Posted in book review

Book Review: Everything Must Go by Jenny Fran Davis

Genres: YA; contemporary

Why I read it: The cover. I saw it while browsing goodreads giveaways, entered on a whim, and won an ARC.

Who I’d recommend it to: A lot of different people, honestly. If you like smart, funny, compulsively readable books in interesting formats (like epistolary novels, things like Illuminae, etc.) with feminist themes, I would recommend this.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Book Depository 

What it’s about:

Flora Goldwasser has fallen in love. She won’t admit it to anyone, but something about Elijah Huck has pulled her under. When he tells her about the hippie Quaker school he attended in the Hudson Valley called Quare Academy, where he’ll be teaching next year, Flora gives up her tony upper east side prep school for a life on a farm, hoping to woo him. A fish out of water, Flora stands out like a sore thumb in her vintage suits among the tattered tunics and ripped jeans of the rest of the student body. When Elijah doesn’t show up, Flora must make the most of the situation and will ultimately learn more about herself than she ever thought possible.

Told in a series of letters, emails, journal entries and various ephemera, Flora’s dramatic first year is laid out for all to see, embarrassing moments and all.


I’m not really sure what I expected, going into this, but it’s not what I got. I think I was expecting a possibly humorous, but otherwise generic, contemporary YA story. What I got was different. It was still funny, but it was way deeper than I’d expected.

Flora is like the very best of Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl) and Cher Horowitz (Clueless). She was a privileged, upper east side, vintage-fashion-loving, private school girl, but she was also aware of and passionate about things like feminism, the environment, etc. I really thought this book and Flora, in particular, were going to make me mad, because she left her home and school to go to the Quare Academy (which actually sounded like a place I would have loved to have gone) all because of some slightly older guy she barely knew. But then amazing things happened.

During Flora’s first year, she makes some mistakes and things are generally not so great for her, at least at first. I loved how real this book felt. I had to keep reminding myself the letters and stuff were fiction, because Jenny Fran Davis did such a good job creating a realistic world and cast of characters. She didn’t shy away from difficult topics, and I think she handled all of them so well in this book.

I don’t want to say much about the plot, partly because it’s really hard to describe, but mostly because I think this is a book you should start without really knowing too much about it. While this book does cover some very serious topics, I enjoyed how it never felt like it took itself too serious.

The characters were great. Flora, of course, but also the people in her life at Quare and back home in Manhattan. She really learned a lot from many of them, and watching her grow as a character throughout the book was really nice. I hate when a book takes a character through really rapid changes (in a chapter or two, for example) because it feels too rushed. Or, on the opposite side of things, a character doesn’t grow and change at all throughout the book. Both are usually unbelievable. But with Flora, her change was gradual and never felt forced, rushed, or otherwise unrealistic.

I particularly liked Juna and Dean, and wouldn’t have minded getting to know both of them even more. Especially Dean, I think. Then there was the kind of mysterious Sinclaire, who had one of my favorite lines in the whole book (in an e-mail to Flora). I had to put the book down until I stopped laughing and could get the visual out of my head. Sam was kind of an ass, but I liked him and his relationship with Flora. Elijah, though. Ugh. I wanted to kick him in the shins repeatedly. Basically, I really liked most of the characters, even the ones we didn’t get to know very well.

The Miss Tulip subplot was fun to read about. I don’t want to say a lot about it because I don’t want to give away any potential spoilers, but the way Flora’s friends from Manhattan factored in was kind of amusing. (Also, that’s totally a blog I would probably read.) There was also the Nymphette Magazine side story that I enjoyed. (Also a magazine I would have loved, probably, back when I was a teenager.) The way the two were tied in together was funny, heartwarming, and just generally a good time.

This has been one of the hardest book reviews I’ve ever written. I have so many feelings about it, and the characters, but it’s hard to talk about it without giving things away :/ There are a lot of things I really want to talk about, but I’m afraid it would be spoiler-y. Sigh. 

To summarize: I definitely recommend it, and I will almost certainly be keeping an eye out for more books from Jenny Fran Davis in the future.

