Book Review: The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

7-1-2-deaths-of-evelyn-hardcastleTitle: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle 
Author: Stuart Turton
Genre: Mystery, Fantasy
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: February 8, 2018
Pages: 432
Format Read: Ebook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: Amazon Kindle
Date finished reading: January 14, 2020

Goodreads Description: “Gosford Park” meets “Groundhog Day” by way of Agatha Christie – the most inventive story you’ll read this year.

Tonight, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed… again.

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 the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

My Review: Note: This review may include some spoilers! This book was picked by a member of my book club for our group to read. It had been on my TBR for more than a year, so I was excited to finally pick it up.

7 ½ Deaths has a strong beginning. The reader is immediately thrown into an intense situation. A few members of my book club were disappointed that it started with the main character having amnesia, as the concept of an unreliable narrator seems to be overdone lately. However, what I found interesting about the main character having amnesia was that he didn’t just seem to not know the people or scene around him, but he didn’t even recognize his own body. That made me think that maybe it was not his own body. And that my friends was the first of a few twists and turns in this book. The main character is forced to relive the same day 8 times in 8 different bodies to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle.

This book definitely had an Agatha Christie feel (house full of suspicious characters where a murder takes place) mixed with a bit of the fantastical like in the Netflix series Black Mirror. If you read any interviews or bios about the author, he is a huge video gamer, and this book felt very much like video game, where you have 8 lives to complete the mission.

I desperately wanted the answers to all my many questions like: Why was the main character, Aidan, being forced to solve this mystery? Who is Aidan, since he is not any of the bodies that he inhabits? Who does murder Evelyn Hardcastle? Is she murdered? With this need to have my questions answered, I read through to the very end, but I cannot say that I enjoyed the trip. There were so many characters (most of them not very redeemable characters) and the time hopping got a bit frustrating at times. One book club member dislikes time travel in books due to causality issues. I feel that there were a few of those issues in this book. About halfway through the book I really stopped caring about what was happening. I just wanted to get to the end. Even Aidan, in one of the end scenes, states, “Everything is a clutter – too many days, too many conversations.” He is not wrong.

By the time I got to the end, I was not quite sure how I wanted the mystery to play out or if I even cared. There were some twists at the end that I did not see coming, but that did not make up for the effort it took to get there. This book while incredibly unique is very involved and was just felt very meh to me.

Those who have read this, how did you feel about this book? How did you feel about the ending – particularly about Anna and Aidan leaving the past in the past and deciding to have a future together?

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ 

Book Review: Smitten by the Brit

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Title: 
Smitten by the Brit
Author: Melonie Johnson
Genre: Romance
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: May 28, 2019
Pages: 384
Format Read: ebook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley
Date finished reading: May 26, 2019

Goodreads Description: English professor Bonnie Blythe expects her life to play out like her favorite novels, especially now that her long-term boyfriend has finally proposed. So when a shocking discovery leads Bonnie to end her engagement, she decides to close the book on love. But the plot thickens when a brand-new character enters the scene—and quickens Bonnie’s heart.

With his brilliant blue eyes, sexy accent, and irresistible charm, Theo Wharton is like a romantic hero straight out of a Jane Austen novel. When fate places Bonnie in England for a summer—conveniently close to Theo—she realizes a hot friends-with-benefits fling is exactly what she needs to start a fresh chapter. Just as Bonnie begins to believe she’s falling in love, an eye-opening revelation into Theo’s life makes Bonnie feel like she’s wandered into one of her favorite books. Will Bonnie have the courage to risk her heart and turn the page with the dashing Brit to find her true happy ending after all?

My Review: Sometimes I’m just in the mood for a feel good romance and this definitely fit the bill. You are rooting for the main character, Bonnie, right from the start. You want her to have her happy ending after her she catches her fiancé cheating on her. I love the cast of girlfriends. Their interactions are so amusing. The perfect thing for a romantic comedy. The reader feels the ongoing steamy attraction between Bonnie and Theo with an added bonus of an English countryside setting and quotes from Shakespeare, Austen and other English authors. Unfortunately, even when I just want a good romance story, I can’t just turn off my realistic sensibility. Is it really a good idea to have a main character go immediately from one long term relationship to jumping so quickly into spending the rest of her life with someone else? Seems too soon, even though Bonnie appears to be very mature and confident in herself. Maybe I could have overlooked that if the end was a bit stronger. Theo had his own family obligations and responsibilities that prevented a long term commitment to Bonnie, and yet in couple pages those obligations and responsibilities just disappeared and all was good. I would have liked further development in Theo’s family dynamics, especially since his family was full of interesting characters. Overall this was a quick and enjoyable read.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

ARC Book Review: The Last Stone

61DmO-G5h5L._AC_UL160_SR109,160_Title: The Last Stone
Author: Mark Bowden
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Pages: 304
Format Read: ebook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley ARC
Date finished reading: March 27, 2019

Goodreads Description: On March 29, 1975, sisters Katherine and Sheila Lyons, age 10 and 12, vanished from a shopping mall in suburban Washington, D.C. As shock spread, then grief, a massive police effort found nothing. The investigation was shelved, and mystery endured. Then, in 2013, a cold case squad detective found something he and a generation of detectives had missed. It pointed them toward a man named Lloyd Welch, then serving time for child molestation in Delaware.

