Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grades

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

I’ll readily admit that Ella’s dark green dress on the front cover of the first paperback edition was what first caught my attention. But given my established record as a lover of fairy tale adaptations, it should come as no surprise that this is the book that started my obsession!


How can a fairy’s blessing be such a curse? — At her birth, Ella of Frell was given a foolish fairy’s gift—the “gift” of obedience. Ella must obey any order given to her, whether it’s hopping on one foot for a day or chopping off her own head! — But strong-willed Ella does not tamely accept her fate. She goes on a quest, encountering ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, fairy godmothers, and handsome princes, determined to break the curse—and live happily ever after.


I LOVE Ella Enchanted. Other than the American Girl books, it was the favorite book of my childhood. When I was home sick in elementary school, this is the book I made mom and dad read to me. When I wanted to find a costume for Halloween, I wanted to be Ella. When I grew up and got married, I wanted it to be to Prince Char. When Laura was making me crazy, I called her Hattie. When I wanted a book to make me happy and cheer me up, I reread Ella Enchanted.

​I had the same copy of Ella Enchanted since it was first published in paperback for the school market in 1998 when I was 8 and in 3rd grade and it finally suffered its last spine crease this summer and I was forced to buy a new copy. So, I bought two! One for me and one to read to Ben’s little sister because I’ll be darned if she misses Gail Carson Levine’s literary greatness! If you are looking for an excellent book for the upper elementary school age girl in your life, look no further than Ella! And please, if you haven’t already, don’t watch the movie.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $7.99 • 9780064407052 • 250 pages • first published 1997, this edition published May 2017 by Harper Trophy • average Goodreads rating 3.97 out of 5 stars • read in 1998

Gail Carson Levine’s Website

Ella Enchanted on Goodreads

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118-Ella Enchanted

Contemporary, Fiction

The Ex-Debutante by Linda Francis Lee

This was one of the first “adult” fiction books I read after graduating high school and deciding I needed to branch out from the young adult section. And while I’m a northern at heart, when presented with the opportunity to read about southern debutantes, I usually do so in order to mock them later. But in this book, there is so much heart and character development that I simply cannot mock. And the main character is named Carlisle, as is my beloved hometown.


When Carlisle Wainwright Cushing, of the old-moneyed Texas Wainwrights, moved to Boston three years ago to work at one of the city’s most prestigious divorce law firms, she thought she had escaped the high society she’d grown up in – after all, no one in Boston, not even her fiancé, knew she was an heiress. But now Carlisle has been lured back to Texas to deal with her mother’s latest divorce and the family-sponsored hundredth annual debutante ball, which is on the verge of collapse. She’s afraid she’ll never get back to Boston, at least with her reputation intact, especially when good ole’ Southern boy Jack Blair shows up on the opposite side of the divorce court, making her wonder if he’s going after her mother in the proceedings – or her. Carlisle’s trip home challenges her sense of who she really is and forces her to face her family’s secrets.


I picked this book up as a quick read the summer after my sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh, one of many books that I figured might be enjoyable if I read it, but wasn’t super into starting. Once I did, though, I could hardly put it down! It’s not news that I’m driven towards books that are more character-driven than plot-driven and that I appreciate strong and independent female characters that think and speak for themselves and never turn down an opportunity for deliciously witty banter with a romantic interest. The Ex-Debutante fulfilled my expectations of Carlisle. Come to think of it, after I read it I was fairly certain that if I ever had a daughter, I would totally name her Carlisle.

There were many things that drew me towards the book – I’d been on a She’s the Man kick (which features debs), I’d entertained the idea of becoming a lawyer (at the time I still didn’t want to teach), and I was infatuated with a guy name Jack that’d just broken my heart. Connections abounded and reading about Carlisle and how she handled her life gave me the confidence to take a greater interest in shaping my own life to be what I wanted, not just what was expected of me as a 19-year-old-almost-college-junior.

The end of your sophomore year of college is when you’re supposed to have your mind made up (if you didn’t when you started) about what you want to be when you “grow up” and who you are as a person. Your days of finding yourself are supposed to be done – you were either supposed to take a year off to traipse through Europe before enrolling or have it all sorted by the time you’re done your first semester so that you can settle in and start working towards some nonexistent goal that is supposed to define the rest of your life.

But, as with many other things in life, we don’t all follow the same path, our development as human beings really isn’t mappable as some psychologists would try to lead us to believe. And in a time of great personal confusion, Carlisle personified that twisting, knotting, ineffable desire to be unique and individualistic to a tee. I’d spent the four months before reading The Ex-Debutante caring for family and supporting those around me. While I’m beyond glad that I took time off from college to do so, reading The Ex-Debutante was the first time I took a break that was just for me, that I took time out of the day to do something I enjoyed, even if it was just reading. So my review is less about the book, but more about what the book, and the protagonist, made me realize about myself.

Rating: 8 stars

Edition: Paperback • $22.99 • 9780312354985 • 341 pages • first published April 2008, this edition published March 2009 by Griffin • average rating 3.67 out of 5 • read in May 2009

Linda Francis Lee’s Website

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Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Psychology

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

I started reading Furiously Happy as soon as I finished Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I love it THAT much. There seems to be only one person who understands my anxiety better than I understand it, and that person is Jenny Lawson. Also, how awesome is a book that when you casually slip into a conversation with your boss that this is the book that has best help you understand and deal with your anxiety, he goes and buys a copy himself?


In Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.


*NOTE: This book affected me on a personal level because I could relate to it. I’ll explain why first, before the review.*

My anxiety is a fairly recent development in my life. And maybe it’s really PTSD, but I’m choosing to go with anxiety. Just about three years ago (it’ll be actually three years on February 9th), my little Prius and I were struck by a tractor trailer on I-80 in Pennsylvania in the middle of a snow storm and I wound up stuck in a ditch, snow on either side, unable to get out of my car. I have never been more terrified in my life. My car absolutely saved my life.

And, I think most people would call this understandable, I started having panic attacks whenever I found myself in a less than comfortable driving situation. Full blown, cannot breathe, cannot feel my hands, feet, or face, panic attacks. Unfortunately, and less understandable to most people, my anxiety about driving started to seep into other (and all) facets of my life. Being diagnosed with allergy induced asthma last February didn’t help matters – now when I have an asthma attack I panic about not being able to breathe, and then I get to experience an asthma attack AND panic attack simultaneously. Isn’t that fun? No, it’s not, and the paramedics who had to try to regulate my breathing will back me up on this one.

Yes, yes, you’re probably thinking: Sarah, you know tons of people in the US suffer from anxiety and depression, right? Yes, your situation is not ideal, but other’s have it far worse. Yes, you’re absolutely right. And for all those people, and me, we have Jenny Lawson. And we are extremely lucky.

While Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny’s first book I reviewed last week, definitely falls into the memoir realm, Furiously Happy, straddles the genres of memoir and self-help. She doesn’t trivialize it any of the mental health issues she experiences, and she doesn’t discount anyone else’s. She doesn’t pretend to be an expert, she simply offers shared experiences. All with wit and humor that is unparelled to anything I’ve read before.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9781250077028 • 352 pages • first published September 2015, this edition published February 2017 by Flatiron Books • average Goodreads rating 3.93 out of 5 • read in January 2018

Jenny Lawson’s Website

Furiously Happy on Goodreads

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Furiously Happy

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Travel

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

My mother had a copy of A Short History of Nearly Everything in our minivan for pretty much my entire adolescence. Intrigued, I figured that when I finally wanted to read nonfiction (once it was done being assigned to me), I would read a book by Bill Bryson, especially as I planned a trip to visit my sister in the UK.


Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to discover and celebrate that green and pleasant land. The result was Notes from a Small Island, a true classic and one of the bestselling travel books ever written. Now he has traveled about Britain again, by bus and train and rental car and on foot, to see what has changed–and what hasn’t.

Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis in the south to Cape Wrath in the north, by way of places few travelers ever get to at all, Bryson rediscovers the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly singular country that he both celebrates and, when called for, twits. With his matchless instinct for the funniest and quirkiest and his unerring eye for the idiotic, the bewildering, the appealing, and the ridiculous, he offers acute and perceptive insights into all that is best and worst about Britain today.


I think I made a mistake… I picked my first Bill Bryson book based on which one was available on the library Overdrive app as an audiobook for me to listen to while driving to my grandmother’s one day last week. According to everyone I talked to about Bill Bryson books once I was halfway through listening to it, I made the wrong choice.

For a little context, the description does not make is abundantly clear that you really should have read Notes from a Small Island prior to reading The Road to Little Dribbling. Not just for a bit of context for why Bill travels to the locations he visits in this book, but also to acclimate yourself to his writing and voice. Because without a little context, well, The Road to Little Dribbling reads like an alternate draft of Grumpy Old Men.

Some of the observations that Bryson makes about how Great Britain has changed are reasonable based in reality. Other times, it seems like he’s complaining and for the sake of being a jerk. One of my coworkers tried to tell me that that was the basis of his writing and he was being sarcastic, but I feel like I’m not so dense that I cannot tell when someone is being sarcastic, it is my second language after all.

And then, the more I listened, the more I felt like it was probably a generational thing. Bill Bryson is clearly a member of the Baby Boomers and I am thoroughly a millennial. And while I often rag against people disparaging against other generations, I find it is quite clear that there is absolutely a difference in each generation’s approach to life. So while I’ve decided that I’m not a fan of The Road to Little Dribbling, I might still be a fan of Bill Bryson’s and just have to accept that this one is not for me.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.95 • 9780804172714 • 400 pages • first published January 2016, this edition published October 2016 by Anchor Books • average Goodreads rating 3.71 • read in January 2018

The Road to Little Dribbling on Goodreads

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Road to Little Dribbling

Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Travel

The Grand Tour Guide to the World by Jeremy Clarkson, James May & Richard Hammond

It’s all my husband’s fault. When we first started dating, he asked if I wanted to watch a little British show call Top Gear. “What is Top Gear?” I asked, ignorant of it’s cultural relevance. “Oh, well it’s kind of a car show, kind of a comedy show,” he answered. “Ok,” I shrugged, “let’s watch it.” Oh how little I anticipated that it would quickly become my favorite show of the decade.


The world is a big place full of interesting thins… And The Grand Tour has seen several of them. That’s why few people are better placed to lead you around this vast planet of ours than Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. As long as you don’t mind getting hot and lost.

In this indispensable guide you’ll discover an abundance of information, most of which is probably wrong and potentially dangerous. Alongside occasionally accurate guides to the places visited on the show, you’ll find exclusive interviews with the presenters and see how some of the show’s most spectacular sequences were made.

As well as being a factually dubious encyclopaedia, The Grand Tour Guide to the World is also a companion for anyone inspired by the Grand Tour traveling circus. Learn how to blend in with French car enthusiasts, how to speak Welsh (wrongly) and how to wow people with amazing facts about Swindon. And on top of all this, we reveal the world’s fastest cop cars and the planet’s greatest car makers. And there’s a picture of James May in an anorak.


So I rambled about Top Gear at the beginning and you’re probably thinking, but Sarah, the title of the book says it’s called The Grand Tour! Yes, because the BBC fired the top presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, so he and his mates got picked up by Amazon to make a new show call The Grand Tour.

The Grand Tour started its second season shortly before Christmas and, when you’re working in a retail environment during the holidays as I was, you look for just about anything and everything to cheer yourself up and The Grand Tour fit the bill. Most of the original features of Top Gear (the news, celebrities driving cars, making fun of each other, races, etc.) are in the new series but with slightly different names. The boys can be counted on to make even the most mundane topic intriguing and entertaining. Even if you don’t really care about cars, like my sister… (ahem, Laura), you can still find something to laugh about.

The book is organized into 10 sections, one for each episode/location the show traveled to in the first series of The Grand Tour. The graphic design is stunning, and the content is, for the most part, informative. Would I recommend it as an actual travel guide? Of course not. But, if you are a fan of The Grand Tour, or you want to see what Clarkson, May and Hammond are all about, I suggest at least flipping through the pages of The Grand Tour Guide to the World. At the very least, their irreverent humor will occasionally bring a smile to your face.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $29.99 • 9780008257859 • 272 pages • published October 2017 by HarperCollins • average Goodreads rating 3.83 out of 5 • read in January 2018

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Grand Tour Guide to the World 2


Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

It is not often that I get the idea in my head that I absolutely must read a book at a particular time, but I decided this year before Christmas that I absolutely had to read Furiously Happy. My coworker, Jennifer, who loves Jenny Lawson, said “No, no. You have to read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened first.” And boy was she right.


When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.

In the irreverent Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s long-suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments – the ones we want to pretend never happened – are the very same moments that make us the people we are today.


I don’t often shove a book in my husband’s face and say, “Here! You MUST read this chapter right now!” Any time I have attempted this before, he groans and shoves said book out of my face. There aren’t many books that I’ve read that strike me as books he would particularly enjoy. But, while reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, I did this no less than 10 times. 10! And each time, he laughed too (which was very reassuring) and agreed with my declaration that Jenny, the author, and Victor, her husband, represent the two of us in five to ten years.

There have been a few books, fiction mostly, where I have identified with the main character to the point where I declare, “me too!” (not in the present #metoo sense, but in an I-can-thoroughly-relate-to-what-you’re-saying sense). But this definitely falls into the same category of Hyperbole and a Half where I feel like I’m reading a slightly altered account of my own life. My father was a builder, not a taxidermist, I grew up in Pennsyltucky (rural PA), not rural Texas, but I also am the messy one in my marriage, met my husband in college, say things out loud at social gatherings that I really shouldn’t, and have generalized anxiety disorder, though my panic attacks are mostly triggered by driving.

As Jenny writes, these things make me human, and they make me, me. And now I  know that there are far more people like me than I previously thought. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud and that you can thoroughly relate to, look no further than Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780425261019 • 363 pages • first published April 2012, this edition published March 2013 by Berkley Books • average Goodreads rating 3.9 out of 5 • read in January 2018

Jenny Lawson’s Website

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened on Goodreads

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Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Contemporary, Fiction, New Adult

Jessica Darling quintet by Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling helped me survive high school. I was first introduced to the delightfully snarky, sarcastic and spunky teen heroine of Sloppy Firsts when I was a freshman in speech and debate practice after school one autumn afternoon back in 2003. A frenemy of mine was testing out an excerpt from Second Helpings for a speech competition and it was certainly effective: I remember nothing else of the speech and debate season but hearing about Jessica handle the popular girls in a Jersey mini-mall still resonates in my head a decade plus later.

The series consists of five books and originally Megan McCafferty only intended to write the first two and they stand alone very well. I also read Second Helpings before Sloppy Firsts and while slightly confusing, I think it just made me love Marcus even more. I also had the great pleasure of meeting Megan McCafferty my junior year at Pitt and she has now started a Jessica Darling in middle school series which is quite wonderful as well, even though it differs from the originally established timeline.

Sloppy Firsts Synopsis

When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

Sloppy Firsts looks at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment – from the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious “dreg” who works his way into her heart.

Series Review

There are, thus far, 8 books about Jessica Darling. Therefore, understandably, my review cannot simply be contained to one book, each reading changes and effects how I view the books so it may be a bit garbled and I’ll try to review book by book without any spoilers, but bear with me!

Sloppy Firsts I have read only once and I did so after reading Second Helpings, the stronger of the pair, writing wise. I was introduced to Jessica after Marcus, after her sister’s wedding, and after she’s met, and discovered the truth about, Hyacinth Anastasia Wallace. All of these things take place in Sloppy Firsts but I didn’t know the full story. At the start of Sloppy Firsts, Jessica is broken, though she does her best to hide it. Her best friend Hope has moved away and while Hope does not actually physically enter the story until the end of Second Helpings, I had already met her. But her influence on Jessica’s life is profound – she is her best friend, her confidant. For a young girl to have such a strong friendship is an incredible thing to behold and when that friendship is no longer as present, depression can quickly ensue. Throughout Sloppy Firsts, Jessica must handle changing feelings, embarking on a friendship she fears Hope would disapprove of, and betrayal of her trust by a new friend. The waters of high school are choppy and Jessica must learn how to cross them safely without her navigator and first mate, Hope.

