The books I got for Christmas

I’m writing this on Boxing day, at my dad’s house with a cup of tea and the smell of my second Christmas dinner roasting away in the oven. I received so many amazing gifts this year; I’ve been incredibly lucky. I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas that’s been warm, cosy and full of fun.

Before Christmas, I posted a list of the books that were on my Christmas list, which did have a few more additions by the time Christmas came around. Some I received and some I didn’t, and I had a few unexpected ones as well. Keep reading to see which ones I had.

A Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

 Image by  Waterstones
Image by Waterstones

This is one of the books that was not my list, but I was still delighted with it. I’ve never read it, but I’ve heard plenty about it. When I was at uni, it was read as part of a module some of my friends were on, and they all spoke highly of it. So now I can read it myself and see if I feel the same.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

As I said on my Christmas list post, I thought I had the whole of Little Women, but once I got to the end of my edition, it turns out I only had part one! And so I’ve been wanting to read the next half ever since. I received the Clothbound Classic edition, the one I was hoping for. The cover is so pretty! I know what happens in the next half (which was called ‘Little Wives’ when it first came out) and I can already tell that it’s going to be emotional.

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

 Image by  Pinterest
Image by Pinterest

Another Clothbound Classic. I’ve read this story before, and Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors. So naturally, I have to own the Clothbound Classic edition. The cover is stunning, and I can’t wait to give it reread.

Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald – J.K Rowling

I’m not usually one for reading scripts and screenplays, but I received Fantastic Beasts, and the cover is so beautiful, I think I’m persuaded. The film was incredible, and it’ll be interesting to read the screenplay.

Spelled – Betsy Schow

 Image by  Amazon
Image by Amazon

So I got this the week before Christmas as part of my Bookstagram Secret Santa. My Secret Santa bought me this book because I love fairy tales, and this book combines all fairy tale characters in one world, like Once Upon A Time. The main character is Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, which makes a nice change to many fairy tale rewritings that I’ve read, as I’ve never read one that features her before.

The War of the Worlds – H.G Wells

This is another one that wasn’t on my list. I’m not a big reader of science fiction, but this book was written during the Victorian era, and I think it’ll be interesting to see what sort of ideas there were concerning aliens. I wasn’t aware of how much knowledge there was about the solar system around this era, as the theory of evolution was still considered to be controversial at the time. The Victorian Era is one of my favourite time periods to learn about, so I’m looking forward to furthering my knowledge.

Poor Unfortunate soul – Serena Valentino

 Image by  Amazon
Image by Amazon

This will be the second of the darker Disney books that I’d have read, the first being based on Beauty and the Beast. I love fairy tale retellings, and so seeing ones based on Disney movies is right up my street. The Little Mermaid is also one of my favourite princesses (and I really like the original story by Hans Christian Anderson), so this book is just perfect for me.

A Literary Christmas – The British Library

There are no words to describe how excited I am to read this book. Christmas has been mentioned in so many books and poems over the years, from Dickens to Alcott, Eliot, and Tusser. This little anthology has included all of these authors and more, allowing you to read about the ghosts of Christmas past and present, what Christmas would be like on a diet, or Christmas day as a Tudor. Filled with short stories, poems, and essays, this book explores Christmas in the literary world, and I can’t wait to dive in.

His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

 Image by  Folio Society
Image by Folio Society

If you read my Christmas list post, you’d know that I originally wanted Folio Society’s edition of Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. However, after finding out just how expensive they were, decided to settle for a cheaper version instead. So you can imagine my surprise when I unwrapped Folio’s books! I was speechless. I now own the most beautiful editions ever, and I’m so so so happy. I still can’t get over how exquisite they are, and not just the cover, but the quality of paper and Folio’s signature stitched binding. The collection weighs a ton, but I love them. The only downside? They make some of my other books look plain in comparison!

 

 

Hamilton: I went to the room where it happens

SPOILERS AHEAD

I had the incredible opportunity to watch Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre over the weekend. I’ve been struggling to find the perfect word that describes the overall experience, it’s just impossible. There are no words that can capture the beauty of this play. It was cleverly written, amazingly performed and sung. I cried so many times throughout, not just from the story but also because of how overwhelmed I was. I’ve been wanting to see Hamilton since it first came to London, imagining the scenes in my head over and over, and to see it come to life was just incredible.

