Books · Updates

Update & 2018 bookshelf July-December;

Hello, everyone!

It’s been a LONG time and I’m very sorry for the radio silence on this blog.

This past summer my mental health took a bit of a nose dive and I didn’t feel like myself for quite a while.

After taking a break over July and August and enjoying the autumn & festive season with my family and friends, and starting on a course of antidepressants and counselling, I’m feeling much better! I’m finally ready to throw myself back into writing and blogging.

So, without further delay, here is the final part of my 2018 bookshelf! (If you haven’t read part one then you can find that right here)

  1. How To Be Champion – Sarah Millican (3/5)
    My verdict: Funny and insightful. This is a fab feel good read with just the right amount of personal emotion thrown in for good measure. I’m also pleased to know that I’m not the only one who’s sort of in love with Philip Schofield.
  2. Together – Julie Cohen (2/5)
    My verdict: I was super intrigued by this book when I first came across it. Unfortunately, it became predictable and tropey in terms of plot, had characters that were bordering on uninteresting, and it reminded me too much of similar books that came before it. The thing that makes this book a two star rather than a one was the unique way in which the story was told: from the end to the beginning.
  3. The Greek Escape – Karen Swan (4/5)
    My verdict: Whilst this is probably my least favourite of Swan’s summer novels, it was still a bloody good read! It’s as stylish and heart-warming as The Rome Affair and The Paris Secret and as indulgent. I am still incredibly envious of Swan’s way with weaving plots and I’m already hungry for her Summer 2019 book.

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  4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote (3/5)
    My verdict: It’s pleasantly different from the 1961 movie and does away with the fairy-tale ending. It’s certainly a story of its time and that made the racism and sexism quite off-putting. I can see why it is often on “must read novel” lists but it isn’t going to be a favourite.
  5. The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas (5/5)
    My verdict: This book had it all for me. There was mystery, murder, time travel, lesbian representation, discussions of mental health, betrayal, sleuthing, the importance of friendship, great romance, and barely a male character in sight! I loved it.
  6. Stardust – Neil Gaiman (2/5)
    My verdict: I really didn’t like this book at all. It was so description heavy that reading it felt like wading through treacle. For a fantasy novel, it had so little magic about it that I almost abandoned it. The movie did a great job of injecting life, joy, and charisma into it. I hate to admit it but the movie was 1000% better.
  7. Vox – Christina Dalcher (4/5)
    My verdict: This novel swept up my imagination as soon as I heard about it. It went down a more scientific route than I was expecting but I enjoyed it nevertheless. There was a touching and emotional end and is a perfect criticism of modern politics. Apparently it is incredibly similar to The Handmaid’s Tale but I haven’t read that so I could not say one way or the other whether that’s true.
  8. One Enchanted Evening – Anton Du Beke (4/5)
    My verdict: Perhaps I’m biased because of my inordinate love for Saturday night show Strictly Come Dancing (there’s a reason this blog is called StrictlyBethany!) but I loved this novel. For a debut from someone who is so far removed from a writer by trade, this book is incredibly well thought out, plotted, and beautifully erudite. There are elements to this book that do fall short and there are unnecessary writing choices (like constant repetition of full names), so it doesn’t get full marks. Whilst this novel contains a romance plot, I would not call this a romantic novel. It’s more of a social, political, and economical tale and I preferred this approach much more than I perhaps would have done if the romance had taken centre stage.

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  9. The Vintage Tea Cup Club – Vanessa Greene (2/5)
    My verdict: This began as a promising story about newfound friendships but I found the pacing too quick to form any sort of lasting attachment to the characters. In the end, finishing the book felt like gulping down a mouthful of stone cold, forgotten tea.

And that concludes my 2018 bookshelf! If you want to keep up to date with my reading adventures then feel free to add me on Goodreads and recommend anything you’ve loved!

Thank you for reading and for being patient with me. I love you!

Bethany xo

Books

2018 Bookshelf: January-June;

Hello!

Today I would like to share with you the books I’ve read so far this year, what star rating I’ve given them and my brief verdict. Each entry on this list contains a link to that book on Goodreads if you would like to check any of them out!

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Current reading stats for this year:

Avg book length: 371 pages.
Highest rated on Goodreads: Thirteen – Steve Cavanagh
Most read on Goodreads: The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Least read on Goodreads: The Foster Husband – Phillipa Wright
My favourite book: If We Were Villains – M.L Rio
My avg star rating: 3.5

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1. Black Water Lilies – Michel Bussi (3/5)
My verdict:
This is a promising novel with a clever plot that sadly gets lost amongst the often-clumsy French to English translation. I felt that the translation left some moments feeling hollow, but it was surprisingly enjoyable nonetheless.

2. My Sweet Revenge – Jane Fallon (3/5)
My verdict:
This novel might be more suited to somebody in their 30s or 40s since I found myself unable to relate to Paula. Even so, it’s an easy read that plays out like soap opera which means it’s comfortable reading on lazy days when you don’t want to do too much thinking.

3. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (4/5)
My verdict: I’ve loved this novel since the first time I read it many years ago. I keep coming back to it because I find the characters fascinating and there’s always something new to discover about them. But mostly because I love Nick Carraway with all my heart.

4. It Only Happens in the Movies – Holly Bourne (3/5)
My verdict: I think I’ve officially grown out of YA novels. The last handful I’ve read I haven’t been entirely gripped by, and this is no different. I did however enjoy that this is a little different to usual romance novels because it actively highlights the messy parts of relationships that can be ignored in mainstream media.

5. How to Stop Time – Matt Haig (5/5)
My verdict: I completely and utterly ADORED this book! Romance, tragedy, history, fantasy, adventure, sci-fi, mystery…it’s everything a book can be and is perfectly balanced between each genre. I couldn’t put it down. The only criticisms I have are that I wish it had been longer, so I could’ve learned more about Tom’s life, and that Tom’s romance subplot with Camille seemed arbitrary.

6. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper – Phaedra Patrick (4/5)
My verdict: This is a lovely little book that is uplifting, hopeful, and touching. It’s a sweet novel about embracing life regardless of circumstances and ages, and explores the complexities of the people around us.

7. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds – Alexander McCall Smith (2/5)
My verdict:I was drawn to this book when I saw that it centred around an art theft. However, this was not the exciting, fast-paced, heist-and-ransom style novel I was expecting. Admittedly, this was the ninth Isabel Dalhousie novel and I hadn’t read the others, so I wasn’t familiar with the style. Fans of McCall Smith and Isabel Dalhousie may have a totally different view to me since they knew what to expect. The ending was disappointing and limp.

8. The Paris Wife – Paula McLain (4/5)
My verdict: I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson. It was an interesting look at the intricacies of marriage and how fame can change a person without them even realising it. I’m looking forward to reading McLain’s second novel about Ernest Hemingway ‘Love and Ruin’.

9. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman (4/5)
My verdict: Eleanor is a fantastic character and it’s incredibly easy to fall for her and her awkward charm, and for the story itself. I wasn’t as taken with it as many others were and I thought it was predictable in places. It was a pleasant and heart-warming read.

10. The Rome Affair – Karen Swan (4/5)
My verdict: After reading Swan’s ‘The Paris Secret’ last year, I was excited to sit down with The Rome Affair. I wasn’t disappointed! There’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into with Swan’s plots since they’re so impressively layered. The Rome Affair is the perfect summer read.

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Photo by Paul Hopkins Photography

11. The Comet Seekers – Helen Sedgwick (2/5)
My verdict:
This was an interesting premise for a novel with an equally interesting layout. The lack of speech marks could often cause confusing and awkward prose. The book had a constant air of telling rather than showing.

12. Love from Paris – Alexandra Potter (3/5)
My verdict: Another charming and light summer read that’s set in Paris. Generally, a little forgettable but does have loveable characters – one of whom I wanted more from. The lack of Xavier’s presence in the novel made me wonder why he was introduced as a character in the first place.

13. The Muse – Jessie Burton (3/5)
My verdict: I must admit that I was a little disappointed with this novel. Throughout I was waiting for a big reveal or a novel defining moment that never actually came. It forever seemed to be working towards a crescendo that ended up falling flat by the end.

14. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (5/5)
My verdict: If you read my review of this novel then you’ll know that I enjoyed this book immensely. It was unique, addictive, and beautifully written. You can read my full review here.

15. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng (2/5)
My verdict: I felt as though I was being told this story by a friend more than I was experiencing it. This book told too many details, but the themes of culture and ethnicity provided an important message.

16. The Foster Husband – Pippa Wright (3/5)
My verdict: An often-humorous look at relationships of all kinds that doesn’t shy away from the trials of love. An easy read for if you’re stuck on what to read next.

17. Circe – Madeline Miller (3/5)
My verdict: Circe had some stunning imagery and evocative language, however I felt it was missing some of the charm that Miller’s first novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ had. Even so, it was a rich and powerful story focused on womanhood.

18. Less – Andrew Sean Greer (4/5)
My verdict: I can certainly see why this novel won a Pulitzer prize. Many books with gay protagonists now are about teenagers or young adults, so it was nice to read about a middle aged gay man for a change! It didn’t shy away from the impact of the AIDS crisis and provided an optimistic look at love later in life.

19. If We Were Villains – M.L Rio (5/5)
My verdict: This book absolutely ruined me. I couldn’t read anything else for a while after because I couldn’t stop thinking about this! It has intriguing characters, brutally elegant prose that Shakespeare himself could be proud of, and it pulls at every emotion. As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to read it again. This book was all I talked about for at least a week.

20. The Fourteenth Letter – Claire Evans (4/5)
My verdict: Honestly, this didn’t end up being the book I thought it was going to be when I read the blurb. I was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns it took! For a few chapters I wasn’t sure what was going on or how the characters related to any of the others, but once it all clicked into place, it was brilliantly exciting.

21. Thirteen – Steve Cavanagh (4/5)
My verdict: I love a good courtroom drama, and this was no exception. It was thrilling, exciting, and twisty. It’s also a murder mystery plot that I haven’t seen before which made it feel fresh and original.

Have you read any books on this list or do you have a favourite book you’ve read this year? Comment with your thoughts and if you have any recommendations!

I hope you guys will come back in December for the second instalment of my 2018 bookshelf.

Bethany xo

 

 

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!

 

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