Posted in book review

Book Review: Basic Witches

cover; links to goodreads

Genres: non-fiction; self-help; witchcraft

Why I read it: I’ll get deeper into this in my review, but I saw it on Net Galley and got way too excited, requested it, and was approved for an eARC.

Who I’d recommend it to: I would recommend it more to people who identify as women, and those who have an interest in self-help and self-care, witchcraft-made-easy, feminism, etc.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


What it’s about:

Capitalizing on the rising trend of hipster witchcraft, BASIC WITCHES is a lighthearted and empowering book of spells and lifestyle tips for feisty millennial women.

In Basic Witches, readers will discover how to tap into their inner sorceress and channel the dark arts for everything from cluttered apartments to dating disasters. Want to enhance your attractiveness? Pick the right power color of eyeshadow and project otherworldly glamour. Need to exorcise a toxic friendship? Say the right symbolic curse and banish it from your life. Need to boost your self-confidence? Whip up a tasty herbal “potion” to strengthen your inner resolve. Plus historical and pop culture sidebars that situate the new witchcraft trend within a broader context. With humor, heart, and a hip modern sensibility, journalists Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman dispense witchy wisdom for the curious, the cynical, and anyone who could use a magical boost to get through the day. This ain’t your grandma’s grimoire!


I was so excited about this book when I first saw it on Net Galley, but I almost wish I hadn’t requested it. As someone who’s been a practicing witch for over 15 years, this book was not intended for people like me, and it says so in the first few pages of the book. So, if you’re already a witch and have been for some time, this might not be a great choice for you.

On the flip side of that, if you’re mildly interested in witchcraft and how to use it to help yourself in all sorts of different situations (choosing your clothing/cosmetics to put you in a certain mood, super simple home remedies, giving yourself permission for self-care, making a list to help you find love, and many more), this might be for you. Or, if you are already a practicing witch, but you’ve only recently become interested in spells with minimal ingredients and steps, you might also like this.

I’m having a love/hate relationship with this book because I am a witch, even though I try not to take things too seriously (unless seriousness is called for). I’ve done more than one spell involving toilet paper (there’s a spell in this book that uses it, too) and other items that might make other people scratch their heads and wonder what the heck I’m thinking. But…this book basically uses the word “witch” to mean “modern woman” or “feminist.” I don’t have a big problem with that, but I do feel like this book was a little misleading.

So, I didn’t get as much out of this book as I would have liked, and if it had been around when I was in middle school or high school, I would have found it more useful. Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve changed a lot. I realized I didn’t need tons of props and ingredients for spells, and I let my creativity reign in designing them. It’s mentioned in this book, but many witches have been saying something like this for years, so this isn’t a quote: you don’t need stuff for a spell to work, you just need you, and your intentions.

Most of the spells and rituals in this book require only a couple of items (the purpose of which, as with any spell or ritual, is to give you something physical to focus on), like a candle, some paper, a bathtub, your phone, etc. They’re simple, but simple can be just as effective, sometimes even more so, than complex spells. If you’re interested in the more complex types of witchcraft, or anything formal, you should skip this book. But, if you want spells you can throw together easily (without a long list of difficult to obtain ingredients) and use to inspire you to create your own, this might be a good way to dip your toe in and see what you think.

I was very pleased with the inclusiveness and lack of judgment in this book about so many topics, from darker fashion choices (you don’t have to be goth to be a witch, or vice versa, but some of us happen to identify as both), to gender identity, to sexual orientation, to a brief discussion about midwives, to safe sex and your birth control choices, and more. This book is full of things that can help you take control of your life and figure out what’s important to you. I think this book will appeal more to those who identify as women, but I think anyone could find some things in it useful, or relate to many topics discussed. 

There’s a lot of really good, practical advice in this book that would lead me to recommend it to people who aren’t interested in witchcraft at all. Like how to deal with toxic or draining people in your life, having important conversations about your needs and wants with a sexual partner, helping yourself heal after being in an abusive relationship (with a romantic partner, parent, friend, etc.), the parts about self-care, and a lot more. I liked a lot of those parts, even though some of it doesn’t apply to me at all at this point (like finding love, because I’m happily married). There’s also some good little historical bits about witches, people who were accused of being witches, wise women/healers, etc., if you’re into that. 