I’ve listened to the soundtrack more times than I can count, and each song is detailed and helps tell the story. So the fact that there are no spoken words in the play wasn’t that surprising. However, most of the time each song was set in a different place, or time, and with different characters. So to jump straight into the next song was impressive. The play is physical theatre, which by definition means ‘a form of theatre which emphasizes the use of physical movement, as in dance and mime, for expression’, so there was only one set and furniture like writing desks, chairs, even the set of Alexander and Eliza’s wedding, was brought in during the songs as if they were dance moves. The actors managed to smoothly move throughout the play without error, as did the dancers, who were on stage for the majority of the play.

Another technique that was used in the play was a rotating stage. The middle of the stage would rotate, sometimes in different parts, and added to the story. One of the highlights was ‘Satisfied,’ where Angelica tells the story of ‘Helpless’ from her perspective, revealing her love for Alexander. Angelica stood in the middle of the stage, and the outer part started to rotate along with the rest of the cast, acting as if someone genuinely pressed a rewind button on a remote controller. This transition happened over only a couple of seconds, and it was flawless. ‘Satisfied’ is one of my favourite songs in the play, and Allyson Ava Brown performed it beautifully. The most moving part of the song was during the last rendition of the chorus, when everyone around Angelica is celebrating the wedding while she stands in the middle, her heart breaking in front of us.

Many other songs amazed me in the play, more so than they did when just listening to the soundtrack. King George’s songs came to life when performed in person. Before the play, I didn’t enjoy his songs as much and often skipped over them. However, Jon Robyns performed them in a way that was so sarcastic it was hilarious.

‘The Reynolds Pamphlet’ also stood out for me. It was already one of my favourite songs on the soundtrack, and the way it was performed on stage made me love it anymore. What stuck in my head was the image of Alexander standing in the middle while the characters flung their copies of the pamphlets at him, leaving him standing amongst the pile, while he tried to speak over them all, singing the words ‘At least I was honest with her.’

One word that I’d use when describing the play is powerful, and that is because of some of the lines that are spoken. ‘Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it just takes, and it takes’ is one of my favourites, along with ‘Dying is easy young man, living is harder.’ I just realised while writing this that both of these sentences are about death, so here’s on that doesn’t focus on dying: Angelica’s ‘At least I keep his eyes in my life.’

It wasn’t just the lines that hit me. Philip’s death had me in tears, even though I knew it was coming. I was crying from the moment Eliza arrived at his hospital bed and throughout ‘It’s Quiet Uptown.’ And then during ‘Hurricane’ where Alexander gives his last monologue before his death, followed by Eliza’s verses during ‘Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.’

I’ve only seen a few musicals, but Hamilton is one of the best that I’ve seen. After it ended, I spent the rest of the evening and the next day just replaying it all in my head, still in awe. If you ever have a chance to go and see this play, do it. You won’t regret it.

Review: Coram Boy

SPOILERS AHEAD

Winner of the 2001 Whitbread Award, Coram Boy relates the intertwining stories of Meshak Gardiner and Alexander Ashbrook, two young men of different abilities and backgrounds who nonetheless find their fate inextricably linked. Meshak, the mentally handicapped son of Otis Gardiner, helps his father dispose of unwanted children; generally infants whose mothers think that Mr. Gardiner will transport them to Coram Hospital, a newly-created facility to care for abandoned children. Able to convince the distraught mothers that their newborns will be well-cared for in exchange for a small fee, Mr. Gardiner later hands the infants over to Meshak, who then buries the children in the woods. Years of burying infants and selling older ones into slavery have made Mr. Gardiner rich, but one day he is accused of blackmailing the wealthy mothers of these children. Everyone believes that he was hanged for his crimes and that his son, Meshak, quietly slipped away. Not until years later do people realize what happened to the Gardiners and all of the abandoned children.

***

Historical fiction is my favourite genre. I’ve always been fascinated with history, and so reading stories that allow me to live the lives based upon past events excites me so much. I’m currently writing a historical fiction novel myself, and for the setting, I’ve been inspired by the Forest of Dean, my home, and its surrounding areas. Coram Boy takes place in Gloucester as well as London, so it was nice to read a book of this genre that’s set in the same county as mine. I could see how Jamila Gavin captured two 18th century cities, both of which were clearly researched in meticulous detail, in their dirtiest light, exploring the lives of the lower classes instead of just focusing on the more privileged.

