Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

So before you think it, I know, I’m about twenty years late on The Secret History.

My dad came over the other day (who isn’t a big reader) and goes, Oh that’s a good book. If he’s read it, then I’m definitely behind.

The first Donna Tartt novel I read was a few months ago. It was The Little Friend, a book that I’d picked out because of the creepy looking doll on the cover, and the small font—I only read books with small font which is a big hindrance when choosing a book to read.

The Little Friend drew me in because of the cover and the blurb. But I’ve never been so disappointed when reading a book. It took me months, but I was so determined to finish it because I’d already invested so many hours of reading just to make it halfway. I stuck it out, but it went straight in the charity bag (and I rarely throw books out).

I’d heard many good things about The Secret History, so decided to give Tartt another chance. And I am so glad I did.


Brief Plot

The Secret History follows a group of six friends, narrated by Richard, who’s one of the six. The group have murdered one of their six, Bunny. This is revealed in the prologue, before the actual book has even started. It starts at the end, and then returns to the beginning, showing us how and why the group ended up killing one of their own. Will Yates, in his review on Oxford Student, claims the novel has been described as a ‘whydunnit’ as opposed to the traditional Poe-sian ‘whodunnit’.

The Secret History is a harrowing tale, and I won’t give away any spoilers. Each member of the group have their problems. Richard, the narrator, is poor and spends much of the book trying to convince the group otherwise.

The rest of the group, Henry, Francis, Camilla, Charles, and Bunny are from extremely privileged backgrounds. Most receive money every month from their parents. They’re all students, studying Classics at Hampden College by their elusive and bizarre professor, Julian. Tartt shows that although the rest are more privileged than Richard, they have as many problems as him. Charles is an alcoholic, Francis is a gay man who struggles to find reciprocated love, Henry is too proud.

And Bunny finds out a secret that he won’t let the others live down. So they decide to shut him up themselves. This is revealed at the beginning. The remainder of the book shows the run up to the murder, and also how they evade being found out by the police, their college and the FBI. It shows how guilt can hammer down on you, force you to do things that you wouldn’t otherwise have considered. Can the group pretend it never happened, or will one of them crack?



The Secret History was a fabulous novel. At 630 pages it was a long one, but every page was needed. The characters were so deep and…real? Tartt truly captures the feeling that you’ve been let into a huge secret, that you mustn’t tell anyone else. You become the 7th member of the group, experiencing things as they do.

The Greek, Latin, Italian, and French elements that appear in the novel only seem to draw you into a different world that you didn’t know existed.


Buy your copy now, with £2 off – only £6.99!


Other books like this:

The Little Friend, Donna Tartt


Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell


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Book Review: Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas



Libby Hall needs to hide, to escape from everything for a while. Which is why the house swap is a godsend. The chance for Libby and her husband Jamie to exchange their tiny Bath flat for a beautiful haven on the wild Cornish coast.


But before they can begin to heal their fragile marriage, Libby makes some disturbing discoveries about the house. And soon the peace and isolation begin to feel threatening. How alone are they? Why does she feel watched?


What is Jamie hiding? Is Libby being paranoid? And why does the house bring back such terrible memories? Memories Libby’s worked hard to bury. Memories of the night she last saw her best friend alive… and what she did.


Last Seen Alive is about a young couple, Libby and Jamie, and the struggles they’re going through in life (aren’t we all?). There are aspects of the plot that we’re confused about here. Libby is holding secrets, and there’s mention of something that happened back when she lived in Thailand for a few months.

Libby gets a leaflet through the door from another couple, asking residents to get involved in a house swap. The letter explains that their daughter needs life-changing surgery in the hospital in Bath.

Libby jumps at the chance for a week away in Cornwall, and accepts the offer. Very quickly, their relaxing Cornish holiday starts to go wrong. Jamie is poisoned, some bloodied underwear is found in the garden, and who is the strange man following them around? The house is creepy, just too empty and un-lived in. Everything looks to perfect.

