The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan
Publisher/Year: Crooked Lane Books, 2018
Format: E-book (Netgalley)
Pages: 320
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Ruth Hogan, the international bestselling author behind the The Keeper of Lost Things returns with an irresistible novel of unexpected friendships, second changes–and dark secrets.

They say friends make life worth living…

Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, Masha’s life was forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds comfort in her faithful canine companion Haizum, and peace in the quiet lanes of her town’s swimming pool. Almost without her realizing it, her life has shuddered to a halt.

It’s only when Masha begins an unlikely friendship with the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice and a penchant for saying just what she means, that a new world of possibilities opens up: new friendships, new opportunities, and even a chance for new love. For the first time in years, Masha has the chance to start living again.

But just as Masha dares to imagine the future, her past comes roaring back…

Like her beloved debut, The Keeper of Lost Things, Ruth Hogan’s second novel introduces a cast of wonderful characters, both ordinary and charmingly eccentric, who lead us through a moving exploration of the simple human connections that unite us all.

What I thought

What a lovely introduction to Ruth Hogan’s writing! I love a good book that makes you really feel something, and with this one, there were so many quotes and passages that alternately felt like a punch in the gut or that took my breath away that I feel as though I highlighted nearly half the book!

The Keeper of Lost Things has been on my TBR for quite some time, so when I saw that this was available on NetGalley, I requested it right away. I was a little worried that this would be a very heavy read, given some of the subject matter, but it really wasn’t. She handles topics like death, illness, and grieving with a sense of poignancy and grace. With the addition of humor (which had me actually laughing out loud at times) and a set of quirky characters to lighten the mood, the story felt perfectly balanced. This book was very well-written and compelling, and rather than being a page-turner, it was one that I wanted to slow down and savor.

Besides Sally, of course, Masha was my favorite character. She absolutely came to life for me, and she felt to real. I loved watching her character develop, as she went through grieving and learning to live again. I rooted for her the whole way, and she ended up feeling like a dear friend.

As for the plot, I love a good duel narrative, and this was no exception. I had an inkling of how everything would turn out, but I didn’t see how it would all happen. I feel very satisfied with the ending, and I loved seeing how it all came together.

Overall, this is a wonderful, compelling story, filled with emotion. I was so pleased with Hogan’s writing that I must get my hands on The Keeper of Lost Things very soon. This is one of those books that will make you feel a lot and give you a lot to think about. I know Sally Red Shoes will stay on my mind for some time to come.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J. K. Rowling
Publisher/Year: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Inc., 1998
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 309
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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.

What I thought

How do I even begin to put my love for this book, this series, into words? This is the first time I’ve re-read this book in over a decade, and after countless re-reads as a kid, it never ceases to amaze me how much reading it feels like coming home.

My story is very similar to many of yours, I’m sure. I got this book, ironically enough, for my 11th birthday. I let it sit on my shelf for a few months until I picked it up one day out of boredom and fell so magically in love that I have yet to this day, nearly 29 years later, to read any other book that even comes remotely close to the amount of love I have for Harry Potter.

When I say, will full-on nerd tears coming to my eyes, that these books, these characters are my FRIENDS, I mean that with absolute sincerity. I’m not going to try and analyze J. K. Rowling’s writing here. I’m simply too biased to even attempt that. I will just say that since learning about the wizarding world alongside Harry, these books have given me countless hours of joy, entertainment, comfort, and solace. And it all started with this one. Sorcerer’s Stone is not my favorite book of the series (Azkaban, I’m coming for you), but nevertheless I hold it near and dear to my heart because this was the start.

At the risk of sounding like a histrionic lunatic, this little book changed my life, and I know without a doubt that it factored into making me the person I am today. The fact of the matter is that nothing else, no other book can compare to that.

Her Dark Inheritance (The Willoughby Chronicles #1) by Meg Hafdahl

Her Dark Inheritance (The Willoughby Chronicles #1) by Meg Hafdahl
Publisher/Year: Inklings Publishing, 2018
Format: E-book (Nook)
Pages: 316
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


On the day her mother died, Daphne Forrest learns the devastating truth. She’d never really known the woman who raised her, not even her real name. Fueled to unravel the tragic mystery behind her mother’s secrets, Daphne abandons all she knows, traveling to the bucolic yet sinister town of Willoughby, Minnesota.

Navigating through the memories of her own bloody legacy, Daphne throws herself into the insular and haunting small town of her ancestors. She investigates the murder that led to her mother’s shame aided by charming, yet tortured, local, Edwin Monroe. Edwin has a unique understanding of the darkness in Willoughby, and how the town holds a lurking threat more foreboding than any unsolved murder.

As Daphne gets closer to the truth, Willoughby itself rebels against her. She bears witness to terrifying scenes from the past. Is her mother a murderer? Is that Daphne’s dark inheritance? And is she strong enough to battle an evil more frightening than her own past?

What I thought

I have to give a big shout out here to thank the ever-wonderful Ladies of Horror Fiction for introducing me to Meg Hafdahl’s writing! I was very impressed by Hafdahl’s debut novel, and I’m always glad to add another female horror author to my authors-to-watch list.

From the very first chapter, I had a hard time putting this one down. The writing was descriptive without being overdone, the characters were vivid and diverse, the town of Willoughby came to life, and at the end, I didn’t want the story to finish! I’m glad that this will be a series because I’m looking forward to more from Hafdahl!

My two favorite things about this book were the character of Daphne and the town of Willoughby. I loved watching Daphne’s character develop, and I especially appreciated the fact that she was a flawed character, not cookie-cutter, by any means. The town of Willoughby reminded me of Stephen King’s Derry so, of course, I loved it. I only wish we knew more about Willoughby’s evil background, but maybe that’s for future books.

All that being said, I’m so glad to have read this one–I enjoyed it so much. I don’t know what you call it, but this type of horror is one of my favorites–the kind where you have this sense of dread and unease to the point where you don’t want to stop reading because you have to know how it turns out (thriller, maybe? I dunno). I can’t wait to read more from Meg Hafdahl, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in this series!

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Publisher/Year: Little, Brown and Company, 2005
Format: Mass market paperback
Pages: 909
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


Breathtakingly suspenseful and beautifully written, The Historian is the story of a young woman plunged into a labyrinth where the secrets of her family’s past connect to an inconceivable evil: the dark reign of Vlad the Impaler and a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive through the ages. The search for the truth becomes an adventure of monumental proportions, taking us from monasteries and dusty libraries to the capitals of Eastern Europe–in a feat of storytelling so rich, so hypnotic, so exciting that it has enthralled readers around the world.

What I thought

Wow. Okay, where do I even start here? This is my second time reading The Historian and this time around it definitely cemented its place as one of my favorite books. I think what did it for me this time was that I was more patient–I embraced the slow read. That’s not to say that it was a boring read, but rather, I took some extra time to look up all of the various locations, as well as a rudimentary overview of the history involved. Those extra moments helped to make this story just THAT much more immersive. Kostova’s writing is so atmospheric and evocative as it is, it really was worth it to do a little extra research of my own.

Speaking of Kostova’s writing, I fell in love all over again. My copy is riddled with quotes that I underlined out of pure enjoyment. Her storytelling ability is incredible. For as long as my paperback copy is (900+ pages), I can’t say that I was ever bored. I wouldn’t call this a page turner–it was just that I got so drawn into the story and its rich complexity that the book didn’t FEEL like a long book. I genuinely enjoyed each time I sat down to read this. Despite all of the multiple story layers, I never found the plot hard to follow. Like I said, it just requires a little patience. It really is a great book for a long winter night.

As for the horror aspect, I will point out that although The Historian is more of a historical fiction novel than a “vampire novel,” it still left me feeling an overall sense of dread, especially after that ending. There were definitely a handful of times when I regretted reading this into the night. Having said that, The Historian is a literary, research-based, and research-driven novel, with just as much focus on history as on Dracula himself, so just be aware of that if you decide to pick this one up. This is definitely one of those novels for book lovers, but I venture to say that you also need to share a love of history to fully enjoy this, as well.

The Historian is not a flawless novel, by any means, but I was able to look past any flaws because I so completely enjoyed the experience of reading it. Between the immersive storytelling, the fascinating history that I just couldn’t stop discussing with my history-loving husband, and the fact that I know I won’t be able to stop thinking about this read for a while, The Historian ranks itself among my favorite books–one that I highly recommend if you are at all interested!

Startup by Doree Shafrir

Startup by Doree Shafrir
Publisher/Year: Little, Brown and Company, 2017
Format: E-book
Pages: 304
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


“A biting and astute debut novel [with] many delights.” –Lara Vapnyar, New York Times Book Review

Recommended as a book to read this month by BuzzFeed, Bustle, Entertainment Weekly, Fast Company, Nylon, Town & Country and Lit Hub

One of the most anticipated books of 2017–Vulture, BuzzFeed, The Millions, Nylon, PopSugar, and Book Riot’s “All the Books” Podcast

From veteran online journalist and BuzzFeed writer Doree Shafrir comes a hilarious debut novel that proves there are some dilemmas that no app can solve.

Mack McAllister has a $600 million dollar idea. His mindfulness app, TakeOff, is already the hottest thing in tech and he’s about to launch a new and improved version that promises to bring investors running and may turn his brainchild into a $1 billion dollar business–in startup parlance, an elusive unicorn.

Katya Pasternack is hungry for a scoop that will drive traffic. An ambitious young journalist at a gossipy tech blog, Katya knows that she needs more than another PR friendly puff piece to make her the go-to byline for industry news.

Sabrina Choe Blum just wants to stay afloat. The exhausted mother of two and failed creative writer is trying to escape from her credit card debt and an inattentive husband–who also happens to be Katya’s boss–as she rejoins a work force that has gotten younger, hipper, and much more computer literate since she’s been away.

Before the ink on Mack’s latest round of funding is dry, an errant text message hints that he may be working a bit too closely for comfort with a young social media manager in his office. When Mack’s bad behavior collides with Katya’s search for a salacious post, Sabrina gets caught in the middle as TakeOff goes viral for all the wrong reasons. As the fallout from Mack’s scandal engulfs the lower Manhattan office building where all three work, it’s up to Katya and Sabrina to write the story the men in their lives would prefer remain untold.

An assured, observant debut from the veteran online journalist Doree Shafrir, Startup is a sharp, hugely entertaining story of youth, ambition, love, money and technology’s inability to hack human nature.

What I thought

I am absolutely blown away by how much I enjoyed this book! At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I have to admit that this book wasn’t one that initially appealed to me, if simply for the fact that I know absolutely nothing about big city startup culture. But it kept showing up everywhere and I kept seeing readers raving about it, particularly people whose taste I inherently trust. So I had to see what all the hype was about, and I’m so glad I did!

Startup was compulsively readable, and I was truly loathe to put it down. I think what did it for me was that for as much as I found this cast of characters to be mostly unlikable humans, I couldn’t help but want to read about their antics. And don’t mistake me, I have no issue with reading about unlikable characters–to me, that makes them more human and relatable. It was utterly addictive reading to see what questionable choice any one of them would make next.

The most impressive aspect of this debut was Shafrir’s writing. It’s smart, witty, and, at times, hilarious. With Startup, Shafrir offers readers a satirical and timely take on millenial, technology-driven culture. It gave me a lot to think about and to examine in my own life, with regards to technology and social media use.

Honestly, the only thing that kept this from being a five-star read for me was that although this was timely, I hesitate to say that it’s timeless. I’m not sure that this is a book that I will ever feel the need to revisit. Unlike some reviewers, I was actually okay with the ending (once I gave it some thought), and I don’t feel the need for a sequel or any more concrete explanations. Not everyone enjoys open-ended conclusions, though, so without spoiling anything, just be aware that Shafrir leaves her readers with multiple questions.

With that being said, I still would highly recommend this book, and I will definitely be looking forward to reading more from Shafrir in the future.

The Circus Thief by Alane Adams

The Circus Thief by Alane Adams
Publisher/Year: SparkPress, 2018
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


The circus is in town, and Georgie has his heart set on going. When Papa agrees to take him and his friend Harley, the boys marvel at the elephants and clowns. But the best act of all is the amazing Roxie, a trained horse who can do all sorts of tricks. When Georgie is invited to ride on her back, he discovers it’s her last show–Roxie is going to be sent to the work farm! When Roxie bolts with Georgie on her back, Papa must come to his rescue. The Circus Thief is a heartwarming tale of boyhood set in 1920s Pennsylvania for children ages 4-8.

What I thought

I loved the idea behind this sweet little children’s book, and I loved the vibrant illustrations even more–they were simply stunning! As a resident of Pennsylvania and as a history fan, I was definitely looking forward to reading this one. My favorite part of this book was the illustrations, hands down. The colors were brilliant, which will definitely appeal to children. They were also very atmospheric and were perfectly fitting for the time period and the circus environment. The story itself was enjoyable, despite feeling a little unfinished. The historical setting lends itself to a teaching opportunity for children, as well as the lesson Papa teaches Georgie about money and hard work. However, at least to me, the ending felt a little abrupt and didn’t seem to fit with the flow of the rest of the story. I saw somewhere, though, that this is part of a series, so maybe that explains it. Overall, this is a delightful book that I think younger children would enjoy!

**Thank you, to SparkPress for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This in no way affected my opinion or my review of this book.

Jane and the Damned (Immortal Jane Austen #1) by Janet Mullany

Jane and the Damned (Immortal Jane Austen #1) by Janet Mullany
Publisher/Year: Avon, 2010
Format: Paperback
Pages: 292
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Jane Austen


Damned, fanged, and dangerous to know.

Aspiring writer Jane Austen knows that the respectable young ladies like herself are supposed to shun the Damned–the beautiful, fashionable, exquisitely seductive vampires who are all the rage in Georgian England in 1797. So when an innocent (she believes) flirtation results in her being turned–by an absolute cad of a bloodsucker–she acquiesces to her family’s wishes and departs for Bath to take the waters, the only known cure.

But what she encounters there is completely unexpected: perilous jealousies and further betrayals, a new friendship and possible love. Yet all that must be put aside when the warring French invade unsuspecting Bath–and the streets run red with good English blood. Suddenly only the staunchly British Damned can defend the nation they love…with Jane Austen leading the charge at the battle’s forefront.

What I thought

My last read of 2018!

This was a fun little read, but unfortunately, I don’t think it was one that will have a lasting impression on me.

I’m willing to give just about any book a go, so when I came across this book about Jane Austen as a vampire, I picked it up. And like I said, it was a fun and entertaining read. You can certainly tell that Mullany is a Janeite, and her love for Austen shines through the story.

I very much enjoyed the inclusion of the Damned in the plot of the story. I don’t know much about vampire lore, but what I read here intrigued me enough that I wanted to know more. But here is where I have a complaint with this story–I wanted more. I felt like there needed to be more explanation of the lore. I don’t always have the easiest time following the story when components of a world or lore are introduced with little to no explanation or development. I was also not a fan of the character development, as I never really got a good feel for Jane (or her love interest), which took away from the ending for me.

This makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy this book, but I did like it! It just wasn’t memorable for me is all. Fans of Jane Austen will enjoy this, if you don’t mind the addition of vampires!