History, Non-Fiction, Political Science, Sociology

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

I’ve decided I might as well just go ahead and start calling 2018 my year of nonfiction. Two full months in and I’ve only read one traditional work of fiction out of the 10 books I’ve read. Also, I’m prepared to lose friends and alienate certain groups of people over this review and if that’s the case, so be it. I’ve accepted it and made my peace with it.


The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.


I will never support the current president of the United States. He is not the person that I voted for and he is not the person that the majority voted for. I woke up the day after Election Day 2016 in tears, not because we didn’t elect our first female president (yes, I was bummed about that), but because it seemed that a man who lied and connived his way into the top office managed to hoodwink a bunch of my fellow Americans into supporting him. I couldn’t believe it. I cried foul. Because they failed to notice the overt similarities between his campaign and those of the Nazi party and fascists of Europe in the twentieth century.

Now, let me make myself clear – I have nothing against Republicans, hell, most republicans I know do not like our current president. I do, however, have something to say to all those who let themselves be dragged into the media circus that was his campaign. It’s taken me a full year to finally come to terms with my feelings on the whole matter and I’m pleased to report that when I did finally settle into how I feel about it all, after many panic attacks and moments of depression and despair, I realized that this is not solely a gender issue. I’m not a whiny woman sad that Hilary does not sit in the oval office simply because I wanted a female president (someone I had once considered a friend accused me of this). It is, as Timothy Snyder outlines, an issue of tyranny and group behavior that leads to tyrannical leaders landing in power – and staying there.

Those who voted for the current president are supporting a man who acts against just about everything that the Founding Fathers sought to safeguard our country against. Snyder points out repeatedly that we have ignored history. And when we ignore history, especially recent history, we find ourselves doomed to repeat it. When we ignore nationalistic behavior, when we ignore propaganda and language that subverts our freedoms and democracy, when we turn on our neighbors and judge them by their race, religion, sexual identity, etc. we find ourselves screwed.

I absolutely refuse to sit idly by and watch that happen. I will not stay quite in the face of people who cannot manage a well reasoned argument or defense and simply resort to shouting the same mantra over and over. I refuse to let people degrade others by using harmful stereotypes to prejudge or discriminate against them. And I refuse to be silenced by those who would rather I say and do nothing at all.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $8.99 • 9780804190114 • 128 pages • published February 2017 by Tim Duggan Books • average Goodreads rating 4.26 out of 5 stars • read March 2018

Timothy Snyder’s Website

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On Tyranny

Essays, Non-Fiction, Sociology

Women & Power by Mary Beard

Oh the thoughts and tirades this book stirs up. But for the sake of review, I’ll try to keep it short and too the point. Add this to my growing pile of feminism reads.


At long last, Mary Bread has decided to address in one brave book the misogynists and trolls who mercilessly attack and demean women the world over. Few, sadly, are more experienced with this kind of hateful barrage than Beard herself, who has been subjected to a whole onslaught of criticism online, in response to her articles and public speeches.

In Women & Power, Beard presents her most powerful statement yet, tracing the origins of misogyny to their ancient roots. In two provocative essays, Beard connects the past to the present as only she can, examining the pitfalls of gender and the ways that history has mistreated powerful women since time immemorial.

As far back as Homer’s Odyssey, Beard shows, women have been prohibited from leadership roles in civic life, public speech historically being defined as inherently male. There is no clearer example than Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, who seals her lips and proceeds upstairs when told to shut up by Telemachus, her son. Other mouths in public or, against all odds, gained power – from would-be Roman orators, though the great queen Elizabeth I – have been treated as “freakish androgynes,” attacked or punished for their courage – regarded with suspicion at best, contempt at worst. From Medusa to Philomela (whose tongue was cut out), from Hillary Clinton to Elizabeth Warren (who was told to sit down), Beard draws endlessly illuminating parallels between our cultural assumptions about women’s relationship to power – and how powerful women provide a necessary example for all women who must resist being vacuumed into a male template.


Emma Watson, hero to many young women, recently acknowledged that her position as a feminist comes with a dollop of white privilege. All things considered, as white, straight women raised in Western cultures, we are considerably better off in society than any LGBTQIA+ woman or women of color. This recently has made me realize that we are not only campaigning for equal rights for women, but that an additional hurdle, one that has been too often overlooked by straight, white women, needs to be addressed as well. I do not have the experiences of someone other than myself and I hope that as I continue to advocate for change, I embrace change for all, and that I do not rest on my laurels once I have achieved change for myself and those just like me, but that I continue crusading for all women.

Now, on to the review! Women and power, what a Pandora’s box of discussion topics such a title evokes. While I don’t have any recollection of being told to shut up, I have definitely been talked over until someone assumed that I would give up and be quiet. Which I wouldn’t. My mom always taught me that I was as strong as my voice and my voice was as strong as me. Basically, the only way to effect change would be to keep talking until I could no longer be ignored. It didn’t always serve me well, but I would always stand up for myself though throughout most of my high school years, I was called a bitch behind my back. Thankfully social media was not widely used back in the early ‘aughts.

My mom worked in education administration and would often be the only woman at meetings. Which always seemed to weird to me – the majority of teachers are women, but most principals and administrators are men. As her daughter, who also pursued a career in education, I struggled to get a reaction that wasn’t “Oh, your Amy’s daughter.” So I did the most patriarchal thing I could – changed my last name, my whole identity, when I got married, just so I wouldn’t constantly be compared to my mother or judged by some men’s perceptions of her position in the state educational system.

Every sentence, every phrase, Mary Beard hits the nail on the head. And, like most women, she doesn’t have an answer for how things can change. I don’t think any of us do. Sexism and misogyny is so rampant in cultures world wide that it is going to take a lot more than a few speeches for things to change. But I have to believe that they will. I have to believe that the great reckoning is coming for all those, men and women alike, who have aided in the silencing of women and, in the case of women, their peers. Until we all stand together and listen with respect to each other, we will fail to see forward progress.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $15.95 • 9781631494758 • 128 pages • published December 2017 by Liveright Publishing Corporation • average Goodreads rating 4.17 out of 5 • read in February 2018

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Biography, Middle Grades, Non-Fiction, Sociology

Marley Dias Gets It Done by Marley Dias

For once, I can say that I knew about something from the get go! As a former and hopefully soon-to-be-again middle school teacher, I like to keep up to date on what’s going on with middle schoolers’ reading habits. So when Marley Dias burst onto the scene as a 6th grader with her #1000BlackGirlBooks Campaign, I actually followed quite closely!


Marley Dias, the powerhouse girl-wonder who started the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign, speaks to kids about her passion for making our world a better place, and how to make their dreams come true.

In this accessible guide with an introduction by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay, Marley Dias explores activism, social justice, volunteerism, equity and inclusion, and using social media for good. Drawing from her experience, Marley shows kids how they can galvanize their strengths to make positive changes in their communities, while getting support from parents, teachers, and friends to turn dreams into reality. Focusing on the importance of literacy and diversity, Marley offers suggestions on book selection, and delivers hands-on strategies for becoming a lifelong reader.


Why am I reviewing Marley’s book now? Well, she came to the bookstore that I manage a few weeks ago and I figured her book would be a good one to have in a future classroom. As a teacher, I was thrilled with her presentation and the fact that I got to interview her. As a bookstore manager, well, it wasn’t the easiest thing to coordinate and when the teenage wunderkind that you’re interviewing has already been on the talk show circuit, coming up with creative questions posed a bit of a challenge!

The book itself is quite spectacular and, as I’m sure you might wonder about a 13 year old author, I can say it’s pretty apparent she wrote it herself. Marley has the presence of someone beyond her years and she is very eloquent. Marley Dias Gets It Done includes a great deal of practical advice for being both a teen activist, but also about surviving those years and keeping yourself on track. It is a wonderful book to have on your shelf as a parent, teacher, or even just an adult who is looking for some helpful and practical advice.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $14.99 • 9781338136890 • 208 pages • published January 2018 by Scholastic Press • average Goodreads rating 4.31 out of 5 stars • read in February 2018

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Contemporary, Fiction

Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter

My sister and I have always loved everything Jane Austen (her more than me), but when I pick up a good Pride & Prejudice retelling, I get excited.


After a string of disastrous dates, Emily Albright decides she’d had it with love. She’d much rather curl up with Pride and Prejudice and spend her time with Mr. Darcy, the dashing, honorable, and passionate hero of Jane Austen’s classic. So when her best friend suggests a wild week of margaritas and men in Mexico with the girls, Emily abruptly flees to England on a guided tour of Jane Austen country instead. Far from inspiring romance, though, the company aboard the tour bus consists of a gaggle of little old ladies and one single man, Spike Hargreaves, a foul tempered journalist writing an article on why the fictional Mr. Darcy has earned the title of Man Most Women Would Love to Date.

The last thing Emily expects to find on her excursion is a broodingly handsome man striding across a field, his damp shirt clinging to his chest. But that’s exactly what happens when she comes face-to-face with none other than Mr. Darcy himself. And suddenly, every woman’s fantasy becomes one woman’s reality…


In high school and college, I didn’t date. I don’t really know why, lack of trying, incredibly obnoxious standards, I don’t remember. But my friend Melanie and I thoroughly believed eventually we’d find our Mr. Darcy. Luckily for us, we’ve found men we love and love us back, and I think that’s what the idea of Mr. Darcy represents to so many women.

Spike, the antagonist, and Emily, the protagonist, make me laugh. Their antagonism will quickly inspire parallels to the classic Lizzie and Darcy moments in Pride & Prejudice. Is the as well written? No, but it is fun and light hearted and a neat peace of glorified Austen fan fiction!

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.00 • 9780345502544 • 356 pages • published June 2007 by Ballantine Books • average Goodreads rating 3.22 out of 5 • read in June 2007

Alexandra Potter’s Website

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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

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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


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

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Jessica Darling

Fiction, Thriller

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I began reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo after the movie was announced (though before watching it) after one of my friends recommended it. Based on my knowledge of the friend who offered the recommendation, it was nothing as I expected.


It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden… and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

It’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to find the underlying cause of Harriet’s disappearance… and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacked possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age – and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it – who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a view of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism – and an unexpected connection between themselves.


I don’t read mysteries or thrillers for fun. They freak me out and give me nightmares. I have a great deal of difficulty getting the villain out of my head. It’s even worse when they’re exceptionally well crafted and convincing, as is the case in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series.

I typically try to read a book before I see the adaptation and I really wanted to see the movie (my hang-ups with thrillers mentioned above don’t seem to apply to film) so figured that I should read the book first because there was a good chance I would miss some important detail throughout the course of the movie (which is probably why I love, but can rarely follow, Bond films – I’m never paying enough attention). However, to understand the world in which Vanger, Blomkvist and Lisbeth are living, I needed a crash course in Swedish elitist politics or I would miss something important.

Never had I done so much research before reading a work of fiction, but I knew going into the book that I had to familiarize myself with a society that differed from my own to understand the actions and behaviors of the characters, particularly the secondary ones. But what really drew me to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the girl herself, Lisbeth Salander.

Lisbeth is a ward of the state, an orphan with a traumatic background, declared mentally unstable which puts her finances, and therefore life, into the hands of a court appointed guardian – a rare kind man who unfortunately suffers a stroke at the start of the book. The man who replaces him, Nils Bjurman, is quite the opposite.

Lisbeth is highly aggressive towards those who abuse women and when Bjurman forces her into submissive and degrading positions to procure her pre-determined allowance. The revenge she takes on him is magnificently cruel and degrading, equal to the treatment he forced upon her. Lisbeth is fierce, and perhaps more than a little crazy, but her talents are unequaled in the art of hacking and manipulation. But her heart is pure, hidden though it may be, and she is capable of suffering heartbreak, despite her cold exterior and extremely introverted personality. Lisbeth is the heart and soul of the book and without her, the corporate espionage and possible murder plots mean little.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Mass Market Paperback • $9.99 • 9780307949486 • 644 pages • first published in English in September 2008, this edition published November 2011 by Vintage Books • average Goodreads rating 4.11 out of 5 stars • read in January 2011

Stieg Larsson’s Website

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Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


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

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on Goodreads

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Harry Potter (2)

Essays, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Short Stories

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Fantasy author Brian Staveley once told me he was haunted by the yellow coat on the cover of The Opposite of Loneliness, and for good reason – he was one of Marina Keegan’s high school teachers. He knew her before the rest of the world knew her. The Opposite of Loneliness would never had been published had Marina Keegan not been killed in a car accident shortly after her college graduation. But because she did, we, the world, and specifically millennials, have a tome of her works to pour over and continually hypothesize about what could have been.


An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented Yale graduate whose title essay captured the worlds’ attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.


The Opposite of Loneliness is a book that should not exist. The Opposite of Loneliness is the book that I’m glad I didn’t write. These two statements may sound contradictory and my logic and reasoning are complex and circular to say the least. But most importantly, damn can Marina Keegan write. Could. Marina Keegan could write.

Marina Keegan is the new enigma and “could have, would have, should have world of possibilities” now haunting my mind. Her fiction is the writing of a slightly angsty, yearning-to-be-edgy college student exploring the themes of young love, changing families and drug use. She explores complex themes and extended metaphors that a fellow millennial can relate to. Her work, though, sadly leaves so much room for more. There is always room for more to the story. Her work doesn’t end neatly and cleanly wrapped up with a bow on top but open-ended and messy. By all accounts, her life was stereotypical in many ways, her experiences perfectly relatable which leads her fiction into a trap. She doesn’t have the life experience to make it credible.

Following the dozen or so fiction stories come some hard hitting and brainy non-fiction works, including the one about the artichokes that set Wall Street and the world of post-graduate consulting firms and hedge funds on edge. But my favorite, is “Stability in Motion,” Marina Keegan’s ode to her car. There’s a special bond that a teenage girl forges with her car and everything Marina said rang true of my experience as well. I think it’s funny that of all the pieces included, it was that one that stood out to me most. Marina’s writing is sarcastic and sharp, a literature or English professor’s dream. Unfortunately, she’ll never have the chance to grow, to evolve. She will always be a good college writer but held to the standards of what she could have been. The Opposite of Loneliness is worth a read for millennials, but I fear others just might not “get it.”

Marina Keegan, author of The Opposite of Loneliness, and I were born 39 days and 400 miles apart (I was first and further south). By a stroke of luck and the persistence of my mother, I wound up in the graduating college class of 2011 and Marina in the class of 2012. I went to the University of Pittsburgh, Marina to Yale (though I applied, I didn’t have the necessary background and stature required for admission as Marina did). I moved to southeastern Pennsylvania 5 days after my college graduation on May 1, 2011. A year later, five days after her own graduation, Marina died in a car accident.

I don’t know what I was doing on May 26, 2012 – it was the Saturday before Memorial Day, odds are I was shopping or possibly helping my grandmother get ready for her annual picnic to be held that Monday. I didn’t feel any great cosmic shift in the universe, I just went about my business on a typical, hopefully warm, May Saturday. But on that day, Marina Keegan died. And my millennial generation lost a giant that we weren’t even aware of, a literary giant who had spent the last two years of her life sitting in the hallowed halls of my dream school, doing what I love to do more than anything – writing. Writing stories, essays, everything. Marina put a voice to the generation who isn’t sure what they want to do with their lives but is sure of one thing – we wish to make a difference.

I’m heartbroken that Marina’s death is what brought her work to the masses, I’m heartbroken that I can never stand in line at Book Con or an NYC Barnes & Noble hopping up and down excitedly on the balls of my feet, anxiously waiting to meet her and ask her to sign my book. Anxiously waiting to tell her how much I identify with her writing and then getting tongue tied when the moment arrives (invariably this happens to me anytime I meet anyone I really respect in the literary world).

I flew through The Opposite of Loneliness and it was like reading a letter from a long-distance friend. I realized, while reading, that Marina said all the things I was never brave enough to say in college and that the way her professors described her is probably very similar to how mine would have described me. Would Marina and I have been friends if I went to Yale? Probably not – we seem to be too similar – but we would have respected each other, of this I am certain.

Marina’s path represents, to me, one of my many paths not taken. I’ve been writing like a fiend since I was 12, but never thought to do so as a career except for a marvelous three months while studying film at Pitt and indulging in my screenwriting passion and then realizing that I’d never take a screenwriting class at Pitt (long story…) – I wasn’t heartbroken, I moved on to history and theater and political science and studio arts – my interests were (and still are) quite varied. But there is always a thought that strikes me every time I start teaching a new writing class – I absolutely cannot imagine a world without writing. I cannot imagine not having the opportunity to put pen to paper and tell a story or share my thoughts. Such a world is incomprehensible and I’d rather, well, I don’t know what I’d rather, but I refuse to bear witness to such an atrocity as the world without writing.

And that brings me to my ever-eventual point of tying everything in my life back to education. Without writing, without a strong literary culture, the world would have never cultivated the great mind and talent of Marina Keegan. So, I plead with schools, never forsake the written word. Never give up on teaching 2nd graders the importance of writing.

Rating: Essays 8 out of 10 stars, Short Stories 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.00 • 9781476753911 • 256 pages • first published April 2014, this edition published April 2015 by Scribner Book Company • average Goodreads rating 3.82 • read in May 2015

The Opposite of Loneliness Website

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Opposite of Loneliness