One of the things that stood out for me was the character of Meshak. He is described as a ‘simpleton’ and is treated poorly throughout the novel, particularly by his father. He has a strong moral compass, even though there are times when it becomes a bit warped (trying to keep Aaron from his parents to protect his ‘angel’s’ son, for example). He is plagued by the voices of the children that he buries, feeling guilty over the fact that he didn’t save them. Gavin capture this with chilling sentences like ‘He feels the need to be dead.’ For a boy as young as Meshak to think something like this is just heartbreaking.

While the story is told through an omniscient narrator, the majority of the events are experienced through the children’s perspective, which, in a way, makes some of the horrific events seem worse. When Meshak sees black slaves, for example. ‘It was human, wasn’t it? He licked his finger and smoothed it over the baby’s skin to see if the black would come off.’ The way that this baby is alienated because of his skin colour is shocking, and the way that Meshak innocently rubs him with his finger to see if the colour would come off shows the severity of the racism during this period.

Racism is also explored through Toby, a black orphan and Aaron’s best friend. Toby’s treatment at Mr. Gaddarn’s party is exceptionally saddening, as ‘the ladies adored him, and loved to bounce him on their knees, feed him sweets, and push their fingers under his turban to feel his extraordinarily crinkly hair.’ I never knew that black children were hired to be poked and prodded simply for entertainment during this time period, and, to say the least, it was appalling.

The characters of Alex and Thomas are two of my favourites in this novel. They both come from different worlds and yet are united through their love of music. I felt so sorry for Alex, as his father forbids him to follow his passion. I have to say though; there were times when I forgot Alex’s age and thought him as older, so the times when I was reminded of his age completely changed my image of him.

I also felt this way with Melissa, who, at the start of the book, is fourteen years old. She acts her age at the beginning, from joining in with her sibling’s games and experiencing her first period, but then also sleeps with Alex and gets pregnant. I could not imagine characters as naive as these having sex. Also, the fact that Melissa was able to conceal her entire pregnancy and birth is hard to believe tbh. There were moments when her youth was highlighted, such as when she thought she could raise her child at home without her parents noticing, not realising how noisy a baby could be, her focus on knitting cute little clothes for it. Not to mention her reaction to her growing ‘roundness’ and her disbelief when her maid informed her of her pregnancy. If anything, moments like this made it so much harder for me to believe this subplot.

I enjoyed Coram Boy, mainly because of the amount of history intertwined in this novel. Gavin covers a range of diverse perspectives when it comes to 18th century London, allowing the reader to explore this world in so many different ways. It’s a dark book that features some appalling attitudes amongst the characters, and Gavin conveys their beliefs in such a gripping way that you can’t help but feel shocked at some of the events. Aside from the issues regarding ages, I think this novel is beautifully written and an incredible read for both adults and children.

7 books that are on my Christmas list

I’ve got quite a few books on my Christmas list this year, and it’s getting longer and longer. By the time I’ve published this post, it’s probably grown even more. So here are my top seven at the moment; if I don’t get them for Christmas (which, considering the length of the list, is quite likely!), then I shall certainly be making a trip to Waterstones very soon.

The Penguin Classics book

 Image from  Penguin Random House
Image from Penguin Random House

This book explores literary history, from Ancient Greece, Japanese poetry, War stories and more. I love reading classic literature, and this looks like it’s filled with inspiration for my next reading slump.

The Librarian – Salley Vickers

Any book that is set in a library appeals to me. I want to read this one in particular because it takes place in the 1950s, and I can’t ever remember reading a book set in that decade. I want to see the differences in attitudes towards reading, and I’m also intrigued by the exploration of what children’s literature has on us. It sounds like a wonderfully bookish adventure, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

I’d Rather Be Reading – Ann Bogel

A book can have so many effects on you, and it can stay with you for weeks, even years. Bogel captures these moments, as well as many others that a reader experiences. She explores the feeling of your first book, finding a book that you love and finding one that you hate. It encourages you to reflect on the effect that books have on your life, and I think it’s the perfect book for an avid reader.

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

 Image from  Waterstones
Image from Waterstones

After reading Circe, I’ve been keeping my eye out for mythological-based novels, as it’s a new genre that I’ve never really read before. I find Greek myths and legends so interesting, and reading them imagined is just as fascinating. I especially love the idea of the legends being retold through a woman’s perspective, as these stories feature many well-known, iconic women that we don’t know much about. The Silence of the Girls, described as a ‘feminist Iliad,’ where Barker places the female goddesses at the heart of the story, which I’m incredibly intrigued by and can’t wait to read.

