Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

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During an eventful season at Bath, young, naive Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine’s love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father’s mysterious house, Northanger Abbey. There, her imagination influenced by novels of sensation and intrigue, Catherine imagines terrible crimes committed by General Tilney. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, this is the most youthful and and optimistic of Jane Austen’s works.

I may have quite possibly found my favourite Jane Austen novel so far! This one is a super short read and I think would be perfect for those looking to read Austen for the first time – I also loved the audiobook so much that I may re-read Persuasion on audio soon (the only Austen book I have so far just read in physical format and not audio!).

I feel like this is one of Austen’s quirkier novels, and it is full of literary satire and Gothic scenes. And let me tell you, I adored these Gothic scenes. I love Victorian literature for the dark and spooky feelings that Northanger Abbey brings. The abbey itself was such a perfect location to set up the Gothic elements of this book, and I definitely feel like that was my favourite part of the story!

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel,

I also feel like this one is the most accessible Austen book I’ve picked up so far, and I really enjoyed the plot, which was easy to follow yet entertaining. I really liked Catherine as a main character, who was young and naive but genuinely just so kind to all those who surround her. I really felt for her, which I think is one of the reasons why I liked this one so much – she just made me soften.

I also loved the setting of this book, from Bath to the abbey itself. Every time I read an Austen book, I want to visit Somerset/Bath. Having visited Bath, I feel like she manages to capture it so well between these pages, and I can vividly picture these characters frolicking around the English countryside.

must be intolerably stupid.

Something that I find all Austen books do well is pure wit, and this is probably the funniest and most absurd so far. I found it so entertaining, and I’m so glad I decided to read these on audio throughout autumn.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Defy the Night (#1) by Brigid Kemmerer

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In a kingdom where sickness stalks the streets and only the richest can afford a cure, King Harristan and his brother Prince Corrick are forced to rule with an iron fist.
Tessa Cade is a masked outlaw marked for death, but she likes it that way. Together with the mysterious, handsome Weston, she robs from the rich to help the poor, distributing food and medicine to those who need it most.
As it becomes clear that the only way to save her people is to assassinate the King, Tessa must face a deadly mission that will take her to the dark heart of the kingdom . and force her to work with the very people she intended to destroy.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a proof copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

It’s been a while since I read A Curse So Dark and Lonely but I really enjoyed it when I read it and I was so excited to hear about this new release. I’ve also read a couple of Brigid Kemmerer’s contemporary books in recent years and really liked them, and this one didn’t disappoint!

This story takes place during a plague, which I was a little worried about but felt disconnected enough from the real world for me to still enjoy it. I started this book expecting it to be quite a typical YA fantasy and for it to be predictable, but I was very pleasantly surprised early on in the book. The plot quickly surprised me and I knew I would find this more of an emotional rollercoaster than I expected.

I really liked the characters and I found the multiple POV between the Prince and Tessa so interesting. Both of them have their own issues and troubles from each side of the class divide, and I could empathise with them so much. I really appreciated how this book didn’t shy away from talking about the pressures of royalty and the impact on mental health being in the royal family can have.

The plot was very fast paced and entertaining, and the writing was so easy to read. I really enjoyed the writing style and I found this one hard to put down. I feel like Brigid Kemmerer does an amazing job at writing accessible fantasy as her writing style feels very similar to contemporaries and she crosses between the two. Reading this has definitely made me excited to continue with the A Curse So Dark and Lonely trilogy!

Overall, there was a lot to love about this book and I found it such an entertaining read. If you’re looking for an easy to read fantasy with a fiery romance, great characters and a plot that will keep you guessing, look no further!

★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: She’s Too Pretty to Burn by Wendy Heard

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The summer is winding down in San Diego. Veronica is bored, caustically charismatic, and uninspired in her photography. Nico is insatiable, subversive, and obsessed with chaotic performance art. They’re artists first, best friends second. But that was before Mick. Delicate, lonely, magnetic Mick: the perfect subject, and Veronica’s dream girl. The days are long and hot―full of adventure―and soon they are falling in love. Falling so hard, they never imagine what comes next. One fire. Two murders. Three drowning bodies. One suspect . . . one stalker. This is a summer they won’t survive.

It’s been almost a week since I read this book and I still don’t quite know what to make of it. It terrified me to my very core. But I also kind of loved it.

This is one of those books that I would never go into lightly and I would struggle to recommend to others because of the amount of graphic content. But on the other hand, I loved a lot about it and I do really want to recommend. Although this book starts off quite innocent and has a very contemporary romance feel, it gets very dark as the book goes on. I also listened to the audiobook for most of my reading experience, and I felt so immersed in the experience it spooked me even more. There is a certain narrator that appeared very close to the end, and hearing their voice for the first time honestly shocked me to my core. The fact that the audiobook has a whole cast also made it feel very well done.