I could honestly talk about this book for much longer, because there’s a lot crammed into just over 200 pages (I have 5 pages of notes, too), but I think I’ll wrap this up because it’s already quite long.

Basically, this book wasn’t perfect for me, but I enjoyed it (for the most part), and I will definitely recommend it to other people for a lot of different reasons. It doesn’t read like a self-help book, but it kind of is one, and I think a lot of people could get something meaningful and helpful out of reading it. It isn’t too serious, but it doesn’t shy away from serious topics, either. It is practical, sometimes a little silly and fun, and has some super cute illustrations here and there (which isn’t very important, but I liked them).

Will I buy a copy, now that it’s been released? Maybe. I do know that I will absolutely look at it next time I’m in a bookstore, and I might buy a copy for myself or a friend.

Have you read Basic Witches, or are you planning to? If you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought of it!

Posted in book review

Book Review: Burntown by Jennifer McMahon


cover; click for goodreads

Genres: mystery/thriller/suspense; a little horror; a touch of paranormal


Why I read it: I really liked The Winter People, so when I saw Jennifer McMahon’s newest book on NetGalley, I had to request it, and was lucky enough to be approved for an e-ARC.

Who I’d recommend it to: Fans of her other books. People who like mysteries, etc., and magical realism.

Publication date: April 25th, 2017
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 304 ebook | 336 hardcover

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (3.5 stars)



Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

What it’s about:

Eva grew up watching her father, Miles, invent strange and wonderful things in the small workshop behind their house on the river that runs through their old mill town. But the most important invention of all was the one that Miles claimed came from the mind of Thomas Edison himself–a machine that allowed one to speak with loved ones long passed. Smuggled out of Edison’s laboratory, the blueprints were passed down to Miles, and he’s been using them to protect Eva, her mother, Lily, and her brother, Errol, ever since.

Then, one night when a storm is raging and the river is threatening to flood, the machine whirrs to life on its own. Danger, it says. You’re in terrible danger. The next thing Eva knows is waking up on the side of the river and seeing her mother’s grim face. Eva’s father and brother are dead, their house has been washed away and an evil man is searching for them both. They need to hide.

Eva changes her name to Necco–a candy she always loved–and tries to put everything in her past behind her as she adapts to her new life off the grid. But when her boyfriend is murdered and her mother disappears, she knows that the past is starting to catch up to her.

What really happened the night of the flood? As Necco searches for the truth, her journey unites her with two women who are on desperate quests of their own. And as the trio follows the clues to solving the mystery of Necco’s past, they discover that sometimes it’s the smallest towns that hold the strangest secrets.


I’m going to start with the bad/what I didn’t like about this book


There wasn’t much, honestly. I did have an e-ARC, so it’s possible that my complaints were addressed before publication (I haven’t had a chance to check a finished copy).

First, I think I’m going to stick with listening to Jennifer McMahon’s books, instead of reading them, from now on. I think her writing style is wonderfully suited for audiobooks, because it really paints a picture of exactly what’s going on. However, that’s not something I’m a huge fan of, generally, while reading. It’s a “telling, not showing” kind of thing, I think. I actually don’t mind some telling, but it was a little much in this book, and some of the descriptions of things went on a bit longer than I would have liked. This is a very small complaint and it’s probably just me being too nitpicky.

My biggest complaint was actually in the last few pages of the book. There was a slur (“It sounded like g***y music…”), which I find in books all the time. It annoys me, but I let it slide with older books. But these days, there’s not much of an excuse for that kind of thing to slip by because 99% of the time there are definitely other words that can be used to describe something. I won’t try to really explain in depth why it’s a slur, because I don’t want to speak for anyone, but here’s a very brief article on it to get you started, and a quick google search can show you more. Basically, no, it does not mean you’re “free-spirited,” or anything like that.

I am not a big fan of multiple points-of-view, and this book has them. It wasn’t bad, but it did slightly irritate me. That’s totally a personal preference thing, though, so if you don’t mind them in general, you’ll probably be fine with the way they’re handled in this book.


Now, on to what I did like, characters, etc.