The Dark Artifices: The Queen of Air and Darkness – Cassandra Clare

The Mortal Instruments is one of my favourite book collections ever, as are the many other Shadowhunter novels that Clare has released. The Queen of Air and Darkness is the latest addition to The Dark Artifices, and I’ve been waiting for this book for so long. Julian and Emma have become one of my favourite fictional couples, and I have become so engrossed in many of the other characters that I’m somewhat scared to see what happens at the end of this novel, especially after Livia’s death in the last book.

Little Women (Clothbound Classic edition) – Louisa May Alcott

I bought this book recently, and I loved it. However, it turns out it ends at the end of part one and does not include Little Wives, the rest of the story. Penguin’s Clothbound Classic edition has both parts one and two, so I need to get it soon to finish what I started. As well as this, it’s been a while since I added to my growing collection of Clothbound Classics, so this book will solve this problem.

The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman

 Image from  The Folio Society
Image from The Folio Society

I’ve seen The Golden Compass but never read the books. I’ve always wanted to, just never got round to it. I’m currently meeting up with someone who’s writing a novel, and she told me that Pullman’s style of writing influenced her. This comment reminded me of The Amber Spyglass, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. So now I am determined to get a copy and read it. (The Folio Society have a beautiful set of all three books, but they’re over £100! 😦 Currently looking out for different editions, although they all seem to pale in comparison!)

A Christmassy time in Bath

Bath is probably my favourite city that I’ve been to. I love its appearance and the fact that it’s full of creative people. The coffee shops aren’t bad either! It’s also known for its Christmas Market, and it isn’t hard to see why. With over 200 chalets, fake snow drifting over Southgate and a variety of carol singers, it’s hard not to get into the Christmas spirit.

I returned to Bath for two days to see the market, as well as some of my favourite places. I left feeling excited and Christmassy, a little nostalgic as well.

So, because I’m not quite finished with Bath yet, here’s a few of the places we visited.

Boston Tea Party

The entire two days were pouring down with rain, so when my boyfriend and I arrived, we hurried to one of my favourite coffee shops – Boston Tea Party. We visited the one on Alfred Street as it’s larger. I ordered the Raspberry Mallow Hot Chocolate, part of their festive menu, and my boyfriend had a mocha. And we both ordered brownies, as BTP’s brownies are the best, no question. The hot chocolate was incredible! The marshmallow-base made it thick, and it wasn’t too sweet either. I’ve never had anything from BTP’s Christmas menu before, but if they’re all as good as that hot chocolate, then I’m definitely going back for more.

Topping & Company

Bath has plenty of bookshops, which is one of the reasons why I love it. My favourite has to be Topping & Company. It’s jam packed with books, plus wheelie ladders to help you reach the top. They offer hot drinks while you browse, and sell signed editions of some of their books. I found a signed edition of The Penguin Classic Book, which is on my Christmas list! There was also a beautiful edition of Black Beauty that I found and was so tempted to buy. We sheltered from the rain in here, with a pot of Earl Grey and coffee.

The market

The market is spread throughout the streets of Bath, lights glowing in the evening sky. The chalets range from homeware to skincare, cheese to chocolate. Obviously, the latter two were my highlights. I bought two boxes of brownies from Chatley, vanilla fudge and honeycomb. The honeycomb brownies are incredible (I’m eating them now while writing this!), they are so chewy (the best type of brownie) and have large chunks of honeycomb, in each piece.

I also tried my first Baileys hot chocolate. I’ll admit it wasn’t my favourite; I didn’t understand the hype. At first, all I tasted was the burning taste of alcohol, but after a while, it calmed down, and the thick chocolate flavour took over. I did enjoy that part, but wouldn’t necessarily repurchase.

There was a beautiful stall, Meticulous Ink, that sold wax seals, bookmarks and fountain pens, to name a few. The woman running the stall was lovely, and I bought a beautiful bookmark based around Oscar Wilde. She has a store on Walcot Street, and I’m going to visit next time in Bath.

