Monday, October 29, 2018

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton: Reading Room Review

“Every time the day begins, Aiden wakes up in a different body, and each body he inhabits is a guest of the masquerade. The only way he can escape this loop is solve the murder, but if he can’t do it in 8 days, he has to start the loop over again, losing the memories of everything he’s learnt previously.”

I guess it’s only fitting that the uniqueness of this twisted tale has resulted in a review from me that is unlike any review I’ve ever given. I was confused in this story for well over a hundred pages in this book, which caused me to be frustrated and wondering if I should just call it a day and move onto another book. I thought that my confusion was going to remain and that the book was flawed or remiss in its unfolding of the story. But, being on the stubborn side and still maintaining a curiosity about how the main character was ever going to survive the maze in which he found himself, I continued reading. I was rewarded with clarity and such a brilliantly layered story that I have ended up in awe of Stuart Turton’s cleverness. 

Turton has created a main character, Aiden Bishop, who was himself confused and full of questions about what the hell was going on, and the reader was right there with Aiden, confused and frustrated and wondering what the hell was going on. Nicely done, Stuart Turton. How much more can a reader identify with a character than feeling the emotions that character is feeling? And, as the character works through the maze, so does the reader. Of course, it’s little wonder that confusion is at the forefront, with Aiden Bishop in a different person’s body each day for eight days. You do need to pay attention. This is not a novel that you can read in short bits and come back to on and off. My suggestion is to read as much as you can at a sitting and hold onto the information that is building. I am especially writing a review to encourage those who, like me, may have thoughts of abandoning the book. Don’t. You will miss out on a masterpiece of storytelling if you take the easy way out. Did I mention that The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is Stuart Turton’s debut book? You will marvel at that fact as you read through this puzzle of murder and deception. 

I thought the book description rather short on the inside flap of the book, but I understand why now. It’s impossible to justly describe a plot that constantly twists and turns to the satisfaction of someone beginning its journey. You have to read-it/live-it to get it, and you have to, as Aiden Bishop is forced to do daily, jump right in and start running with it. So, my description will be briefer than my normal ones are, too. (Again, a different review than I’ve ever done.) 

Aiden Bishop wakes up one morning in a forest, where he hears a woman scream for help and a gunshot, but he cannot find the woman and is given a compass by an unknown person to make his way back to the Blackheath estate’s mansion. He is not in his own body, and he learns from a mysterious creature called the Plague Doctor, because that is how the person is dressed or disguised, that there will be a murder of Evelyn Hardcastle that evening at 11:00 p.m. It is Aiden’s mission to find out who is behind the murder if he wants to escape a cycle of changing bodies every day for the next eight days. While maintaining his own thoughts, Aiden also has knowledge and thoughts of his host body and must work within the relationships that host has with the other guests who are staying at the estate for a party occurring that night. It’s a gauntlet of hit and miss for Aiden, and there is a character named only “the footman” who will try to kill the host in which Aiden resides. If Aiden fails to solve the mystery in the eight days, the cycle of changing bodies starts over, along with the learning curve. The characters whom Aiden inhabits are all very different, with troubling issues of their own that play into the forward movement of the day’s timeline. It is a play within a play within a play within a play … It is fascinating. 

I’ve seen this book compared to Agatha Christie, pertaining to the setting and stock country-house guests characters, but this book is Agatha Christie with teeth, big sharp teeth. Delightfully dark and chilling, there are parts where you will cringe with discomfort, but with Aiden Bishop, unfortunately, the phrase “no pain, no gain” is a proven truth. It seems that Turton has played right to my favorite elements of a mystery. I love a locked-room mystery, and as there is no escape from the estate, the world in which Aiden finds himself, until he can solve the murder, it is in every sense that counts, a locked-room situation. Another tool of the trade I enjoy is the unreliable narrator, and those are plentiful in this story, as Aiden is burdened not only with solving a murder but doing it with the thoughts and feelings of his host bodies’ influences. He stumbles down the wrong path and draws the wrong conclusions more than once. Who to trust and who to believe is a constant issue. 

So, if you need an exceptional read, one that will keep you looking behind the curtains and doors for a killer or two, you don’t want to miss The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It’s so worth the beginning confusion, once you realize that a little manipulation of your mind is all part of the game in this extraordinary story.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Go to My Grave by Catriona McPherson: Reading Room Review

Catriona McPherson's mind is so full of stories that she now writes two series and a stand-alone each year. And, she does it all with careful attention to detail in each book. I always thought of myself as a series person, and I do love reading series, with those characters in which you become invested over the years. But, I have to say that I always get excited about a new story with new characters from Catriona McPherson, because her imagination can draw up some dark, thrilling tales, each unlike anything I've ever read before. Go to My Grave draws on elements that are favorites of mine--an isolated country house, locked room scenario, simmering secrets, and ghosts from the past. And what you think you've figured out about the past doesn't even come close. I like being surprised, and Catriona twists it up beautifully to accomplish that.

