First & Then

I’ve been meaning to read this debut novel for a few years. Its author is Emma Mills, or Elmify on YouTube. During college, I watched her videos religiously. Now that she is a published author, I couldn’t wait to read her work.

When I first started this novel, I was disappointed. It started like every other contemporary YA novel. There’s a girl who likes a boy, but he doesn’t like her back. Then there is this other boy that annoys her and also Jane Austen is involved. But this novel didn’t only focus on romance. The platonic relationships that arise are my favorite part of the novel.

Devon is a perfectly average high school student who is just trying to figure out if she even wants to go to college. She hasn’t even started thinking about where she wants to go and how she’s going to get in. Then her parents decide to take in Foster, her cousin whose mother isn’t taking care of him after his father passed away. He starts at Devon’s high school and she is thoroughly annoyed by his enthusiasm and dorkiness.

This novel could have easily been 300 pages of pining and whining. But instead it was about the relationships the grow between Devon, Foster, and Ezra (the boy that annoys her). The three of them help each other through high school drama and more.

This novel ended up being so much more than I thought it would be. Mills is a talented writer with a gift for realistic characters and relationships. I can’t wait to read her other novels.



A Conjuring of Light

I’m glad that I didn’t read the second book until I also had this one in my hand. The cliffhanger at the end of the second one was intense. The final book in this trilogy follows the same characters as the previous two. Kell must deal with the consequences of his actions from the beginning of the series and Lila finally comes into her own.
This novel also mostly stays in Red London. It is focused on the Antari from every world and the power they have. I liked most of the plot and resolution, but there were discrepancies that made this novel feel under-edited and rushed.
When Lila and Kell first meet in A Darker Shade of Magic, one of the first things he notices is that her eyes are different- one is fake. Then in this one, for no apparent reason, Kell doesn’t know about her fake eye until it is a plot point. I think the reason that Lila had a fake eye was cheap and predictable. It was treated as a huge plot twist, but I thought it was obvious. Maybe Schwab wanted Kell to “find out” with us to lend credibility to her poorly crafted plot twist.
Overall, I found this novel to be predictable and way too long. This series started out promising with the idea of quantum physics and magic, but it quickly became just another fantasy series in this conclusion to the trilogy.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

After seeing this book on the New York Times Bestseller List for weeks, I added it to my holds list on Overdrive. It took me several months to receive it and the wait was worth it. The author reads his own book about his life and he was an excellent narrator.

This memoir is the story of a man who grew up in a Appalachian “white trash” family. They are crude, loud, and dysfunctional. But they are fiercely loyal and overprotective of their own blood, even against one another. Vance focuses a lot on the relationships he had with his mother and father. But the more influential pair in his life is his MaMaw and PaPaw. They are the ones that really raised him and helped him get through his childhood. At the end of high school, Vance joined the military and that totally changed his life. After that he went on to earn his law degree.

This memoir is Vance’s attempt to use his personal experience to explain the perspectives of those living in poverty in Middle America. He states that he can’t explain for everyone, but he can at least give people a peak into the lives of the modern Republican and why they act the way they do. In a world where everything feels like its being taken from you, there is an us vs them mentality through and through. I liked this memoir and I recommend it to anyone interested in the politics of modern America.



Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s the story of Felix, a down-and-out ex-artistic director of a theatre. After losing his daughter and his wife, and then his job, Felix decides to become a hermit. After 12 years of solitude and planning his revenge, he finally has the opportunity with teaching a theatre course at a local prison.

This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series from Penguin/Random House, who is publishing modern retellings of Shakespeare written by popular literary authors of today. This one was an indulgent feast for a theatre person. Not only is theatre a huge part of the plot, the cathartic release that comes from good theatre is a huge theme.

One of my favorite parts of this novel was the journey that Felix undergoes. He grows so much during the novel, but he is still a realistic person driven by human emotions at the end. Atwood kept that essential part of Shakespeare that makes his writing universally accessible.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I would want to read the rest in this series. But they’ll have a hard time topping this theatre-filled story that Atwood was able to translate perfectly for today.


Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging discusses PTSD and why it is so difficult for veterans to reintegrate into society. He asserts that because of the tribe mentality and structure of the military, veterans have trouble readjusting to the chaotic nature of modern society. HE cites both research and personal narratives to defend his claim.

I listened to this book is audio CD format and I loved reading it that way. It was extremely short and well written. Junger was concise in his writing, but still very engaging.

The section I enjoyed the most was when Junger talked about Indians (he makes a point of using that term specifically) and early Americans. He cites historical notes that lament that early Americans would leave their new communities to join the Indians. People would join the native society by choice, but Indians would fight to return to their society. Even Benjamin Franklin discussed this and was baffled by it. Junger argues that it is because of the tribal structure of the society and the sense of purpose that comes with it.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was read at a good pace and covered the topic. I just would have liked more information and a more in-depth look at the subject.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

There are few reading experiences that I’ve enjoyed more than listening to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. The audio book I listened to was read by the author, who sadly passed away in 2014. This was my first experience with Maya Angelou and it felt deeply personal.

This book is a memoir of Angelou’s childhood. She lived a tumultuous childhood, filled with negligent parents, being raised by your grandparents, and teenage pregnancy. Angelou remembers a time of both love and abuse, happiness and pain, and freedom and captivity.

As I listened to this memoir, I understood why schools have it on reading lists and why it is a banned book. Growing up in a suburban Southern town, I can’t imagine that I would have read this book in high school, even though I took advanced English. This book is the type that people in high school should be reading- one that resounds with truth and they can connect to in a personal way.

Even though I enjoyed this book, I don’t know if I ever want to read it again. It was sad and true. Nevertheless, I recommend it to everyone.


A Gathering of Shadows

This novel is the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic. It picks up a few months after the end of the first book. This novel is about the consequences of the events of the first novel and adds in more- The Element Games. This is a competition between three Red London nations and displays the strengths and differences in one world instead of between different Londons.

Schwab continues to follow Lila Bard, the thief from Gray London, and Kell, Red London’s Antari. We also learn more about Rhy, the prince and Kell’s brother, and Holland, White London’s Antari. We are also introduced to Alucard Emery, the captain of the ship that Lila joins and her new mentor. Emery and Rhy quickly became two of my favorite characters in the series. They are both a little dramatic and I love it. I also liked that we were able to see the consequences of Kell and Rhy’s connection from Rhy’s perspective.

I loved this book. The concept of The Element Games felt a little contrived, but I loved the deeper look into Red London instead of just skimming from world to world. I also felt like Lila finally started to come into her own. She grows so much as a character while she figures out how to use her magic. I love that she rarely uses it for straightforward good. She is selfish, chaotic, and complicated. And it’s wonderful.

This novel made me laugh out loud and the cliffhanger at the end is amazing. This book was stronger than the first, in my opinion, and I want to read more of Schwab’s writing.