May 26, 2020

Stuart Turton's "Seven deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle"

This book can be found here.

Turton’s novel is his debut. It won the First Novel Award at the 2018 Costa Book Awards and is a Sunday Times bestseller; so head’s up, it won’t be bad. As an aside, before I get into the book, in the United States it is known as ‘7 ½ deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’. Whether that gives anything away or not to you; I don’t know.

‘We have work to do,' he says. 'I have a puzzle which requires a solution.'
'I think you've mistaken me for someone else,' I say. 'I'm just a doctor.'
'You were a doctor,' he says. 'Then a butler, today a playboy, tomorrow a banker. None of them are your real face, or your real personality. Those were stripped from you when you entered Blackheath and they won't be returned until you leave.' 

Great quote, right? That’s why I used it. And it will draw you in to the story you are going to want to read.

The story is about a character called Aiden who has been told he needs to solve a murder at Blackheath House. As simple as any crime novel? Except that at the end of each day, the day repeats and Aiden finds himself in another guest at Blackheath House, with what clues he has remembered. That is correct. He inhabits the bodies of guests at Blackheath House to solve a murder.

As far as the plot goes, it can be disorientating, but it is very solid. There is an historical setting to the novel, which is interesting given the way the main character Aiden moves through the novel (science-fiction-like, if you will). However, it is well-paced, and it isn’t drenched in description. In fact, the plot is much denser than the description, which helps the pace. This therefore makes it more complex than an Agatha Christie novel, though the same “whodunnit” theme can be found across. But it is a nice step up from Christie if you are used to reading her.

In terms of character … because of how Aiden works, and so I do not give too much away, I cannot say much about Aiden himself. However, all the characters at Blackheath are well-developed, different from each other and sordid. Surely that’s a Christie word, right? Most characters have dark secrets and character traits that make them unlikeable; so, it also makes it hard (at least for me) to really tell who did commit the crime until the end. Yet it also adds depth to the characters, the setting and the plot, as all these characters appear multi-layered.

This book was a very solid first novel; and reads like it isn’t. There is crime, action, deception, science fiction elements, mystery … it’s almost an all-rounder, making it a good suggestion for any reader.

Links for you:

Title read-a-likes in the Library:

Kate Atkinson

This novel has an historical setting, is structurally complex and has a main protagonist who lives days over and over again. It is more humourous than Turton’s and removes the mystery / crime element from it.  

Author read-a-likes in the Library:

Tends to write in a similar style with stylistically complex writing, intricate plots and a creepy tone. A lot of the items in the list (there is a trilogy there) have historical settings; and others are more suspenseful.

Author read-a-likes in cloudLibrary:

Paula Hawkins

Hawkins tends to write in a similar style with stylistically complex writing, intricate plots and a creepy tone.

Sophie Hannah

These were chosen as Hannah was commissioned to write new Poirot novels in the vein of Christie (she also writes her own suspense / thrillers). These will be typical “whodunnits” with the crime and mystery elements similar; though possibly less suspenseful, yet with historical elements and intricate plots. 

May 20, 2020

Bridget Collins’ “The binding”

This book can be found here.

“Memories,’ she said, at last. ‘Not people, Emmett. We take memories and bind them. Whatever people can’t bear to remember. Whatever they can’t live with. We take those memories and put them where they can’t do any harm. That’s all books are.”

This book is set in maybe an 19th - early 20th Century-style lifestyle (don’t ask me specifically which one, I still might be wrong with that broad a guess). So, there is no technology, but there is a sense of industrialisation in parts. A concept of progress, whilst Collins, like Dickens, shows the limitations to the idea of progress. But this setting also, besides the gloominess of the future of people, also helps understand why the characters themselves might be more desperate, more closed, more … lacking hope as well.

I think the setting is solid (though not close to Dickens at all), though the realism comes more from the characters and their responses to situations and ideas. Whilst the characters aren’t completely lost in their hopelessness or so desperate as to be pathetic (in some cases, not all), there is a realism that helps you see how hard it would be to live in this society. And this is where the plot comes in.

Emmett Farmer (yes, his last name reflects his and his family’s occupation) is an ill, weak boy who after a nasty turn is given to a book binder Seredith, to learn the trade and hopefully recover. ‘Book binding’ I hear you say? Yeah, this is where the fantastical element of the plot fits in. Binding is taking memories that are unwanted by someone (they must agree to the binding) and turning those memories into a book that should be stored and secured, unless the living person wants to remember again at some point. I could say a lot more about the binding process, but it might spoil the novel. The main part being the fact that one of the Binder’s customers, Lucian Darnay seems linked to Emmett in some way … dum dum dah.

This, for the first part of the novel is not completely understood and adds mystery to the novel. However, the second part (it is divided into three), explains it all, and the third therefore reveals the conclusion of the consequences of such bindings. So, whilst the core of the novel seems to move around traditions and memory, there is also love (biggest spoiler of the novel, unless you can pick it early on once you start reading).

The thing is I think the plot moves slowly. It takes a long time to build up, and in a sense never really does ultimately climax. It also ends too openly, and almost too positively, for the period this world and characters live in. Probably not bad for a reader, but it removes the realism slightly.