Second Helpings: My copy of Second Helpings is thoroughly beat up. I love the book, I’ve read it over and over and over again whenever I have been in need of inspiration for my own writing, or when I just want to read about characters that I love dearly. So who came up with it first, JK Rowling or Megan McCafferty? Both have a character known as “he who shall not be named” and Jessica is horribly mad at the one who walks around her high school’s halls. Her feelings have been hurt, irrevocably, she claims, and she swears to never forgive the sinner. Second Helpings is set during Jessica’s senior year and from the very start, it seems as if all hell will be breaking loose. She must deal with national tragedy (9/11), personal tragedy when a beloved family member is lost, and coming to grips with her own moral quandaries and whether or not a friendship is still a friendship if secrets are kept.

Charmed ThirdsFourth Comings: In which Jessica follows her heart and goes to her dream college and lands what she believes to be her dream job. Charmed Thirds & Fourth Comings are my two least favorite books and for the longest time I would not read them. Laura had started them and was unimpressed. However, when I met Megan McCafferty, I needed a book for her to sign and so I picked up a copy of the new edition of Charmed Thirds. I will cherish it always as it bears McCafferty’s lovely looping signature and I got to meet her with some of my best college friends. However, Jessica, is just not Jessica in these two books. While Sloppy Firsts & Second Helpings cover roughly a year and a half between them, Charmed Thirds & Fourth Comings span almost 8 years and everything feels so rushed.

Perfect Fifths: When I went to hear Megan McCafferty speak, she read aloud from the recently released Perfect Fifths and I was hooked. It was the first time we the readers get Marcus’ point of view and WOOHOO!!! I powered through Charmed Thirds & Fourth Comings just to get to the part Megan McCafferty read in the dimly lit auditorium of Frick on my beloved Pitt’s campus. As the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series did years later, the fifth book takes place when the main characters are in their late twenties. And it is pure literary gold. It’s an ending, without being final but also without fully answering all the questions that have so far gone un-answered. But it is perfect, perfect for you, yes, you to enjoy.

Jessica Darling is a relatable girl for those who grew up feeling pressure in high school, fearing being misunderstood, missing their best friend, wondering when their lives would really begin and if their relationships with others were/are meaningful. Jessica, Marcus, Hope, Bridget, Percy, Bethany and even Mr. and Mrs. Darling make up an unforgettable cast of characters. As is the case with all series, there high points and low points, both within the story and the story telling but all-in-all, Jessica is a character to depend on and a role model for those who don’t quite fit in, feel a little lost or who simply want a shoulder to cry on. She’s your girl.

Series Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Sloppy Firsts Edition: Paperback • $13.99 • 9780609807903 • 304 pages • published August 2001 by Broadway Books • average Goodreads rating 3.94 out of 5 • series finished April 2010

Megan McCafferty’s Website

Sloppy Firsts on Goodreads

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Jessica Darling

Essays, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Short Stories

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Last Christmas, I asked my coworkers for a book recommendation for my sister and I for the holidays. Jennifer suggested David Sedaris, and while I didn’t get around to reading it last year, I did this year, and, well, you’ll see…


David Sedaris’s beloved holiday collection is new again with six more pieces, including a never before published story. Along with such favorites as the diaries of a Macy’s elf and the annals of two very competitive families, are Sedaris’s tales of tardy trick-or-treaters; the difficulties of explaining the Easter Bunny to the French; what to do when you’ve been locked out in a snowstorm; the puzzling Christmas traditions of other nations; what Halloween at the medical examiner’s looks like; and a barnyard secret Santa scheme gone awry.


