The Bookbinder’s Daughter

By Jessica Thorne

When Sophie is offered a job at the Ayredale Library – the finest collection of rare books in the world, and the last place her bookbinder mother was seen when Sophie was just a teenager – she leaps at the chance. 

Taking in the endless shelves of antique books, the soaring stained-glass windows, and the grand sweeping staircase, usually shy Sophie feels strangely at home, and is welcomed by her eccentric fellow binders. But why is the Keeper of the Library so reluctant to speak about Sophie’s mother? And why is Sophie the only person who can read the strange spells in the oldest books on display, written in a forgotten language nobody else understands?

The mysteries of the library only deepen when Sophie stumbles upon an elaborately carved door. The pattern exactly matches the pendant her mother left behind years ago, engraved with a delicate leaf. As the door swings open at her touch, Sophie gasps at the incredible sight: an enormous tree, impossibly growing higher than the library itself, its gently falling golden leaves somehow resembling the pages of a book. Amidst their rustling, Sophie hears a familiar whisper…

‘There you are, my Sophie. I knew you’d come back for me.’

There are several things to love about this book. 

First, the language used is intricate, delicate and beautiful. Jessica Thorne has a such a mastery over vocabulary which she uses skillfully and without alienating her reader with a lot of “high-falooty mambo jumbo”. It’s simply exquisite. She uses words like a carver would use their tools to carefully craft a world-behind-the-world creating such detail and a stunning backdrop for this story. I fell in love with the library as though it was a living, breathing entity. Due to this, it can take a while for the actual story to unfold however, if you just stay with it, it’ll be worth it!

Next, the story itself. The idea of books and magic housed under the roof of a library isn’t one unfamilier to us readers. Books are magic, transporting, creating, and allowing escape from our everyday lives – even if we’re escaping to live the everyday life of a book character. We meet it, crave it and thrill to it as we let the magic of a good book envelope us and take us where the author wants us to go. Outside of God and all I feel and know through my faith, books are literally the next best ‘high’ one can get. 

I always love when an inanimate object suddenly becomes a character. There are two of those in this book; one is the library and one is the tree. They both have words, feelings, personalities and ebb and flow with the heroine flawlessly as she seeks out their secrets and unravels their mysteries. The library moans and groans under threat of evil. The tree dispels its leaves which, in turn, become pages for the bookbinder to create into a book. 

There’s a nice symbiotic relationship here as the library cannot survive without the tree, which gives of itself to the library yet the tree cannot exist without the library; the library is its home. 

The main character of Sophie is lost, alone and confused and all for the right reasons, having survived an emotionally abusive relationship and much loss. She flees to be with an estranged uncle as she takes on a job as the bookbinder at Ayredale’s library. She meets up with friends, old and new. There is a love interest in the form of Will and we struggle along with her to find out his connection to the library. 

There is an evil presence and I often found myself wondering who were the good guys and who were the bag guys with the exception of Sophie, our heroine. There is a nice character development as we watch Sophie’s internal struggle to find out what happened to her mom but also to free herself from the bondage of her abusive relationship. 

Lastly, I love that this story is almost told like a bit of folklore. It’s like a story you’d tell your kids at night, around a fire while sipping hot chocolate. It’s simply lovely! 

My rating ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost

By Lindsay Marcott

Jane has lost everything: job, mother, relationship, even her home. A friend calls to offer an unusual deal—a cottage above the crashing surf of Big Sur on the estate of his employer, Evan Rochester. In return, Jane will tutor his teenage daughter. She accepts.

But nothing is quite as it seems at the Rochester estate. Though he’s been accused of murdering his glamorous and troubled wife, Evan Rochester insists she drowned herself. Jane is skeptical, but she still finds herself falling for the brilliant and secretive entrepreneur and growing close to his daughter.

And yet her deepening feelings for Evan can’t disguise dark suspicions aroused when a ghostly presence repeatedly appears in the night’s mist and fog. Jane embarks on an intense search for answers and uncovers evidence that soon puts Evan’s innocence into question. She’s determined to discover what really happened that fateful night, but what will the truth cost her? 

Right off the bat, while I know this book was being promoted as a Jane Eyre retelling, I honestly felt it  paid a significant amount of homage to Rebecca. So much so that I often had to think of which story was being retold. If the author’s intent was a Jane Eyre retelling, then this book, while really good, falls short. Same for a Rebecca retelling. However, if Lindsay Mancott’s idea was to marry the store stories into one solid retelling, then she succeeded. 

