Review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?

Stuart Turton’s debut novel, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has been making waaaaves in the reading community since it was published in September — and for good reason. I picked up the novel knowing very little about it, other than the allusions to its Agatha-like qualities and absolutely mind-bending plot.

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In fact, when I started reading, my eye caught on an author blurb at the front, and I laughed for a good long minute: “If Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett had ever had LSD-fueled sex, then The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle would be their acid trip book baby” (Sarah Pinborough, author of Behind Her Eyes).

I rarely admit to it, but this is one book that lives up to its hype.

Set in what appears to be 1920s rural England, the novel opens in mass chaos: the narrator awakens to find himself without any memories of whom or where he is — and it only gets more twisty from there. Our host soon discovers he’s in the heart of a nearly unsolvable mystery: Evelyn Hardcastle, member of high society and daughter of the owners of the crumbling estate we find ourselves at, will be murdered at 11:00 p.m. It is the narrator’s job to solve her murder . . . but each morning, he’ll wake up in a new host’s body. And he’s only got eight days to figure things out.

Which may seem like a fair amount of time, until you take into consideration the duplicitous nature of pretty much everyone who’s been invited to the estate for the week. And the fact that the narrator is not a detective. And that some of his hosts wake up high as a kite, or paralyzingly hungover, or quickly succumb to various near-fatal injuries.

Our narrator struggles through a series of fumbling attempts to escape the estate, and when that doesn’t work, he begins to focus on saving Evelyn Hardcastle — a task, we’re reminded, that is futile. While the narrator works to cobble clues together, he discovers that his actions can have a bearing on how the day plays out, though the slate is wiped clean with each new host.

Set against a backdrop of a romantic and dark forested landscape, with a decrepit old mansion and expansive grounds as the site of the Hardcastle legacy, this murder mystery is a thrill to unravel. Chapters are categorized by the numbered days of which the narrator has been on the grounds, and sometimes these storylines jump backward. Meanwhile, Aiden encounters “himself” in other hosts throughout the day, which only compounds the amount of mind-buggery that is going on in Evelyn Hardcastle.

This book works in its ominous, classical mystery vibes and the complexity of clues dropped along the way. I promise — you’re not likely to “figure it out” before the book ends, and though this unsolvability is sometimes a ridiculous and unwanted surprise (I’m looking at you, Pinborough), that’s not the case in Evelyn Hardcastle. As I neared the close of the book, I was already anticipating a reread to further my grasp on the tale.

You know what else is great about this book? Turton doesn’t merely write a mystery, friends. He serves to readers a hearty meal of character development and existential soul-grappling conundrums. Though the murder is at the forefront of the reading experience, Turton manages to tuck within the pages the struggle to succeed pitted against the struggle to remain true to core values.

A few suggestions if you want to make the most out of this read:

  • Avoid the audiobook. It may have a great narrator (I wouldn’t know), but this storyline is so freaking complex I can’t imagine many would be able to keep things straight for very long. I spent some time flipping back and forth between chapters, and for that reason, I’d also recommend skipping the Kindle and grabbing a copy from the library, but that’s a personal preference thing.
  • Don’t look at too many reviews on Goodreads. The less you know going into this read, the better!
  • Do make use of the “guest list” at the front of the book. I flipped back to figure out who’s who several times.
  • Stick with it. Honestly, I was bewildered for the first quarter of the book, and I never really stopped feeling like I couldn’t quite grasp the whole thing — until the end. Even then, Turton leaves readers with a great deal to ponder.

Overall: 4/5 stars. If you like to think, and you’re looking for a Clue-meets-Agatha-meets-Inception vibe, this is your book!

December Wrap-Up

December was a fun, relaxed reading month for me — school let out for the semester, and I completely shirked all responsibilities (besides mothering and the occasional meal prep) in favor of reading feverishly. I wrapped up the month with a total of eleven reads — middle grades fiction, thrillers, fantasy, romance, historical fiction, rural noir, and an audiobook to boot.

While I enjoyed reading copious amounts of fiction, one drawback is that I didn’t post many reviews. (Oops.) For the sake of brevity, here’s a two-sentence review on each title I read in December! (Listed in no particular order.)