Thirty pages into the first story of Holidays on Ice and I had started a post-it note list of all the things I didn’t like. And then, for better or worse, I had to remind myself that this book was originally published just over 20 years ago in a less politically correct time. Swearing and such I can tolerate. Calling people with special needs retards? Not so much. Praising little girls’ looks and little boys’ brains? Further proof of what a systemic problem sexism is in our society.

And then I reminded myself that while reading this with a 2010s state of mind, in the 1990s, people would have thought twice about comments such as this. Which, while problematic, meant that I could put down my angry post-its and enjoy the humor of David Sedaris because, hopefully, we’ve reached the point this year, where everyone knows how problematic such language is. If you’re still unsure, I’ll give you a full lesson, but this is not the place for it.

I laughed my way through most of Sedaris’ stories, not all of which are specifically Christmas themed, but holiday themed which was a pleasant mix. At times it was difficult to decipher which entries were stories and which were essays, but all were entertaining in their own right. At less than 200 pages, Holidays on Ice is a quick and (mostly) enjoyable read, and I would pick up one of Sedaris’s other works to further explore his writing, though I would definitely pick a more recent publication.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $12.99 • 9780316078917 • 176 pages • first published October 1997, this edition published October 2010 by Back Bay Books • average Goodreads rating 3.95 out of 5 • read in December 2017

David Sedaris’s Website

Holidays on Ice on Goodreads

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Holidays on Ice

Non-Fiction, Psychology

You’re Not That Great (But Neither is Anyone Else) by Elan Gale

There are some advance reader copies (ARCs) that, when sitting in a pile of hundreds of other ARCs on our staff lunch table at work, just call out to me. There are fewer that actually make it to my desk, fewer still that make it home with me, and fewer still that I actually read. For working at a bookstore and getting access to literally hundreds of ARCs, I might only read 3 each year. But I’d been in the market for an actually helpful “self-help” book, and the nonstandard approach of You’re Not That Great seemed to demand that I read it.


The self-help industry tells you that if you’re positive, if you put your best foot forward, and if you just believe in yourself, you will find happiness. Let’s be real: You can read all the inspirational quotes you want. You can spend your days giving yourself affirmations in your heart-shaped mirror and trying to learn to love yourself. You can say your mantra over and over again while sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat in a Whole Food parking lot. But the truth is, you’re not a “badass” and you still don’t have the life you want. That’s where this book comes in. This book teaches you how to stop trying to FEEL BETTER, and urges you to BE BETTER. It will help you harness all the negativity in the world and use it to improve your life. Positive thinking is for assholes. Negative thinking is for winners.


Me prior to reading this book : I’m a millennial and I’m special unicorn. Me after reading this book : I might be a millennial and special unicorn, but I’m not really a great person. And being a great person is more important that being a special millennial unicorn.

The last time a read a self-help book (The Fangirl Life), I hated myself more and more after each chapter. In reading You’re Not That Great, a certain amount of self-loathing is a prerequisite. One must accept that they’re not that great in order to become great. Now, I knew absolutely nothing about Elan Gale, I didn’t know he was a producer of The Bachelor (which, oddly enough, I’ve never seen), and I purposefully did not look up any information about him until I was done reading. Primarily because I wanted to believe he is a credible authority on his subject matter.

Now, he is not a psychologist, which is probably why our publisher rep at the store suggested that we shelve this book in humor, but as a real life person, with real life experience (not just the experience of patients and extensive study), I find him to be uniquely qualified to write the anti-self-help self-help book.

You’re Not That Great is, yes, very humorous, but it is also incredibly helpful. For centuries, millennia even, court fools were the only ones allowed to make fun of their lord/king. And in the poking fun, was also at least a morsel of truth. It’s like when someone tells you they have good news and bad news and ask which you’d like to hear first. I’m sure 9 out of 10 people will say the bad news first, because then they get to cheer up, and maybe even laugh a little, when they hear the good news.

It is an age old practice because it is an effective one, one that Elan Gale uses to his great advantage to drive home the purpose of his book, or what I believe should be the second subtitle for the book, “But You Can Be Better.”

