While I may be catching up on my reading during the pandemic, my reviews have been nonexistent. There’s only one solution. It’s time for a mini-review roundup!
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
This is one of the most insane books I’ve ever read! Think Agatha Christie meets Quantum Leap meets Groundhog Day, and you have a small inkling as to the madness of this book. I loved every page!
Our narrator wakes up in the woods, shouting the name Anna. He discovers that he can’t remember anything about his past, not even his name. Soon, he is approached by a mysterious masked figure who tells him that he has eight days to solve a murder that will take place that night. Every morning, he will wake up in the body of a different person and have to relive the same day over and over. He is advised that if he fails to identify the murderer in his final host, he will start they cycle over again with his memory erased. If your head isn’t already spinning, there’s another catch: there are two others working to identify the killer as well.
Believe me when I tell you that this is one of the craziest, most mind-bending, unique novels I’ve had the pleasure to read. There is so much timey-wimey craziness going on that I had to flip back to earlier chapters constantly. As our narrator repeats the same day in a different host, he sometimes will interact with his past and future selves. I loved how he would be able to utilize each host’s unique set of skills. The consequence of this ability is that he slowly loses control of himself the longer he leaps into different hosts.
Underneath all the science fiction insanity, there is a genuine old-school mystery with plenty of twists and red herrings. I was impressed with the big reveal as well as how the author managed to answer every single question posed throughout the mystery.
I had so much fun reading this book that it’s definitely a candidate for my top read of the year!
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
This book, the first in a series, is an origin story for everyone’s favorite boy who never grew up. I love the story of Peter Pan, and the authors did an exceptional job of telling the events that proceeded the original classic. In the beginning of the book, we meet Peter and some of his friends, who are orphans at St. Norbert’s Home for Wayward Boys. Peter and his friends are on a ship taking them to a life of misery in a foreign country when they find themselves being pursued by pirates led by the infamous Black Stache.
There’s an interesting mystery on board the ship called the Never Land. Peter discovers a mysterious trunk as well as a young girl named Molly. Peter’s new acquaintance is attempting to keep the trunk safe from the pursing pirates, as it contains a treasure unlike any other. Molly and her father are members of the Starcatchers, a secret society dedicated to protecting magical stardust from falling into evil hands. Soon, Peter learns just how powerful this substance is as he gains new abilities such as flying as well as possibly living forever.
This is such a fun book is filled with adventure, pirates, monsters, and magic. The writing style was similar to the early Harry Potter novels. While the beginning of a series, this book can be enjoyed as a standalone. If you’re curious about how Peter Pan went from an ordinary mortal into a magical hero, then you need to check out Peter and the Starcatchers.
Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
Death is a lonely business. This was the one painful lesson I took from Bellman & Black. I’ve waited well over a decade for a new novel by Diane Setterfield after her fantastic debut The Thirteenth Tale. So was her second novel worth the wait? Unfortunately, the answer is no. While this novel was decent, I thought The Thirteenth Tale was much better.
Bellman & Black begins with William Bellman as a young boy. One day, while out in the woods, William uses his slingshot to kill a rook. This single action would prove to have dark consequences for him as we next see him as a young man. William’s family owns a textile mill, and he quickly moves through the ranks of learning every aspect of this operation. William’s life is marred by constant tragedy as loved ones, such as his mother, wife, and children pass away. At each funeral, William sees a mysterious stranger that he refers to as “Mr. Black.” The appearance of Black along with rooks are harbingers of the death that surrounds our main character. One night, William enters into a devil’s deal with Black. Soon, his only surviving child Dora recovers from a fever, and William has an idea for a new business. “Bellman & Black” becomes a huge success, an empire in the business of death.
Throughout the book, there’s this tension that builds with each appearance of a rook. I love Gothic stories, but unfortunately, all the suspense builds to an anti-climax and a depressing one at that. I was left feeling sad. Part of that has to do with my expectations as I was thinking this was going to be a supernatural thriller. It’s not. I doubt I will read this one again.
The Little Country by Charles de Lint
I cannot say enough about Charles de Lint. He is such an underappreciated force in the fantasy genre. Even stories that are just so-so are still so deliciously enchanting. Wow, did I just say “deliciously enchanting?” Wow. The Little Country is one of his earlier works, and the best part is that it’s actually two complete novels in one! Using the classic story-within-a-story format, we are treated to a great fantasy story along with one of high intrigue. There’s a secret society searching for a book that could provide immortality! This secret text is protected by a delightful Cornish family. We have a psychopathic killer! Throw in a few alternate worlds and a love story, and you have a little bit of everything. I found the book utterly charming. Yes, I said “utterly.”
The novel begins when folk musician Janie Little finds the only copy of a novel titled The Little Country by fantasy writer William Dunthorn, an old friend of her grandfather’s. This discovery of a lone fantasy story triggers some extraordinary events. While a powerful order seeks to steal the book, we go back-and-forth into the fantasy story about a young girl who is hexed by an evil witch. De Lint weaves the simultaneous stories beautifully. He is a master at juggling multiple story lines and characters. There is so much wonder to be found in a de Lint tale. While reading this book, I truly was able to believe that magic is real. As a folk musician, de Lint also infuses his stories with so much music. His descriptions of various places transported me there instantly.
At just over 600 pages, trust me when I say it won’t feel like that at all. For fans of later de Lint works such as his Newford tales, this one is a must read.
“Every book tells a different story to the person who reads it. How they perceive that book will depend on who they are. A good book reflects the reader, as much as it illuminates the author’s text.”-The Little Country
I read these books for the Beat the Backlist Challenge.
Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.