Book Review: The Ex Hex (The Ex Hex #1) by Erin Sterling

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: September 28th, 2021
Length: 7 hrs 23mins
Source: Library

Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

Sir Percival the cat was the best part of this, especially when he called Gwyn “mama”. Otherwise I rolled my eyes at a lot of this, especially the heavy focus on sex when frankly there were much more important things going on. Mayhaps I am simply a Clueless Ace, but do allosexual adults really spend this much time thinking/talking/joking about sex and getting turned on at the drop of a hat? Sounds exhausting. Couldn’t be me.

This book shares two problems I had with another witchy romance book, Payback’s a Witch. Both of them feature settings consisting of a town in America that was founded a few hundred years previously by an ancestor of one of the main characters. Just like in the aforementioned book, nothing is said about what happened to the Native Americans who owned the land before it was colonized. Really gotta wonder about that! Also, this book takes place in Georgia. So, uh… did any of the ancestors, you know, enslave Black people? It’s stated that the town was founded at least 300 years ago, so.

Maybe I’m ruining the witchy rom-com vibe the book was going for by trying to pry deeper into the worldbuilding and wanting answers to these serious questions, but if you introduce this kind of world, a bitch is gonna wonder about a few things.

There’s also a couple of snide remarks about how “fake” witchcraft has become very popular (“Everyone’s a witch these days.”) and this was a thing in Payback’s a Witch as well. Kind of tired of it, to be honest. Just because a lot of people are experimenting with witchcraft doesn’t make them fakers or posers. It’s just a sense of condescension that rubs me the wrong way.

Otherwise, I wasn’t moved much by the main couple. Like I said, the main focus on sex dampened by ability to really get into them or root for them as a couple. I also just found Vivienne annoying as hell. This comes down to a personality issue for me; I don’t see why characters, especially female ones, have to still be torn up and hurt by a dude even nine years after he did something to them, or be frankly huge bitches when the dudes show back up. I try to cut some slack since I know this is me being judgmental, and I guess it’s fine if it still hurts a bit, but come on. You’re twenty-eight. Let’s act like the adult we are instead of the 19-year-old who got her heart broken.

Reading Journal: February Spread

Playing a bit of catch up here by posting both of my monthly spreads for January and February this week.

I was a bit stuck on what to do as a theme for February. I didn’t want to do a Valentine’s Day theme, because… eh. So I racked my brain for a bit, and then I saw something on twitter called “Funguary.” People were drawing mushroom girls for something called Funguary, and I thought, “Yes. That. I want to do that.”

I only dabble in drawing, and my poor little fungus baby has a few mistakes. But I still think she’s cute.

I didn’t feel like drawing a whole bunch more, so I threw some mushrooms on there, then colored in the stats page with the colors from the theme. Then I used washi tape. A whole lot of washi tape. So much washi tape.

(Yes, I forgot to give my fungus baby some toes. I could go back and add some in, but… I could also not do that.)

Again, I’ve left space for when I add in the covers. I’ll get to it eventually! Promise!

(Narrator: She probably won’t.)

As for my favorite book of the month, The School for Good Mothers, I struggled a bit with making a spread for it. I used construction paper again and used a quote from the novel, because I liked it a lot. It was a sort of literary dystopian, light sci-fi novel. I don’t usually go for literary, but I really loved the world that was painted in this novel, as terrifying as it was. I’m still not 100% pleased with this, and I might play around with it some more.

And lastly, I have so many stickers I had to put in a new sticker spread. I think this is something I’ll keep doing, too, so I can use my stickers and keep them in a place where they won’t get damaged. A lot of these were bought off RedBubble. Since this is a spread kind of representing me, I have a few of my favorite things: Books, Alphonse Mucha art, Belle, a Tarot card, some cats, the moon, and a small golden key for my devotion to Sigyn, the Norse Goddess of Constancy and Compassion.

Have any bujo spreads for February? Lemme see!

Reading Journal: January Spread

Yesterday I posted about setting up my 2022 reading journal. Today, I’m going to share the first monthly spread I did!

A lot of people who bujo do a different theme for each month, and put stat sheets in individual months as well (so, say, they may do a “Daily Pages Read” sheet for each month). That was a little too fussy for me, so to start out, I imagined doing just four pages for each month: A monthly stat spread, and a spread for my favorite book of the month.

With that in mind, here’s my January spread!

I went with basic wintry colors, plus a sticker from Happy Planner, and some washi tape. My cursive writing is about as bad as my normal writing, but I made an attempt at a fancy little banner. I used cardstock and construction paper for this. The blank space in the middle of page 2 will be where I paste the covers of the books I read, once I get my hands on a proper printer.
I did a small stats line up, as well as a genres read and average rating options. I may play around with this a bit–already in February I didn’t include a “Re-Reads” option because I didn’t re-read anything.

