writing down an account for her captors about a plucky lass, Maddie from Manchester. Her story, told as one of her captors accuses ‘in novel form’, shows how Maddie learns to fly and becomes an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot. She befriends Queenie, an enigmatic Scottish aristocrat who is recruited as a spy by the Special Operations Executive. Through this account, the Gestapo learn secrets about the Allies war-effort as well as about the two young women – and the reader realises that the writer is Queenie.

“I of course took the opportunity to interpose wi’ pig-headed Wallace pride, ‘I am not English, you ignorant Jerry bastard, I am a SCOT.” 

Queenie is accused of being a collaborator, giving away crucial wireless codes and more for her ongoing survival. However, as this account spilt out with disturbing details, I wondered what was being revealed. Perhaps it was the novel’s opening quote about passive resisters that made me unsure about Queenie’s account. Or the truth is, as Queenie writes at the beginning, “I AM A COWARD” and a traitor?

What is truth? What is verity? That is the question in war when some sacrifices pay that ultimate price, and principals are abandoned. The atmosphere is rife with emotions – grief gives way to anger as the details are exposed of an era when so many died; what did they die for? The truth?

Although Queenie’s account is written for the Gestapo, it peels back their layers, even revealing cultural tastes.

“Nothing like an arcane literary debate with your tyrannical master while you pass the time leading to your execution.”

There are moments of humour that distract and buy time. For whom? For what? On one level, it seems that the cost of this betrayal will be too high, yet I wanted Queenie to survive.

I just hoped that this was a masterful deception and that a rescue was imminent. When the novel switches from Queenie’s POV to that of Maddie, I experienced new emotions – not just renewed hope. The voice changed, although the writer had already given us a taste of Maddie’s character as well as of the harsh existence in Occupied France.

To say more would require spoilers. Just know that Maddie’s story is as riveting with unexpected plot twists that play through to the end – to the truth, or should I say Verity.

All the characters are engaging, whether they are the older adults like the officer that recruits Queenie, or the young people on the frontline of this and so many other wars. Elizabeth Wein captures a deep sense of all those caught up in these life-changing events.

This is a brilliant and gritty YA novel that sweeps the reader along with the feisty and resourceful protagonists – pulled into their minds and actions. I felt I was witnessing the highs and lows of lives experienced in the face of the traumatic horrors of war

And running through the novel, adding another layer to the central characters, was the Neverland theme – poignant and beautiful.

“How did you ever get here, Maddie Brodatt?”
“‘Second to the right, and then straight on till morning,'” she answered promptly-it did feel like Neverland.
“Crikey, am I so obviously Peter Pan?”
Maddie laughed. “The Lost Boys give it away.”
Jamie studied his hands. “Mother keeps the windows open in all our bedrooms while we’re gone, like Mrs. Darling, just in case we come flying home when she’s not expecting us.”

Code Name Verity must be my favourite read of 2018 as it played with all my emotions. I look forward to reading both the prequel the Pearl Thief – which is more in the style of a classic mystery – and Rose Under Fire a sequel of sorts.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars