Books · Reviews

Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton;

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 her killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And someone is desperate to stop him ever escaping Blackheath.

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When I went to my local Waterstones last week to take advantage of their offers, I wasn’t expecting to be slowly lead into a time-bending, mind-warping murder mystery.

On my way to the counter with an armful of books I was approached by an enthusiastic staff member. We got talking and she eventually mentioned a new release that she had recently read and loved. At the time I didn’t quite catch the title because it was long, and I was tired, but I was enthralled by her description of an Agatha Christie style novel against a Groundhog Day backdrop.

“I loved it,” she told me. “There were so many twists and turns and I didn’t know where it was going to go next. There was a point where it all clicked into place, but I could not have guessed the ending.”

She put my books through the till, printed my receipt and wrote “The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” along the top and handed it to me. For the next two days I was unable to get the concept of this novel out of my head. I hadn’t even bought the book yet and Stuart Turton had already gripped me with his uncommon and captivating plot.

I personally think you know you’re in for a real treat when you open a book to find maps, character lists, or family trees. So, I was practically tingling with excitement when I opened the cover to find a map of Blackheath House and its grounds and the invitation to the party with a full list of guests and household staff. I kept eagerly flipping to the map and invitation as I read, searching for clues and doing my best to play detective.

This book has a whole cast of theatrical characters to love, hate, feel pity for and root for. But, for the most part, I felt unable to trust anyone. Every character’s actions and words seemed like a trick. I admire Turton’s ability to handle such a rich array of well thought out characters. He managed to avoid the trap of half-formed or forgotten characters that often comes when you have a large cast involved in your plot. Every character in Seven Deaths was individual, recognisable and realistic.

The premise was unlike anything I had seen or read before and I was eager to understand what was happening to Aiden and the motive behind Evelyn’s murder. I devoured the whole of this novel in two days and still wanted more. Turton has left me greedy for his dark Wonderland world and for that, I’m slightly disappointed that Aiden’s story at Blackheath is over. I wish I hadn’t read it so quickly and had savoured every page and revelation that came my way instead.

Turton kept me guessing, twisting his plot one way and then another with careful precision. I was never able to pin-down the answers to the questions I had or work out the conclusion until the novel’s crescendo. With crime and thriller/mystery novels now the UK’s most popular genre of fiction, this topsy-turvy murder mystery stands out amongst the crowd as something pleasantly different.

Seven Deaths is marvellously written with excellent craftsmanship and intricate details that adds a realistic element to an otherwise beautifully absurdist plot.

His story-telling sucks you in and in such a way that I often found myself forgetting that I was reading a novel. I could see Turton’s words and characters alive in my mind and performing their macabre deeds in front of me. I think the main reason for this is that Turton has used first-person narrative, thrusting the readers into the mind of Aiden and the bodies of his hosts. The reader becomes as intimately and uncomfortably close to the characters as Aiden does. It is strongly immersive prose that puts us closer to the action than if we were a fly on the wall of Blackheath.

This book is dark and strange, full of high-stakes, gruesome murder, beset with tragedy, corruption, and cat-and-mouse chases. Through all this sparkles the glamour of the 1920s, its high society, and the secrets they keep and the lengths they go to in order to maintain their carefully constructed images. It’s wonderfully paced and completely addictive.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a stunning debut novel. Stuart Turton hopes “it keeps you awake until 2am and when you finish it there’s a huge smile on your face” and yes, Stuart, it definitely does that!

 

Beauty · LUSH · Reviews

LUSH; Christmas and Halloween 2017

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It might only be October but in my world, it’s never too early to utter the C word. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t yearning for long nights, chilly weather, and a house full of fairy lights. I’ve started Christmas shopping and festive recipes are already flying through my mind. So, when LUSH invited me to see their new products and get into the Christmas spirit with other lovely bloggers in the area, I was thrilled.

This year, LUSH is putting their focus on naked packaging. Not only are naked products more environmentally friendly but it’s cheaper, they tend to last longer, and they’re naturally self-preserving. You can read more about LUSH’s naked packaging initiative here.

Makeup and skincare;

Fan favourites Buche de Noel and Santa Baby lip scrub and tints are back for another year and my skin is already crying out for them. But what’s new this year?

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When I first got to this section of our showcase for evening, there was something shimmering gold that caught my attention immediately. Shades of Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh is a lip block of three colours that can be mixed or used separately to create gorgeous sparkly lip shades. I love metallics for winter, so I can already see myself using this across the festive period.

Sparkle Jars could be my new obsession. Fairy Dust and Mr Sandman dusting powders were insanely popular and now they’re in a naked form. This year they’re in little massage bar jars so it’s basically like getting two products for the price of one – score!

If you want something a bit lighter and fresher for your skin than the candyfloss and lavender scented sparkle jars, then I think Once Upon a Time body lotion is something you should try. It’s made with apple infusion, grapefruit oil, and lemon oil making it uplifting and cleansing and something different for the nose among all the spicy scents of Christmas.

Bath;

Thundersnow bath bomb is a mint chocolate scented delight peppered with popping candy. Its design is inspired by the view of the Earth from space and the name comes from never knowing what the weather in the UK is going to be. Will it thunder? Will it snow? It’s a mystery! I can see this bath bomb taking off in a big way.

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When I spoke to the staff members during the event, they all seemed to agree that their favourite bath bomb this year is Christmas Sweater. It’s festive in design with reindeers playing in the snow on a cranberry red base. However, its scent didn’t appeal to me. This ballistic is heavy with ginger, mustard, coriander, and clove but cut with lemon oil to add a subtle fresh note. I see the appeal and I can imagine it being great for frigid days and sore muscles. It might be one that grows on me over the next few months.

Pink and glitter are two of my favourite colours (yes, glitter is a colour in my eyes!) so the sparkly Pink Pumpkin stole my heart as soon as I saw it. Then I smelled it, realised it was floral scented and I decided right then and there it was my favourite Halloween product of all time. This bubble bar creates lots of soft bubbles, turns the water a beautiful pastel pink, and makes the water silky with the addition of cornflower. Plus, the scent is gentle and calming. But don’t worry – the original Sparkly Pumpkin is still here if you prefer something a little more traditional from your Halloween products.

Shower;

Okay, I am DYING to tell you all about my favourite soap this year. Golden Pear not only looks delectable, but it smells it too! This soap has a fresh, sweet, true pear smell thanks to the pear puree it’s made with.

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The scent is far more layered than this though, as it also has a sour note as some pears do and a warming element from the clove and cardamom. It’s almost like the smell of a warm pear crumble. This soap is extra special because every time you use it, you get a big helping of plastic-free glitter. Shimmery skin all the way!

Solid shower gels now exist, and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sold on them to begin with. They look like soaps moulded to resemble shower gel bottles, but I can guarantee you that they’re not soaps. These solid gels have a shower gel base, the only difference is that these gels are thicker so they achieve the solid form. They lather the same as liquid shower gels and feel the same as liquid shower gels on the skin. The solid version works well because they last longer, however my clumsy self has dropped this gel so many times already. Oh well, practice makes perfect.

 

After perusing the new products, we took a break to eat some delicious Saucy Snowcake cake and Pumpkin Spiced cake pops provided by the ever wonderful V is for Veggies. We swiftly moved on to seeing the gifts for this year though, and like always, I need a WOW and a Secret Garden in my life.

 

As another special treat, (LUSH really do love spoiling us!) we made our own Butterball bath bombs! Mine is very wonky but that’s just a bit of character I gave it totally on purpose…

 

Do expect more in-depth reviews of my favourite products over the coming months – these products are too good not to share!

What are your favourite LUSH products this winter?

Bethany xo

 

Books · Reviews

REVIEW: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. Though curiously distant, he presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations ring eerily true.

As Nella uncovers the secrets of her new household she realises the escalating dangers they face. The miniaturist seems to hold their fate in her hands – but does she plan to save or destroy them?

Jessie Burton’s debut novel hooked me from the start, or rather, the end.

The Miniaturist begins with a curious prologue set in 1687 – a funeral, gossipy neighbours, a silent figure moving through a mostly empty church, the presenting of a strange gift, and a symbolic focus on a starling trapped in the rafters. It is a creepily evocative beginning that, unfortunately, I forgot about along the way.

I found that Burton is a marvellous story-teller. I was hanging on her every word. She has a detailed way with words that is both tense and bewitching – I was desperate to know what happened next.

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The characters are realistic enough for my liking. They have contradictions and hypocrisies like you or me which makes their motivations seem reasonable. Burton’s main character of Petronella Oortman learns the secrets of the Brandt household as the readers do – we are firmly on this journey with her. Like Nella, I found myself wanting to know more about her distant husband Johannes and the Miniaturist.

Burton wound the secrets of the Brandt household like a rope into a tight knot. As we read on, the knot becomes looser and looser – it almost reads like a detective novel. I could never be sure who was at the centre of this knot of a plot. Was it Johannes? Was it Nella’s sister-in-law Marin? Was it the Miniaturist? Or was it Burton herself as she seemingly couldn’t tie one character to the events of her layered plot?

Uncomfortable events and subject matters are tackled expertly by Burton; she does not shy away from the horrific truth of religious 1600s attitudes towards people who are different/don’t conform to societal norms. It’s a truth that can still be applied to today. As such, I found comments and actions by other characters to be incredibly uneasy. I was moved to tears by Burton’s impeccable narrative.

The book is not without its faults however.

There were times where Burton felt as though she couldn’t decide if she wanted to write in third or first person. Whilst the story is told in third person, Burton slips into a style of writing that would feel more at home in a first person narrative – this would trip me up as I read and I found myself needing to re-read sentences. As a debut novel, I can mostly overlook this.

The most striking fault I found with The Miniaturist was its ending. Remember that knot of rope I compared the plot to? By the end of the book, that rope was limp and frayed.

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Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

I was left with many questions after closing the back cover. What happened to the other characters? How did certain characters end up together like that? It was so confused, important plots/characters left so alone and seemingly forgotten that the book felt unfinished. I would gladly read another 400 pages to understand more about the plot and the characters’ minds, especially that of Johannes!

There is no denying that I learned a lot about the character’s of the Brandt household, however, there was only one character I wanted to learn about. The Miniaturist herself. Sadly, I felt rather abandoned by her and Burton, and I wondered what even was the point of the Miniaturist in the first place? If the emphasis had not been on the Miniaturist in the title and blurb, then perhaps I wouldn’t be so bothered by the weak and threadbare revelation about her that eventually came.

The Miniaturist is everything I love in a book: love, betrayal, history, corruption, mystery, danger and societal critiques. If I had not been left confused and wanting by the end of this book, I would’ve happily given it 5/5 stars. Instead, I leave it with a rating of 4/5 stars and an eagerness to read it again in the near future.

Books · Reviews

Top 5 books in ’17

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Ever since I learned to read I wanted to consume every book I could get my hands and eyes on. In order to fulfill that wishes, I decided to study English Literature for my GCSEs and A-Levels, then study Creative Writing for my degree. Of course, in those subjects, I got to read a LOT. But after a while, I stopped reading completely.

I think I read one book in my GCSEs and A-Levels combined, and read one book for my degree over the entire three years. My passion dried and shrivelled. Reading because I had to took all the enjoyment out of it for me; I didn’t like being told what I could and couldn’t read.

Once I finished studying, I joined Goodreads, took advantage of the sale season, and before I knew it I was back into the reading swing of things!

It might only be September, but I already have a list of books I’ve read this year that I want to share my love for!