Mrs. Rochesters Ghost has all the elements of a creepy, eerie novel; mansion, seaside cottage, fog, old tower, secrets, tragic history and a whole bunch of unanswered questions which unravel themselves as the story goes on. The author seemed to know exactly which scare buttons to push using just the right amount of fright-factor pressure to set my teeth on edge. I, myself, felt like I was being watched in the same way Jane did. 

Lindsay Marcott also did a great job of getting inside of Beatrice’s head. We see her hallucinations, her downward spiral and even her severe and violent manic moments all through her eyes which was something I hadn’t come in contact with before in a novel, certainly not to this degree. I couldn’t tell which was more disturbing; the idea of her ghost hanging around the house or being inside her mind. Truly well done. 

The main character of Jane isn’t written as a strong woman but more of a loner who really isn’t sure of her life. I think this is why I liken this more to Rebecca than Jane Eyre. The character of Jane Eyre was a solidly strong woman who knew exactly who she was. Rebecca was more of a wandering soul and a little closer to the character of Jane. I did like Jane, however, and I felt empathy for her situation which lead her to Thorn Bluffs. 

The whole who-dun-it was also nicely done as initially, I really couldn’t sort out if Evan was the good guy or if Rick was. I love a novel that keeps me guessing (even though in this instance, with this being a retelling, I sorta already knew). 

A few oddball characters for me…Otis. I really didn’t believe he was a lifetime long friend of Jane. Their conversations were odd and seemed contrived at times. I had no emotional attachment to him at all. Same with Sophia. Sweet girl. Nice character but I really didn’t care much about her.

Characters I did connect with were Jane, of course, and Evan. His swirling around trying to make deals, deals with the fallout of Beatrice while trying to keep his own sanity made him likeable and unlikeable all in one. I like a character that keeps me guessing. However, I have to say it again, what wound up happening to him at the end was more reminiscent of Rebecca than Jane Eyre. 

Overall, I think this was an enjoyable read. Great mystery. Good characters and a decent level of suspense and haunting themes. I would recommend this book. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

If The Shoe Fits

By Julie Murphy

After having just graduated with a degree in shoe design, and trying to get her feet on the ground, Cindy is working for her stepmother, who happens to be the executive producer of America’s favorite reality show, Before Midnight. When a spot on the show needs filling ASAP, Cindy volunteers, hoping it might help jump-start her fashion career, or at least give her something to do while her peers land jobs in the world of high fashion.

Turns out being the only plus size woman on a reality dating competition makes a splash, and soon Cindy becomes a body positivity icon for women everywhere. What she doesn’t expect? That she may just find inspiration-and love-in the process. Ultimately, Cindy learns that if the shoe doesn’t fit, maybe it’s time to design your own.

Cinderella meets The Bachelor. 

Ideally, I’m over retellings, especially the main Disney princess stories. And you couldn’t pay me enough to watch The Bachelor. So why would I even consider reading this book? 

One reason – Plus size female protagonist. In my own mind, that’s exactly what I am – a plus-size, real life heroine!

After watching a few blips and blurbs from Julie Murphy’s instagram, I knew this book was for me. I read it under 24 hours and wasn’t disappointed – not even once. 

I’ve read a few stories where the author threw in a plus-size character, I guess for good measure. However, no one has told it from a real fat girl’s perspective. Julie Murphy got into my head and laid bare all my fears, all my feelings, all my self-doubt created by a skinny world, all the rejection I have dealt with due to my weight, even my fashion struggles and she did it while making me laugh. 

For that, Julie Murphy has found in me – a fat girl – a huge (no pun intended) fan! I read this book and for the first time in all my 52 years decided to cross the word “ugly” out of the phrase “fat and ugly”. I went to my full length mirror and saw a plus-size, dimpled, double chinned beauty looking back at me. 

The story of a fat girl winning a prince should be told over and over and over again until Hollywood gets it, until the fashion world gets it and until plus size men stop writing “slim, active girls need only reply” in their dating profiles. 

This is a book I will read over and over and over again. I will take this book out and read Cindy’s story whenever I feel bad about myself. I will remember how she took bits and pieces of a LuMac collection and strutted down a runway like the Queen she was! 

Thank you, Julie Murphy, for showing us fat girls some love, for telling us through this book we are beautiful and we DO deserve to get the prince in the end!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Marvelous Mirza Girls

By Sheba Karim

To cure her post–senior year slump, made worse by the loss of her aunt Sonia, Noreen is ready to follow her mom on a gap year trip to New Delhi, hoping India can lessen her grief and bring her voice back.