  1. Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger. Rural noir reimagining of Hamlet, filled with dark, brooding vibes as one teenage boy seeks to find — and bring to justice — his father’s murderer. An exploration of grief and loss as much as a portrayal of our devotion to family-shared histories. ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫
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  2. One Day in December by Josie Silver. A debut novel highly reminiscent of books-turned-films One Day and Something Borrowed. Classified as romance or a rather drawn-out love story, this novel wasn’t for me — I didn’t like the characters, and that was enough to turn me off the story completely. ⭐️⭐️img_7839-1
  3. Voyager (Outlander book 3) by Diana Gabaldon. This third installment in the Outlander series is much more fast-paced than the second novel, and brings with it a flood of emotions as Jamie and Claire are reunited (I’d say “spoiler” here, but I think we can all agree that a series with 10 novels obviously has to have the two reuniting at some point). Rife with that overdramatic penchant for danger and conflict I’ve come to know and love in Gabaldon’s tomes, Voyager satisfies (and infuriates, a time or two,) right up to the last page. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  4. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. This fantasy novel — first in its trilogy — features a Russian setting and all kinds of Russian folklore. It feels like a dark, more human fairytale than its Disney counterparts, and I loved the complex feelings and desires of the major characters — both good and bad. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  5. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. I really only need a few words to sum up this mind-bender: WTF, holy shit, WOW. Reid has proven himself a master of brevity and psychological horror, and I’m just going to keep twiddling my thumbs anxiously until he releases another work. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  6. The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Pacquette. Middle-grades fantasy work featuring a young boy determined to save his dying father by retrieving a lost jacket the two share a bond over. Characterization seemed a bit off and voices were hard to place age-wise, but the themes of grief and loss could be a great tool for young ones struggling to cope with their own grief. ⭐️⭐️💫
  7. The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston. A witchy tale set in Wales, featuring a young bride who hasn’t spoken since she was a child and her new husband who is determined to recover from the loss of his first wife. The setting is vivid and drew me in, but hot-and-cold main characters were irritating. ⭐️⭐️💫img_7967
  8. Freefall by Jessica Barry. This thriller, set to release in a few days, features a young 
    woman who survives the crash of her wealthy fiance’s private plane — and her subsequent attempts to remain “unfound” in the Rocky Mountains. While I was intrigued enough to continue reading and discover why the woman was afraid of being found, the truth seemed anticlimactic. ⭐️⭐️⭐️img_8262
  9. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. A work of fantasy based in 1890s New York City, this novel follows the magical beings Chava — a golem, or human made ofclay — and Ahmad — a desert being that is a “spark of fire” but has been trapped in the form of a man. This fairytale, with roots in Syrian folklore, is an utterly magical and beautiful story that I savored up to the last word. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️img_7998
  10. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. A sweet, entertaining read about 5 siblings — aged 4.5-12 — who are on a mission to change their landlord’s mind about renewing their lease. The book covers a range of worthy topics, from compassion and generosity to selflessness and the inevitability of change. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  11. The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker. A compelling and different story about resistance during WWII, featuring a former friar who becomes a husband and father after responding to the personal ad of a widower in need of someone to provide. A bit dragging at times, but ultimately a beautiful story made even more sweet by its ties to reality: the main character is based on the author’s husband’s grandfather. ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Whew! December was a huge month for me, reading-wise, and while I enjoyed shirking reality for a while, I know that January will be far less lucrative in terms of numbers — and that’s okay. Overall, I greatly enjoyed many of the books I read last month, and though I didn’t conduct any in-depth analysis on any of the titles, I can see myself recommending several of these works to friends and family members in search of their next great read.

Have you read any of these works? If so, what did you think of them?

Happy reading, friends!

WWW Wednesday – January 2

It’s that time of the week again! I’ve been reading some pretty fantastic stuff lately and I can’t wait to share with you!

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesday is hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words — if you’re interested in participating simply answer the following questions:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What did you recently finish reading?
  3. What do you think you’ll read next?

Here’s what I’m currently reading…

img_8390The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. From the cover blurb: 

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…

This mystery novel has a very gothic/romantic vibe to it, and I’m loving the dark atmosphere. There’s a whole lot of “wtf is happening here” going on at the moment, but I’m absolutely engrossed. Turton has me hooked!

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The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott. I started reading this one around Christmas time, and it’s kind of taken a backseat for the past week or so. We traveled to my mom and dad’s house for a belated Christmas celebration, and I think I only read five pages the whole time. 😅 Here’s what it’s about: A young Irish immigrant commits suicide one winter afternoon when he opens the gas taps in his tenement apartment. Later, this gas leakimg_8210 starts a fire, and his young wife and unborn child are taken under the wing of Sister St. Savior who is passing by on her way back to the convent. What follows is a tale that spans decades, centering on Sally, the man’s daughter, as she grows up in her Brooklyn community. Her sort of “collective” upbringing by the nuns and her mother is endearing, and the discussion of poverty and struggle makes for a meaningful read.

Ohio by Stephen Markley. This is my current Audible pick and one I think I’m going to love for its lit-fic elements and rural noir undercurrent. From the blurb:

On one fateful summer night in 2013, four former classmates converge on the rust belt town where they grew up, each of them with a mission, all of them haunted by regrets, secrets, lost loves. There’s Bill Ashcraft, an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist, whose fruitless ambitions have taken him from Cambodia to Zuccotti Park to New Orleans, and now back to “The Cane” with a mysterious package strapped to the underside of his truck; Stacey Moore, a doctoral candidate reluctantly confronting the mother of her former lover; Dan Eaton, a shy veteran of three tours in Iraq, home for a dinner date with the high school sweetheart he’s tried to forget; and the beautiful, fragile Tina Ross, whose rendezvous with the captain of the football team triggers the novel’s shocking climax.

It’s touted as a mystery, but I anticipate there’s going to be much more to this novel than the average fast-paced whodunit.

Here’s what I recently finished…

The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker. This overlooked 2018 novel tells the story of Anton, a former friar whose position as a school teacher and within the Church is upended by Nazis at the onset of the T4 plan during WWII. Anton, at a loss without his cherished roles in life, answers a personal ad from a widow in Unterboihingen. Elizabeth is seeking a husband to help provide for herself and her three young children. She and Anton quickly agree to marry — strictly platonic, no romance here! — and the novels tells of their time together and the struggles they face, raising children in a tumultuous time. Anton becomes part of a resistance group, which serves as a source of conflict in the novel. I listened to this one on Audible and though it could’ve used some paring down here and there, I ultimately really enjoyed this story — AND it’s based on the author’s husband’s grandfather! So cool.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. I stumbled upon this charming read via bookstagram recommendations. It’s a middle-grades novel featuring a family of 7 in a brownstone in New York . . . a family that has just discovered their lease won’t be renewed next year — just ten days before Christmas. What ensues is the efforts of the Vanderbeeker children, ages 4.5-12, to convince their grumpy and enigmatic landlord to renew their lease. This was a perfect Christmas-y read, though it’d be great any other time of the year, too. I enjoyed the little doodles incorporated throughout the novel, as well as the messages of kindness, generosity, honesty, and community that Glaser tied into the work. This is a fantastic read for elementary kids, and adults will love it as well!

What I’m reading next…

There are a few books awaiting my attention this month. With the start of the new year, I’ve also created some reading goals for myself, especially to read one work of nonfiction per month. That said, here’s what I’m looking forward to in January:

What are you currently reading — or planning to read this month? Let me know in the comments section! Happy reading, friends.

Best of 2018: A Recommended Reading List

I read 84 books in 2018 — a few of them, rereads — and there were so many that I immensely enjoyed. Pachinko was my first read of the year, and it was a 5-star title. I started the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny and thoroughly delighted in the first three novels (I’m really dragging them out, here — don’t want the series to end!). Beartown stirred me, deep. But a handful of titles stand out — they’re exceptionally well-written, their plots moved me in meaningful ways, the characters were especially memorable . . . I know I’ll revisit these books again someday. And in the meantime, I’ll be thrusting them into the hands of any willing listener I can find.

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In no particular order, here’s the seven books that I read in 2018 and I hold most dear:

  1. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I salivated over this novel in January — such a deeply moving and heartwarming and heartbreaking story — and you can read my full review here. It’s been 12 months, and I’m still thinking about June and her uncle Finn.
  2. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Rumor has it a second book will be coming out in 2020, and I’m here for itThe Golem and the Jinni is a fascinating, engrossing fantasy story with roots in Syrian culture and folklore. Chava and Ahmad were some of the most well-drawn characters I read this year, and I couldn’t put this one down.
  3. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. This series is controversial, but it’s largely popular for a good reason: Gabaldon can write a drama, friends. I came to this hefty tome in March with a couple of friends I met on bookstagram — Betsy (@booksgloriousbooks) and Taylor (@shihtzus.and.book.reviews) — and it was honestly probably my first foray into adult romance. I don’t typically enjoy the genre, but Clare and Jamie’s story was just so enthralling, and the books is so much more than a love story. I just finished the third book this month and while I’ve enjoyed all of the books in the series thus far, Outlander remains my favorite. And, if I’m being honest, this one’s always going to hold a special place in my heart because it’s the book that sparked a long-distance friendship of epic proportions.
  4. Foe by Iain Reid. This was my first Reid novel and y’all, it BLEW. MY. MIND. His books are short and quick reads, with brief chapters and compelling storylines. I tore through this one in less than 24 hours — it was THAT good. Foe is a mind-bending and provocative read that contemplates human relationships, and humanity itself. If you’re in the mood for something fast and bendy, this is it.
  5. Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller. I’ve gushed about this one so much on bookstagram, it almost feels excessive to talk about it more. Here’s my full review, and here’s a link to buy the book.
  6. An Unexplained Death by Mikita Brottman. This work of nonfiction was absolutely fascinating. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: An Unexplained Death is so much more than a work of true crime. Brottman touches on some deeply unsettling aspects of human nature, including our obsession with the macabre and our deepest needs to both tether ourselves to and isolate ourselves from the victims of crimes. This obsessive account of Brottman’s own unofficial investigation into the disappearance and death of Rey Rivera is a solid — and overlooked — gem of 2018.
  7. The Line That Held Us by David Joy. I’m pretty wishy-washy about picking a number one or “favorite” book, typically, but Joy’s gritty work of Appalachian noir is it. If you’re holding a gun to my head and telling me to choose, I choose you, The Line That Held Us. This novel is dark. It’s vividly drawn. It’s evocative and atmospheric and full of absolutely brilliant characters. Joy somehow manages to weave together this tragedy that is chock-full of emotion and desire and fear and the result is breathtaking. I cherished every word of this novel, then rushed out to buy his other works. You would be wise to do the same!

For a look at my reading year in review, head to this link. But before you go, tell me about your favorite reads of 2018! Did you read any of the titles that made my list? Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of these works — or what books I need to add to my TBR for 2019!

Happy reading, friends, and Happy New Year!