Mini Reviews: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) & In At the Deep End

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

I’d wanted to read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle ever since it was nominated for the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards last year. I cannot resist books that everyone’s talking about.

I loved the premise of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: Evelyn has been killed hundreds of times, and every day, Aiden Bishop, who wakes up in a different body, is too late to save her. It’s a fabulous time-travelling, Agatha Christie-style whodunnit mystery. I enjoyed discovering which character our puzzle-solver would wake up as next. I read most of it curled up on a beanbag in the Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room.

Even so, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was perhaps a little too long for me, especially as a lot is going on at the same time. I felt it could’ve been shorter, but I generally feel that way about most books!

Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) by Lev A.C. Rosen

Has anyone else been in a reading slump this year? You know that feeling when you want to read, but can’t bring yourself to pick up a book, or you end up reading the same novel for weeks? I needed something funny to pick me up and Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) was the perfect choice: part Pretty Little Liars, part Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. A much filthier version.

Jack Rothman is 17 years old and loves partying, makeup and boys. He’s the school’s fave to gossip about. Jack begins writing an online sex advice column and starts to receive mysterious love letters… except they’re threatening, dark, and stalkerish. Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) is a liberal joy. I know a lot of teenagers will find it helpful, whether they’re a gay man or not.

Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) is also one of those books where the side characters shine through. I really enjoyed Jack’s relationship with his friends Jenna and Ben – although Jenna, I think, is one of those slightly problematic friends where you can’t quite decide whether they’re good for the other person or not – and his mum. Jack of Hearts is a wonderful mix of mystery + contemporary, and I have been telling everyone to read it!

This photo was taken by my lovely friends Beth @ Books Nest. We went book-shopping and she bought both books after my recommendations!

In At the Deep End by Kate Davies

As of next week, I’m 30 years old, but I rarely read books about marriage, divorce, affairs, mortgages, or having children. I’m still on that millennial bridge between teenager and adult, and enjoy books about young people like me, such as Tiffy and Leon in The Flatshare – people who are still figuring out life, discovering who they are, and working on their career, friendships and relationships, but who never feel like they know what they’re doing.

At the start of In At the Deep End, Julia has a one-night stand with a man who accuses her of breaking his penis. It’s this pretty awful night that makes Julia really think about what she wants. She begins questioning her sexuality, and eventually the ‘right’ way to be a lesbian and a feminist, making some pretty big changes in her life.

In At the Deep End is straight-talking and hilarious – not only because it’s sexually graphic – and a really fantastic read. I still feel like a newbie to the world of LGBTQIA+ (I only started reading LGBT+ YA books a few years ago). I was as clueless as Julia at the start of the book, but she becomes a more open person as she throws herself into being a lesbian. But even being part of a supportive, friendly community doesn’t mean you’re immune from toxic relationships. Julia begins a relationship with a woman that turns more and more toxic, and she once again needs help from her friends.

In At the Deep End is another book I’ve been telling everyone to read. I’m becoming a fangirl of filthy books, it seems.

#gifted: Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) and In At the Deep End were obtained for free in exchange for an honest review. I borrowed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle from a friend.

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Mini Reviews: Fierce Fragile Hearts, Giant Days & The Night Olivia Fell

Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard

I re-read Beautiful Broken Things before picking up Fierce Fragile Hearts and it really helped me appreciate the story more, I think. It reminded me how friendships were formed and about the different dynamics. It was great to go from Caddy’s to Susanne’s POV – I hope we get to hear from Rosie’s perspective someday!

Fierce Fragile Hearts is set two years laterSuze is back in Brighton and ready to catch up with her best friends, even thought they’re about to head off to university. After moving into a studio flat (and befriending the older lady downstairs, Dilys), she finds that her new life won’t be easy.

In the previous book, we didn’t really get to know Suze properly, but Fierce Fragile Hearts gave us the chance to go deeper. Suze is still very emotional, affected by her past, and really quite lonely. She is warned away from Matt, the charismatic musician, which she of course ignores. She is trying to make her life better – whilst simultaneously sabotaging herself. That’s what sums up the book for me: Suze developing as a character, and her two friends around her (even when they aren’t physically there). Sara Barnard still, for me, writes some of the most realistic portrayals of friendship, and I really enjoyed this follow-up!