Why are you apologizing when you didn’t do anything wrong? 

This is completely and utterly a psychological thriller and there is a real mixture of art, danger, power and a twisted kind of romance. I did struggle to like the main characters at some points, but their actions definitely play into the whole idea and plot of the story and what happens to them throughout. It also lives up to it’s ‘sexy, psychological thriller’ tagline in the beautiful writing and provocative and sometimes hypnotic plot. I felt so glued to this book towards the end that I just had to finish it. It is one of those books you have to shake yourself back into the real world after putting it down because it just sucks you in completely.

I really loved the characters and relationships in this book. They all felt like real, troubled and flawed characters who learn slowly to rely on and support one another. Although their relationships were far from perfect, I softened for them over and over again. I particularly loved Veronica and her darkroom obsession, and it made me miss my darkroom! I completely understood her fascination with photography and I feel like this is a story art students will relate to.

That’s something we teach girls to do—always apologize, never be a burden. You have a right to take up space.

Overall, this was an emotional rollercoaster and a terrifying ride, but there is a lot to love about it. I felt utterly entranced by this story, but it’s not something I would recommend to everyone. Tread carefully if you’re considering picking it up, but if you do you won’t want to put it down!

Content warnings: animal death, car accident, child death, death, emotional abuse, kidnapping, panic attacks/disorders, murder, and violence, implied sexual assault, drowning

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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When Sir Henry Dashwood dies unexpectedly, his estate passes to his only son, leaving his widow and three daughters with no home and little to live on.
The elder two sisters couldn’t be less alike. Impetuous, romantic and idealistic Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo.
Meanwhile Elinor, rational, cool-headed and always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her.
Through their parallel experience of love – and its threatened loss – the sisters learn that to live well requires both the bravery of open sensibility and the tempering of desire with wisdom if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

I am so excited that I’m going to be reading more Austen books as the autumn period goes on, and I really enjoyed reading this one. I listened to the audiobook of this which I really liked and I think I will carry on with listening to Austen audiobooks throughout the autumn season.

I got so many cozy vibes from reading this and it felt so atmospheric. The English countryside really shone through and there were some beautiful descriptions. It made me just wander around big Victorian houses and gardens (which I actually did around the same time of reading this!).

Know your own happiness.

I also really liked the characters in this book and the relationships between the sisters and their mother. I also found the romance so interesting to read about and it even made me slightly emotional in places. The writing, as expected, was absolutely beautiful and there was some amazing quotes and descriptions throughout this book.

You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.

Reading this one has made me very excited to read more Austen books as the season goes on and I can’t wait to listen to more of the audiobooks.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Quick by Lauren Owen

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You are about to discover the secrets of ‘The Quick’ – but first you must travel to Victorian England, and there, in the wilds of Yorkshire, meet a brother and sister alone in the world, a pair bound by tragedy. You will, in time, enter the rooms of London’s mysterious Aegolius Club – a society of the richest, most powerful men in England. And at some point – we cannot say when – these worlds will collide. It is then, and only then, that a new world emerges, a world of romance, adventure and the most delicious of horrors – and the secrets of ‘The Quick’ are revealed.

This one was very outside of my comfort zone, but I’m really glad I picked it up. I read this as part of a little book club that some of my friends have created, and I’m glad I’m already reading something I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. I think when we chose this one we had no idea how fitting it would be for this season (I won’t say anymore due to spoilers, but the Gothic vibes were perfect!).

In a lot of ways, this book actually reminded me of The Binding. Both of them were rollercoasters for me that I liked parts of and other parts fell flat, but the Gothic Victorian setting and literary writing were along similar lines. I’m so glad I went into this having no clue what this one was going to be like, as a lot of the aspects of this book were surprising to me.

Shooed outside—like chickens—they wandered rather aimlessly into the grounds.

Oddly, the first part of this one was my favourite. This was a shame, as I feel like a lot of books get better as you go on, whereas this one kind of got…worse. I loved the first part and it had an LGBTQIA+ aspect I didn’t expect but I really enjoyed reading about. I also really liked the last part of the story which took around the last 50 pages or so. However, the pages in between kind of fell flat.

As this story went on, more and more characters were introduced and I found myself switching off. The second part was told in more of a diary format which felt very jarring and disjointed. I found myself losing interest as I couldn’t quite follow all of the different aspects of the story and different stories happening within the book. If this book followed the characters from the first part of this book throughout the whole thing, I think this one would have been a 4 or even higher star rating from me.

