Book Review

Book Review | All In by Billie Jean King

September 23rd, 2022

| Published: August 2021, Knopf Publishing |
| Genre: Non-Fiction Autobiography |
| Themes: Tennis, Activism |
| Length: 496 Pages |
| Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

An inspiring and intimate self-portrait of a champion of equality that encompasses her brilliant tennis career, unwavering activism, and an ongoing commitment to fairness and social justice.

Billie Jean King is a superstar of tennis, most famous for her 36 titles and the battle of the sexes match, where she defeated male player Bobby Riggs in straight sets to prove women were real competitors.

I picked this up because I’m a fan of the sport, and wanted to know more about one of the players who had such a huge impact on the game. But this was more than just a book about tennis. Billie Jean King has a very political mind and she has a lot to say about the history she has lived through, seen with her own eyes, and been a part of.

Everyone deserved to be treated like a human being, and you shouldn’t just say it. You need to live it.

It’s also not just the story of her tennis career, but also the history of tennis. It’s no exaggeration to say tennis is what it is today because of what King and her peers did to promote the sport, to lift it, and change it where it needed to be changed.

I normally stay away from books written by non-writers, but I found the writing in this one enjoyable. I did also listen to some of the audiobook thought as I just felt it was slightly long.

I knew next to nothing about King before going into this, but I left it absolutely in love with her, in awe of her, and inspired by her.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

September 15th, 2022

| Published: 1994 |
| Genre: Non-Fiction |
| Themes: Writing |
| Length: 237 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Bird by Bird is Anne Lamott’s guide to writing and life. She’s an accomplished writer and teacher, and shares what she knows and thinks will be useful to any want to be writer.

‘I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it.’

She is generous in sharing the wealth of knowledge she possesses about writing and the book industry. She has written this in a concise but entertaining way, with her personality shining through her words. I found myself laughing and nodding along the whole way through reading this book.

‘Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.’

This is a must read for any aspiring writer. Not only is it full of helpful advice, it’s also encouraging. It left me feeling a lot more confident that I knew what I was doing, but also with the knowledge that it’s okay if you don’t. As Lamott says herself:

‘You can’t – and, in fact, you’re not supposed to – know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.’

I know that whenever I’m in the middle of writing, at any stage of the process, I will be turning to this book and flicking through I think are most relevent to my current state of mind. Hopefully it has the power of bringing me out of the dark hole of self-doubt.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review

Book Review | The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

September 8th, 2022

| Published: 1868 |
| Genre: Classic |
| Themes: Mystery, Victorian |
| Length: 478 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

The Moonstone, a yellow diamond looted from an Indian temple and believed to bring bad luck to its owner, is bequeathed to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday. That very night the priceless stone is stolen again and when Sergeant Cuff is brought in to investigate the crime, he soon realizes that no one in Rachel’s household is above suspicion.

A Victorian detective novel full of everything you would want in a mystery. Suspicious characters, romance, plot twists, red herrings, and intrigue. It’s interesting to think this was one of the first detective novels, and that it really layed the groundworks for the many that came after it.

The disappearance of The Moonstone is told in two parts and I absolutely loved the narrator of part one. He was a butler of the family whom the Moonstone ‘belonged’ to and is witness to many of the events. He was such a wonderful personality in himself. He doesn’t really have much impact on the plot but I found him quite funny and charming and I did miss him when we left his perspective in part two.

Part two follows the grander characters of the novel, including the man who brought The Moonstone to the house in the first place. I found this part dragged a little bit and I didn’t like all of the revelations. But the overall ending was very satisfying, albeit it does leave you with some questions unanswered.

This will be a familiar story to any modern reader, but it’s absolutely worth a read for it’s beautiful writing and literary achievements. You will also leave this book wanting to read Robinson Crusoe, just warning you now.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

August 30th, 2022

| Published: August 30th by Hutchinson Heinemann |
| Genre: Contemporary |
| Length: 384 Pages |
| Themes: Sports, Romance |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Carrie Soto is fierce, and her determination to win at any cost has not made her popular. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. And if you ask Carrie, she is entitled to every one. She sacrificed nearly everything to become the best, with her father, Javier, as her coach. A former champion himself, Javier has trained her since the age of two.