In the world’s most polluted city, Noreen soon meets kind, handsome Kabir, who introduces her to the wonders of this magical, complicated place. With Kabir’s help—plus Bollywood celebrities, fourteenth-century ruins, karaoke parties, and Sufi saints—Noreen begins to rediscover her joyful voice.

But when a family scandal erupts, Noreen and Kabir must face complicated questions in their own relationship: What does it mean to truly stand by someone—and what are the boundaries of love? 

I picked up this book to read after hearing the author was a huge Gilmore Girls fan. I’m also a fan of the show and so I was excited to see what Sheba Karin could do with a story where the relationship between the mother and daughter mirrored the relationship between Lorelai and Rory.

I wasn’t disappointed as the mother/daughter relationship is nicely done and very much in the same vein of Gilmore Girls. Noreen and Ruby have an open, honest relationship. Ruby struggles in her relationship with her parents more for cultural reasons than monetary. The conversation between Noreen and Rudy is quick, witty and fun. But that’s where the Gilmore Girl parallel ends. 

After the death of a loved one, both girls travel to India for a summer. Aaand this is where I got lost. I embraced the total idea of being transported to a place I’ve never been and experience a culture I know little about. And perhaps because I knew so little is why I was so lost. The imagery and scenery was beautifully written. However, I kept needing to go to Google to find out what a phrase meant, or what a cultural reference was. Having to do that as often as I did broke up my reading that I got more than just a little distracted. I do want to learn more about the Indian culture as I find it to be meaningful and lovely and full of so much color but perhaps I needed to do that before I tried reading this book. 

There was just no character development for me. I didn’t see Noreen grow or evolve at all during the story, or what I read of the story. The storyline seemed consist of little more than her meeting up with Kabir and his friends over and over. I did get that she was grieving. In fact that theme was very nicely done. The way one’s world irrevocably changes after the death of a loved one was threaded evenly into the story and in a very realistic way. 

The underlying political themes flat out annoyed me. I don’t mind LGBTQ+ themes or themes of racism as they’re important for us to read. However, I felt like they had nothing to do with the story. They weren’t a main focus and did nothing to further the plot along. In fact, for me, they were distracting. 

I wish I could have loved this. I wanted to. But in the end, I couldn’t finish it due to lack of storyline, no character development and a flat support cast. 

⭐ ⭐

The Lost Village

By Camilla Sten

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice:

They are not alone.

I read this book in one day. The opening scene is extremely creepy and grabbed my attention. Immediately, I had to know what happened to this village! So the suspense aspect of this story was a huge hit for me. 

The setting – a Swedish mine village in the 1950’s – served as a great backdrop to this story. I mean, seriously now – an abandoned village in the middle of nowhere was very well-written and chilling indeed. I could feel the silence – even had to turn on some music as it got a little too quiet for me while reading it. The psychological aftertaste was a bit too intense for me, though, which surprised me since I love a good scare! I mean, I’ve read everything Wendy Webb has ever published and her books haunted me to my core! 

I was surprisingly shaken by my own reactions to the amount of human suffering in this story. Birgitta’s story alone was tragic and heartbreaking and how her story ended shook me up. The reality of what actually happened to the town so led astray by a psychotic fanatic, while predictable, is still a bit troubling. Combine that with the modern story of Alice and the losses she suffers while trying to get enough evidence just to get someone to fund further investigation into what really happened and you wind up with a cross between the Blair Witch Project and the Jonestown massacre. 

The characters were all well-written although I found myself forming more of an attachment to the characters from the past then the present. Alice really evoked no emotional response from me at all, despite her battles with mental health issues. Emma was a little cardboardy, Max and Robert were stiff. Only Tone was mildly intriguing and that was most likely due to her backstory. I really loved Elsa, however, and I felt for her as she watched her daughter being taken from her bit by bit. She broke my heart into a thousand pieces as did Birgitta. While I started out really liking Aine, unfortunately, I saw the writing on the wall with her as her relationship with Pastor Mattias became twisted and warped. Then, I only felt pity for how lost she was. 

All in all, this was a decent read and a super fast one. The story flips from the past to the present just enough so you’re able to easily follow the storyline. While the ending is predictable (in my opinion), the writer does give you just enough clues to keep you going back for “just one more chapter”. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