As a cub reporter for a Baltimore newspaper, Mark Bowden covered the frantic first weeks of the story. In The Last Stone, he returns to write its ending. Over months of intense questioning and extensive investigation of Welch’s sprawling, sinister Appalachian clan, five skilled detectives learned to sift truth from determined lies. How do you get a compulsive liar with every reason in the world to lie to tell the truth? The Last Stone recounts a masterpiece of criminal interrogation, and delivers a chilling and unprecedented look inside a disturbing criminal mind.

My Review: {This review may contain spoilers} Much thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for allowing me to read an ARC of The Last Stone. I love true crime and am normally far removed from the crimes that I read about. However, this one hit close to home….literally. I lived off of Route 1 (Baltimore Avenue) for a few years and then moved just north of Wheaton, MD, where I frequently shopped at Wheaton Plaza which is now Westfield Wheaton mall. One of my roommates grew up just a couple of blocks from the Welch home in Hyattsville. I can’t imagine some of the sick and twisted incidents happening so close.

If you are a true-crimer like me, you get excited when you find a book that discusses a cold case, because it is always a bit of a miracle when a cold case is solved. However, this does not have as much of a satisfying ending. I didn’t love this book, but I don’t think it is the author’s fault as much as it is just that the man investigated, Lloyd Welch, really irritated me, and frankly so did his entire family.

I liked how the author focused solely on the re-investigation more than 30 years after the disappearance of the Lyons sisters. I don’t always like when an author focuses on the victims’ families. I prefer to learn about the investigation process. The author displays the many interrogations the police had with Lloyd Welch, and after the third one, you can’t help but feel that you get the point: he is going to lie and change his story every time. However, the author still discussed more interrogations, because every one of them revealed something new and different in the case. The patience of those detectives in search for justice was remarkable. It must have been so frustrating to have so many people lying to them on a regular basis and not be able to find solid proof (like DNA).

However, I will reiterate that this does not really have a satisfying ending, which is why I could not give this a 5-star rating. It was a frustrating read. Frankly, I feel that many members of the Welch family probably deserve to be in jail for either direct crimes against the Lyons sisters, other crimes that they seem to have committed based on interviews with them, or for obstruction of justice.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Book Club Review: All Systems Red

allsystemsredTitle: All Systems Red
Author: Martha Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Pages: 144
Format Read: ebook
Standalone or series: The Murderbot Diaries Book #1
Where I got the book: Amazon
Date finished reading: March 19, 2019

Goodreads Description: In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

My Review: I love it when a book club meeting can help me appreciate a read much more than I had. All Systems Red was no exception. I went into this book club having not enjoyed this book as much as I had wanted to. The reason for my dislike may have stemmed from being a bit new to science fiction as a whole. It is not a genre I tend to read. I have probably only read a handful of science fiction in my entire life. This book irritated me, because there wasn’t enough description for my tastes; the plot was hurried at times; and the language just seemed a bit too simplistic. However, my fellow book club members helped me realize that there was actually a lot of depth to this book.

This is a unique story told from the perspective of Murderbot – a robotic machine with organic parts (human feelings). “Murderbot” was actually a name it gave himself, so just from that you get a glimpse of its personality and possible inner struggles. We discussed whether we had assigned Murderbot a gender during the book, if its actions or personality made us think of it as a female or a male, which can lead to an interesting discussion. Just discussing its personality as a whole can be enlightening. At the beginning of the story, the reader learns that Murderbot has hacked its own government module. By hacking its own system, Murderbot now has free will over itself and its feelings. As a reader, you witness its struggle with those feelings, as it tries to work for and with humans. Some of Murderbot’s actions can seem similar to actions of an autistic individual or someone who suffers from social anxiety. The reader can’t help but wonder if the author put some of her own feelings and thoughts into Murderbot.

Let me end this review by discussing the book’s simplicity. Even though that bothered me, to the rest of my fellow book clubbers, the book’s simplicity was a positive thing and is what makes it special. Martha Wells does not create this fantastical world that is hard to imagine, but a world that is easily imaginable – a world not that different from our own. In addition, there is a similarity to our own society at times, where money and wealth drives actions and creates conflict. It is not a stretch to be a part of this story that Martha Wells has created.

While my rating reflects my own lack of interest for All Systems Red, it did not bring down by too much the overall high rating that my book club gave it – many of which would highly recommend this book to others.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦

Book Club Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ¼

WWW Wednesdays – March 20, 2019

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

I am just about to start my Spring Reading List and am also making my way through some David McCullough reads. (See my 2019 A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge).

Currently Reading

Finished Reading

By The Book Podcast: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz – book = ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Focus on Authors Challenge: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough – audiobook = ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
IRL Book Club: All Systems Red by Martha Wells – ebook = ♦ ♦ ♦

*Click on the title of the books to view my full review.*

Reading Next

What are y’all reading now? Please post your WWW links below in the comments if I haven’t already visited them.

HAPPY READING!

Book Review: The Trial of Lizzie Borden

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Title: The Trial of Lizzie Borden
Author: Cara Robertson
Genre: Nonfiction True Crime
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 12, 2019
Pages: 400
Format Read: Ebook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley ARC
Date finished reading:  March 12, 2019

Goodreads Description: The remarkable new account of an essential piece of American mythology—the trial of Lizzie Borden—based on twenty years of research and recently unearthed evidence.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden tells the true story of one of the most sensational murder trials in American history. When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone—rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars and laypeople—had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?

The popular fascination with the Borden murders and its central enigmatic character has endured for more than one hundred years. Immortalized in rhyme, told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror, but one typically wrenched from its historical moment. In contrast, Cara Robertson explores the stories Lizzie Borden’s culture wanted and expected to hear and how those stories influenced the debate inside and outside of the courtroom. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden offers a window onto America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling social anxieties.

My Review: I received an ARC copy of The Trial of Lizzie Borden through NetGalley. It becomes publicly available today! Lizzie Borden is an infamous character in history, and yet somehow I never knew the true story, or as much of it as one can possibly know, of the murders and her trial until now. All I knew was the children’s poem about her taking and ax and giving 40 wacks, etc. Also, I have never seen any of movies or television series about Lizzie Borden (The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, Lizzie, The Legend of Lizzie Borden, etc.).

Cara Robertson decides to focus a majority of this Lizzie Borden story on the trial itself. Lizzie Borden is being tried for the murders of her father and stepmother, Andrew and Abby Borden. Trigger warning: graphic details are given of the vicious crime. First of all, Robertson draws such a clear picture of the atmosphere of the courtroom and the interactions between the prosecutor and defense council that you feel like you are experiencing all of it in real time. She utilizes passages from journalists who were present, primarily Elizabeth Jordan (New York World) and Joe Howard (Boston Globe). On a side note, I am now officially obsessed with Elizabeth Jordan, whom I had never heard of before reading this book. On another side note, I had no idea that the Boston Globe was around in the 1800s, but it was in fact founded in 1872.

Second, this trial gained such a following of intrigued spectators. They could not fathom that a woman could commit such a violent crime. The blows that killed Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother were numerous and excessive. Those in the courtroom could not reconcile the image of this hideous crime (the Andrew & Abby’s skulls were literally on display) with the gentle image of Lizzie Borden. Also, she was criticized for her demeanor, which seemed unsuitable for a woman, because she didn’t show emotion (cry) after the murders and very little in the courtroom. She was simply still and composed and that, to many spectators, meant guilty.

Last of all, Robertson did a fantastic job reliving both the case against Lizzie Borden and her defense. Since Lizzie Borden’s testimony and the interviews from pharmacists, stating that she tried to buy prussic acid (a poison) just a few days prior to the murder of Andrew & Abby Borden, were not permissible in court, there was not much evidence that Lizzie Borden committed the murders. There were no witnesses and not much if any evidence that tied her to the murders. There was just suspicion and a whole lot of it.

Because I didn’t know much about Lizzie Borden, the trial was a rollercoaster ride of emotions that all led up to a final climatic verdict. However, the story does not conclude with the verdict, so maybe that is the author’s way of saying she too is unsettle by the conclusion. We may never know what truly happened the day that Andrew and Abby Borden were hacked to death, but there will always be theories.

This is a well-written piece of true crime!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

Book Review: Say Nothing

40163119Title: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
Author: Patrick Radden Keefe
Genre: Nonfiction – True Crime
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication Date: February 26, 2019
Pages: 464
Format Read: ebook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley ARC
Date finished reading: February 27, 2019

Goodreads Description: In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress–with so many kids, McConville always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.

Patrick Radden Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists–or volunteers, depending on which side one was on–such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace and denied his I.R.A. past, betraying his hardcore comrades–Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.

My Review: This was not what I thought it would be, but it was great in a whole different way. It was an intensely dramatic way to tell the story of true crime, war and conflict in Northern Ireland.

When the book starts it introduces Jean McConville, a 38-year-old single mother of 10, who was abducted from her home in December of 1972. She disappears and is never heard from again. Then the book randomly switches to introduce another character, Dolours Price. I kept thinking, “why am I reading about Dolours? What does she have to do with the Jean McConville’s abduction?” However, as the story continues and Price’s story continues, I found myself being pulled in. The author goes into the details of Price’s activism and her need to fight for rights in Northern Ireland, which led to her involvement in the peaceful protest march from Belfast to Derry. This peaceful march did not have a peaceful conclusion as the marchers were beaten and brutalized by loyalists as they reached Derry. This event really changed Dolours Price’s life forever and led her to become one of the most infamous IRA (Irish Republican Army) members in its history. The incident at Burntollet Bridge was so incredibly moving that I had to know how her story ends.

It turns out that to understand Jean McConville’s disappearance, you really have to understand the Troubles between England and Northern Ireland. You really get to experience the result of when peaceful marches are not enough and how violence changes people. This story lets you see inside the lives of multiple IRA members, including Gerry Adams, Brendan Hughes, Dolours Price, Marian Price and others.  You also get to experience what life was life in Northern Ireland – “routine bombings could make life impossible.” The author, Patrick Radden Keefe, sums up this story very eloquently:

“I saw an opportunity to tell a story about how people become radicalized in their uncompromising devotion to a cause, and about how individuals – and a whole society – make sense of political violence once they have passed through the crucible and finally have time to reflect.”

This book was so horrifying, and yet I could not put it down. I needed to know what happened to each and every one of the characters involved, including Jean McConville, and without giving any spoilers, there was indeed a connection between her and the IRA. I just hope Jean McConville’s children can find some peace, and that there will be peace in Northern Ireland.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

24 Hour Readathon Wrap-Up – October 2018

Another Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon has come to an end. I am bummed that we have to wait until April for the next one. It is always so much fun, and this time was no exception. This is how I did on the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the readathon – 24 Hour Readathon Begins! October 2018:

Readathon Goals:

  • I want to read for at least 13 hours today. – I succeeded in reading more than 13 hours. I participated to Hour 19, but I read about 15 hours of that time.
  • I want to complete 3 books. – I did read 3 books: a physical book, an ebook and an audiobook.
  • I want to read at least 500 pages. – I read more than 500 pages.
  • I want to complete at least 5 mini-challenges. – This is the one goal I didn’t complete.
  • Get Bingo. – Got bingo: see pic below.

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Social Media Activity:

I am not good with balancing my reading time and social media time. I tend to just want to focus on the reading part. I only did one Mini-Challenge this year. Any helpful tips you fellow readathoners can give me to help me participate in more social media challenges, while still getting quality reading time in?

  • Goodreads: Commented on 12-15 threds, including more than 10 of the hourly threds.
  • Litsy: Posted 6 times.
  • Instagram: Posted 4 times.
  • Twitter: Posted 7 times.
  • Blog: Posted 2 times.

Helpful Tips:

  • Do an audiowalk – even if the weather isn’t nice, maybe you can walk inside somewhere. Take an audiobook and stretch your legs for a while.
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  • Have healthy snacks as well as fun and slightly unhealthy snacks. I balanced out my taco dip (pictured below) with a fruit platter.
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  • Try to minimize distractions. I love having my husband around. He actually keeps me awake during the readathon, so I can participate longer. However, sometimes he can also be distracting. Plus, this year, I actually took a few hours out of the readathon to watch a baseball playoff game (been a Milwaukee Brewers fan since birth).

Closing Survey:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I bailed at Hour 19, which was about 2am my time.
  2. Tell us ALLLL the books you read! I read The Royal Runaway (NetGalley ARC ebook), Kiss Me, Kill Me (audiobook), and The Raven and Other Favorite Poems (book). I did also start Different Seasons and Rooms.
  3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners? I love everything by Ann Rule, so even though Kiss Me, Kill Me was a bit hauntingly disturbing and graphic, I would highly recommend it – especially for true crime lovers like me.
  4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you happy? Have a record of what everyone has read during the readathon.
  5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep? I’m already counting down the days until the next readathon! I might be willing to help organize and prep. I could maybe do an hourly question or two for Goodreads.

Things to improve on for next readathon:

  • I want to put in a bit more prep time. I had my TBR pile ready, but I waited until the last minute to get my snacks ready and was not prepared for updating on social media throughout the readathon. I appreciate any helpful tips y’all can provide me to improve my preparedness for the readathon.
  • I would like to actually participate in more mini-challenges.
  • I would like to have less distractions.

Next Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon = April 6, 2019

Here was the last book I picked up for the readathon:

It felt fitting for this Halloween season. How did you all do? Please share your readathon wrap-ups and any helpful recommendations and tips! Until next time….