Giant Days by Non Pratt

Even though I’ve only read the first volume of the graphic novels, I was so excited to hear about this book inspired by the Giant Days series – and written by one of my favourite YA authors! In Giant Days, we follow the lives of “three university first-years: Daisy, the innocent home-schooled girl; Susan, the sardonic wit; and Esther, the vivacious drama queen”.

As I’ve said on Pretty Books before, I adore novels set in university. I loved that each of the girls’ first-year experiences is different: Daisy’s going through homesickness and loneliness, and tries to deal with this by doing All the Things; Susan’s having to deal with her past when a boy called McGraw shows up; and Esther’s just making it up as she goes along.

I found it a little difficult at first to jump quickly between the three characters, but once we were introduced to the three girls and their time at university, it got easier to follow their misadventures and mishaps.

I also love that my friend Grace is a character in the book!

The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald

I’ve been in *such* a reading slump this year. It has nothing to do with the books I’ve been reading and all to do with me. What I needed was a fast-paced book… a thriller seemed like the perfect choice! I hadn’t heard about The Night Olivia Fell before picking it up (which, if you’re a fellow blogger, you’ll know is very unusual and exciting!).

Abi Knight is woken up in the middle of the night and told that her teenage daughter has had an accident. Olivia slipped and fell from a bridge into the icy water below, and is now on life support – not only that, she’s three months pregnant. But what if she didn’t fall? What if she was pushed?

The Night Olivia Fell is all about discovering what really happened to Olivia that night. Was it an accident? Did someone want her dead? And if so, who? And who is the father of her baby?

The Night Olivia Fell did the trick – it only took three days to read – and was enjoyable, if not the most memorable thriller. (I did spot two instances of ‘I let out a breathe I didn’t know I was holding’ – sorry! I can’t help it!). It was so much fun piecing together all the ‘evidence’ as the narration switched between Abi and Olivia. The novel is marketed as adult, but it could easily be YA,, too. If you need non-violet, fast-paced thrillers, The Night Olivia Fell could be one to try!

#gifted: All three books were obtained for free in exchange for an honest review.

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Mini Book Reviews: The Couple Next Door, Floored & City of Ghosts

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I’m not a massive consumer of audiobooks, but when I do listen to them, it’s in bed – and I never thought that a psychological thriller would be the perfect choice. I don’t get to read thrillers often, but when I saw that The Couple Next Door was available to borrow on Libby, I had to download it. 

The Couple Next Door is about Anne and Marco Conti, who are at a party next door while their tiny baby, Cora, is at home asleep. When they come home, Cora is missing.

The Couple Next Door was a great audiobook choice because it’s not violent – I didn’t have to worry about listening to someone describe murder in graphic detail whilst lying in my bed at night – but it was still incredibly gripping. I almost didn’t want to go to sleep when the next chapter started. I had my suspicions and the story didn’t go the way I expected. I was often frustrated at the characters – from Marco the husband to the police detective Rasbach – and desperately wanted the baby to be found alive.

I’ll definitely be listening to Shari Lapena’s A Stranger in the House. If you have any other thriller/mystery audiobook recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

Floored by Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson, and more

Floored is described as The Breakfast Club meets One Day; a unique collaborative novel by seven YA authors: Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt, Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Eleanor Wood.

I’ve been in a reading slump for the past few months and knew what I needed was a fun, fast-paced YA contemporary novel. Floored is about six teenagers – six strangers – who meet when they get stuck in a lift with a man who suffers a heart attack, and continue to meet up on the anniversary of his death every year.

Floored is definitely about the characters’ friendship – and how that one day impacted all of their lives – rather than the plot, which was absolutely fine with me. I loved getting to know each of the teenagers, seeing how they developed and changed over the years. I managed to correctly guess which authors wrote which character for a few of them, particularly my fave Holly Bourne! (MyKindaBook tweeted the reveal here). I adored each character in their own way, but my favourites have to be Velvet, Kaitlyn and, I’d hate to say it… Hugo (although I love a Good Boy and so would have to throw Joe in there too). 