As for my spread, well, I did not make a spread for We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. I sort of cheated and made a spread for Deathless instead, which I re-read in January and still love as much as the first time I read it.

I used black construction paper for this, as I find it stresses the binding of the journal less than the heavy duty cardstock. The white and red paper are also construction paper. I found some pictures on Pinterest and included them, and then I printed out a map of Stalingrad as it was in the 1940s, since a portion of the novel takes place there. I’m still very much pleased with how this turned out.

If you have a reading journal, too, share your spreads for January! I would love to see them.

Setting Up My 2022 Reading Journal

I’ve always liked the idea of bullet journaling in a sort of abstract way. I liked seeing what people came up with for their layouts and spreads and how creative they were. I toyed with the idea of starting one of my own, but, well, the problem was… I have no life. I have nothing to fill a bullet journal/planner. (And I’m perfectly content this way! If I could be a hermit, I would.)

So, I never really got into it. Until one day, when I was scrolling through my YouTube home page, and saw a video recommended for me about “reading journals”. Intrigued, I watched it.

And thus did I find a way to get in on the bullet journaling craze. (It’s still a craze, right? I know it’s been around for a few years, but…)

At the very end of December, I ran into B&N and got myself a little Leuchtturm1917 journal.

I watched a few more (a dozen more) videos on reading journals, figuring out what I wanted and didn’t need in mine, and then I started. I decorated my first two pages myself with some basic flowers and used some highlighters to color them in, which I rather like.

I didn’t have any washi tape or even any color markers to decorate my journal with at first. I ordered some, but while I waited for them to arrive, I set up the first half of my “GoodReads 200” spread, which was a basic log sheet. As you can see, I messed up a lot and found out that white-out doesn’t work great with fineliner pens. (I’m a perfectionist, so I’m rather proud of myself for not immediately giving up the whole project then and there.)

As I don’t have a color printer, I stuck to black and white images I could color in myself to decorate my journal with. I also used a postcard I got from a set from ALA. As you can see, once the stickers came in, I filled up the sticker spread with them as well.

Once that was done, I bought some pretty reasonably priced scrapbooking paper and made some backgrounds for my reading challenges I was taking part in through 2022.

My “read every day” challenge is going well! Instead of using just one color for the log, I alternate between two or three colors to track my progress. This gives it more visual interest, I think, and makes it prettier. Sometimes I use colors from whatever my monthly spread theme was, such as in January and March; other times I just used some stereotypical colors associated with that month, like February for Valentine’s, though my theme was not Valentine’s Day inspired.

The bingo card I’ve already completed, as you can see!

Now that I’ve finished my winter bingo card, I’m working on the 2022 PBN Reading Challenge, found here.
I did have to change out one challenge for another on the list, but that’s fine, it’s my journal and I can do what I like.

I won’t be starting the summer bingo until May, maybe June.

And look at that, I’ve already failed one of my personal goals! It’s fine, though. I’m making progress in other areas of my reading backlog, so I won’t beat myself up too much about this.

I did start in on the next challenge, then stopped, because I didn’t want to use the same books for multiple challenges. I may switch between this one and the PBN challenge going forward, depending on if what I read fits one of the challenges.

The A-Z Reading Challenge! Not doing too badly, so far.

Another sticker page, along with another colored in printout of sakura. Then my pages read log. Some people do a daily pages read sheet, but that seemed a little too fussy for me (and I don’t keep track of that anyway), so I’ve just done a monthly one. As you can see, I’m still figuring some things out. The most pages I’ve ever read in a month was 8,150, so I set that as my maximum. We’ll see if I can meet it!

Another sticker page! I just really love stickers, okay? Then comes my “owned TBR” which is books I own. At first I was going to keep track of when I received them (the first “R” checkbox line) as well as a checkbox line for when I read that. I took that first option out so I could better fit more lines on the spread and have it take up less pages.

Next is my series tracker! This actually isn’t all the series I own or started and haven’t gotten around to finishing. These are just the ones I’m going to focus on getting to first, and then once/if I finish this, I’ll do another spread and choose more. I was a little daunted by how many series I’ve got going, actually…

Lastly, I’ve got a pretty late addition to my journal, as you can see I didn’t put it in until the very last day of February. I bought the spreads here.

I noticed that I had a bad depressive crash in February, and it walloped my reading as well. I was still reading every day, but not as much, and I wasn’t finishing books as quickly as usual. I decided I wanted to keep track of my mood to see if I could find any patterns. As you can see, March started off rough for me, but it’s been steadily improving. (I also, hilariously, did not write down what markers I used for which colors/moods, so I’m just using whatever one is closest in color. This is a mistake I intend to rectify in April’s mood spread.)