Donna Weaver and her mother have worked hard to renovate the country house they bought overlooking the sea near Galloway in Scotland, to make it a luxury stay for guests wanting a get-away from the noise and rush of their everyday lives. Donna, who has worked in hotel customer service brings her experience and cooking talents to The Breakers, while her mother has extensive technical savvy to connect them to clients and keep clients happily wired during their visit if they so choose. The first booking is a group of eight cousins celebrating one of the cousins' ten-year wedding anniversary. Mother and daughter are ready for guests, but Donna's mother will be away that weekend to attend a wedding fair in Glasgow, to drum up business. So, Donna must be the lone proprietor for the cousins and their celebration, but she feels she's capable of handling it. Of course, nobody could have anticipated cousins like these. The anniversary couple, Sasha Mowbray and his wife Kim, are anything but the happy couple, and all the cousins, from Sasha's sister Rosalie and her husband Paul, Paul's brother Ramsey, siblings Peach and Buck, and lone wolf Jennifer seem more intent on tormenting one another than insuring one another enjoy the weekend. And, someone is playing some not-so-funny practical jokes that relate to the other time the eight cousins inhabited this house, the night of Sasha's sixteenth birthday party in 1991, another celebration that went horribly wrong twenty-five years ago. 

Donna is our narrator to this dark tale, but she hasn't the knowledge to give readers the backstory of the house and the cousins' connection to it. However, with chapters reaching back to that birthday party in 1991, readers gain increasing insight into just how out of control the party got and why the cousins took oaths to keep the nightmare locked away, taking its memories to the grave. The pranks related to that birthday night grow increasingly chilling in the present-day setting, until the prankster makes revenge an unmistakable goal. The suspense created with each clue to the past is deliciously palatable, and readers of Agatha Christie and Gothic fiction will be frightfully delighted as the revelation of the prankster/tormentor grows ever closer. McPherson masterfully plays with our minds to create an edge of your seat tale. The cousins all at one time or another seem capable of bringing the secrets to light that had stayed locked away for so long. And, Donna doesn’t escape suspicion either. The bottom line is that one of those connected to this house want revenge and others want to keep the box locked and the lips stitched. Who will step from the shadows to lay bare the truth? Getting to this answer will be a thrilling journey.

I received an advanced reader's copy of Go to My Grave for an honest review, and I can honestly say that it is already on my favorites list for the year.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Halloween Short Story Reads

"October's Bright Blue Weather: A Good Time to Read" picture to the left is the 1937 WPA Halloween Reading Poster, of which I have a copy in my home.  It is just the perfect depiction of what Halloween reading should be.  While there are plenty of books that belong on a Halloween reading list, we don't always have time for them.  So, I'm listing some scary, ghostly short story collections that you can dip in and out of as time permits.  These stories are great to read all year round, but there's something special about reading them close to Halloween that adds an extra spark of atmosphere.  You might want to plug in your nightlight after reading.

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton
Jacket Description:
 One might not expect a woman of Edith Wharton's literary stature to be a believer of ghost stories, much less be frightened by them, but as she admits in her postscript to this spine-tingling collection, "...till I was twenty-seven or -eight, I could not sleep in the room with a book containing a ghost story." Once her fear was overcome, however, she took to writing tales of the supernatural for publication in the magazines of the day. These eleven finely wrought pieces showcase her mastery of the traditional New England ghost story and her fascination with spirits, hauntings, and other supernatural phenomena. Called "flawlessly eerie" by Ms. magazine, this collection includes "Pomegranate Seed," "The Eyes," "All Souls'," "The Looking Glass," and "The Triumph of Night."

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghosts Stories by Roald Dahl

Jacket Description:
Who better to investigate the literary spirit world than that supreme connoisseur of the unexpected, Roald Dahl? Of the many permutations of the macabre or bizarre, Dahl was always especially fascinated by the classic ghost story. As he realtes in the erudite introduction to this volume, he read some 749 supernatural tales at the British Museum Library before selecting the 14 that comprise this anthology. "Spookiness is, after all, the real purpose of the ghost story," Dahl writes. "It should give you the creeps and disturb your thoughts." For this superbly disquieting collection, Dahl offers favorite tales by such masterful storytellers as E. F. Benson, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Rosemary Timperley, and Edith Wharton.

Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
Jacket Description:
The melancholy, brilliance, passionate lyricism, and torment of Edgar Allan Poe are all well represented in this collection. Here, in one volume, are his masterpieces of mystery, terror, humor, and adventure, including stories such as The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Pit and the Pendulum, to name just a few, that defined American romanticism and secured Poe as one of the most enduring literary voices of the nineteenth century.

The October Country by Ray Bradbury

Jacket Description:
Haunting, harrowing, and downright horrifying, this classic collection from the modern master of the fantastic features:
THE SMALL ASSASSIN: a fine, healthy baby boy was the new mother's dream come true -- or her nightmare . . .
THE EMISSARY: the faithful dog was the sick boy's only connectioin with the world outside -- and beyond . . .
THE WONDERFUL DEATH OF DUDLEY STONE: a most remarkable case of murder -- the deceased was delighted!
And more!

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Introduced and Illustrated by Audrey Niffenegger
Jacket Description:
Collected and introduced by the bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry—including her own fabulous new illustrations for each piece, and a new story by Niffenegger—this is a unique and haunting anthology of some of the best ghost stories of all time.

From Edgar Allen Poe to Kelly Link, M.R. James to Neil Gaiman, H. H. Munro to Audrey Niffenegger herself, Ghostly reveals the evolution of the ghost story genre with tales going back to the eighteenth century and into the modern era, ranging across styles from Gothic Horror to Victorian, with a particular bent toward stories about haunting—haunted children, animals, houses. Every story is introduced by Audrey Niffenegger, an acclaimed master of the craft, with some words on its background and why she chose to include it. Niffenegger’s own story is, “A Secret Life With Cats.”

Perfect for the classic and contemporary ghost story aficionado, this is a delightful volume, beautifully illustrated. Ghostly showcases the best of the best in the field, including Edith Wharton, P.G. Wodehouse, A.S. Byatt, Ray Bradbury, and so many more.

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, Edited by Leslie S. Klinger
Jacket Description:
"With an increasing distance from the twentieth century…the New England poet, author, essayist, and stunningly profuse epistolary Howard Phillips Lovecraft is beginning to emerge as one of that tumultuous period’s most critically fascinating and yet enigmatic figures," writes Alan Moore in his introduction to The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft.  Despite this nearly unprecedented posthumous trajectory, at the time of his death at the age of forty-six, Lovecraft's work had appeared only in dime-store magazines, ignored by the public and maligned by critics. Now well over a century after his birth, Lovecraft is increasingly being recognized as the foundation for American horror and science fiction, the source of "incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction" (Joyce Carol Oates).
In this volume, Leslie S. Klinger reanimates Lovecraft with clarity and historical insight, charting the rise of the erstwhile pulp writer, whose rediscovery and reclamation into the literary canon can be compared only to that of Poe or Melville. Weaving together a broad base of existing scholarship with his own original insights, Klinger appends Lovecraft's uncanny oeuvre and Kafkaesque life story in a way that provides context and unlocks many of the secrets of his often cryptic body of work.
Over the course of his career, Lovecraft―"the Copernicus of the horror story" (Fritz Leiber)―made a marked departure from the gothic style of his predecessors that focused mostly on ghosts, ghouls, and witches, instead crafting a vast mythos in which humanity is but a blissfully unaware speck in a cosmos shared by vast and ancient alien beings. One of the progenitors of "weird fiction," Lovecraft wrote stories suggesting that we share not just our reality but our planet, and even a common ancestry, with unspeakable, godlike creatures just one accidental revelation away from emerging from their epoch of hibernation and extinguishing both our individual sanity and entire civilization.
Following his best-selling The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Leslie S. Klinger collects here twenty-two of Lovecraft's best, most chilling "Arkham" tales, including "The Call of Cthulhu," At the Mountains of Madness, "The Whisperer in Darkness," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Colour Out of Space," and others. With nearly 300 illustrations, including full-color reproductions of the original artwork and covers from Weird Tales and Astounding Stories, and more than 1,000 annotations, this volume illuminates every dimension of H. P. Lovecraft and stirs the Great Old Ones in their millennia of sleep.
280 color illustrations

Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
Jacket Description:
From one of the greatest storytellers in modern times comes this classic collection of twenty-two works of fright and wonder…unforgettable tales that will take you to where your darkest fears await. Whether it’s a mysterious impenetrable mist camouflaging bizarre, otherworldly terrors that could herald the destruction of humanity…or an eerie-looking child’s toy that harbors an unimaginable evil…or four college students on a deserted lake encountering something that crosses the boundary of sanity…or a man suddenly given the omnipotent ability to quite literally edit his own reality…the extraordinary narratives found in Skeleton Crew are the enduring and irresistible proof that Stephen King is a true master of the short fiction form.

Spellbinders in Suspense edited by Alfred Hitchcock
Table of contents:
"The Chinese Puzzle Box" by Agatha Christie
"The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
"The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier
"Puzzle For Poppy" by Patrick Quentin
"Eyewitness" by Robert Arthur
"Man From The South" by Roald Dahl
"Black Magic" by Sax Rohmer
"Treasure Trove" by F. Tennyson Jesse
"Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper" by Robert Bloch
"The Treasure Hunt" by Edgar Wallace
"The Man Who Knew How" by Dorothy L. Sayers
"The Dilemma of Grampa DuBois" by Clayre and Michel Lipman
"P. Moran, Diamond-Hunter" by Percival Wilde

The Penguin book of Ghost Stories, edited by Michael Newton
Jacket Description:
'The ghost is the most enduring figure in supernatural fiction. He is absolutely indestructible... He changes with the styles in fiction but he never goes out of fashion. He is the really permanent citizen of the earth, for mortals, at best, are but transients' - Dorothy Scarborough

This new selection of ghost stories, by Michael Newton, brings together the best of the genre. From Elizabeth Gaskell's 'The Old Nurse's Story' through to Edith Wharton's 'Afterword', this collection covers all of the most terrifying tales of the genre. With a thoughtful introduction, and helpful notes, Newton places the stories contextually within the genre and elucidates the changing nature of the ghost story and how we interpret it.


American Gothic Tales, edited by Joyce Carol Oates
Jacket Description:
Joyce Carol Oates has a special perspective on the “gothic” in American short fiction, at least partially because her own horror yarns rank on the spine-tingling chart with the masters. She is able to see the unbroken link of the macabre that ties Edgar Allan Poe to Anne Rice and to recognize the dark psychological bonds between Henry James and Stephen King. This remarkable anthology of gothic fiction, spanning two centuries of American writing, gives us an intriguing and entertaining look at how the gothic imagination makes for great literature in the works of forty-six exceptional writers.
In showing us the gothic vision—a world askew where mankind’s forbidden impulses are set free from the repressions of the psyche, and nature turns malevolent and lawless—Joyce Carol Oates includes Henry James’s “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” Herman Melville’s horrific tale of factory women, “The Tartarus of Maids,” and Edith Wharton’s “Afterward,” which are rarely collected and appear together here for the first time.
Added to these stories of the past are new ones that explore the wounded worlds of Stephen King, Anne Rice, Peter Straub, Raymond Carver, and more than twenty other wonderful contemporary writers. This impressive collection reveals the astonishing scope of the gothic writer’s subject matter, style, and incomparable genius for manipulating our emotions and penetrating our dreams. With Joyce Carol Oates’s superb introduction, American Gothic Tales is destined to become the standard one-volume edition of the genre that American writers, if they didn’t create it outright, have brought to its chilling zenith.

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
Jacket Description:
After the publication of her short story "The Lottery" in the New Yorker in 1948 received an unprecedented amount of attention, Shirley Jackson was quickly established as a master horror storyteller.  This collection of classic and newly reprinted stories provides readers with more of her unsettling dark tale, including "The Possibility of Evil" and "The Summer People."  In these deliciously dark stories, the daily commute turns into a nightmarish game of hide and seek, the loving wife hides homicidal thoughts, and the concerned citizen might just be an infamous serial killer.  In the haunting world of Shirley Jackson, nothing is as it seems and nowhere is safe, from the city streets to the crumbling country pile, and from the small-town apartment to the dark, dark woods.  There's something sinister in suburbia.  

The Best of Richard Matheson, edited by Victor LaValle 
Jacket Description:
Among the greats of 20th-century horror and fantasy, few names stand above Richard Matheson.  Though known for many for novels like I Am Legend and his sixteen Twilight Zone episodes, Matheson truly shines in his chilling, masterful short stories.  Since his first story appeared in 1950, virtually every major writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy has fallen under his influence, including Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Joe Hill, as well as filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg and J. J. Abrams.  Matheson revolutionized horror by taking it out of Gothic castles and strange cosmos and setting it in the darkened streets and suburbs we recognize as our own.  He infused tales of the fantastic and supernormal with dark explorations of human nature, delving deep into the universal dread of feeling alone and threatened in a dangerous world.  The Best of Richard Matheson brings together his greatest hits as chosen by Victor LaValle, an expert on horror fiction and one of its brightest talents, marking the first major overview of Matheson's legendary career.