Spain! Travel blog and tips for writing abroad

So for those of you who don’t know, I’m studying abroad in Spain this semester and taking classes in Spanish. If you’d like to follow my travels, go to MollyinSpain and subscribe to get an email (about once a week) about what I’ve been up to, including pictures. I’ve already been to several Spanish cities and Amsterdam and have trips planned to London, Portugal, Morocco, Italy, and more.

Also, if you haven’t yet subscribed to this, my writing blog, you can do the same on the menu on the right! I post reviews of Young Adult books, tips on writing and publishing, announcements, and free stories I’ve published 🙂

Currently I’m working on my third novel. How do I do that while abroad, living with a host family that doesn’t speak English, and traveling every weekend? It’s definitely hard but here are a few tips I’ve learned so far.

  1. Get GoogleDocs or some other app you can use without WiFi. I have it on my phone and set the document to “available offline”.
  2. Write in the short periods of waiting time. (I’m writing this post at the bus stop). You can also take advantage of time before class, waiting in line, plane/bus/train rides.
  3. If you are working in short chunks, it’s ok to write notes or random scenes rather than just going from start to finish.
  4. Find someone else who wants to set aside time (for reading, writing, whatever). A friend of mine here is a playwright so we are scheduling in time to meet up and write together. Great for accountability, to have someone to talk things through if you’re stuck, and to make sure it doesn’t keep getting pushed to “tomorrow” (we’ve all done it).
  5. Read. In your language or the host country’s. I bought some secondhand books for a few Euros in Spanish. Not only will it help me with my Spanish skills, (like reading any book) it’ll help me learn how great authors plot, characterize, etc, and from a new perspective.
  1. Audiobooks while you walk. Like 5, but great for running, walking, or working out. You can also read while you stationary bike at the gym. (Plus, neuroscience bonus, you remember things better if you read them while working out).
  1. If you don’t have waiting time in your day, make some. I’ll show up to school or excursions a few minutes early and write. Since you know there’s a deadline, it’s easier to keep from procrastinating. Bonus points if you’re waiting outside in the sun.
  2. Keep a travel journal or blog. Huh if only someone had an example for you to look at… like this one… it’s great to use later, for inspiration, characterization, plot, etc. You might even find some juicy descriptive sentences you can transplant into your work. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll remember more of your trip and can look back later, nostalgically.
  3. Have fun, and be kind to yourself. Push yourself to write if you can, but be ok if it doesn’t end up happening as often as you think.

Review of If I Was Your Girl

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

The premise: Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she s determined not to get too close to anyone. But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it. Because the secret that Amanda s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love? If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different and a love story that everyone will root for. 

My review: Wow. Yes. This book is amazing. 5/5 stars.

First of all, an honest and uplifting trans story with a happy ending (because not every trans/gay/etc book needs to be a sad, issues-only book!)? Love. A “own voices” author who gets everything right? Amazing. A perfect balance of issues, plot, characters, theme, and emotion? Killed it.

Unlike some books I have read (and loved) this one does not drip with complex metaphors and extensive imagery- and I am so glad. I finished the book in one sitting and was completely captivated. The voice is strong and genuine, unique but relatable, and perfectly revealing in terms of Amanda’s character. Unlike some protagonists who you feel like you know because they have a certain hobby and a common way of speaking only, I felt like I knew Amanda because I felt what she was feeling. She did have quirks (like loving Star Wars) but also seemed to be defined as much by personality and a sense of Amanda-ness as anything else (almost like real people in our real lives). (Also, Meredith, if you ever read this, please teach me your ways. I’m in awe).

The themes are not preached and thus are so much more powerful. In fact, theme is not the main concern of this book, I think, and it’s perfect. The tension is natural and the events leading to it are realistic. From the dialogue to the thoughts and motivations, human nature is accurately portrayed in a way that makes the reader feel all the feels and get swept along in the story. While one English theorist I read about in school (Catherine Gallagher, I think) argued that we like books because we like feeling “not like a character”– in our ability to discern events before they happen and take perspectives of multiple characters at once– I would argue that this book is the perfect example of a book in which the character feels human, we feel like them, and there is nothing I would rather have happen.

I loved the group of girls that Amanda is friends with– definitely accurate in terms of many girl friendships, but also slightly imperfect, as they always are, while remaining fiercely loyal and supportive. Overall it is happy, but not without struggles and not overly so as to become unrealistic.

All in all, if you like “issue” books and/or LGBTQ+ books, read this one. If you don’t, or haven’t read one before, read this one.

Review of Phantom Limbs

Image result for phantom limbs book

Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

The premise: How do you move on from an irreplaceable loss? In a poignant debut, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn to swim against an undercurrent of grief—or be swept away by it.

Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara—part drill sergeant, part friend—who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.


My Review: 4/5

This book was emotional, in a way many others aspire to be, but ultimately fail to achieve. It is honest about loss and trauma– both in what it takes to move forward and instances where time doesn’t heal all wounds.

The events themselves– from that which costed Dara her arm to the main character Otis’s brothers death– are not cut-and-dry. They are viewed differently by different people. Like in life, we don’t know exactly what happened at first, and indeed maybe never will know everything. To me, this not only felt realistic but also helped with the tension– I finished the whole book in a few hours.

The point of view was obviously male, especially because of the humor and focus Otis has. I’m a fan of YA from a male perspective, not only because of the overall lack of these books, but also as a way to encourage male readership. (Also, as we know with the rise in demand for LGBTQ and diverse books, its also important to have representation of half of the population, ie men. Not that these are the same, just that the concept of representation is similar). Having said this, some of the comments/observations were unnecessarily vulgar and while some vulgarity encompasses the lives of teenagers (and teenage boys) it was a little excessive in my view.

Other things I would have liked to be different include– I didn’t really like the way Otis idolized Meg. That his not moving on and their past history entitled him to flirt with Meg when she has a boyfriend (THIS IS NOT OKAY– YA NEEDS TO STOP PROMOTING THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR AS ROMANTIC). That Otis views Meg as perfect, and that he sees himself as better for her because he knows things about her like her full name (um, good for you, Otis? A big part of this story is that you don’t know a lot of the things that she went through, which is definitely more important than her full name). Dara is right in many instances about Otis’s view of Meg– even if Meg had her own issues to deal with, she walked away and Dara was there for Otis. (Not that Dara and Otis need to/should be together, just that Meg and Otis’s relationship maybe isn’t the best).

I appreciated that Dara was not straight, but the book seems to need to classify her (which I have some problems with). Also, while I liked the emotion in the book and the premise, there was something lacking for me, although I can’t put my finger on it (hence 4 and not 5 stars).

*spoilers* Some random things I am thankful for– there is no cheating (at least not physically– it would have been better if there wasn’t emotional cheating as well). That Otis does not go to the Olympic trials just based on “trying hard” and “putting in work” because I think many books emphasize this, enforcing the idea that not being good at something reflects an individual failure (to work hard enough, try hard enough, etc) and thus everyone who succeeds deserves it. (Insert rant about meritocracy-based societies and the damage it does on the human psyche. Ok, rant over.)

I liked the ending too– it wasn’t too happy or optimistic to be cliche but was happy enough to merit the journey through the story and offer hope. I might have liked a bit more closure for Dara and Otis’s parents, but it’s not the end of the world, in my view, to not have them. *spoilers*

Review of Little White Lies

Little White Lies (Debutantes, #1)

Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The premise: Eighteen-year-old auto mechanic Sawyer Taft did not expect her estranged grandmother to show up at her apartment door and offer her a six-figure contract to participate in debutante season. And she definitely never imagined she would accept. But when she realizes that immersing herself in her grandmother’s “society” might mean discovering the answer to the biggest mystery of her life-her father’s identity-she signs on the dotted line and braces herself for a year of makeovers, big dresses, bigger egos, and a whole lot of bless your heart. The one thing she doesn’t expect to find is friendship, but as she’s drawn into a group of debutantes with scandalous, dangerous secrets of their own, Sawyer quickly discovers that her family isn’t the only mainstay of high society with skeletons in their closet. There are people in her grandmother’s glittering world who are not what they appear, and no one wants Sawyer poking her nose into the past. As she navigates the twisted relationships between her new friends and their powerful parents, Sawyer’s search for the truth about her own origins is just the beginning.

Set in the world of debutante balls, grand estates and rolling green hills, Little White Lies combines a charming setting, a classic fish-out-of-water story, and the sort of layered mystery only author Jennifer Lynn Barnes can pull off.


My review: 4/5 stars. 

This is not the kind of book I normally read, as a friend bought it for me, but this meant the book was refreshingly unique, both in premise and in execution. I liked that Little White Lies was funny and well written. The characters, especially Sawyer are complex and grew throughout the book. There were many plot points that were unpredictable but plausible, leaving the reader both surprised but satisfied. Just as a mystery should be. Unlike most mysteries, however, there weren’t logic-defying trails of dead bodies following a somehow-immune-to-murder protagonist. Just some good old-fashioned southern charm, little white lies, and a whole lot of secrets.

The tension continued throughout the book, which was great as a reader, but some of the stakes seemed arbitrary and/or unimportant so I had trouble feeling the way the characters did about certain threats (ie tense or scared). Some of this could have come from the fact that there were a lot of secondary/tertiary characters that I had trouble keeping track of and thus forgot how they contributed to the plot. With a few less characters, I would have loved this book even more.

I also would have liked Sawyer to do more to make the conclusion occur rather than watching a most of it fall into place. She finds out information at the end that didn’t seem to have a reason to not come out earlier and she is, in my opinion, swept along rather than integral in orchestrating the final events.

I do have to say, though, that this was an entertaining novel. I haven’t read a book quite like this and appreciated the author’s style and voice. There were hints of romance but they weren’t over-the-top or cliche, something I also appreciated. Sawyer herself was witty and smart, versed in a wonderful variety of niche areas like lock picking and medieval torture, and stayed true to who she was despite being surrounded by debutantes and similarly behaved family members.

Despite the common jump from debutante-like characters to themes about superficiality and such, Barnes did a great job exploring more unique, complex, and frankly interesting ideas within this world. For example, instead of just “perfect girl is not as perfect as she seems” or the like, even motives can be deceiving– for family, friends, and frenemies.

All in all, if you are looking for a YA book that is funny and unique, read this one. Also, if you are looking for a mystery, a book about debutantes, information about medieval torture devices, unexpected plot twists, societal drama, and a no-nonsense Grandma, read this book.


Review of A Semi-definitive List of Worst Nightmares

A Semi-definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

What it’s about: 

From the author of Our Chemical Hearts comes the hilarious, reality-bending tale of two outsiders facing their greatest fears about life and love—one debilitating phobia at a time.
Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can’t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she’d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.


Buying the book: I got this when I was in Philly because (as we all know) you can’t pass a Barnes and Noble without going in. And then once you’re in, you can’t leave without buying a book… or three…

I was drawn to the quirky, funny title and the promise of exploring fear/phobias, especially as part of my quest to read more mental health YA books, both since my latest manuscript, Starvation, tackles eating disorders, and because I think literature is a great way to pass around accurate information on a topic that isn’t often talked about (or at least not in the right ways). Thus, having accurate information in these books is especially crucial and so reviewing them is important.

Also, for anyone studying clinical psychology or neuroscience like myself, having more experiential accounts of disorders, rather than dry lists of symptoms helps me understand each disorder better, how it feel to suffer, and ultimately, what might help alleviate the illness. This is great, too, if you know of someone (friend, family, etc) suffering and want to learn more about what it might be like, beyond symptomology. In fact, I think this book does a great job describing the physical sensations of panic/phobia/fear.


My review:

One thing I love about this book is that it talks about phobias in the way they should be talked about– as something that can be overcome. In fact, from my neuroscience background I know that anxiety, and especially phobias, are the easiest of any mental illnesses to treat. Also, treatment is done the same way Ester does it in the book– exposure.

(Although, granted, for some phobias rather than just fears, one might need more of a lead-up to exposure in order to prevent panic attacks and the like, as it happens in one instance where Ester becomes physically ill from panic and this reinforces/should have reinforced her fear).

Normally, I do not like magical realism. I like magic and I like contemporary literature but when the lines between them are blurry I struggle with it. Having said that, this was the most successful use of the two that I have yet read (although the classification of this book is less cut-and-dry– I’m not sure if its magical realism or what, but for once I don’t mind). In part, it helps mirror the Solar family’s feelings of inability to distinguish between fact and fiction, or dangerous and anxiety-producing.

The writing is funny and captivating. The concept is original but captures important (and accurate) information about mental illnesses, including the common abstraction of them as something supernatural or above human control. In this way, while the content is hard to read about, the way in which it is approached is both factually accurate and, in many ways, emotionally accurate.

Jonah’s affection for Ester was refreshing in that it was based on friendship first, but also aspects deeper than appearance– ie respect, admiration, humor, etc.

I did have some issues with the way the parents handled the kids mental illnesses, with how the ability to make the fear worse through exposure wasn’t explored, how Ester was forced to be the head of the household (especially at the end just because her mental illness was more under control/overcome and/or because she was caring enough to give her mom money for things like appliances), and how Jonah’s stealing was glorified (even if, to some degree, justified by his situation).

I keep going back and forth on Ester’s ending, too. I think, however, it fits well and I like it as a whole. Perhaps I would have liked for her to have some passion or goal in addition to what she got, but this feels fitting.