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

Hear me out on this one! Never be put off by the title or the length of this story. It’s one of the most wonderful, touching, funny, and dramatic things I’ve ever read and I adore it.

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The characters are so realistic and natural that following their lives over the course of the eight years the novel is set, I found myself wishing the novel was longer! I was itching to know more, to stay with these characters for longer. For the time I was reading this book, they were friends and I was rooting for every single one of them.

Sure, there were moments that were hideously tedious, you would expect that from a book that’s 1.4k pages long, but those tedious moments were few. War and Peace is a classic novel for a reason and I absolutely implore anyone to read this book and discover that reason for themselves.

It’s an intrinsically human story that explores relationships, love, the value of war, and spirituality and I’m sure that you won’t be disappointed by it!

Victoria – Daisy Goodwin

Oh, Daisy…What have you done to me?! Honestly, this section of my post is purely an open love letter to her…

Most of you will probably be aware of the ITV drama series Victoria that’s currently airing its second season. Well, the lovely Daisy Goodwin who wrote the drama also wrote a novelisation of the series.

I loved the first season of the show so when my parents bought me the novel for Christmas last year, I ended up reading the whole book shortly after new year in half a day. I absolutely could not put it down!

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Daisy’s writing is gorgeous, emotive, and refined. She managed to portray emotional nuances between Victoria and Lord Melbourne with great care that still gives me writing envy today, whilst setting up the burning love of Victoria and Prince Albert – evoking the youthfulness and vitality of the characters and what is to come for them.

Victoria is a novel that explores the private lives, thoughts and feelings of real people and fictionalises elements in such a way that doesn’t lose historical integrity whilst making it relatable to a modern audience. It’s an elegant balance between fiction and non-fiction that has been ruining my life for the past year.

This book and series, aside from being one of the most stunning things I’ve read and seen, has also helped me make new friends, so it’s a book and show that will always stay with me for many reasons.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Daisy! Now excuse me whilst I run away to buy all your other books…

A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard

This book was a treat for the soul!

It’s a charming story about the blossoming love between Steffi who is a selective mute, and Rhys, who is deaf, and their shared desire for independence.

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The book explores serious themes about mental health and disability without becoming heavy and difficult to read. It remains light and optimistic – something I find so rare in media about such subjects. More than once I had to put the book down to take a breather because I found Steffi and Rhys’ relationship and their way of communicating too cute to handle all in one go.

Once I finished reading, I felt incredibly light and refreshed as though I had woken from an invigorating nap. A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a refreshing read and even thinking about it to write this post makes me want to read it again!

The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

Reading this novel felt like sitting barefoot on a pier, feet dangling over the edge so the sea tickles your toes, with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.

The Little Paris Bookshop is probably one of the most life-affirming books I’ve read this year. Every character seemed to have their own problems, secrets, and foibles that could be easily recognisable in the everyday.

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People in this book make mistakes and assumptions and it’s okay because they’re human and so are we. Personally, I saw this book as a story about embracing life and it’s little things. I felt as though no matter what happens in the future, or what happened in the past, it would never be too late to make a change or do something different.

It’s a stunning, sunny, sometimes sad little book about love and life and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks after finishing it!

The Sisters – Claire Douglas

READ. THIS. BOOK.

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If you like thrillers and mysteries, this book is definitely for you. I was kept guessing at every turn of the page – it threw me this way and that – I never expected anything. By the time I expected a plot point, I was thrown into the thick of it so quickly that I felt like I had whiplash!

There is a definite crescendo to The Sisters and a shocking ending that left me feeling winded, stunned, and mildly horrified. I was telling my friends to read it for ages after because I needed someone to talk to about it!

It’s rare that a book makes me feel somewhat unsettled and for that reason I don’t think I’m going to get over how much I love it.

What books are you loving this year? Are any of these on your TBR list? Are there any books similar to these that you think I’ll love? Let me know and thanks for reading!

Bethany xo