Book Review

Book Review | Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine

November 10th, 2022

| Published: April 2021, Hodder & Stoughton |
| Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction |
| Length: 300 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.

Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.

‘The women were often the heroes in the family, but it was the men who had their portraits on the walls.’

This historical fiction mystery has all the elements of a novelised game of Cluedo. Of Downton Abbey, but it’s murder. And it started so well! I loved the setting and the characters were just suspicious enough to keep me guessing the whole time. But the ending really let this book down for me.

I just felt like the mystery of this book took a back seat to the family drama. There are many characters in this novel and they’re all up to, well, something they shouldn’t be, lets put it that way. There are a couple of revelations I really enjoyed, but neither were connected to the murder of Lord Inverkillen (which is in the premise of the novel). In fact, I found the actual murder boring.

I also found the whole ‘Loch Down’ to be quite gimicky. I really can’t see how it impacted the novel at all. It made for a couple of funny lines about this rich, spoilt family running out of toilet roll but that’s pretty much it.

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey (but the character are a lot more unlikable) and you think it would be interesting if Lord Grantham suddenly died of mysterious causes, you might enjoy this book. It also has a VERY satisfying ending going for it.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

October 26th, 2022

| Published: 2006 by Atria Books |
| Genre: Mystery / Historical Fiction |
| Themes: Books about Books, Gothic |
| Length: 406 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long.

Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author’s tale of gothic strangeness—featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

If you make a checklist for everything you look for in a cosy winter read, The Thirteenth Tale would tick off most of them. It is the epitome of a rainy day read. There’s mystery, creepy and gothic houses, cold and atmospheric weather, and so many references to books, Jane Eyre (and hot cocoa).

Storywise this book reminded me of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Not in terms of atmosphere or themes, but The Thirteenth Tale is similar to Evelyn Hugo because it’s also about a writer whose been invited to write the biography/story of a very secretive, very famous person.

Vida Winter is a famous author (she kind of sounds like a female Stephen King). Her books are well loved but her life story is something of a mystery. Then one day Margaret, a biographer and Rare Bookstore owner, is asked to write her biography. Through this we learn about Vida’s mysterious and slightly creepy past.

This book is so suspenseful and I felt a lot of anticipation and tension when it came to Vida’s story, but I have to admit the mystery left me feeling a little flat. I was expecting for a big twist to happen, and it does, but it just didn’t impact me in that way. It didn’t have me jumping off the coach screaming ‘no way!’ like some other books have.

But the mystery isn’t the only reason to read this book though. The writing is gorgeous, and this whole book was just a pleasure to read. One of my favourite quotes was; ‘There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.’ I honestly think Dianne is talking about her own writing here.

I had the cosiest evenings escaping into this book and I would definitely read it again.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | In My Dreams I Hold A Knife by Ashley Winstead

October 13th, 2022

| Published: 2021 by Sourcebooks Landmark |
| Genre: Thriller |
| Themes: Dark Academia, Murder Mystery |
| Length: 345 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Six friends.
One college reunion.
One unsolved murder.

Full Synopsis Here

In My Dreams I Hold A Knife is a mystery with twists until the final page. It begins with an invitation to a school reunion, then goes back and forth between the school days and ‘Now’. The plot slowly unfolds and becomes darker and darker, and is perfect if you’re looking for a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

This book is told from the perspective of Jess and firstly, I would like to mention how strange it was to read a book whose main character had the same name as me. And I’m not just talking first name, second name and all. In fact she even has the same initials as me, which was very strange. She also insults my name, but I can’t say I disagreed with the her..

Jess is a character who is very morally gray and is also very unlikable, yet I sympathised with her completely because I feel like all of her insecurities and actions were rational and validated. I completely understood where she was coming from, even if I did completely disagree with her actions.

“Wanting is dangerous. The less you want, the safer you’ll be.”

In fact I hated every single character in this book, and honestly I couldn’t name one redeemable quality for any of them. But that didn’t effect how invested I was in their story.

This book has those Dark Academia vibes perfect for an Autumn read. It’s set in college following privilaged students who get up to some messed up stuff. Not as crazy as The Secret History, but fans of that, I think, would definitely enjoy this book.

It’s a slow start but the pace picks up about a third of the way through. There are revelations and twists throughout, and it feels suspenseful until the final page. I didn’t predict anything but it all fit so perfectly. I read this until late at night, and it was a great time.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

October 6th, 2022

Hi Readers!

I went into this book with the highest of hopes. These books have been pretty big releases here in the UK. It’s felt like everyone has been reading them over the past couple of years. Maybe I’m not the target audience of the writing just didn’t click for me, because I really didn’t enjoy it.

| Published: September 2020, Penguin |
| Genre: Mystery |
| Length: 382 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ |

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

I’ll admit this book has a certain charm to it, which hands down comes from the age Osman’s protagonists are. The members of the Thursday Murder Club provided some comical moments that involved them and their old age that gave this mystery book a uniquely cosy feel about it. And, for me, the only thing that made this book worth reading.

The book is set in a retirement village for pretty wealthy people, and the conflict of the book starts when the owner proposes plans to expand the village, which would involve digging up an old graveyard. One of his workers is then mysteriously murdered.

I quickly lost interest in the mystery. It became too complicated, too many strands to follow, and none of them particularly intrigued me. The revelations were too coincidental and slow moving, and the whole thing just felt very anticlimatic to me.

The perspective as well was very confusing. I lost count of how many POVs we had. Some were third person present, some third person omniscent, we had one in first person. And each chapter was so incredibly short, we never got a huge amount of time with any character. It felt quite messy.

If I do read the next one, it will probably be an audiobook. I also did borrow this from my Nan so I’ll have to ask her if she thinks the next one is better than the first. She’s been buying the Waterstones signed special editions so I assume she enjoys them. Or she’s just a really big fan of pointless…

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

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