But six years after her retirement, Carrie finds herself sitting in the stands of the 1994 US Open, watching her record be taken from her by a brutal, stunning player named Nicki Chan.

At thirty-seven years old, Carrie makes the monumental decision to come out of retirement and be coached by her father for one last year in an attempt to reclaim her record. Even if the sports media says that they never liked “the Battle-Axe” anyway. Even if her body doesn’t move as fast as it did. And even if it means swallowing her pride to train with a man she once almost opened her heart to: Bowe Huntley. Like her, he has something to prove before he gives up the game forever.

Once again, Reid has excelled when it comes to characterisation. She has a way of creating the most unlikeable characters, who if I only knew a little bit about them (like how we go into this book knowing Carrie slept with Nina’s husband from Malibu Rising) I would just hate them. But Reid is somehow able to flip that and make them seem more human and, by giving us background and history, makes them so much more understandable.

You’re rooting for Carrie, but not just to win that grandslam, but to change as well. You can see her flaws, you can see how, even winning this extra slam, she still isn’t going to be happy. You want her to win the game of life as much as the game of tennis.

Carrie’s main reason for wanting to reenter the sport she’s retired from is because of the rise of Nicki Chan. I thought this was brilliantly done as it heroes what Nicki Chan had done for Asian women in tennis. Celebrating other women’s achievements, rather than feeling threatened by it, is a great message.

I personally found the tennis jargon quite tiring. I am a tennis fan and I watch it avidly throughout the year, mainly to cheer on the Brits and the greats, so I did understand it easily. But there was just too much of it and it got to the point where I felt like I was reading a tennis text book more than a novel.

There is some plot besides the tennis, but it’s quite a stereotypical, tropey kind of plot that felt quite predictable. The Mum died, the Dad’s been ill, the MC has trust issues when it comes to men. I’ve just read it all before, and it was quite boring to be honest with you.

I also found the pacing was off. We get an awful lot of backstory in one go, and the real story doesn’t get going until a good 20/25% of the way through.

Because of her past books I go into Reid’s books with very high expectations, and before she’s always met them. This one just disappointed me a little unfortunately.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

July 26th, 2022

Hi Readers!

I’ve been reading a lot less YA recently, but this one has reignited my trust in it. This was a fun, perfect for Summer, more than just a romance book that sent me on a rollercoaster of emotions.

| Published: 2016 by Usborne Press |
| Genre: Contemporary Romance |
| Age: Young Adult |
| Length: 480 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Amber, Evie and Lottie: three girls facing down tough issues with the combined powers of friendship, feminism and cheesy snacks. Both hilarious and heart-rending, this is Amber’s story of how painful – and exhilarating – love can be, following on from Evie’s story in Am I Normal Yet?

All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber’s hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.

And then there’s prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie’s advice, there’s no escaping the fact: love is hard. 

I always love to pick up teen romances during the Summer. There’s just something about being young and Summertime that is the perfect combination. I remember enjoying the first book (although it’s been a couple of years since I read it now), and I knew I would eventually want to continue the series.

The Spinster Club is a feminist debate group that three friends have formed and each book follows each girls story. In this one we follow Amber who is spending the Summer across the pond to be with her Mum in America, so we don’t see a lot of their friendship, but there are snippets of debates and emotional support.

I felt every emotion under the sun when reading this book, because I felt all the pain, hurt, and anger Amber felt. I truly sympathised with her at every point. But it’s not all emotional turmoil. Amber is spending the Summer working at a Summer camp and there is a lot of fun classic Summer activities that will make you want to be there with her.

I did like the romance but I think the main thing I came away from this book thinking about was Amber’s relationship with her Mum. It discusses a really tricky subject in a way in which both characters are easy to sympathise with, which must have been a hard thing to balance.

The ending was painful. Torture. I have no closure (but I don’t mind). I just feel like this story isn’t over! I would honestly love an adult sequel, 10 years later, where we get an update on both the romance and the relationship with her mother.

This had everything I wanted and found it completely unputdownable, reading it in just one day. I will definitely be picking up the next one!

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review

Book Review | Book Lovers by Emily Henry

July 20th, 2022

Hi Readers!

I loved Beach Read, I enjoyed You And Me On Vacation, and now Book Lovers is another new favourite. Three for three? That is so rare for me, and just proves to me that Emily Henry is a master of romance, and can do no wrong.

| Published: May 2022 by Penguin |
| Genre: Contemporary Romance |
| Age: Adult |
| Length: 377 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming….

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small-town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves. 

Nora is the ‘villain’ in most romances. The obsessed workaholic who is seen as putting her relationships second and her career first. But it’s not fair to reduce her to only this, so Henry has given this stereotypical character a real love story of her own. This happens when her pregnant sister begs they to get away together, and they visit the small town location of one of their favourite books, only to find the town is also inhabited by Nora’s work nemesis.

I love this twist on the trope and Henry is quickly able to win you over and become captivated by Nora’s story by explaining why she is so dedicated to her work. Immediately she was a sympathetic character, rather than a frustrating villain keeping the two love interests apart.

The romance was everything, and perfectly drawn out. As with most romances, you might be able to see how it ends (I mean, who reads romance just to have a sad ending?) but this one had so many twists and turns along the way, it kept me completely enthralled. I never wanted to put it down. Their romance is a masterclass in hate to love.

But it wouldn’t be right to only call this a romance book. There’s also an incredible sister relationship explored between Nora and Libby. I could feel their bond in all it’s wholesomeness and complexities. I came to really care for both and only wanted the best for both of them.

The small town setting was adorable, I loved how she played with the tropes of those romances Nora has so often been the victim of. I loved all of the characters and places, and there were moments that so reminded me of Gilmore Girls, especially the town meeting scene. It honestly could have been Lorelei, Rory and Luke I was reading about.

Like all of Henry’s books, this was fast paced, unputdownable, witty and downright addictive. It wraps up perfectly and left me beaming from ear to ear whilst also having tears in my eyes. Henry is such a talent and I will read anything and everything she writes.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review

Book Review | Joan by Katherine J. Chen

July 13th, 2022

| Published: July 2022, Hodder & Stoughton |
| Genre: Historical Fiction |
| Length: 368 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Girl. Warrior. Heretic. Saint? A stunning secular reimagining of the epic life of Joan of Arc, in the bold tradition of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall

1412. France is mired in a losing war against England. Its people are starving. Its king is in hiding. From this chaos emerges a teenage girl who will turn the tide of battle and lead the French to victory, an unlikely hero whose name will echo across the centuries.

Fictional books that bring real historical figures to life are some of my favourites. I feel like I’m learning about a person or period of history whilst also enjoying a beautifully written story.

I knew a little of Joan’s story before going into this, but what Katherine is able to do is make us care. She introduces us to Joan in a genius way, as a child preparing for a mock battle between her village’s children and a neighbouring one. She shows us Joan’s skills for strategy and leadership, but in a childlike situation.

She will not go any place where they don’t have trees for her to climb. She will not set foot in a house, even if it’s a house of god, that doesn’t welcome dogs.

Katherine paints Joan as a kind of outsider, who always went against her social roles. She’s energetic, helpful, a free spirit who is full of joy for life. I loved reading those early chapters, but they were also kind of bittersweet knowing where it would end.

It’s cruel of Katherine, really, to make us love this character so much knowing there can be no happy ending. But I think she wrote Joan’s story incredibly, and really did justice to this incredible historical figure. The pacing is perfect, the writing lyrical (although I don’t agree with the Mantel comparisons), and it’s a beautifully emotional reimagining or a person who is worthy of being remembered.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review

Book Review | The House Across The Lake by Riley Sager | Blog Tour

July 7th, 2022

Hi Readers!

