The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

I absolutely love an Agatha Christie novel. Upper class toffs, murdered and murdering for revenge, money, to keep secrets concealed… all to be revealed at the end by a moustachioed Belgian, or an elderly spinster. Just perfect. And now here comes an exceptional thriller with all the conventions of the genre: the rich family who suffered a terrible tragedy, the beautiful but doomed heiress, the haunted butler, the unscrupulous doctor, the blackmailer, the rake… then all spliced up, and drenched in a little more blood, as though by one of the more slash-happy villains of Stuart Turton’s remarkably assured debut.

The Hardcastles are throwing the party of the year at their dilapidated family estate, Blackheath, to celebrate their daughter Evelyn’s return from Paris. All the great and the good have been invited, and no expense has been spared. But the night will end in tragedy, with Evelyn Hardcastle’s death. A murder, that doesn’t appear to be a murder. And Aiden Bishop is trapped at Blackheath until he solves the murder. Every day, he sees the events through the eyes of a different person in the house and if he hasn’t solved the mystery by the end of his time there, he returns to the beginning, his memory wiped. On top of that, he isn’t the only one trying to solve the mystery, and only one of them can leave.

From the very first page, when Aiden wakes up in the body of his first host, with no memory of who or where he is, the pace of this novel doesn’t let up. As he gets to know the household, and begins to piece together clues, he also determines, despite being told it can’t be done, to save Evelyn. Some seem to helping him, some seem to be hindering him – and one person is hell bent on his death. Is there anyone he can trust? Without his memories, can he even trust himself?

There’s room for humour as well – each of Aiden’s hosts are different, some particularly monstrous, but each one has their own personality, battling with his own. In one case, he has to fight his host’s stupidity; in another, his host is so obese that he must be assisted in every task by a valet, to Aiden’s shame.

As Aiden runs around Blackheath over eight days, learning a little more as every guest, and working around his other seven selves, a lesser novel could have got lost in its own winding plot and challenging premise. With its truly unique, and perfectly executed premise, this is a terrific twist on the locked room mystery. Beautifully written, and populated with a mad cast of characters, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle will blow your mind.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is out now, published by Bloomsbury Raven.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The story of The Martian was published is a dream for any self-published author. After being rejected by a number of mainstream publishers, Andy Weir self-published his novel on his website chapter by chapter, eventually releasing a Kindle edition, which rocketed to the top of the Amazon charts and attracted the attention of a publisher. It was then made into an Academy-nominated film starring Matt Damon. I have been lucky enough this year to work with Blake Crouch, author of the extraordinary Dark Matter, who whilst putting together a ‘Top Five Books’ list for me, chose The Martian. I then went on to spot it in the library and decided to give it a go. 

It is 2035 and Mark Watney, a NASA botanist and mechanical engineer, has been accidentally stranded on Mars after a terrible dust storm forced his crew mates to abandon their mission. In the storm, Watney was impaled by an antenna, and believed dead. However, his injuries turn out to be relatively minor, and he recovers consciousness to find that he’s alone on Mars, luckily with all the abandoned equipment, and must rely on his own resourcefulness to survive until the next planned Mars mission in four years time. Eventually, back on Earth, NASA realises that he is alive and well, and rescue attempts begin.

Given then success of The Martian, I expected a thrilling, exciting and futuristic read, but what I did not expect was for it to be so extraordinarily funny. Mark is an engaging hero, whose deadpan acceptance of his situation (other than the fact that the only music he has available to him is disco) and endless recourse to humour make you root for him. Best quotes include:

Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.” 

I can’t wait till I have grandchildren. When I was younger, I had to walk to the rim of a crater. Uphill! In an EVA suit! On Mars, ya little shit! Ya hear me? Mars!

If ruining the only religious icon I have leaves me vulnerable to Martian vampires, I’ll have to risk it.

The science seems wholly convincing, unsurprisingly, given Weir’s scientific background, and I felt as though I was reading about the moon landings. Periodically, I actually forgot that man has yet to land on Mars. Though a fair amount of the science went over my head, that really didn’t matter. 

Finally, The Martian is also a deeply touching and emotionally compelling story. In one of his less flippant monologues, Mark reflects on the human instinct to rescue or help others – which is borne out in the story by the number of people who come together to help Mark. From the astrodynamicist who helps design a rescue route, to the Chinese-US deal, it’s an uplifting sentiment that gives the story emotional heart. 

I can’t recommend The Martian highly enough. Just the right mix of accessible and geeky, with plenty of laugh out loud humour, it’ll definitely be one of my favourite books this year. 

The Martian by Andy Weir is out now, published by Del Rey. 

Sign of One

I’ve heard a lot about this book – mostly good too, so I was thrilled when I was offered a copy by Maggie at Egmont. It’s a brilliant cover and a fantastic concept, one I was definitely intrigued and taken in by.

sign of one

“One for sorrow, two for death…

On Wrath, a dump-world for human outcasts, identical twins are feared. Only one will grow up human, while the other becomes a condemned monster with ‘twisted’ blood.

When sixteen-year-old Kyle is betrayed, he flees for his life with the help of Sky, a rebel pilot with trust issues. As the hunt intensifies, Kyle soon realises that he is no ordinary runaway – although he has no idea why he warrants this level of pursuit.