The characters are well built. They are realistic; more so than the plot. They aren’t just “nice” or “good” or “kind”. The characters are completely flawed in multiple ways and … dark. They can just be downright awful. This is not just main characters, but secondary ones as well. You will have no real hope in humanity from this book (again possibly like some of Dickens’ characters); even if you think the end is uplifting. And whilst I think this is what Collins has done to balance the novel in a world where there are such things as forbidden love, it could be hard to read for some.

And where does that leave me? In a bind … ha ha. I really enjoy realistic novels, where there is a lot of grit and darkness. The characters were real enough for me; which was positive. However, the book is slow; so, it will take a while for any reader to get into. The fantastical elements of binding were also very solid and unique. However, if you don’t like characters being overly secretive, dark or gritty, don’t bother. Just look at the pretty cover.

Links for you:

Title read-a-likes in the Library:

Alix E. Harrow

Harrow was chosen for its 19th and early 20th Century’s focus, and the lyrical way Harrow writes. The story also focusses on young protagonists seeking answers to their pasts through magical libraries (of sorts).

Title read-a-likes in cloudLibrary:

Erin Morgenstern

Morgenstern was chosen because of the multiple perspectives telling the story which features LGBTQIA diverse characters. There is also a connection to the theme of “books about books”.

May 18, 2020

Staff pick: Rachel Clarke's "Dear life"

You can find this book here.

I just finished this wonderful book.

Rachel Clarke is a palliative care doctor working in NHS in England. The book describes how she came to that specialty and what she has learnt from her patients, their families and her colleagues. Her father, a GP, gets cancer and eventually is in need of palliative care himself. I would love to have her as my doctor if the need arose.

I smiled & wept throughout this book which brought me back to some difficult memories but ultimately it was life affirming. 

The last line from Philip Larkin's poem 'An Arundel Tomb' is quoted towards the end.....

"What will survive of us is love."

-- Wendy

May 13, 2020

How to ... cloudLibrary!

Just a quick post for all you out there who might want a little help with cloudLibrary.

  • The first tip is to make sure that if you use cloudLibrary on multiple devices (laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) that you always log in the same way. What this means is that if the first time you created your account you typed in C111111D, then you always need to remember to add the C and D when logging in the next time. 

  • We also have a lot of videos on the website here that might help you if you get stuck with anything technically. Try them out!

  • You are able to borrow, put items on hold (or reserve) and renew items just like if you were with us in person! The limit for borrowing is generally three (3) items at a time and the length of borrowing is three (3) weeks.

  • Items can automatically return themselves ... there are no overdue fines! However, that means if it has disappeared from your account that you will need to re-borrow it if you haven't finished that lengthy tome. 

May 06, 2020

Jay Kristoff’s “Lifel1k3”

This book can be found here.

‘Lifel1k3’ (or 'Lifelike') is the first in Kristoff's new young adult, dystopian series. As a note, I think the genre really works and the level of writing that Kristoff offers makes this dystopic future believable and realistic. It is gritty and dark and the language that is littered through is stunning, true cert. Though he did describe Ezekiel’s eyes the same way almost every time I was reading about Evie looking into them. You might get bored of that.

The novel centres on a character called Eve who when fighting a machina in WarDome is found to be able to fry electrics. From this moment on she is hunted by multiple factions, including the Brotherhood (the religious order of the day who want to kill her for being impure) and Daedalus (a large corporation of two that controls society so that their way of life and business may continue). Amidst trying to deal with all of this, Eve is confronted by an android called Ezekiel, who challenges everything she has grown up knowing whilst trying to help her save her captured grandfather.

I found the characters very solid and believable. I think Eve was well-done and I think the secondary characters were fun and strong enough to hold their own in the novel. The secondary characters are also given a stronger focus in the second novel; so if you really enjoy them, persevere and read the series!

It is fast and furious (and vehicles do play a nice part); and I also like the dire vision of the future that is played throughout. Kristoff also writes with great depth and has some solid moments of humour.

This is suited for a young adult audience, but if you don’t like gore or swearing, then don’t read it. If you like a mix of grit, humour and solid battle scenes, then read this book!

Links for you:

Jay Kristoff in the library:

Stormdancer ; Lotus wars 1

Kristoff in cloudLibrary:

Aurora rising ; Aurora Cycle 1

Nevernight ; Nevernight Chronicle 1

Author read-a-likes in the Library:

Red Queen ; Red Queen series 1
Victoria Aveyard

Aveyard was chosen because she writes strong rebellious characters and teenage relationships . The work is also dystopic.

Ninth house ; Alex Stern 1
Leigh Bardugo

Bardugo was chosen for the author’s world-building detail and creating characters that are flawed.

Havenfall ; Havenfall 1
Sara Holland

Holland was chosen for her detailed world-building and strong female characters.

Author read-a-likes in cloudLibrary:

Throne of glass ; Throne of glass 1
Sarah J Maas

House of earth and blood ; Crescent city 1
Sarah J Maas

Sarah J Maas has been chosen not just because of the genre connection; but because of how the author world-builds: detailed and descriptive.