The story of the machine was really interesting, and (I think) actually based a bit on fact. I haven’t dug into this to check out facts, but I’m pretty sure that Edison really did have plans and a possible patent to create a device that would–if successful–allow the living to contact their dearly departed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a big feature in the book, even though pretty much the entire plot centered around it. Still, it was very cool to read about when it was mentioned.

The way the past and present and various character connections were woven together was interesting enough to keep me reading almost non-stop after about the halfway point. (It did take me a little while to really get into the story, but I think that was just my mood.) I’ll admit that I actually had everything worked out before the big reveals of all the twists, but I was fine with that and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

I felt for Necco and Theo so much, and I liked both of them a lot. I think I might have enjoyed the multi-POV more if it had been just the two of them. Necco was such a strong young woman, and my heart kept breaking for her. And Theo, oh gosh. I related a little too much to her a few times, and my heart broke for her, too. I’m not exactly sure how realistic all of their actions and reactions were to the things going on, but it was at least mostly believable, I think. If a sequel to this ever came out, and Necco and Theo were in it, I would definitely read it to find out more about how their lives are after the end of this book.

Pru…well, I’m honestly not sure what to say about her. I feel like she was more and less fleshed out than Necco and Theo (I’m not sure if that makes sense, sorry), and I didn’t really end up caring much about her. I felt bad for her, and I was a little proud of some of her actions. She just wasn’t my favorite. But, the circus stuff was cool, and I‘m hoping she found a happy ending because I have nothing against her, I just never loved her.

The Fire Eaters were pretty great. I loved them and I would read a book just about them. I kind of wish we’d learned more than we did, but I’m also happy with most of their story remaining a mystery.

The personal mythology that’s going on in this book is fascinating, in my opinion. The way facts and lies and twisted truths are intertwined was really well done and kept me wanting more. The stories people told others and themselves, the lives they invented, etc. It was all really good, and made me think about my own and those of other people.


And now the things I didn’t love or hate, but still want to talk about


I won’t say much about the other characters so I don’t spoil anything, but I wish we’d learned more about the villain.

I still want to know the real, whole story about the elephant. I can make assumptions, but I want to know for sure.

There’s also something that wasn’t fully settled (for me, at least) that I’m really curious about concerning Necco, and Matthew’s family. Actually, there are a few things that weren’t talked about by the end that I wish had been, but I guess they’re not super important to the plot. There were just some loose ends I would have liked seeing tied up. I can’t say more without possibly mentioning spoilers, ugh. (I have a few of my questions in the spoiler tags on my goodreads review.)

Would I recommend it? Probably. I didn’t love this one, but I don’t feel like I wasted my time reading it, and I mostly enjoyed it. It just didn’t wow me as much as I’d hoped it would.

If you’ve read it, what did you think of it? Are you planning to read it, if you haven’t yet?

Posted in book review, books

ARC Review: The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell


Genres: historical fiction; romance; mystery; magical realism(?)

Why I read it: The cover caught my eye on Net Galley, and the description sounded really interesting.

Who I’d recommend it to: Historical fiction fans (around WWII era), people who enjoyed The Lovely Bones, maybe fans of The Princess Bride, and probably romance lovers who like romances that aren’t just romances.

Publication date: April 4th, 2017
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: 304 ebook | 320 hardcover

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

What it’s about:

Neave and Lilly Terhune couldn’t be more different. Lilly is a beauty who runs through men like water. Neave, having been told at an early age by their mother that she will not be able to get by on her looks, always has her head in a book. Her favorite is The Pirate Lover, a romance novel about a young woman who refuses marriage to the highest bidder and instead escapes to the high seas where she meets the love of her life.

During WWII, when the men are gone, both sisters start working. But when the servicemen return and take back their jobs, Neave and Lilly are left with few options besides marriage. But they have other ideas. They start to build a makeup business (think Avon in its early days) and soon have a hit on their hands. But just as their business is truly taking off, Lilly disappears and Neave must figure out what happened. Luckily, she has Lilly’s assistance helping from above, even if she doesn’t know it quite yet.