Their trip is cut short, to their relief, and they return to Bath. But their bank accounts have been emptied, other accounts have been opened in Libby’s name, and items start to arrive in the post, including a backpack and a blonde wig. And then they find a dead man in their garden, of which Libby is the ultimate suspect.

Can she convince the police that they’ve been away in Cornwall all week, or is she being framed by someone?

Book Review

I felt like there was a bit of a lull in Last Seen Alive whilst the couple were in Cornwall. My reading of it slowed down, and I couldn’t visualise where it was going.

Until the flashback to Libby’s time in Thailand and OMG COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN FROM THIS POINT. Everything changed, everything started to make sense. So what did happen in Thailand all those years ago, and why is Libby only paying the price for it now?

It’s really hard to write this review without giving away too much about characters that I can’t tell you about (otherwise the plot gets ruined) or about what the hell happens in Thailand. Just trust me, it’s worth buying, the book is good.

I read half of this book in one sitting once I reached the shocking twist that no one saw coming (see Jenny’s review here). I absolutely would love to read some more of Claire Douglas’ books. Last Seen Alive is definitely one for any thriller fans, and will leave you thinking about it for days afterwards.

Grab your copy of Last Seen Alive from Waterstones or read an extract here!


Books similar to this one:

Best Day Ever, Kaira Rouda

Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell



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Best Day Ever, by Kaira Rouda

New Release….

A loving husband. The perfect killer?

‘I wonder if Mia thinks I have a dark side. Most likely as far as she knows, I am just her dear loving husband.’ 

Paul Strom has spent years building his perfect life: glittering career, beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in the suburbs.

But he also has his secrets. That’s why Paul has promised his wife a romantic weekend getaway. He proclaims this day, a warm Friday in May, will be the best day ever.

Paul loves his wife, really, he does. But he also wants to get rid of her. And with every hour that passes, Paul ticks off another stage in his elaborately laid plan…

Behind Closed Doors meets Liane Moriarty in this creepy, fast-paced psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming!


Paul Strom is just a traditional, romantic guy who wants to treat his wife to the Best Day Ever, right?


Paul plans to take his wife Mia away for a weekend. The Stroms are a well-off family, and they own a lake house on a gorgeous site near to Lake Erie (yes, we will discuss the irony of that name in a bit).

They have two gorgeous boys, aged 6 and 8. They own a huge home, the biggest in the street, in Columbus. And they have an au pair who looks after the boys whilst Paul and Mia go for a romantic weekend away.

But whilst they’re away, things seem tense. Is it just tiredness, stress, work related, or down to Mia’s recent illness? Secrets begin to emerge and the Best Day Ever quickly becomes one of the worst.

Best Day Ever Review

Best Day Ever is set just under a 24-hour period, and the first person narration is provided by Paul. The chapters are set into time zones, beginning at 9am and continuing until 6am the next day. Very early on we learn a few details about Paul’s past. His mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and accidentally killed herself and Paul’s dad whilst leaving the car running in the garage. Paul and Mia have been happily married for around ten years. He feels they’ve both been stressed and run down recently, and that they need to take a break, without the children.

Paul is a very cocky and obnoxious man. He is very vain, and everything comes down to appearances. He’s constantly wanting to appear richer than he is, more successful than he is. When they arrive at the lake, he spies his neighbour’s house: the Boone’s.

“I stop in front of the Boones’ cottage. All of the lights are on, it seems, in every room of the place. They are entertaining people from our neighborhood, no doubt, wining and dining them at their grand historic cottage…I turn the corner onto Laurel Street and our cottage is glowing with light too. There are two people on the screened-in porch. They sit in the two chairs that face the sofa. The furniture is old and rather embarrassing” (p. 132).

We know from previous scenes that two of his credit cards have been declined. They seem to have suddenly run out of money, but why? He has compared himself to his neighbours, whose house, even though they both live in cottages in the nicer part of the camp, is ‘grand’ and ‘historic’ but his is embarrassing and old-fashioned. He talks about replacing the outside furniture.

Rather quickly, we begin to question Paul’s reliability as a narrator. We can tell straight away that there is something not quite right. He’s lying to his wife, which he also tells us early on:

“I must recollect everything I’ve uttered to my wife about Caroline, and the Thompson Payne office in general over the past few months. Then, like for one of Sam’s first grade projects, I must sort what has been said into one pile and what hasn’t been into another. This is an important exercise, done on my terms, not hers” (p. 41).

Paul has these psychopathic tendencies that rear up frequently throughout the book. It also seems that he can’t read people’s emotions very well:

“Embarrassed, that’s the emotion” (p. 140)

Mia, his wife, even states to a neighbour that Paul’s “emotional intelligence is a bit lacking.” He says things because he thinks it is what people will expect: “I think that is a thing a guy would say to another guy” (p. 142).

We hear from Mia’s perspective in the epilogue at the end of the novel, but until then Paul is our only narrator. Paul depicts her as whiny, and a bit of a worrier. We know from Paul that people like Mia, though he isn’t sure why: “Mia is a person many want to befriend” (p. 132).

As an unreliable narrator, we quickly disregard anything he tells us, and so understand that Mia is liked by people because she is a genuinely nice person.

Rouda is very clever in the way she has portrayed Paul. We thoroughly dislike him, and yet it doesn’t stop you from reading the book. He often acknowledges and talks to the reader, asking them not to share his secrets with his wife, as if we know them. As if they live next door and we might spill the beans. This is a very clever literary technique.


As I mentioned before, the lake town they visit is called Lake Erie which only adds to the strangeness this small town exudes. Paul seems to think that the place is lovely but the people and the neighbours are out to get him. His neighbours don’t talk to him and he can’t understand why. He hates going to the Lake during the busy summer months because it fills with idiots. He likes the place, but not the people.

When Mia and Paul go out for lunch, Paul mentions the lighthouse that sits on the rocks leading boaters to safety, away from land. If the lighthouse is leading them to safety, back into the water, Rouda is insinuating that the land is dangerous. Whilst we know this for boats, could she also be applying it to the people on the land? The town is even described as a ‘dry’ place, and the vegetables seem to be wilting in the grocery shop.

Mia also finds safety and comfort in the sky. She enjoys stargazing, and has a phone app that tells her which constellations she can see. People are constantly trying to find a way to escape the land, to somewhere much further away.

I read Best Day Ever in about 3 days. It was gripping, and even comical in places. We can see straight through our narrator, and you’ll find yourself asking, Are you really going to do that? Do you really think that? Very cleverly written, and one any thriller fan should read.


Book available to buy from….   Google Play   Barnes and Noble   iBooks   Kobo   Waterstones   HarperCollins

About the Author
Kaira Rouda is a USA Today bestselling, multiple award-winning author of contemporary women’s fiction and sexy modern romance novels that sparkle with humor and heart. Her women’s fiction titles include Here, Home, Hope, All the Difference, In the Mirror and The Goodbye Year (April 2016) Her bestselling short story is titled, A Mother’s Day. Kaira’s work has won the Indie Excellence Award, USA Book Awards, the Reader’s Choice Awards and honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest International Book Awards. Her books have been widely reviewed and featured in leading magazines.

Her sexy contemporary romance series set on Indigo Island includes: Weekend with the Tycoon, Book 1; Her Forbidden Love, Book 2; The Trouble with Christmas, Book 3; and The Billionaire’s Bid, Book 4. Each of these novellas can be read as a stand alone, or enjoyed as a series. Her new series is set in Laguna Beach and includes: Laguna Nights, Book 1; Laguna Heights, Book 2; Laguna Lights, Book 3, and Laguna Sights.She also helped launch Melissa Foster’s The Remington’s Kindle World with her bestselling novella, Spotlight on Love and in the Dare to Love Kindle World, The Celebrity Dare.

Her nonfiction titles, Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs, and Real Your For Authors: 8 Essentials for Women Writers, continue to inspire.