The House Across The Lake is Sager’s latest twisty, mind-bending page-turner.

| Published: July 7th, 2022 by Hachette |
| Genre: Mystery/Thriller |
| Age: Adult |
| Length: 320 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

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| Audiobook | | Book Depository | | Wordery | | Waterstones |

Recently widowed actress Casey Fletcher has escaped to her family’s lake house for peace and quiet. She’s been happily losing herself in her thoughts and several bottles of bourbon, until the glamorous couple across the lake catch her attention. They look so perfect – just like Casey and her husband used to be.
But is anyone what they seem?

Casey has a detective sat at her kitchen table.

She has a man bound and gagged upstairs.

Casey will uncover dark truths so life-changing that nothing will ever be the same again.

Riley Sager has become a staple in my house. Me and my Mum have very different tastes and rarely agree on books, but Sager has become a favourite for both of us, which is great because I can finally talk to her about books! It almost feels like a book club, so his books will always be special to me.

In his latest The House Across the Lake Sager does his own take on the nosy neighbour who, armed with binoculas, spies on the house opposite her and sees something that leaves her fearful something terrible has happened. It’s a trope we’ve seen time and again, but Sager has skillfully put his own twist on it, and has created a cast of characters so captivating, he’s made the trope feel entirely new.

I always say this, but Sager is one of the few male authors who can write women without making me want to cringe into a hole. Casey is an unreliable narrator who’s reputation has been ruined by an unsympathetic media. She’s trying to escape the pain of the loss of her husband, but being shipped off to the lake house where he died only brings back those good (and bad) memories attached to him, and makes her spiral even more. She is absolutely certain she isn’t an alcoholic (but the reader knows she absolutely is).

The setting of this book creates an incredible, eerie and isolated atmosphere for this book. I love a thriller where the location is a huge part of the plot and this one added so much tension from the first page. It’s wonderfully paced, and never felt slow or dragging. It was always moving forward and really kept me on my toes.

The epigraph of this book is a lyric by the very talented Taylor Swift, and I can see how that song might have inspired this book, but in the way you would least expect. But if you know the song, don’t think you know the outcome of this book. It, again, twists the meaning of that song in the way you would least expect.

I love that Sager always allows the reader to come to their own conclusion. He lets you assume you’ve got it all worked out, then sends your head spinning. After reading so many of his books I thought I’d got him sussed. I thought I knew better. But no, he still got me!

I think this will be Sager’s most polarizing book yet. Some people will accept the twist, some will think it was a cop out. But if you’ve read Sager before, you know he knows how to write a genius conclusion that brings everything together in a way you weren’t expecting. With The House Across the Lake he knew what he wanted to do and I think he was fearless for doing it.

Riley Sager remains on the small list of authors who has never disappointed. If you haven’t read from him yet, please remedy that!

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas …fun but formulaic romance

June 29th, 2022

Hi Readers!

This book, thanks to booktoker’s, has become a booktok sensation. So much so that even me, someone who once downloaded tiktok for exactly one day before deleting it again, still found out about it., and of course I had to read it!

| Published: February 2021 by Artia Books |
| Genre: Contemporary Romance |
| Themes: Enemies to Lovers |
| Length: 487 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

A wedding in Spain. The most infuriating man. Three days to convince your family you’re actually in love. . . 

Catalina Martìn desperately needs a date to her sister’s wedding. Especially when her little white lie about her American boyfriend has spiralled out of control. Now everyone she knows – including her ex-boyfriend and his fiancée – will be there. 

She only has four weeks to find someone willing to cross the Atlantic for her and aid in her deception. NYC to Spain is no short flight and her family won’t be easy to fool. . . But even then, when Aaron Blackford – the 6’4″, blue-eyed pain in the arse – offers to step in, she’s not tempted even for a second. Never has there been a more aggravating, blood-boiling and insufferable man. 

But Catalina is desperate and as the wedding gets closer the more desirable an option Aaron Blackford becomes. . . 

This book is one of the many very popular contemporary romances that are hot off the press right now. It feels like everyone has read this, and I’m definitely late to the game, but here’s my two cents anyway.

The Spanish Love Deception is another fun, if slightly formulaic enemies to lovers romance with tropes like fake dating and there’s only one bed to top it all off.