As expected at a Christmas market, we sampled a variety of vodkas (and my boyfriend tried quite a bit of gin as well), a chocolate flavoured one was my favourite. One of my highlights was that my twenty-six-year-old boyfriend, four years older than myself, got ID’d, had no ID, and so was not allowed to try any. More for me I guess?

Cosy Club

I went to Cosy Club so many times during uni. It is so sophisticated – expensive but worth the money. The cocktails are amazing, and the food is to die for. The staff are always cheery; you can’t leave here in a bad mood!

We came here for breakfast (although by the time we got there it was more lunch) and had the shakshuka, which is one of my favourite items on the menu. It’s warming and comes with toast, the perfect thing for a cold morning. Accompanied by excellent coffee, of course

Marina Cottage

A quick note on our b&b, Marina Cottage. Although we didn’t spend much time there, it was amazing. Underfloor heating, a breakfast bar, and books! There were little bookshelves next to the sofas with old editions of Penguin Classics. Including Wuthering Heights! I was so excited, and I hope to stay there again so that I can have more of a good read.

There was also a dishwasher, and the kitchen was stocked with tea, coffee and fresh milk in the fridge. It wasn’t adjourning any other building which was lovely, and we had two floors that we didn’t have to share.

Bath is still one of my favourite places to go, and I hope to return soon. Also, I’ll be visiting the market next year…hopefully (fingers crossed!).

The Diary of a Bookseller: my perfect bookshop

Where I live, there aren’t really a lot of options when it comes to bookshops. There was one, The Forest Bookshop, but that closed down, and other than that it’s just libraries. But even then they don’t have the greatest stock. Each city near me has a Waterstones which I love, but it’s not the same as an independent store full of hidden gems.

When I moved to Bath, I fell in love with the number of bookshops that I found. Topping & Company is my favourite, books of every genre imaginable, signed editions, events, all complete with a cup of tea to drink while you browse. It is the closest to my perfect bookshop that I’ve found so far.

I recently read The Diary of a Bookseller, and it got me thinking about what it’d be like to own a bookshop. How big would it be? Would it be second-hand, which genres would it sell? What would it look like?

I’ve written down some of the key characteristics that my bookshop would have, but I’m pretty sure they’ll change over time. Right now though it sounds like the perfect place for me to be right now, so warm and cosy and, of course, filled with books!

Tea and coffee station

There is a well known quote, ‘The secret to a well balanced life is a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other’, and it’s fair to say that no truer words have been spoken here. I want my bookshop to feel cosy and inviting, and the ultimate way to welcome someone is with a hot beverage. Served in the prettiests cups, all mix and match and related to books one way or another, in a variety of sizes (the biggest mugs will always be used for hot chocolates, served with cream and marshmallows, obviously) with a few biscuits or chunks of chocolates. Teapots for tea, and cafetieres for coffee.

Unless it’s a latte, in which case it shall be made with the most instagrammable coffee art ever.

Armchairs

One cannot be expected to walk around trying to carry a handful of books and a hot drink in my bookshop. Soft armchairs complete with throws will be dotted throughout the store.

A fireplace

I’m that type of person who is always cold, and so a fireplace is essential. My bookshop would be quite big, so there will be some heaters here and there as well, but the main space will have an extravagant fireplace to keep my bookshop warm. There wouldn’t be any music, so the crisp snap of a blazing fire will add to the cosy atmosphere. And it can easily be decorated for celebrations, like a wreath at Christmas or ‘cobwebs’ at Halloween.

Ladders

My bookshop will have more books than anyone can imagine, and visitors will need to reach them all.

One of my favourite scenes from Beauty and the Beast is when Belle is in the bookshop on a wheelie ladder that glides along the shelves. I think having a few of those will be perfect in my shop, and I’m sure bookworms would be very excited to see them. It adds a fun aspect to my bookstore.

Second hand books

My bookshop would consist of both new and used books. Even though I’m not a fan of used books myself just because I don’t like folded pages, creased bindings, etc, I love the idea of a book being passed from person to person in its life. And I don’t write in my books, but sometimes seeing other people’s annotations can be cool, especially if it has some sort of meaning.

Plus, coming from someone who has way too many books, second hand bookshops are a great way to get rid of books that you don’t have room for, so I’d love to help people clear their shelves!

Book recommendations

I love book recommendations. When it comes to finding a new read, blurbs aren’t helpful. I prefer it when someone says to me ‘If you like so-and-so, you’ll love this book!”. I’d have little signs or posters dotted around, swapping them regularly for different books. I’d also include one in every online newsletter that I’d write (Customers can sign up to them so they can hear about the bookish events I’d hold!).