She lives in Southern California with her husband and four almost-grown kids, and is at work on her next novel.

Find the author on the following sites…
Website   Facebook   Twitter   Pinterest   Google+   Goodreads   Amazon Author Page

Other Women’s Fiction books by the author…

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The Pact by Jodi Picoult

The Pact is described as a ‘love story’, but it seems to me more a tale of grief and loss.


The Pact: For eighteen years the Hartes and the Golds have lived next door to each other, sharing everything from Chinese food to chicken pox to carpool duty– they’ve grown so close it seems they have always been a part of each other’s lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it’s no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily’s friendship blossoms into something more. They’ve been soul mates since they were born.

So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is ready for the appalling truth: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There’s a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris took from his father’s cabinet–a bullet that Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a local detective has doubts about the suicide pact that Chris has described.


The Pact book front cover

Plot Summary

How does one 17-year-old end up dead when she seemed to have the perfect life? She had a great boyfriend, was intelligent and doing well at school, and had a lovely ‘normal’ family, in a lovely neighbourhood. So why did Emily want to kill herself?

Chris and Emily have known each other since forever. Chris was at the birth of Emily when he was six months old, and since then, they have never been apart. Everyone had hoped that they would end up together. Their parents had hoped for it since the day they were born, so when they finally got together at the age of 13, the Golds and the Hartes couldn’t have been happier!

Until their daughter ends up dead, with Chris the only one who knows what actually happened. Was it his fault? Could he have stopped what happened? Or was he the instigator?

The two families are ripped apart when Chris is arrested for first-degree murder. The remaining story follows his trial and how he will survive without Emily, the love of his life.


The main story of The Pact follows two parallels: then and now. ‘Now’ is centred around the death of Emily, the aftermath, and Chris’ trial. ‘Then’ starts with Emily and Chris’ relationship up until the night she dies. Picoult is very clever in the way she conveys Emily. She is a character we never meet, or hear from directly, but we only know her through other characters’ perceptions.

We finally discover the truth as the narrative of the past leads up to Emily’s death in the final 50 pages of The Pact. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this review though!

The characters are *mostly* likeable. There are the parents of Chris and Emily, Gus and James, and Melanie and Michael. As with all novels, Picoult explores the relationships between the couples after the death of a child. One parent copes differently to another and they drift apart.

Rather more unusually, Picoult follows the backstories of both the prosecution and defense lawyers, S. Delaney and Jordan McAfee. Jordan is defending Chris, whilst Delaney is trying to prove that he killed Emily.

The issues that Picoult observes are wide and varying, including mental illness, suicide, love, suffering and sex/sexual abuse. She also looks more deeply into relationships and how our lives are affected by them.

Also unusually, she narrates the entire trial. It’s not just a typical brief trial scene with a verdict, but around 100 pages of prosecution, defence, judges, witness statements, etc. It was truly enthralling and a heart-in-my-mouth moment.

The Pact was a brilliant book, and a brilliant read, though slightly cliched in places (but who doesn’t love a bit of cliche?).



Buy a copy now for £8.99


Other books similar to this one

Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell

The Little Friend, Donna Tartt

The Little Friend, Donna Tartt, book review
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If you are someone who reads thrillers to actually find out what happens at the end, then don’t read The Little Friend.

I don’t really know what I expected from The Little Friend. I suppose I assumed it would be like every other mystery/thriller about a child who is killed: a lot of suspects, a few red-herrings, and then some sort of major twist in which the killer is revealed in a dramatic movie-style with fire and explosions.

Okay, maybe I got a bit carried away there. But The Little Friend is not what I was expecting. I both enjoyed it, and loathed it at the same time. I’ve never had such mixed opinions about a book before.

If I’m not enjoying a book, I’ll put it down, forget about it and move on. But with this one I just couldn’t. It took me 7 weeks to read every word, and I was disliking it, but also wanted to reach the end. This has never happened to me before.