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $20.00 • 9781478918295 • 192 pages • published December 2017 by Grand Central Publishing • read November 2017

You’re Not That Great on Goodreads

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You're Not That Great

Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grades

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Millennials, my generation, are defined in some small part by their relationship with Harry Potter. Almost all of us have a story about when we were first introduced the the boy wizard who changed our reading lives. I was 10 years old, in 5th grade, and it was shortly before Thanksgiving when my friend Brendan brought a book and a letter into school. He had found this book and had liked it so much, he wrote a letter to the author, and SHE WROTE BACK. He shared the letter with the class, and asked if the book could be our next classroom read aloud. Needless to say, Mrs. Kluck agreed, and when we left for Thanksgiving break, I made my mom hunt down a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for me. The rest, as they say, is history.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Synopsis

Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley – a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry – and anyone who reads about him – will find unforgettable. For it’s there that he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him… if Harry can survive the encounter.

Series Review

This is a difficult review to write as I grew up with the Harry Potter books and characters. I was 10 years old when I was introduced to 10-year-olds Harry, Hermione, and Ron. When I was 10, my life was challenging – my parents were getting divorced and I just wanted an escape and the wizarding world presented itself to me at the perfect time. I would spend hours reading and rereading the books in my bedroom, trying not to think about the challenges of my young life. Because of this association, the tales of Harry Potter and his friends’ adventures will always hold a special place in my heart, but it was only for Harry’s friends that I finished the series.

As I grew up, I wanted Harry and his friends to grow up with me. I camped out at midnight for books 5 through 7, I dressed up as Hermione for more Halloweens than I care to admit, but the moment I was waiting for never really came. Harry never convincingly grew up with me. We were both supposed to be 17 when the final book was released – I had just graduated from high school and was excited to see Harry finish school and get excited for life after the final battle with Voldemort. However, while I was ecstatic for the next chapter in my life, Harry doesn’t have goals, he doesn’t have any direction in his life. Now granted, his primary focus was survival so that pushed some other dreams and ambitions out of focus, but I would have latched on to them – I would have latched on to my hopes of the future, for a world without Voldemort.

At 10, Harry and I had so much in common. At 13, this was still the case, but at some point, during the fifteenth year of my life/the fifth book, our paths completely diverged. I quickly grew to loathe Harry and his whiny, moody tendencies. While Harry “grows,” he doesn’t ever mature and that made it exceedingly difficult to remain engaged with the stories for any length of time after I finished reading them initially. By the time the seventh movie (split into two) came out, I was so disenchanted with Harry and his misanthropic tendencies that I didn’t even want to see it in theaters. I wanted to see an older Harry, a Harry that I could relate to, instead of a character that was stuck in middle school, stuck at thirteen so that he would be more accessible for later generations. In a way, this makes sense, no other generation will be waiting for years between books – years in which they grow up and expect Harry to grow up as well. Is it fair to tell my 10-year-old step-brother he must wait until he’s 17 to finish the series? No. But I feel like it pulled my fellow millennials away from Harry. It led some of us to abandon him in the dark basement of our minds because he didn’t keep up. Like Peter Pan, he didn’t grow up.

Hermione, on the other hand, was always the brains of the operation, the logically minded one keeping Harry and Ron on track and explaining the ways of the world, and girls, to them, as they remained stuck in their world of perpetual early adolescence. Hermione and her books and knowledge and love of school helped me express my own love of intelligence and learning. Hermione ensured that the stories of Harry Potter would be relatable for boys and girls. And that is, to me, the real magic of the wizarding world of Harry Potter. He brought so many kids into the magical world of reading and books and that, regardless of the quality of the books being read, is always a good thing. Reading the adventures of Harry will always be a rite of passage. If I ever have kids of my own, I will read them the stories of Harry Potter as my mother and teacher did for me. And I will be incredibly offended if they dislike them, but will be equally offended if they obsess over them blindly and refuse to read anything else as I had done.

Series Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9780590353427 • 312 pages • originally published 1997, this edition published 1999 by Arthur A. Levine Books • average Goodreads rating 4.45 out of 5 • read in January 2000

J. K. Rowling’s Website

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