Somehow it was always less fun to be told to go out and play.

So yet again we have a book I felt very up and down about and had a lot of mixed feelings! I did enjoy this and I’m glad I picked it up, but it definitely wasn’t without parts I didn’t enjoy so much.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

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It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness.
Gabriel de León is a silversaint: a member of a holy brotherhood dedicated to defending realm and church from the creatures of the night. But even the Silver Order couldn’t stem the tide once daylight failed us, and now, only Gabriel remains.
Imprisoned by the very monsters he vowed to destroy, the last silversaint is forced to tell his story. A story of legendary battles and forbidden love, of faith lost and friendships won, of the Wars of the Blood and the Forever King and the quest for humanity’s last remaining hope:
The Holy Grail.

Thank you so much to Harper Voyager for providing me with an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Argh. I wanted to love this book. Heck, I would have taken like. This is one of those books that has made me really sit down and consider the pressure we put on ourselves as a community sometimes with hyped books, new releases and especially proof copies.

Because I’ve got to be completely honest with myself and all of you. This just…wasn’t for me. To be frank, I was bored, I was confused, and I found this book way too long. I had no motivation to pick it up and I was finding it really hard to get into, but I pushed through. I had been reading it for almost a week when the book was released in the UK and I switched over to the audiobook, which honestly saved me. Although I’m sure I would have finished it eventually with just the physical copy, the audio definitely helped me out a LOT in this case.

Although I was finding this really slow to start, I had heard other readers with similar feelings who felt it picked up halfway, so I pushed through to then. Do you want to know where I found it picked up for me? With less than 100 pages to go. If the entire book had been the same experience for me as the final 50-100 pages, it may have been a 4 or even 5 star. But it honestly took me over 600 of 720 pages to get into, and I think if I was anyone else I would have given up.

After all that ranting, I wouldn’t say that this book was bad or that I didn’t enjoy it. It is highly entertaining and there were a lot of scenes I loved a lot, I just found the links between them very hard to find and they all felt very disjointed and jarring. I also enjoyed the found family aspect a lot and the relationships between the main characters were very interesting to read about. The plot twists really got me, especially at the end in the last 100 pages which I loved.

Overall, this one was such a rollercoaster and I just wish I liked it more than I had, but you can’t love them all!

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

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Kiki is a trainee witch. On her thirteenth birthday she must follow tradition and leave home to find a new village.
She knows she has to use only her powers to make a living, but Kiki’s no good at potions or spells…can she use her flying abilities to make her own way in the world?
She sets out with her beloved black cat Jiji on an exciting journey, making new friends along the way.

I’ve loved Studio Ghibli for probably close to 10 years now, but I only watched Kiki’s Delivery Service a couple of years ago for the first time (and it quickly became my favourite Ghibli!). After seeing this gorgeous book around, I knew I wanted to read it. And after rewatching the film a couple of days ago with my lovely friend Alex, I knew it was time to pick it up.

I just loved reading this book. It is the ultimate comfort read and obviously felt somewhat like a reread due to re-watching the movie so recently. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how different this story was. A lot of this was only in subtle ways, but Kiki really does get up to some adventures that aren’t in the movie, which made it so fun to read about and gave me a fresh perspective!

Kiki don’t get too hung up on appearances,

Some of the aspects I preferred in the movie, and some in the book, but I honestly love both of them despite the differences. The main feeling of the story, of Kiki moving away from home and settling as a witch in another town, remains the same. The joy and beauty of the pretty seaside town shine through just as well in the book and are helped along by some gorgeous illustrations by Joe Todd Stanton. The characters are also so lovable and I can really see which characters in this one inspired aspects of the movies.

it’s your heart that’s important.

This is the kind of story that is perfect for any age. I would have adored this as a child I’m sure, but I loved it as an adult too. It is one of those beautiful, charming stories that you can’t help but fall in love with.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: House of Earth and Blood (#1) by Sarah J Maas

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Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.
Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.
As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

Argh. I want to equally hug this and throw it across the room. I really liked this one, but sadly it ended up being my least favourite Sarah J Maas book so far (and now I’ve read all of them!). I don’t often find that her books feel long, but this one did. This took me almost 2 weeks to read and I struggled to want to pick it up, which I found so sad after managing to read A Court of Silver Flames in a couple of days and not wanting to put it down.