My main problem with this book seems unfair, because no romance in any romance book is a surprise, but I found this one a bit too obvious. But not really just for the reader, but for the characters as well.

Five chapters in, and the main character has already been told by someone that she and her love interest have a thing for each other, and it’s obvious from the minute we meet Aaron that he’s not as uninterested as Lina so frustratingly declares. I knew it was supposed to be obvious, but this felt too much. There’s was no build up, no anticipation for me. All the time I was just thinking to myself, how if she so blind to this?

Their whole relationship feels so weirdly paced, and that goes for the story as well. We only got to the actual synopsis of the book over 50% through, and a lot of the time I was bored, and this is so long, and it dragged so much…

I didn’t find either Aaron or Lina particularly interesting or well-defined characters, by the end of the book I couldn’t tell you one thing about either of them other than Aaron is tall and Lina is Spanish. But the side-characters especially were so bland. Seeing as the sequel follows Lina’s best friend Rosie, I’m not sure I’m interested in reading it. Although the synopsis alone has developed her more than this entire book did.

What’s frustrating is I don’t know if I feel like this because I read The Love Hypothesis first, and whether or not I would feel differently about either of these books had I read them the other way around. I just feel like I have read a better version of this story.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review

Book Review | Ghosts by Dolly Alderton …whip smart, funny, and painfully relatable

June 24th, 2022

Hi Readers!

I’d heard of Dolly Alderton before but only recently became interested in her books when I listened to her episode of the Podcast You’re Booked. I loved her personality and when I saw this book on the shelf in the library I thought I would give it a try, and I’m so glad I did, because the book turned out to be just as funny as it’s author.

| Published: October 2020, Penguin |
| Genre: Contemporary |
| Themes: Dating, Ghosting, Dementia, Friendship |
| Age: Adult |
| Length: 338 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan.

A new relationship couldn’t have come at a better time – her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone’s moving to the suburbs. There’s no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who’s caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia.

From the first chapter, I knew I was in for a fun journey with this book. It starts so strong, with the main character Nina’s voice and tone so distinct and whitty, and that style remains throughout the book. Alderton’s painfully funny observations of her characters were so harsh, but relatable, and felt to me Austen like.

“Time and time again I observed that most men think a good conversation is a conversation where they have imparted facts or information that others didn’t already know, or dispensed an interesting anecdote, or given someone tips or advice on an upcoming plan or generally left their mark on the discourse like a streak of piss against a tree trunk.”

Every single character in this book was so flawlessly drawn. Alderton is so skilled at capturing the modern experience. Everything made me feel like I was there experiencing these moments with these characters. It’s so full of life and memorable moments.

I really hate to compare every book about a single woman in her 30’s on the dating scene to Bridget Jones. But if that’s what will get people reading it, then fine, this book is Bridget Jones’s for the modern era.

“It’s easier, being heartbroken in your 30’s, because no matter how painful it is, you know it will pass. I don’t believe one other human has the power to ruin my life anymore.’

But the book also goes into topics I wasn’t expecting, and one in particular hit quite close to home. Whilst it’s an unnamed illness, Nina’s father is suffering from a fading memory. These parts really moved me, especially the quote below, which I found very relatable. But it was a secondary plot and I do wish this had been explored a bit further.

“I had read over and over again when researching Dad’s condition that what loved ones of sufferers experience is a sense of living grief.”

The plot does get a little repetitive, and I will say this didn’t give me the best outlook on life. In fact, despite it’s humour and relatively positive ending, this book made me feel a bit down about dating and marriage and parenting and I kind of left it thinking ‘why would anyone want to do that?’

This is a dating book that’s about more than just dating. It’s about a woman being in her 30’s, friendships, nightmare neighbours, milestones (and feeling like you’re behind them), it’s about the relationship between a mother and daughter, and a father and daughter. In the end I think perhaps there was a bit too much, as nothing (except the romance) really felt resolved or completed. I would quite honestly devour a sequel.

But I loved reading about this group of unconventional friends living their best life in London, whilst also going through the perils of being in their 30’s and single. I really hope I don’t suddenly get the urge to date when I’m 30, because that does not seem fun.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X