The Little Friend book front coverTwelve-year-old Harriet is doing her best to grow up, which is not easy as her mother is permanently on medication, her father has silently moved to another city, and her serene sister rarely notices anything. All of them are still suffering from the shocking and mysterious death of her brother Robin twelve years earlier, and it seems to Harriet that the family may never recover. So, inspired by Captain Scott, Houdini, and Robert Louis Stevenson, she sets out with her only friend Hely to find Robin’s murderer and punish him. But what starts out as a child’s game soon becomes a dark and dangerous journey into the menacing underworld of a small Mississippi town.


The prologue opens on Mother’s Day, where the Cleve’s are having a small party. 9-year-old Robin is playing in the garden, with his younger sisters, Allison, 4, and Harriet, 1. Everyone is called in for dinner, but Robin doesn’t come. He is found hanging from a tree at the bottom of the garden, and this moment is the beginning of a journey for the remaining living characters.

But the journey is different to anything I could have imagined it to be. Harriet becomes obsessed with finding Robin’s killer. So much so, that she puts 2 and 2 together and makes 50 without even thinking that she could be wrong, or that it doesn’t make sense.

Though the reader has an inkling she has it all wrong, we’re never sure until right at the end of the novel. There are hints throughout, and it is very obvious to us in the last 100 pages. But not to Harriet. She’s like a dog with a bone, chasing it round and round, so blinded by this one bone that she doesn’t notice the much larger pile of bones sat 10 feet away from her.

She is so obsessed that it must be this one person. Nothing else matters, and she’s planning to kill him in a multitude of horrific ways, but truly believing that she can do it. I struggled to understand this in my reading of The Little Friend. She’s only twelve, and yet has the brain of a psychopath. She doesn’t fear anything, she doesn’t think about the repercussions of what she is planning on doing it. It’s just….bizarre.

In one horrific scene that will stay embedded in my mind for a long time, Harriet attempts to rescue a blackbird stuck in tar on the road:

“She slipped her hands underneath it, supporting its stuck wing as best as she could and – wincing against the wing beating violent in her face – lifted up. There was a hellish screech and Harriet, opening her eyes, saw that she’d ripped the stuck wing off the bird’s shoulder. There it lay in the tar, grotesquely elongated, a bone glistening blue out the torn end.”

She holds the bird, until it dies in her hands. There is a moment, too, where she pushes a large poisonous Cobra off a bridge and into the open sunroof of a car. Is this normal child’s behaviour? Absolutely not.


The themes throughout The Little Friend centre around race and class. The novel is set in Mississippi in the 1970s. It’s clear that the small, sleepy town hasn’t quite caught up with the modern views of the rest of the world. Harriet and her sister have a black maid, Ida, who holds a lot of hatred for white people. Though she loves her ‘white family’, an incident involving a fire at her local church has left her badly scarred, mentally and physically.

What’s most poignant, and has stood out to me even after finishing the book, is a comment made by a lower-class drug dealer. Farish lives in a trailer with his Grandma, Gum, and his brothers. He makes some comment about how blacks look down on the ‘trailer-trash’ as if they’re better than them because they’re richer. But Farish believes, because they’re white, that no matter how much money they have, they will always come above black people in the race hierarchy.

The ending is ambiguous, and annoyed me at the same time that I felt relief it was over. 7 weeks of reading, and still no clearer about who murdered Robin than we were at the start.

Tartt herself commented on this in an interview:

I didn’t want to tie things up too neatly. I don’t think it’s really the business of a writer today, to tie up narrative too neatly and deliver it in a box. And to lead the killer away in handcuffs.

Well, I still would have quite liked the killer to be led away in handcuffs rather than waiting 555 pages to reveal…..nothing.

Many have taken to guessing who the killer might be, picking up small, minor details in the text. But I’m still not convinced by many of the theories.

Questions that I still have upon finishing

Who is ‘The Little Friend’?
Who killed Robin Cleve?
What does Allison dream about that she won’t tell Harriet?

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Books Similar to The Little Friend

Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell