Review: Witches of America

Witches of America, Alex MarAlex Mar is a writer and skeptic. Like many people in her age bracket, she doesn’t feel a connection to the religion in which she was raised. But she envies those who do — in particular, the witches.

Witches of America is a chronicle of Mar’s exploration of witchcraft, from its (surprisingly contemporary) roots to its current incarnations. Along the way, Mar questions her own biases, as well as asks herself why we believe the things we choose to believe.


For most, the term “witch” conjures images of green-skinned women, pointy black hats, or even the Salem Witch Trials. For the modern practitioners of Paganism, it’s a description of what they are.

Mar is a lapsed Catholic interested and confused by witches’ faith in their religion. What makes them choose pagan gods over mainstream ones? Are they different from the rest of us, or remarkably the same? How do they survive in a world that considers any kind of witchcraft evil?

I wanted to enjoy this book, but it couldn’t hold my attention. I don’t find Mar likeable, and many of the people and events she describes are too strange (and sometimes disturbing). I think it’s interesting that people are drawn to witchcraft and are able to find larger meaning in life because of it — but it’s just not my “thing.”

Witches of America would be perfect for those looking to learn more about the history of witchcraft and the practices of the different sects. I’m just not interested in Mar’s hand-wringing over her unsatisfactory professional and love lives.

Quickie Reviews: Landline and American on Purpose

In which I cut the fluff and get to the heart of some reviews.


Landline, Rainbow RowellWoman whose marriage is on the verge of crumbling discovers she can call a younger version of her husband from her mother’s landline. Drama ensues. Mainly I just ended up mad at the husband, who doesn’t seem to have any real dreams/plans of his own but sulks and is super passive aggressive at his wife when she goes after what she wants. Drop the dud and move on, girl!

American on Purpose

American on Purpose, Craig FergusonI love Craig Ferguson’s stand-up, but had no idea he’d written a memoir. The book covers his childhood in Scotland, his fight with alcoholism, and his rise to stardom in the US. A dark and fabulous read. “Between safety and adventure, I choose adventure.”

Review: Seven Deadlies

Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary Tale, Gigi Levangie14 year-old Perry Gonzales is what her teachers would call “precocious.” She’s the smartest student at the prestigious Mark Frost Academy, and is often called on to tutor students older than herself.

In a series of college admissions essays (yes, she’s only 14, but there’s no time like the present), Perry writes about seven of her clients, each of whom typify one of the “seven deadlies” (sloth, lust, etc.). She tries to help them save themselves, but in the end each is destroyed by their greatest flaw.


I spent the first few chapters of Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary Tale thinking, “This is kinda weird,” the middle few thinking, “Um…okay?” and then last couple like this:


I’m not alone in this reaction — the reviews are overwhelmingly negative. I think author Gigi Levangie was going for social commentary, and did well in some spots, but the book never really came together.

Something about the book made me expect some kind of twist — Perry’s really just too unbelievable a character to be real. But the last couple chapters were over-the-top ridiculous, and I finished the book with a grateful sigh.

Seven Deadlies had some shining moments (Perry’s mother is amazing), but overall was a dud. Lamesauce.

Quickie Reviews: Heroes, Crowns, and Dirty Minds

Although I’m picky enough about what I read that I’m generally sure I’ll enjoy the books I borrow or buy, occasionally there are some that miss the mark. These are books that had promise, but fell flat.

The Hero and the Crown

The Hero and the Crown Robin McKinleyThis book was promising — strong female main character, dragons, etc. — but it was just so dull. It took me weeks to get through because I never wanted to keep reading. I think I’m finally ready to give up on Robin McKinley. I’ve read several of her books, but Deerskin is the only one I’ve enjoyed.

Dirty Minds

Dirty Minds, Kayt SukelThis one’s my own fault. At the very beginning of the book, author Kayt Sukel says specifically that Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships doesn’t contain any relationship advice. It’s focused entirely on the science of chemical and hormones. I thought I’d enjoy it regardless, but I was wrong. It was another dull slog that took me a few weeks. It was especially boring compared to Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are, which I can’t stop thinking about.

Hopefully another trip to the library will provide me with more interesting reading.

Have you given up on any books recently?

Review: Roosevelt’s Beast

Roosevelt's Beast, Louis BayardIn 1914, Theodore Roosevelt, his son Kermit, and a handful of naturalists and explorers began a months-long trip down the Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt), an unmapped tributary of Brazil’s great Amazon River. The expedition claimed the lives of several, and nearly killed Roosevelt.

Louis Bayard’s novel Roosevelt’s Beast uses this true trip as a foundation for a psychological thriller that pits Roosevelt and Kermit against a terrifying unseen beast, a foe that mutilates its victims and drinks their blood.

What is this beast? Is it a member of an undiscovered species, or a known but incredibly violent animal? Is it terrestrial, or even real at all? How can they defeat a creature they can’t even see?

Not really my thing

It’s never a good sign when the best thing you can think to say about a book is, “Well, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read.” The story is nicely written and has some great horror elements, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

I think it’s because I already know too much about the real Roosevelt. It started two years ago with Richard Zack’s Island of Vice, continued last year with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, and right now I’m about halfway through Edmund Morris’ Colonel Roosevelt biography.

Roosevelt was such a marvelous, interesting person, and his trip down the treacherous river fascinating enough, that Roosevelt’s Beast felt like overkill (pardon the pun).

Spoilers ahead

The truth behind the “monster” killing the local natives, and its connection with Kermit, didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

How could this thing that basically lives inside Kermit be killing people no one knew existed, before Kermit even got near them? It just happened to be chilling in an unmapped armpit of an unmapped river on the off-chance that Kermit would saunter by?

And if it used to live inside Kermit’s dead uncle Elliott, whom Kermit never even saw, how would Elliott be able to haunt Kermit and pass along the “beast”?

Give Roosevelt’s Beast a pass, and pick up a biography instead. Roosevelt’s real life is exciting and interesting enough!

(I read this book as a part of the 2015 Monthly Motif Challenge. September’s challenge was to read a book that includes an animal either as a main character or supporting character.)