Alternating between the sisters’ story and that of Neave’s beloved Pirate Lover book, Sharon Pywell shows how all romantic relationships have dark undercurrents, how even the most cerebral amongst us can enjoy a swashbuckling, page-turning romance, and how sometimes the guiltiest of pleasures might contain essential kernels of truth.


I almost skimmed on by this one (having seen the word “romance” in the title) while I was browsing Net Galley, but the cover hooked me. I saw the (possible) pirate ship, became curious, then I read the description and I knew I had to read it. I’m going to preface the rest of this by saying that I am not much of a romance reader. I can enjoy romance in books, and I like a few romances I’ve read, but it’s not a genre I read much of.

This story reminded me a lot of The Lovely Bones (well, what I remember of it, at least, because I read it about 13 years ago), which doesn’t bother me because I enjoyed that book as well, but maybe this won’t be for you if you hated everything about The Lovely Bones. The similarities are there, but this didn’t read like it was trying to imitate anything else. It was unique and strange, a little confusing at times, but ultimately quite enjoyable. I’m not always a fan of stories told from multiple points of view, but this is an example of it being done well.

I think this could have been a five star book for me, but I didn’t love any of the characters. I wanted to, but I didn’t connect much to any of them, and at times I just didn’t like any of them. I related to Neave in some ways, with her bookish and headstrong nature, but sometimes she didn’t seem quite real enough for me, like there was something missing. By the end, I felt like she was finally starting to stand on her own two feet more, but before that, it felt more like she was living in her sister’s shadow. She was independent, and capable of taking charge, but I think she lacked the confidence she needed until close to the end.

Lilly annoyed me, but eventually she grew on me a little. I still don’t love her, but I like her more. In some ways, I understood her more than Neave, even though I’m more like Neave. I’m not sure if that was because of how she was written, or if she reminds me of people I’m close to in real life, but I feel like she was a bit more fleshed out than Neave. Lilly’s perspective was strange, and there were some things that were not really explained. That would usually annoy me a lot, and feel lazy, but in this particular story, I think it worked. I would still like to know more about “Where she is now,” but I’m not too bothered by it.

Their other siblings and the rest of the minor characters had enough development to fit into the story, but I wish we’d gotten a bit more time with some of them. I really wanted to know more about Ruga, in particular.

While I know that the 1930s-1950s was a drastically different time in many ways, and people thought differently about a lot of things then, Neave and Lilly’s parents really annoyed me. There were a few things they said about certain things (that I won’t say because spoilers) that made me so angry, and I was glad to see my feelings reflected in Neave’s reactions and thoughts. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I felt like this book also functioned as social commentary on present issues concerning gender roles and expectations, and the way women are treated. This was set decades before I was even born, but from what I know based on TV, things I’ve read, and anecdotes from people who were around then, it seems reasonably accurate, and the fact that women today are experiencing the same issues they were dealing with 60 years ago is disturbing.

But, on the more positive side of things, the independence Neave and Lilly had was refreshing. It was nice reading about two driven women who built their business from the ground up and were successful, whether they were married or not, at a time when it was pretty much unthinkable for women to be so independent. The way they used it to help empower other women and help them was also great.

Woven throughout Neave and Lilly’s story is that of The Pirate Lover, a fictional romance novel Neave has read and re-read many times and loves. It’s full of typical romance tropes (the distressed heroine, the rakish and wealthy hero, the abominable villain, blossoming love, fighting evil, etc.), and it’s wonderful. It’s meant to be very trope-y, and because of that almost satiric storytelling, it’s delightful. (I wouldn’t mind reading it if it were a real book.) The events of The Pirate Lover are reflected in Lilly and Neave’s story in increasingly more unsettling ways throughout the book, and I think Sharon Pywell did an amazing job with entwining these two narratives.

I had a difficult time trying to nail down some genres to categorize this one as, because it’s a bit genre-defying. While it does use a lot of romance novel tropes, there’s also some drama, crime, mystery, magical realism, and probably others. It’s definitely not a book I’ll soon forget, and I’m so glad I managed to get an ARC. This isn’t really relevant, but I have to say that I actually squealed when I read the title of the final chapter. I thought that quote would make an appearance somewhere in the book, and I was so happy to see it!