Floored was the perfect pick-me-up and made me want to get stuck into even more contemporary!

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts was my first Victoria Schwab (aka V.E. Schwab) book. It was my Halloween pick, set in one of my favourite cities: Edinburgh, Scotland. I adored City of Ghosts as soon as I opened the page to a map of the city. 

City of Ghosts introduces us to young Cassidy Blake and her best friend – who happens to be a ghost – Jacob. Cass’ parents are The Inspectres, a famous ghost-hunting duo, but she’s the only one who can really see ghosts. That is, until she travels to Edinburgh to film the first episode of her parents’ new TV series and meets Lara, who is on a mission to send ghosts back to where they belong. As for the setting, you really feel like you’re in Edinburgh, walking through Grassmarket and visiting Blackwell’s on South Bridge (although I didn’t know about the underground vaults – I’ll have to visit!). 

I loved all the characters we meet in City of Ghosts. Cassidy, our protagonist, is not wholly into the whole seeing-ghosts-thing, although she completely adores Jacob and couldn’t imagine ever sending him away, even if she feels he’s keeping something from her. Cassidy’s parents are wonderful and show up in the story quite a bit, as does her new frenemy Lara. And what’s more, it’s full of Harry Potter references. It made me feel warm and cosy inside, which isn’t quite what you’d expect from a Halloween read, but it was a perfect choice nonetheless. 

City of Ghosts the first book in the Cassidy Blake series and I cannot wait to see where her next adventure takes her. 

“What you feel, Cassidy Blake, is called a purpose.”

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Mini Book Reviews: Save the Date, Ready Player One & The Silent Patient

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

It’s no secret that I adore Morgan Matson’s books. I’ll add them instantly to my TBR before I even know what they’re about. In Save the Date, Charlie’s sister Linnie is getting married at their family home – and the house is filled with all four of the Grant siblings. Well, almost. Save the Date doesn’t just focus on the protagonist, 17-year-old Charlie. The spotlight is on the entire Grant family and we get to know them all ready well. As someone who has a small family and no siblings, I enjoyed the family drama (with brother Mike in particular), all the wedding havoc (complete with an adorable rogue puppy), and the relationship between siblings, in particular JJ, who is the joker of the family and is hilarious. The Grant family are picture perfect and the basis for the comic strip created by Charlie’s mum that has made the family famous across America.

But Charlie discovers that not everything about her family can be perfect. From conflicts that the press aren’t aware of to the pressure of being the youngest in the family, Charlie’s feeling the tension build. As with most contemporary YA novels, there is a romance, but it isn’t at the centre of the story. Will is the step-in wedding planner who aims to help Charlie save her sister’s wedding, and he’s completely lovely.

If you loved To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, you’ll probably love Morgan Matson, too.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Set in the 2040s, Halliday is the creator of the Oasis, a vast virtual society that provides everything that the real world cannot. Upon his death, he creates a video announcing that he’s hidden an Easter egg in the Oasis. Whoever finds it first wins his immense fortune – and complete control over the Oasis. And so the fun begins when 18-year-old Wade becomes the first person to discover the first key.

Ready Player One is fun, fast-paced and filled with 80s references. As it covers an entire decade, it could’ve done with celebrating a few more women – female authors, movies, directors, singers, game creators, etc. I rolled my eyes when Halliday’s favourite authors were listed… male, male, male. Halliday didn’t read anything by Ursula K. Le Guin? Or Margaret Atwood? It seems unlikely!

Ready Player One read like a game walkthrough, which I found immensely fun (or, as I’ve just discovered, is described as a Literary Role Play Game), and I loved all the characters… Wade, Aech, and Art3mis (but no, Ernest, you didn’t need to tell us it was pronounced “Artemis”), plus Shoto and Daito. I’m so glad I finally got to read this cult classic sci-fi novel. I now need to check out the film!