So that’s it for the start of my journal! Do you journal? If you do, what sort: life bullet journaling, reading journaling, or movie/TV journaling, or something else entirely? Let me know!

Book Review: Danger on the Atlantic (A Jane Wunderly Mystery #3) by Erica Ruth Neubauer

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: March 29th, 2022
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

For young American widow Jane Wunderly, there are worse fates than adventuring aboard a transatlantic liner with the only man who could change her mind about romance. Unfortunately, her first-class itinerary has an unexpected—and deadly—addition waiting just below deck . . .

Atlantic Ocean, 1926: Voyaging from Southampton to New York, self-reliant Jane is determined to prove herself a worthy investigator on the stately ship—even awkwardly going undercover as the fashionable wife of her magnetic partner, Mr. Redvers. Few details are known about the rumored German spy the duo have been tasked with identifying among fellow passengers, but new troubles unfold once wealthy newlywed Vanessa FitzSimmons announces the sudden disappearance of her husband at sea . . .

Miles Van de Meter, the man Vanessa rushed to marry in Monte Carlo, has allegedly vanished into thin air along with his luggage. Redvers guesses the shifty heiress may be weaving tall tales for fun between flutes of champagne, yet Jane isn’t convinced—not after the stunning murder of a trusted acquaintance sends them into uncharted waters. Facing two dangerous mysteries and a boat load of suspects, Jane must navigate a claustrophobic quest for answers before the culprits can slip from her grasp on land . . . or, worse, ensure she and Redvers never reach their destination.

In Danger on the Atlantic, the third installment in Erica Ruth Neubauer’s Jane Wunderly series, there are rumblings of unrest in Europe. Jane and Redvers pose as a married couple traveling on an ocean liner to discover who among three suspects is a German spy. But a missing newlywed husband and a gaslit bride distract Jane from her primary mission, putting her in peril from multiple sides.

For the character development and the backstories of Jane and Redvers alone, this is a great read. While the story does have some uneven pacing, the plot generally ticks along and there are enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing for a long while.

There are a few more will they/won’t they moments between Jane and Redvers, but they also serve to deepen their connection. He is a bit dismissive of her thoughts on occasion, but in general, he treats her as a partner, which allows her to trust again after her disastrous abusive marriage.

If you haven’t read the others, the only thing you’re missing out on is Jane’s overbearing aunt, so reading the first two is not crucial to enjoying this one. If you enjoy Christie-type puzzles, you’ll like this book.

Book Review: Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments (Edinburgh Nights #2) by T.L. Huchu

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 5th, 2022
Pages: 368, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Some secrets are meant to stay buried

When Ropa Moyo discovered an occult underground library, she expected great things. She’s really into Edinburgh’s secret societies – but turns out they are less into her. So instead of getting paid to work magic, she’s had to accept a crummy unpaid internship. And her with bills to pay and a pet fox to feed.

Then her friend Priya offers her a job on the side. Priya works at Our Lady of Mysterious Maladies, a very specialized hospital, where a new illness is resisting magical and medical remedies alike. The first patient was a teenage boy, Max Wu, and his healers are baffled. If Ropa can solve the case, she might earn as she learns – and impress her mentor, Sir Callander.

Her sleuthing will lead her to a lost fortune, an avenging spirit and a secret buried deep in Scotland’s past. But how are they connected? Lives are at stake and Ropa is running out of time.

Stop what you’re doing and go buy this series now. Seriously. Why are you still reading my review? Go!

If you love Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, you’ll be captivated by T. L. Huchu’s Edinburgh Nights. Ropa Moyo might finally have gotten a break after the disastrous events in the first book led to an unpaid internship and the loss of her primary ghostalking clientele. Her friend Priya offers her a job investigating the victim of a mysterious new magical illness. Ropa has to navigate post-catastrophe Edinburgh and, even worse, a high-society magical boarding school to get the answers. But what she uncovers is a threat hundreds of years old, and no one today may have the power to stop it.

Ropa is doing her best to stay under the radar of the various Edinburgh gangs, keep food on the table for her gran and her younger sister, and not get into any more trouble with the Library. She’s an amazing character, and you’ll root for her even as you marvel and the wonderful (and awful) world Huchu has created. While there are similarities to Aaronovitch’s series, Ropa is very much her own character and has had a much rougher time of it than Peter Grant. She meets every challenge head-on, and will undoubtedly change the magical society of Edinburgh before they change her.

Book Review: Crowbones (The Others #8) by Anne Bishop

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace
Publication Date: March 8th, 2022
Pages: 384, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Crowbones will gitcha if you don’t watch out!

Deep in the territory controlled by the Others-shape-shifters, vampires, and even deadlier paranormal beings-Vicki DeVine has made a new life for herself running The Jumble, a rustic resort. When she decides to host a gathering of friends and guests for Trickster Night, at first everything is going well between the humans and the Others.

But then someone arrives dressed as Crowbones, the Crowgard bogeyman. When the impostor is killed along with a shape-shifting Crow, and the deaths are clearly connected, everyone fears that the real Crowbones may have come to The Jumble-and that could mean serious trouble.

To “encourage” humans to help them find some answers, the Elders and Elementals close all the roads, locking in suspects and victims alike. Now Vicki, human police chief Grimshaw, vampire lawyer Ilya Sanguinati, and the rest of their friends have to figure out who is manipulating events designed to pit humans against Others-and who may have put Vicki DeVine in the crosshairs of a powerful hunter.

It’s Trickster Night in Crowbones, the latest book in Anne Bishop’s The Others series. Vicki DeVine has introduced the non-human residents of Sproing to that world’s equivalent of Halloween. But the tricks turn to terror when a mutilated corpse is found and the Indigene block the roads so that no one can leave.

My recommendation is that you read the other books in this series before attempting this one. While there’s a reasonable amount of recap, the interpersonal relationships and the fear the residents feel will make a lot more sense with the backstory you’ll find in previous books.

I’m not a fan of Bishop’s other series, and this one felt a bit like some of her character quirks from those other novels made their way into this one. The human men are much better-defined and have less trauma than the human women. Overall, human women do not fare well in this series. They’ve typically survived all forms of abuse and violence, and can’t sustain healthy relationships.

However, the writing and worldbuilding is strong enough to compensate for a few flaws. There are many parallels with our world, but just enough differences to feel ‘alien.’ The idea that humans have somehow managed to coexist with stronger, faster, and quite frankly, usually smarter beings is fascinating. When contrasted against the Indigene, who are comprised of vampires, shifters, and other non-human species, you have to wonder how the humans managed to survive long enough to develop technology. But, humans being humans, they often find ways to alienate the Indigene, which leads to the deaths of those humans.

Come for the glimpse into a world where we aren’t top of the food chain and stay for the wonderful non-human characters.

Book Review: Front Page Murder (A Homefront News Mystery #1) by Joyce St. Anthony

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: March 8th, 2022
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In this World War II-era historical mystery series debut by Joyce St. Anthony, small-town editor Irene Ingram has a nose for news and an eye for clues.

Irene Ingram has written for her father’s newspaper, the Progress Herald, ever since she could grasp a pencil. Now she’s editor in chief, which doesn’t sit well with the men in the newsroom. But proving her journalistic bona fides is the least of Irene’s worries when crime reporter Moe Bauer, on the heels of a hot tip, turns up dead at the foot of his cellar stairs.

An accident? That’s what Police Chief Walt Turner thinks, and Irene is inclined to agree until she finds the note Moe discreetly left on her desk. He was on to a big story, he wrote. The robbery she’d assigned him to cover at Markowicz Hardware turned out to be something far more devious. A Jewish store owner in a small, provincial town, Sam Markowicz received a terrifying message from a stranger. Moe suspected that Sam is being threatened not only for who he is…but for what he knows.

Tenacious Irene senses there’s more to the Markowicz story, which she is all but certain led to Moe’s murder. When she’s not filling up column inches with the usual small-town fare—locals in uniform, victory gardens, and scrap drives—she and her best friend, scrappy secretary Peggy Reardon, search for clues. If they can find the killer, it’ll be a scoop to stop the presses. But if they can’t, Irene and Peggy may face an all-too-literal deadline.

Front Page Murder is the first in a hopefully long series featuring a newspaper editor in Progress, Pennsylvania during WWII. Irene has assumed control of the local newspaper while her father is deployed. This has ruffled some feathers, including those of her cousin, who thinks he should be in charge.

Irene is investigating some hate crimes against Jewish members of the community when a murder occurs. She thinks they’re related, and turns her natural investigative skills to find the killer.

I’ve read many WWII mysteries, but usually, they’re set in England. I enjoyed seeing some perspective from the U.S. home front, and Irene is an engaging sleuth. The characters are well-written and show the varying viewpoints of people during this time period. Some feel that women shouldn’t be in charge, and Irene’s struggles to manage the newspaper are very believable. 

I’m not completely sure people in the U.S. were fully aware in 1942 about how much persecution and violence European Jews had suffered, but it makes sense that, if anyone would be well-informed, it would be the media.