I have to recommend this book, even if you–like me–are not a romance reader. It was such a unique story, and I think it could appeal to a lot of different people.

If you read it, I would love to know what you think!

Posted in book review

Are You Still There — A Book Review

Are You Still There by Sarah Lynn Scheerger are you still there

Genres: YA; Mystery/Suspense; Contemporary

Pages: 288

Published: September 1st, 2015

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ 

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Description from Goodreads:

After her high school is rocked by an anonymous bomb threat, “perfect student” Gabriella Mallory is recruited to work on a secret crisis helpline that may help uncover the would-be bomber’s identity.

Gabriella Mallory, AP student and perfect-daughter-in-training, stands barefoot on a public toilet for three hours while her school is on lockdown. Someone has planted a bomb and she is hiding. The bomb is defused but the would-be-bomber is still at large. And everyone at Central High School is a suspect. The school starts a top-secret crisis help line and Gabi is invited to join. When she does, she is drawn into a suspenseful game of cat and mouse with the bomber, who has unfinished business. He leaves threatening notes on campus. He makes threatening calls to the help line. And then he begins targeting Gabi directly. Is it because her father is the lead police detective on the case? Is the bomber one of her new friends. Could it be her new boyfriend with his complicated past? As the story unfolds, Gabi knows she is somehow connected to the bomber. Even worse she is part of his plan. Can Gabi reach out and stop him? Or will she be too late?

I finished this book yesterday and I’m still really torn about how I feel about it and I can’t really go into many details because I don’t want to spoil anyone. There might be minor spoilers in this, but nothing huge. I’m going to go about reviewing this one in a different way than usual and just talk about what I did and didn’t like.

What I Didn’t Like:

Right at the beginning, I was really confused about the lock-down. I don’t know how they’re doing things now, but when I was in high school like 10 years ago, lock-down was for potential shooters and the like, not a bomb threat. I’ve never heard of doing that for a bomb. I thought the protocol for any establishment was to get people away from the possible bomb, not lock them inside with it.

I’m also not buying the helpline. I’m not saying that students couldn’t work on something like that, I just don’t believe that they would throw the kids into that situation without some training.

The “cat-and-mouse” thing wasn’t really a big part of the story. I expected this to be more of a thriller and less of a contemporary, kind of romance-y story, but the bomber kind of took a backseat to Gabi’s day-to-day life.

The characters drove me mad for the first half or more of the book. I seriously hated Gabi, her friend Beth, and most of the other characters. Some of their decisions were baffling or infuriating, and sometimes not very believable.

What I’m Not Sure if I Liked/Disliked:

Miguel. I think I liked him, but at times he was kind of controlling and it bothered me. I’m pretty sure his heart was in the right place, but he could have acted better.

Stranger’s manifesto. I won’t say anything else because of potential spoilers.

The romance. I don’t hate romance as much as I used to, but it’s not something I seek out, usually. When I requested this ARC, I didn’t know the romance-y bits would make up such a large part of the story. It wasn’t bad, just not what I expected.

What I Did Like:

This book tackled some serious issues, and in a way I haven’t seen done before. (I’m not saying it hasn’t been done, just that I personally haven’t seen it.) Bullying, teen suicide, school threats, etc. are all tough subjects, and I think Scheerger mostly handled these things well.

I wish we’d gotten to know some of the characters better, but I also kind of enjoyed not knowing much about them. The bomber could be anyone, so it made sense. Also, I’m really glad Gabi showed some signs of growing as a person by the end of the book.

The pacing was really good and I finished this in a day.

While I figured out who Stranger was really early on, I didn’t expect what happened at the end. That part actually shocked me a little.

The characters, in general, by the end of the story. After Gabi joins the helpline, I thought most of her interactions with people were a bit more realistic (and I stopped wanting to hit her over the head with something) The friendships that were formed because of the helpline, and the growing up that happened with some of the characters really helped this story along, I think.

Overall, there were some things I liked and some things I didn’t like. I might recommend this book, but probably not to many people. However, I enjoyed the writing and pacing, so I might read more of Sarah Lynn Scheerger’s books in the future.

*I received a free copy for review from Netgalley*