However, after spending the first half feeling like it was a little bit of a slog, the second half picked up so much and I absolutely loved it. It took me so long to feel like I was totally into the story, but I did feel completely different about the second half to the first. I think part of this is because this is the first Sarah J Maas book I’ve read that has an urban setting rather than a more medieval feeling setting. I just didn’t expect to have phones, TV and all other modern technology and it did really throw me at first.

Through love,

There was still a lot I loved in this book, including the characters. Although it took me a while to start rooting for them, I did really love them and reading about the slow burn romance we had throughout. On that note, I must admit the sexual tension in this book made me want to throw it against a wall sometimes, but I have heard that Crescent City 2 is meant to be the smuttiest yet! Which I’m not sure how I feel about, as I found A Court of Silver Flames had so much smut that it took away from the plot. Argh, we’ll see how it is!

I also love (and feel like Sarah J Maas does this really well) how grief and mental health shines through in Bryce’s character. I feel like we don’t often see mental health issues reflected in fantasy and it’s something that makes the characters feel so much more real and relatable. This also made me feel like my heart was being stomped all over in the final pages and I was so nervous about what was happening to them!

 all is possible.

Although this is my least favourite Sarah J Maas book so far, I did still really enjoy it and I’m so excited for the second book which comes out in February 2022!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

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For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.
But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.
Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

I think I’ve finally found it. Between The House in the Cerulean Sea and One Last Stop and Afterlove, I think I’ve finally found my favourite type of book. It’s the magical realism, the found family, the tragedy, the rip-your-heart-out-and-put-it-back-together-again type of book. It’s pure magic.

Put simply, I loved One Last Stop. It perfectly portrayed all of the things I have recently discovered I love about books. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and heartwarming all in one. It had a delightful mixture of strength and love and found family. A mixture of loneliness and togetherness. Of finding others but also yourself. I’m so glad I read it.

But, you know, that feeling? When you wake up in the morning and you have somebody to think about?

I both listened to and read One Last Stop, and I loved both experiences. I enjoyed Casey Mcquiston’s writing a lot more in this one than in Red, White and Royal Blue, and I found it translated to audio really well. The narrator was wonderful and perfectly portrayed the wittiness, love and hope of August’s story. Some of my favourite books have been read with a mixture of audio and physical reading, and this one was no different.

I loved August and Jane and the whole diverse cast of characters surrounding them. August felt vulnerable and real but I also found her really likable, and Jane was so easy to fall for through August’s eyes. I also loved how Jane gave us insight into the past, giving us a way to discuss LGBTQIA+ rights throughout history, and how that feels. I absolutely adored the entire cast of characters, especially the found-family in August’s flatmates and their friends. All of the characters had their own depth and backstories, conflicts and interests. They felt authentic and lovely.

Somewhere for hope to go? It’s good. Even when it’s bad, it’s good.

The thing I loved most was the impossibility, or at least improbability, of this book. It meant that truly anything could have happened, and this book could have gone down many different roads. It left me reeling with emotion but also feeling like my heart had been slowly pieced back together. I rooted for August and Jane every step of the way and I certainly won’t forget them in a hurry!

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

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A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.
Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

How do you even begin to review a book that stole your heart, ripped it to pieces and put it back together again? This book was a total and utter rollercoaster, and I adored it. It made me laugh out loud and it made me sob. It made me angry and it made me smile quietly to myself. It gave me everything I could ever want from a book.

Linus Baker leads a quiet life that he fully believes he is satisfied with – until he is sent on an assignment to a children’s home full of magical youth on an island far away. The lives of Linus and these children hold so many secrets, so much love and friendship and magic. This is found family to the highest degree, and I adored it.

Hate is loud, but I think you’ll learn it’s because it’s only a few people shouting, desperate to be heard. 

The writing is just absolutely breathtaking. I listened to this partly on audiobook and read it partly in physical format and I loved the writing both ways. It was so beautiful, lyrical and poetic. The dialogue is beautiful and although would be far fetched and unrealistic in any other book, it fits perfectly with these characters. And the characters, ah the characters are really what makes this book.

They are all so individual and impossible not to love. There is something magical about these children that teach everybody around them about compassion, hope and understanding. This story carries so many important messages that will leave every reader full of hope and an unexplainable, undeniable warmth. I spent the last 20 or so pages of this book sobbing because I just needed everything to be okay.

You might not ever be able to change their minds, but so long as your remember you’re not alone, you will overcome.

This book is like a warm hug, a blanket wrapped around your shoulders on the coldest day. It is absolutely delightful, full of characters that will steal your heart and an island that you won’t help but fall in love with. It is the ultimate comfort read and I know it will be one I don’t forget in a hurry. A new favourite of all time and possibly my favourite book of 2021 so far.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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