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I really do want to read more thrillers, but I find it incredibly difficult to choose one – I need them recommended to me! So when The Silent Patient was announced, I was intrigued. It looks set to be one of the most talked about books of 2019. In Alex Michaelides’ debut, Alicia Berenson is the silent patient. Her life is seemingly perfect. She’s a successful artist and married to famous fashion photographer, and everyone is surprised when she is found at home, having just shot her husband five times in the face. And she hasn’t said a word since. Six years later, criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber takes on the job of treating Alicia at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London – and Alicia’s case threatens to spiral out of control.

One of the reasons I read (albeit, rarely) thriller/crime/mystery novels is that I love not knowing what’s going to happen next, and guessing what the truth might be. I knew there was a lot of hype about The Silent Patient (something I’m unable to resist), and I kept on reading, intrigued by Alicia Berenson and her motivations, and the people in her life – who can be trusted? You’re taken on a journey through Theo’s personal and work life, not necessarily knowing where it is going or whether he’ll be able to get Alicia talking again. I would’ve loved a few more twists and turns throughout the novel rather than just one huge (although impressive) twist, but The Silent Patient certainly gave me the thirst for even more thrillers!

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What I’ve Read / All These Beautiful Strangers, My Heart Goes Bang & More Happy Than Not

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth

All These Beautiful Strangers was recommended by one of my good friends, Bella, who knew that I enjoyed boarding schools, secret societies, and a lot of mystery. Charlie Calloway is immensely privileged. She’s rich, has a close family, a loyal set of friends and achieved top grades at her fancy boarding school. She’s always been taught that she’s different; special, better, so when an exclusive secret society – the A’s – sends her an invitation to join the club, there’s no question that she should join. But Charlie quickly finds herself at the heart of a decades-old mystery involving a terrible family crime: what does her mother’s disappearance have to do with the A’s? And is Charlie willing to risk her membership to find out?

All These Beautiful Strangers switches between 2017 and the 1990s, with everything slowly unfolding until Charlie discovers the truth. It was such a fun, immersive read – even though I’d have loved for it to focus more on Charlie and the the A’s – and is a fabulous blend of YA and adult fiction. Charlie really develops as a character and you end up loving her even though you shouldn’t, and the twists will keep you guessing until the end.

My Heart Goes Bang by Keris Stainton

I bought My Heart Goes Bang for London Pride and it turned out to be one of my favourite books of the year. It now sits on my favourites shelf next to Freshers, and I’d absolutely love to see more books set at university. Ella, Lou, Issey, Liane and Paige are ready for their second year at the University of Liverpool and their new student house. They’re settling in when Ella comes across a magazine article with a list of men they should date before they’re 21 (e.g. someone who’s been on TV, someone who has tattoos), and challenge her house to complete it.

When you come across ‘Bastard’ and ‘Fuck. Me.’ on the first page, you know it’s going to be a great book. I adored our five protagonists and you’re bound to identify with one of them – I’m very much an Ella, fairly sensible, bookish and attracted to nice boys.

My Heart Goes Bang brought back so many memories of being at university (minus the Fuck-It List!). It’s narrated by five awesome girls – I enjoyed each of their storylines, featuring everything from bisexuality to money worries – and is sex-positive (which we need so much!), funny and relatable. I wish I had this as a fresher. There will be a sequel, right?!

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Adam Silvera has been one of my favourite authors since I read They Both Die at the End & History is All You Left Me, so I was super excited when Simon & Schuster sent me a copy of his first book, newly published in the UK, More Happy Than Not. Adam Silvera does magical realism excellently. Aaron Soto lives in a world where, if you wish, your memories can be completely wiped so you no longer have to remember troubling times. Aaron hasn’t had the surgery, but he’s struggled with depression ever since his father died and, with help from his girlfriend, he’s slowly remembering what happiness feels like. But then he meets Thomas, who’s smart and funny and gets Aaron. They’re best friends until, much to his surprise, Aaron falls in love with him. And then he must make a decision.

More Happy Than Not is another brilliant contemporary story from Adam Silvera and, like his previous books, doesn’t go the way you expect it to. It deals with sexuality in an incredibly complex way. Aaron’s story is intense and sad, but layered with geeky comic book references and rediscovering the joy of being with someone who understands you. I’m ready to read What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera!

P.S. Pretty Books is 8 years old today!