The hideous truth they discover could change the fate of Wrath and its harsh laws forever. Their reluctant, conflicted partnership will either save them – or bring about their destruction.”

I loved the examination into twins that this book took, the idea that one was evil and one good was an interesting idea in itself. We’re working on a book about twins at the moment too (False Hearts by Laura Lam) and I find it all so fascinating to see the bonds between them.

I’ll be honest in the fact that I really enjoyed Sign of One, I read it one summer afternoon in one go and it’s incredibly readable, exciting, emotional and full of adventure. However, I wouldn’t say it’s one that’s going to stay with me, I won’t be clamouring for the next one, though I’d definitely want to read it. And that’s got nothing to do with the writing or the book itself, more the fact that it was another dystopia (/sci-fi) and unfortunately I just feel worn out of them as a genre. It’s another group of people who are misunderstood and presented as evil when actually they were just feared. It feels very X-Men/Divergent.

I think this book has more to offer than just the same old dystopian story though – it’s got clever twists and great lead characters, I was more of a fan of Sky than Kyle but that’s probably just because I feel I’m a similar person to Sky. I love that every character has another version of themselves to fight for, I love the bond between twins that is more unbreakable than most other relationships. I loved Kyle’s family – I won’t say too much as I don’t want to give away spoilers but they’re brilliant, loyal, kind and clever.

It’s a really easy read, so pacey and realistic; the writing brings their world and the characters to life. I’d definitely recommend it; it just won’t be making my top 10 pile unfortunately.

Sign of One is out now from Egmont.


Chasing the Stars

What is there to say about this book? When you combine Malorie Blackman, Shakespeare and space, you know it’s got to be incredible.

chasing the stars.jpg

“What happens when love brings loss? When love brings lies? When love brings hate?

Olivia and her twin brother Aidan are heading alone back to Earth
following the virus that wiped out the rest of their crew, and their family, in its entirety.

Nathan is part of a community heading in the opposite direction.
But on their journey, Nathan’s ship is attacked and most of the community killed.
Only a few survive.

Their lives unexpectedly collided, Nathan and Olivia are instantly attracted to each other, deeply, head-over-heels – like nothing they have ever experienced.

But not everyone is pleased. Surrounded by rumours, deception, even murder, is it possible to live out a happy ever after…?”

I studied Othello at A-Level and just like Malorie, fell in love with the story. The deceit and manipulation, the love and tragedy, it was so intelligent and so ahead of its time and a story that will apply to human nature forever.

I was lucky enough to go along and hear Malorie speak at the launch of Chasing The Stars and loved hearing her talk about the process of turning Othello into her character of Vee, of omitting the narrative voice of Iago to concentrate on the two lovers – something which made the story so much more romantic and therefore so much more heart-breaking. Iago is also far more sympathetic in Malorie’s interpretation and I kind of wished he wasn’t because it just made the whole ending far more heart-breaking.

As soon as I started reading, I was piecing up which character was who – and in a way I wished I hadn’t read Othello because then it might not have been obvious to me. Having read the play, it was like reading the book when you already knew the ending (though Malorie adapts that slightly too and adds in a brilliant twist which I was never expecting). I loved seeing the story come to life again in a modern, or futuristic, setting. It just shows how timeless these stories are.

Malorie has a way of writing that really captures your heart. I adored Noughts and Crosses when I was a teenager and Chasing The Stars took me right back to that age – the beauty of falling in love for the first time, the intensity of your feelings and the vulnerability of being that emotionally involved. It made me feel warm, it made me cry and it was so incredibly romantic. But the book offers so much more than romance. It was so interesting to read what Malorie had to say about sex and about class, and throw in a few murders and tons of adventure too and you’re completely gripped from the get-go.

Malorie is one of the few authors whose stories and characters make me completely fall in love and I just cried at the end of the book and I’m not a big reading-crier. You really believe in Vee and Nate, and Aidan too. I felt so much for Aidan and their bond as brother and sister travelling alone together for so long, and without spoiling anything, I just felt so sad for them both at the end.

Malorie also manages to open your eyes to the bigger picture, to the real life occurrences which you can’t help but think of when reading about these refugees in space. It makes you think without ramming a political opinion down your throat. She did the same with Noughts and Crosses – Malorie made me consider at a very young age what it would be like if the roles were switched and I think it’s one of the best YA series of our time, or ever.

Chasing The Stars is just like that – it’s important in its message, it’s heartbreakingly romantic, funny, inspirational with a brilliant main character in Vee. She’s real and human – she may be strong and seem independent but she’s also vulnerable and makes mistakes, something that anyone reading can empathise with. You can see both her and Nate’s side to the story and see how the manipulation they go through would work, especially with such a new love.

To finish off – I just want to say how important Malorie is for diverse literature. I tried to make a list of bestselling black YA or children’s authors last week and was horrified to find I could fit the list on one hand (apologies if this is just my ignorance). Malorie is a leader, writing not only about race but about love, compassion, loss, jealousy, politics, class and fun. As a child and teen, she never saw a black character in the books she read and I’m so glad that she has changed that for our generation. I only hope there are more to come.

Chasing The Stars is published on 21st April, price £10.99 in hardback.