Open from early in the morning until late in the evening

I’m talking maybe 8am-10pm. I remember at Bath leaving work at 6pm and everything would be closed. For those who have busier lives than me, how do they find time to run to their local bookshop? Plus, imagine spending a cold winter evening sat in a bookshop, next to the fire surrounded by endless cups of tea and books. I’d never leave.

Now that I have a plan, I just need to win the lottery to get the ball rolling.

Do you ever consider running a bookshop? What would it be like? What are your favourite stores to visit?

Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald

The Christmas lights have switched on, and I was cradling a hazelnut and praline hot chocolate from Costa while on my way to consume my body weight in Wagamamas. I then followed this by watching one of the most anticipated films of the year; Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald.

Taking place not long after its predecessor, Grindelwald opens with an aerial chase through the night sky, complete with a carriage led by Thestrals and vicious thunderstorm. This dark and ominous scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, and I’m already excited to see what happens next.

I wasn’t sure what to think when I first heard that Johnny Depp was starring in Fantastic Beasts. I just couldn’t picture him as part of the Harry Potter franchise. To me, he belongs on The Black Pearl or at the tea parties in Wonderland. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Depp’s portrayal of Grindelwald was hauntingly captivating, and he suited the character well. This role was not as out there as say, Jack Sparrow and the Mad Hatter; this was more solemn and serious. Depp did succeed in bringing out his darker side. I really liked his portrayal of the villain, and I look forward to seeing how he goes in the next film.

On the other hand, Jude Law as Dumbledore was nowhere near as convincing in my opinion. I found myself struggling to forget that this man was not the great and powerful wizard that we all know and love, but that famous actor from Sherlock Holmes. I didn’t learn anything new about Dumbledore nor was I taken back by any of his decisions. There was just no connection. Also, the fact that he was playing opposite Depp, who did an incredible job, made it slightly more noticeable.

The relationship between Queenie and Jacob remains one of my favourite parts of the saga. They’re just adorable! They’re delightful characters who offer a light break from the dark storylines, and, even when they are apart, they’re still enjoyable. Jacob and Newt’s friendship is sweet and comedic in places. Newt and Tina’s plotline is also refreshing, and watching Newt trying to make sense of his feelings, with the help of Jacob, is probably one of the cutest things to happen in this film.

As for the supporting cast, I did like them, but a few were standing out for the wrong reasons. I was looking forward to seeing Nagini and learning more about her, but she didn’t do much in the end. She was hanging about in the background, which rendered her completely unnecessary. There was no development, and I know no more than I already did.

I can also say this about Credence, who makes a return in this film. His character was flat. At first, I could understand his emotional state after what he endured in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but after a while, it became boring and repetitive. I felt that there needed to be a change in him somewhere, but I remained disappointed.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, but I’m not sure if I prefer it to the first one yet, I was moved and excited throughout, especially when Hogwarts appeared on the screen! Despite the few negatives, I still highly recommend it, even if its just to see Eddie Redmayne in his cute little bow tie again.

Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

SPOILERS AHEAD

‘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…

***

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to buy this book. I knew that Turton had drawn upon many familiar tropes of crime fiction – more so from the noir period in my opinion – and while I have enjoyed a few crime novels before, I was never really a fan of the traditional crime genre.

However, there was so much hype around The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, and the name alone was intriguing. So, caught up in the pleasant atmosphere of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I gave in and bought a copy.

The one word I’d use to describe this book? Complex. The plot is full of shocking twists and reveals, it’s all just very mind-boggling. You will find yourself bewildered so many times throughout the story. However, I can’t help but admire Turton’s intelligence and his ability to craft such an epic storyline, along with the many side plots.

I’ll admit that it did take me a while to get into this novel, I had to persevere through the first three hosts before everything became clear. And so, from that point, I was hooked.

One of my favourite things about this novel is the descriptions that are inserted throughout. While Turton focuses more on the action than setting the scene, there are a few lines in there that are beautifully written: ‘A draught greets me at the top of the staircase, twisting and curling in the air, sneaking through the cracked windows and beneath the doors to stir leaves littering the floor.’ The way he describes the wind as if it is as cautious as the characters themselves contributes to the foreboding atmosphere of the book, and it’s as tense as hell.

The way in which the protagonist switches between each host is undoubtedly one of the most memorable aspects of the plot, As he gradually adapts to each host’s abilities, he has to battle the darker side of the characters before they take over completely. For example, one of his hosts is a rapist, and he finds he has to resist the urge to attack. Trying not to lose himself adds another layer to the novel, and it is certainly one of my favourite subplots. Turton manages to overlap the hosts’ thoughts with the protagonist’s so well it’s almost as if you are also caught up in the battle, and you know a novel is good when you become that sucked in.

The variety of hosts is also notable. As well as a rapist, he lives as an intelligent but obese man, a drug dealer and a butler who is lying on his deathbed, to name a few.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a long book, but it is far from repetitive. The ending is dramatic and unexpected, I was thinking about it for days, even when I started my next book. The difficult start appears to be a popular criticism, but it is certainly made up for with the exciting plot and characters. A must read.

The Corset v The Silent Companions

SPOILERS AHEAD

The Silent Companions;

‘She pulled a page towards her. In the gloom she saw a void of white, waiting for her words. She swallowed the pain in her throat. How could she relive it? How could she bring herself to do it to them, all over again? She peered into the blank page, trying to see, somewhere in its vast expanse of nothing, that other woman from long ago.’

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks.

The Corset;

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain? Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder. When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes.

But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption. Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

***

Laura Purcell has been one of the most talked about authors this year, what with her two books, The Silent Companions and The Corset taking the book world by storm. I did not move for days when reading these books, and I can see what the hype is about. Purcell is a fantastic writer, her characters are complex and believable (I find that in horror stories, the characters are often stereotypes whose reactions can be so unrealistic), and I stayed on an emotional rollercoaster throughout both of her novels. She has more releases to come which I am incredibly excited for, but until then I thought I’d share my thoughts on both of these novels, and why I think that, while The Corset was one of my favorite books of this year, it wasn’t quite as good as Purcell’s first novel.

The Silent Companions is a tantalizing gothic novel, which is profoundly unsettling and the perfect read for Autumn. I think one of my favourite things about this novel was how atmospheric it was. Purcell’s descriptions conjure up a dark, creepy atmosphere that lasts throughout the complex narrative, keeping me engaged entirely in her story. In the second chapter, the descriptions of Elsie’s journey are so hauntingly beautiful, using symbols of death throughout: ‘Remnants of a grey brick wall poked up from the grass like tombstones.’ This morbid imagery sets the tone for the novel, Elsie’ and Sarah’s arrival at The Bridge, and foreshadows following events. The ideal Halloween read.

‘’You have written of these ‘’companions’’ as you call them. You say you were afraid of them. But do you know what really scares us? It is not things that go bump – or even hiss- in the night. Our fears are much closer than that. We are afraid of the things inside us.’’

A foreboding opening needs well-developed characters to continue the reader’s interest, and Purcell has done an amazing job at upholding this. There are no filler characters in this novel – each one has its role that carries the plot. I love Elsie. She is either authoritative or tries to be, always refusing to back down and sit in silence. Her relationship with Sarah is oddly adorable, as they are both trying to survive The Bridge and its mysteries together, even if at times it seems that they are separate. I love how protective they are of each other. I believe that their closeness is what keeps them going, motivates them to find their way out. Sarah becomes Elsie’s one and only friend, and it is clear that she is reliable…until the end at least. Which I still cannot get over, btw.

I liked the idea of interweaving Anna’s narrative into the story, and I do think that she is one of the most tragic characters out of the novel. When her husband refuses to talk to her because of the incident with the Queen’s horse, and how he disregards her only daughter, whom she conjured up just so she can have a friend, a female relationship. However, there were times when I felt bored of her adoration of her daughter, only because it featured so heavily throughout her narrative. I understand that it is a big part of her character, and it also stems from her loneliness, but I still found it slightly irksome. However, this is honestly the only criticism I have of this novel.

The Corset, on the other hand, is so different compared to its predecessor, and yet Purcell’s writing is so unique that it is also very similar. This book is still dark and haunting, and in some ways, it can be considered to be more morbid (stringing up a young girl and then beating her, starving her, dismembering her, before killing her and ordering a teenage girl to saw off her hand comes to mind).

Purcell’s writing, like her first novel, is so beautiful and exquisite, she really does know how to bring the Victorian era to life in our minds. She alters her writing style to fit the voices of the two narratives (Dorothea and Ruth), who are two seemingly different characters. It was so easy to switch POV in my head, falling instantly into the story.

What I like about this novel is that the history of this era is essential to the plot. Sewing and Phrenology, both of which were obsessed over by Victorians. Intertwining these two aspects into the narrative is a clever way to create a darker and creepier story. Sewing, according to some ancient stories, can lead to a disaster, as it was tainted with bad luck and superstition, especially if it were a man who was doing it. Women learned how to sew for survival and the good of the household, making it more acceptable, but even then, it was considered to be bad luck if you sewed while someone was wearing the garment. Also, let us not forget how easy it can be to prick yourself with a needle. Ruth proves that a needle and thread can be dangerous weapons if placed in the wrong hands.

Phrenology is the study of the skull, in which one could decipher someone’s character. The idea of a human being that is ‘born bad’ comes into play, and Purcell uses this to create a highly intelligent character who brings Ruth into the story. This allows Dorothea to develop as a character, as she becomes exposed to the harshness of the world: ‘’At what point do we cease to be merciful, and become fools?’’ Throw in the harsh social statuses of the time, and you’ve got yourself a gripping Victorian novel, made ten times darker.

Thinking of the books together, I can say that I prefer The Silent Companions. Although it was hard to pick a favourite, there were a few issues I found with The Corset that puts it behind the first novel. The first is that I did not find it to be as atmospheric as The Silent Companions. This could be because of the setting, or the storyline – I’m not sure which. Ruth’s story mostly takes place in the sewing shop, which just doesn’t scream Gothic Horror to me. However, the prison, Dorothea’s large home, and Ruth’s horrific family house helps retain that Gothic feel.

The only other issue is that I’m not a specialist in Phrenology, so there were times when I had to look up key terms and such. It did take me away from the story slightly, although I appreciate that Purcell does this to suit the time period – it is simply the language Dorothea would have used. Whereas with the Silent Companions, I did not have to Google exactly what they looked like to place them in my head; Purcell described them perfectly, so I was able to understand what they were completely.

Either way, I still adore both of these novels, and I am eager to see what Purcell releases next.

Review: The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle

SPOILERS AHEAD

‘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…

***

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to buy this book. I knew that Turton had drawn upon many familiar tropes of crime fiction – more so from the noir period in my opinion – and while I have enjoyed a few crime novels before, I was never really a fan of the traditional crime genre.

However, there was so much hype around The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, and the name alone was intriguing. So, caught up in the pleasant atmosphere of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I gave in and bought a copy.

The one word I’d use to describe this book? Complex. The plot is full of shocking twists and reveals, it’s all just very mind-boggling. You will find yourself bewildered so many times throughout the story. However, I can’t help but admire Turton’s intelligence and his ability to craft such an epic storyline, along with the many side plots.

I’ll admit that it did take me a while to get into this novel, I had to persevere through the first three hosts before everything became clear. And so, from that point, I was hooked.

One of my favourite things about this novel is the descriptions that are inserted throughout. While Turton focuses more on the action than setting the scene, there are a few lines in there that are beautifully written:

‘A draught greets me at the top of the staircase, twisting and curling in the air, sneaking through the cracked windows and beneath the doors to stir leaves littering the floor.’

The way he describes the wind as if it is as cautious as the characters themselves contributes to the foreboding atmosphere of the book, and it’s as tense as hell.

The way in which the protagonist switches between each host is undoubtedly one of the most memorable aspects of the plot, As he gradually adapts to each host’s abilities, he has to battle the darker side of the characters before they take over completely. For example, one of his hosts is a rapist, and he finds he has to resist the urge to attack. Trying not to lose himself adds another layer to the novel, and it is certainly one of my favourite subplots. Turton manages to overlap the hosts’ thoughts with the protagonist’s so well it’s almost as if you are also caught up in the battle, and you know a novel is good when you become that sucked in.

The variety of hosts is also notable. As well as a rapist, he lives as an intelligent but obese man, a drug dealer and a butler who is lying on his deathbed, to name a few.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a long book, but it is far from repetitive. The ending is dramatic and unexpected, I was thinking about it for days, even when I started my next book. The difficult start appears to be a popular criticism, but it is certainly made up for with the exciting plot and characters. A must-read.