A Criminal Magic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Criminal Magic by Lee KellyThanks to the passage of the 18th Amendment, magic is finally illegal. But making something illegal doesn’t make it disappear–it just makes it sexier and, for two unlikely sorcerers, that much more dangerous.

Joan Kendrick has seen firsthand how damaging magical shine can be. It is more potent than liquor, more addictive than narcotics, and in the wrong hands it can be deadly. When it looks like magic might be the only way to save her family’s home, Joan forges a risky bargain. If Joan can learn to harness her magic it could change everything. But only if she can stay alive long enough to enjoy it.

Magic has taken everything from Alex Danfrey forever changing the trajectory of his life, landing his father in prison, and even ruining Alex’s own good name. Alex never wanted to work as an undercover prohibition agent–certainly not one peddling magic for the head of the Shaw crime syndicate. But who is he to turn down the one chance he has to turn his life around?

Joan and Alex are on opposite sides in a battle that’s been threatening to erupt for years. When lines are drawn both of them will have to determine where the others’ loyalties–and their trust–truly lies in A Criminal Magic (2016) by Lee Kelly.

Find it on Bookshop.

Kelly’s unique vision of magic and magical distillation adds an interesting element to the world here, as do the complex illusions Joan learns to peddle as a speakeasy performer. Unfortunately so much time is spent explaining the internal logic of the magic systems that much of the plot’s forward momentum is lost in these technical details.

One of the main tenets of prohibition, in retrospect at least, is the fact that much of the movement was grounded in false logic. For example, removing a man’s access to liquor would not make him less likely to hit his wife (the movement was very interested in stopping domestic violence). Instead it makes it more likely for him to hit his wife while sober.

What happens, then, if the idea of prohibition is actually grounded in fact? Kelly spends a lot of time telling readers that magical shine is as dangerous as everyone fears–something shown repeatedly in the story as peripheral characters suffer through addiction and withdrawal. While this concept is interesting it is never fully explained or explored in the narrative never doing anything new or fully addressing the inherent tensions of the time period.

A Criminal Magic is a heady blend of historical fiction and fantasy whose main characters have obvious chemistry albeit in an often under-utilized setting.

Possible Pairings: Westside by W. M. Akers, The Diviners by Libba Bray, Storm Front by Jim Butcher, The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman, Priest of Bones by Peter MacLean, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

A Place For Us: A Review

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen MirzaSiblings Hadia, Huda, and Amar could not be more different. It’s always been like this. Their father saw it with the way Amar always saw life as a game where the world was against him. Their mother saw it in Amar’s sensitivity and the questions he asked about Islam as a child.

Now, the family is gathered for Hadia’s wedding–a love match in the face of years of traditionally arranged marriage. Steadfast and dependable Huda is there, always the reliable middle sister. But if Amar will show up, and what state he will be in if he does, remains to be seen.

As the wedding progresses the entire family reflects on the moments that brought them to this moment, together, as well as the moments that quietly and irreparably tore them apart in A Place For Us (2018) by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

Find it on Bookshop.

This ambitious debut novel has shifting perspectives following Hadia, Amar, and Huda as well as their parents in close third person. The wedding serves as a starting point with the story moving both backward in flashbacks and forward after the wedding in a complex narrative.

A Place For Us skillfully balances its large, multi-generational cast and a plot spanning decades to deliver an engrossing family epic exploring themes of memory, choice, faith, and belonging.To talk about any one aspect of the story would diminish the reading experience but even a year after reading it, I feel like there’s still so much to find in this story and so much to learn from these characters.

A Place For Us is all about meeting people where they are, and where they need to be met. And sometimes not making it. Recommended for fans of family sagas and stories where there is more than meets the eye.

Possible Pairings: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Red at the Bone by Jhumpa Lahiri, A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum, Digging to America by Anne Tyler, Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Week in Review: August 1: Quarantine Week 20: In which I am emotionally exhausted

missprintweekreview

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

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Have you ever wanted to run away to the circus? 🎪 Harley never thought she'd have to run away to the circus. Not when her parents already run a successful one in Las Vegas. After years of dreaming of becoming an aerialist and performing on the static trapeze, Harley hopes her parents will finally see her how serious she is and let her begin training professionally after high school. 🎪 Instead they double down on their demand that Harley focus on college first and then consider the circus–even though Harley knows she is in her prime as a performer right now, something that may not be true after four years in school studying something she has no interest in learning. 🎪 After her latest fight with her parents goes too far, Harley feels like she only has one choice: join a rival traveling circus. 🎪 Life on the road isn't what Harley expected. The performers at Maison du Mystère don't trust her, the trapeze artist who is supposed to mentor Harley actively hates her, and worst of all Harley has to live with the guilt over what she did to her parents so that she could snatch this opportunity. Harley has never felt like she fit into her family–never enough of any one thing to truly share biracial parents' and her grandparents' histories–and now she's afraid she may not be enough for the circus either. 🎪 As she struggles to carve out a place for herself at the Maison du Mystère and proof to herself and her parents that she has what it takes, Harley will have to decide if the sacrifices–and the choices–that she's made to get to this point are worth it in Harley in the Sky (2020) by Akemi Dawn Bowman. 🎪 #InstaReads #BookLife #Booktography #BeautifulBooks #Bookstagramit #LibrariansOfInstagram #BookReviews #BookBlog #AllTheBooks #UnitedBookstagram #OnceUponABookClubBox #BooksOfIg #BookStyle #BookLife #BookPost #BookishLife #ForTheLoveOfBooks #OnceUponABookClub #ReadersOfInsta #LoveReading #ouabc #BookRecommendations #ReadersOfIg #BooksToRead #ReadMore #BookstagramFeatures #BookstaFeatures #HarleyInTheSky #AkemiDawnBowman #30bachallenge

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How My Week Went:

I don’t think I’ve been saying this every week since March but this week was emotionally exhausting. I’m a little burnt out from working from home because I take on too much. I’m a little sad from, you know, the state of the world. And I’m a little lonely after not seeing anyone but my mom for going on more than four months. I also feel intensely guilty about working entirely from home still while colleagues and friends have had to go back already. But I know this is still the best and safest option for me and my family (my mom) and I have to be grateful for that.

I tried to give my space for optimism this week but then being on the verge of a panic attack for two days and trying to tamp down existential dread through sheer force of will for the rest of the week sort of got in the way for that. So I guess I’m giving myself space for optimism in the upcoming week too.

July 2020 Reading Tracker

Books I Read:

  1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  2. Othello by William Shakespeare (audio) (reread)
  3. Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston Weatherford
  4. Hood by Jenny Elder Moke
  5. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
  6. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (audio)
  7. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (audio)
  8. Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers (reread)
  9. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  10. The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee (kindle)
  11. The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
  12. Skyhunter by Marie Lu (kindle)
  13. Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers

Books I Had Planned to Read:

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What books do you want to read this month? 📚 These are the ones I’m hoping to get to plus some eARCs that don’t photograph well. The good news is two are already finished. 📚 The titles are: 📖The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (finished) 📖Beauty Mark by Carole Boston Weatherford 📖1789 edited by Marc Aronson and Susan Campbell Bartoletti 📖Traitor by Amanda McCrina 📖You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson 📖Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers (reread) 📖Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers 📖Hood by Jenny Elder Moke 📚 Have you read any of these? Which one should I read first? 📚 #InstaReads #BookLife #BookGram #Booktography #BeautifulBooks #Bookstagramit #LibrariansOfInstagram #BookReviews #BookBlog #AllTheBooks #UnitedBookstagram #LoveReading #BooksOfIg #BookStyle #InstaReads #BookLife #BookPost #BookishLife #ForTheLoveOfBooks #AllTheBooks #ReadersOfInsta #LoveReading #BookBlogging #BookRecommendations #ReadersOfIg #BooksToRead #ReadMore #BookstagramFeatures #BookstaFeatures #StackSaturday

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Books Bought:

  1. Joy at Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein
  2. Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

ARCs Received:

  1. Traitor by Amanda McCrina (requested)
  2. Or What You Will by Jo Walton (requested)
  3. The Lost City by Amanda Hocking (not requested)
  4. The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison (requested)
  5. Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne (not requested)
  6. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab (requested)

You can also see what I read in June.

Harley in the Sky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn BowmanHarley never thought she’d have to run away to the circus. Not when her parents already run a successful one in Las Vegas. After years of dreaming of becoming an aerialist and performing on the static trapeze, Harley hopes her parents will finally see her how serious she is and let her begin training professionally after high school.

Instead they double down on their demand that Harley focus on college first and then consider the circus–even though Harley knows she is in her prime as a performer right now, something that may not be true after four years in school studying something she has no interest in learning.

After her latest fight with her parents goes too far, Harley feels like she only has one choice: join a rival traveling circus.

Life on the road isn’t what Harley expected. The performers at Maison du Mystère don’t trust her, the trapeze artist who is supposed to mentor Harley actively hates her, and worst of all Harley has to live with the guilt over what she did to her parents so that she could snatch this opportunity. Harley has never felt like she fit into her family–never enough of any one thing to truly share biracial parents’ and her grandparents’ histories–and now she’s afraid she may not be enough for the circus either.

As she struggles to carve out a place for herself at the Maison du Mystère and proof to herself and her parents that she has what it takes, Harley will have to decide if the sacrifices–and the choices–that she’s made to get to this point are worth it in Harley in the Sky (2020) by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Harley in the Sky tackles a lot but it’s all handled exceptionally well and works to create a well-rounded, character-driven story. While trying to earn a spot in the circus Harley  grapples with her identity as the child of two biracial parents and what that means for her own cultural identity (or her lack thereof when she feels she is not quite enough of any one thing to truly claim it). She also tries to explain the coping mechanisms she has created for herself to deal with depression and mania and the stigma her own parents carry toward discussing mental illness. (Harley remains undiagnosed in the novel because, as she tells other characters, the way she moves through the world is normal to her and not something she needs help handling right now.)

Harley is a smart, passionate narrator. She understands her world through her physicality–something Bowman captures beautifully–and she isn’t afraid to go after what she wants even if she sometimes goes too far chasing those dreams. But she is also constantly learning and growing and, perhaps most importantly, she is always trying to do better–something that can never be undervalued in a novel or in real life.

Harley in the Sky is an ode to the beauty and the work of circus life as seen through the eyes of someone who loves every aspect of it. Come for the circus setting, stay for the sweet romance and thoughtful conversations on friendship, intersectionality, and work. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Akemi Dawn Boman about this book!

Possible Pairings: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Circus by Olivia Levez, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, American Girls by Alison Umminger

Author Interview: Akemi Dawn Bowman on Harley in the Sky

Akemi Dawn Bowman author photoHarley in the Sky is a complex book about family, identity, and everything that makes circuses so magical. I loved this story about performing and training to pursue your dreams and the way it shows the work behind the scenes as well as the wonder audiences see. And, of course, I loved Harley–a resilient heroine who is willing to pursue her dreams no matter the cost. Today I have Akemi Dawn Bowman here answering some questions about her latest book and one of my favorite reads of the year.

Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: I think it’s been a combination of big dreams, a lot of hard work, and all the stars aligning at the exact right time. I feel very lucky to have the publishing team that I do, but it took a good 4-5 years of querying before I got an agent. And in that time, I wrote (and re-wrote) four different manuscripts. I’m a very weird mix of thinking I never deserve anything good while also refusing to give up on the goals I set for myself. I guess it puts me in a strange headspace when I find success, because I am constantly plagued by self-doubt. But I’m stubborn too, and writing has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. I’ve always known I wanted to create stories, and characters, and worlds. And whenever I’ve dealt with rejection in this business, I don’t hear “no.” I hear “not right now,” or “not this particular project.” So I’ve always been good about working on something else, to give myself the very best chance at making it in this industry. And eventually, after hundreds of rejections, I found my wonderful agent and still can’t believe I get to do this as a job!

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Harley in the Sky?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: I think the inspiration came from two things. The first was that I’d just finished writing two very emotional and very heavy books, and I wanted to write something a little bit lighter, and a little bit more fun. The circus has always seemed so magical to me, so it felt like the perfect way to combine real-life with something that always brought me joy. And the second inspiration came from my experiences with mental health, and specifically what it felt like to be living and coping with something I didn’t have a diagnosis for at the time. A lot of people—especially on social media—seem to equate seeing a therapist or having a diagnosis as the only way to validate a mental illness, and that isn’t fair or accurate. There are many, many people who are unable to seek treatment or therapy for a number of reasons. They may not have access to it, they may not be able to afford it, they may not have family who are supportive, or they may have a personal situation that prevents them from seeking care. They might also choose not to go to therapy because they are already coping in a way that feels healthy and right for them. Mental health isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and managing a mental illness doesn’t look the same for everyone. And I guess I wanted to write this story so people like Harley can feel like they’re doing okay—that their experiences are valid, too, even if they don’t have a label.

Miss Print: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite thing about this book because it does so many things, so very well. However, it’s fair to say that the circus setting and Harley’s dream of becoming an aerialist are major parts of the story. What kind of research did you do to nail the setting? Do you share Harley’s love of the static trapeze?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: Thank you! I love the circus, and particularly the static trapeze. It’s always the act I look forward to most. There’s this otherworldly quality about it that makes me feel like I’m in a dream. I did a lot of research for this book—articles, circus documentaries, and many, many YouTube clips to help capture the setting. Originally, the circus Harley winds up in traveled by train. But it really limited how many interactions Harley could have with the rest of the troupe, so I made some changes halfway through drafting and switched to traveling by trucks and caravans. It meant that some of the research never really got used, but I think it was for the best. Still, there’s something really cool about the way a circus can transform an empty plot of land into something that fills people with so much nostalgia and wonder. I wanted to show the behind-the-scenes work that’s done, to kind of balance the way Harley sees the world versus reality. Because there’s more to the circus than just the glamor and the beautiful performances, and Harley is definitely prone to romanticizing things!

Miss Print: Harley in the Sky came out in early March right when shelter in place and quarantine orders were going through. How do you think Harley and the other characters would do with quarantine?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: I think Harley would very much be missing her circus family. She likes to be on the move, and a big part of her love for the circus isn’t just performing, but performing with people. Plus, it would be hard to train without a spotter! Vas on the other hand would probably be coping quite well. He could happily work on his music in a room alone and not feel like he was missing out on anything. He’s a bit like me, in the sense that being told to stay home and self-isolate doesn’t exactly feel like a punishment. Especially when he’s got his violin nearby!

MP: Do you have a favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover? (I really loved seeing Harley with her grandmother!)

Akemi Dawn Bowman: Oh, I’m so glad you loved Popo! She’s near and dear to my heart. I’m excited for readers to learn about Harley, and how messy she can be but also how hard she tries. It’s so, so human to make mistakes. Harley stumbles quite frequently in her quest to follow her dreams, but she cares so much, and I hope it’s a reminder to readers that nobody is perfect, and that it’s okay to mess up as long as we keep trying to be better. Also, I’m biased, but I love the scenes between Harley and Vas and can’t wait for readers to meet them!

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: Absolutely! The next YA book I have coming out is called THE INFINITY COURTS, and it’s basically the sci-fi/fantasy mash-up of my heart. It’s about a girl who ends up in the afterlife, only to discover it’s been taken over by an artificial intelligence called Ophelia who is posing as a queen. It combines my love of robots and superpowers with my love of period dramas, and I’m just unbelievably excited about it. Even though all of my published novels so far have been contemporaries, I actually started out writing fantasy, and the book I found an agent with was a sci-fi. In a lot of ways this story feels like getting back to my roots. I’m nervous for sure, because it’s such a jump from what readers have known me for. I also have my middle-grade debut releasing next year, which is called GENERATION MISFITS. It’s about a girl who meets an unlikely group of friends through a shared love of J-Pop. I was home-schooled for a lot of elementary and middle school, and this book is a nod to my experience of going back to a public school and feeling totally out of place.

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: Keep writing. There’s so much in this business and industry that writers have zero control over, but the one thing you can control is your writing. Every book, every page, every sentence—it’s all practice, and it’s all getting you one step closer to your goal. And try not to compare your journey with anyone else’s. Everyone is different, and most of the time what people share on social media is their highlight reel. It’s not the reality of all the rejections and bumps in the road. Keep your eyes on your own path, and remember that every word you write is one more than you had yesterday.

Thank you again to Akemi for these great answers! I’m definitely taking a lot of this to heart myself.

You can find out more about Akemi and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of Harley in the Sky here on the blog.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle: A Non-Fiction Review

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking The Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia NagoskiBurnout has become increasingly common in modern society–especially in the United States. Especially among millennials. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, especially among women.

Why is that? What can we do about it?

Emily Nagoski and her identical twin sister Amelia Nagoski tackle these questions in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle (2019).

Find it on BookShop.

If you make a habit of reading up on self-care and anxiety, some of the information the Nagoskis share will be familiar. The book is also very gendered with a focus on what burnout and stress look like for women (cis and otherwise) although I would argue that the information on dealing with stress applies to anyone who reads it. (In this vein, the book has a very specific view on the way the patriarchy impacts stress.)

What works really well here is how the information is presented (and how it’s read if you choose to pick up the audio book which is read by the authors). The book is broken into three parts (What You Take With You, The Real Enemy, and Wax On, Wax Off) which examine what the stress cycle looks like, external stressors and how they often disproportionately impact women, and how to put the advice shared in the book into practice.

Each chapter has a TL;DR section breaking down key ideas. The book also pulls in pop culture references like The Hunger Games and Star Trek to unpack some of the science and practices covered. Although founded in research and experiences from actual women, the book also creates two composite women “Julie” and “Sophie” to demonstrate the experiences and practices being suggested as they move through their own stress cycles.

The great thing about Burnout is that is founded in positivity and the idea that we are all doing the best we can. If you are stressed and suffering from burnout, it isn’t a flaw or something to fix. It’s a symptom of a bigger problem–perhaps job dissatisfaction or difficulty asking for help.

A lot of the tone here is a little twee and precious–particularly on audio, but it doesn’t make the advice less sound. I can see why this wouldn’t work for everyone but it worked very well for me. A lot of the advice here is common sense but also framed in ways that helped me absorb and internalize things that I may have previously known to be true but not quite believe for my own life and experience.

Burnout: The Secret To Unlocking The Stress Cycle is an excellent resource for anyone looking to bring more balance (and obviously less stress) to their lives. The chapter on rest, in particular, should be required reading for everyone. Definitely worth a look if you’ve found yourself overwhelmed of late and, honestly, who hasn’t?

If you want to unpack more about why women are particularly likely to suffer from burnout and explore how science often fails to research and address concerns specific to women also be sure to check out Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez.

Possible Pairings: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez, Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein, Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less – and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined by Scott Sonenshein

Week in Review: July 25: Quarantine Week 19: In Which I Think About Personal Development Goals

missprintweekreview

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

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Do you have any #bookstagram goals? Or other social media goals? 📚 These are mine for the year. They align well with my usual desire to set what I call personal development goals at the start of the fiscal year. 📚 -Use my letterboard more: I love this thing. It’s one of my favorite gifts and proves @thatsostelle is a genius gifter and I need to use it more. Discovering it fits on my shelf today was a boon! -Build my brand: this is one of the reasons I started bookstagram at all. I have a solid blog and twitter presence but wanted to be more visible here -Try IGTV: would you all watch my IGTV if I shared booktalks? Be honest. -Increase engagement: this has been a great year for increasing my following on here (*waves*) and I’d like to keep that momentum going. -Have fun: @thebookbandit and @cassieopiabooks are subjected to a lot of my of my insta whining. I want to work on remembering that I do this because it’s fun and I like stretching myself as a photographer no matter how well my other goals work out. 📚 #InstaReads #BookLife #BookGram #Booktography #BeautifulBooks #Bookstagramit #LibrariansOfInstagram #BookReviews #BookBlog #AllTheBooks #UnitedBookstagram #LoveReading #BooksOfIg #BookStyle #BookLife #BookPost #BookishLife #ForTheLoveOfBooks #AllTheBooks #ReadersOfInsta #LoveReading #BookBlogging #BookRecommendations #ReadersOfIg #BooksToRead #ReadMore #BookstagramFeatures #BookstaFeatures #30bachallenge

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How My Week Went:

Still working remotely, still self-isolating except for my mom who lives with me–those things have been hard. But I’m grateful for the friends I have been able to keep in touch with virtually and the friends I only know virtually.

I started a month-long challenge on Instagram for bookstagrammers and it’s been interesting to stretch myself there and also a good exercise in perspective and appreciating how far I’ve come, in all areas, and how much I’ve achieved.

This is the time of year where I usually set what I call “personal development” goals. These run on a fiscal year schedule so I set them every summer and previous ones have included things like trying to make new friends at work and be brave and step out of my comfort zone. Sometimes they’re really hard to do but I never regret them. I hadn’t been sure what to set for a goal this year since, for the foreseeable future anyway, my world is pretty small.

But after doing this challenge and thinking about goals I want to set for my Instagram, I feel like having fun this year and remembering to appreciate the progress I’ve made aren’t bad as far as personal development goals go.

The Sullivan Sisters: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn OrmsbeeSisters Eileen, Claire, and Murphy used to be close. A visionary, a planner, and a performer respectively the sisters could accomplish amazing things–like making their house feel like a home even with their father dead and their mother increasingly absent.

But that was years ago. Now the girls can barely stand to be around each other.

At eighteen Eileen has been carrying a potentially dangerous secret for years. She is working a dead end job. She’s managed to hide her drinking from her mother so far. Her sisters aren’t as easy to fool.

Seventeen-year-old Claire is an Exceller and she is ready to use everything at her disposal to Excel, succeed, get the hell out of her small Oregon town, and find her first girlfriend. With advice from her favorite self-help Youtuber, Claire has done everything right. But she still didn’t get into Yale–the only college she applied to.

Fourteen-year-old Murphy has always felt like a fifth wheel in her family. She never met her father so she can’t miss him. Her mom is never around. Eileen and Claire never have time for her. Luckily, Murphy has her magic tricks to keep her company. She used to also have Siegfried the family turtle. But then she forgot to feed him one too many times.

Days before Christmas Eileen receives a letter that could change everything. The sisters have inherited a house from an uncle they’ve never heard of. A house that could have answers for Eileen, money for Claire to get out of town, and a chance for Murphy to feel like she’s part of a family again in The Sullivan Sisters (2020) by Kathryn Ormsbee

Find it on Bookshop.

The Sullivan Sisters alternates between third person chapters from each sister. Unfortunately, the clinical tone of the narration also makes the sister’s blend together. A heavy reliance on quirks to define their personalities doesn’t help matters.

Your feelings about this book will depend heavily on your expectations going in. If you are looking for a heartfelt story of sisters reconnecting, this is the book for you. If, like me, you came expecting an atmospheric house mystery you will likely be disappointed.

Ormsbee tackles a lot in the book and the mystery aspect, such as it is, barely makes the list. What The Sullivan Sisters does well is present three flawed characters (four if you count their mother) who have gotten so used to drifting along that they need a major jolt (like a surprise inheritance) to get back on track.

Throughout the book Eileen is forced to confront her alcoholism (she is in AA by the end of the story). Claire has to admit that her self-help idol may not be as helpful as she thought but also it may not be as terrible as Claire thought to be queer in a small town–even without a plan. Murphy is a hard one. She is funny and often the most approachable of the sisters. But she also killed Siegfried the turtle through her own neglect–something that was hard to swallow even with an abundance of remorse on her part.

The Sullivan Sisters is a story about connection and secrets. Recommended for readers who enjoy reading about complicated sibling relationships, family secrets, and flawed characters.

Possible Pairings: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life: A Non-Fiction Review

Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life by Marie Kondo and Scott SonensheinHow many times have you left a meeting that could have been an email? How many handouts and papers accumulate on your desk over the course of a week? How often have you been taken away from work you want to do to focus on tedious but seemingly endless tasks at work?

If you’re like most people (particularly those who work in offices or computer-heavy jobs), the answer is probably a lot.

What if there was a better way? In Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life (2020) organization expert Marie Kondo works with organizational psychologist Scott Sonenshein to translate Kondo’s by now ubiquitous KonMari method to office and work life.

Find it on Bookshop.

If you are familiar with the KonMari method from Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (or her show on Netflix), a lot of the ideas here will be familiar or even common sense. What different and makes this book so valuable is the specificity used to apply this advice to a work setting ranging from office work, digital life, to interpersonal relations.

Co-author Sonenshein, an organization psychologist who researches how to make work and careers more rewarding, brings in scientific data to support findings and helps shift focus from the home to the office.

Chapters and sub-headings help break down all the information provided starting with Why Tidy? and what to do If You Keep Falling Back to Clutter.

From their the chapters have granular focus to tidy: Your Workspace, Digital Work, Time,  Decisions, Your Network, Meetings, and Teams. The book ends with ways to Share the Magic of Tidying and Spark Even More Joy at Work.

It’s important to note that every idea here won’t be applicable to every work scenario–partly because of the focus on office work and partly because not every employee will be in a position to say “I don’t want to go to this meeting.” That said, as with the KonMari method in general, readers are able to take as much or as little as they choose to apply to their work life. The tips here are invaluable when working in a shared office space but, for me, have been equally helpful in the past few months as I work from home.

In general the crux of the book is the focus on quality over quantity and to seek meaningful work and connections rather than saying yes to everything and every one. Joy at Work also centers the idea of work as accumulated experience (even if it isn’t “fun” work or work that feels like a learning experience) and also on choice as you ask yourself to choose what you want to keep to build your ideal workspace and, eventually, your ideal work situation.

You might be asking yourself how Joy at Work is any different from Kondo’s first book (or Sonenshein’s first book for that matter). The key thing here is the way Joy at Work drills down on both digital tidying and also interpersonal relations. Intuitively it makes sense and is a next step from the original KonMari method but it’s nice having it spelled out here.

I finished this book feeling inspired and energized to get back to what I love about my job. It also helped me visualize what I needed to make my work from home space make sense during quarantine. Changing up work habits and tidying work things hasn’t been easy, especially while working remotely, but the progress I made largely came from internalizing the advice given in Joy at Work.