All in all, though, I thought this was a really great book. Well written. Good coverage of mental illness, especially phobia and exposure. A love plot that felt realistic and genuine. Family ties that were honest but close. Sympathy for those struggling with mental illness while still offering agency towards treatment. If you like magical realism or books that have magical elements, definitely check this book out. 


Review of The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon


Soon to be a major motion picture starring Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton! The #1 New York Times bestseller and National Book Award Finalist from the bestselling author of Everything, Everything will have you falling in love with Natasha and Daniel as they fall in love with each other.

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?




First of all, wow. 5/5 stars. This book is amazingly written. The prose is poignant but smoothly read. The characters are complex but distinctly unique, with clear motives you can’t help but cheer for, hold your breath for, yearn for.

This, along with solely John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, holds a coveted spot in the category Made me cry and in a wider, but no less impressive category, Kept me thinking about the characters and plot after I closed the book. 

This book tackles tough, important issues, like immigration and race in not only a tactful, honest, and true way, but also does so realistically. Authors who want to write about such topics should read this book, study it, worship it, soak in all its wisdom and technique and hope to seek the level it attains.

In the vein of complexity, Yoon does what most of us do not dare to do– as writers, readers, or humans– to see aspects of initially unlikable people (perhaps even potential villains in our life stories or novels) and find their humanity. Their driving force and their flaws as forgivable and secondary rather than intrinsic and defining.

Normally, as a writer myself, I often catch myself reading as one– analyzing the length of scenes, dialogue/description rations, stopping at great metaphors to figure out why and how they work. I didn’t stop at all reading this book. I sat down, picked up the book, and put it down less than 4 hours later. Perhaps this had to do with the realistic dialogue and the grounding, but not overpowering, reference to location and real-world phenomena. Perhaps this story was just good at doing what books are supposed to– transporting us to other realities or viewpoints and then dropping us off later, with a little more understanding of what humanness is, beyond our own, limited viewpoint.

Although, as many readers do, I tend to lost when the viewpoint switches too much, I absolutely loved the different viewpoints and short chapter lengths. The short length helped with pacing. The different viewpoints allowed the visiting of a more complex view of the same events (and the same people) and the manifestation of the book’s theme of needing to know everything in order to know something simple– that perhaps ‘observable facts’ are not simply enough to understand the world that is laden with bias and differing views and abstractions like love and dark matter.

Some of the chapters read, beautifully, like short stories on their own. The reassignment of a minor character as the main character in a chapter, along with more elaboration than they normally would get, was especially powerful. The possible ascension of anyone to the role of main character, along with the addition of the life lessons they had learned and how they looked at a scene or issue or life added a layer I didn’t realize was possible (or important) until I read this book.

Finally, although I sometimes like love stories like the meet-cutes in rom coms or other instances where love occurs rapidly (also called insta-love), often it lacks a genuineness. It feels heart lifting, maybe, but also fake and unrealistic. While technically this book takes place in around a day, it doesn’t feel like that. The basis for a real, healthy relationship/love is founded first. The character’s attraction to one another goes beyond looks. They know who the other person is because as a reader, along for the same ride, we know who they are.

All in all, you should read this book.

If you know a lot about the immigration process, read this book. If you don’t know much about the human side of the immigration process, read this book.

If you like captivating reads with complex characters, read this. If you want great writing or just a great book, read The Sun is Also a Star.


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Review of Shattered Snow by Rachel Huffmire

Shattered Snow by [Huffmire, Rachel]

Shattered Snow by Rachel Huffmire

What it’s about: 

In 2069, time-travel is restricted to observation and research. But Keltson Grammar doesn’t mind breaking a few laws. Known only as “The Mirror”, Keltson runs an underground empire that rescues unfortunate souls throughout history. However, a single misstep could send an entire agency to reinstate his clients to their original dismal fates.
Lilia Vaschenko is a Russian mechanic surrounded by cinderblock towers, ladders she cannot climb, and a glass ceiling that holds her down like a casket. She’ll do anything to escape— even work for the world’s most wanted renegade.
Margaretha is a young countess, destined to be poisoned at twenty-one. But when she discovers a mysterious mirror in the woods that transforms the world into shadows and ice, her future shatters. Chased from her familiar home, will she ever find where she truly belongs?


The book comes out on Tuesday the 8th! Catch the online release party here. 

You can pre-order the book on Kindle now, here. 


My review:

**I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review**

I would give this book 4/5 stars. 

I want to preface this by saying I normally do not like time travel books. There’s the Grandfather paradox and alternative realities that complicate things. Many times time-travel books solve their problems in the end with some rule that had ‘always been there’ but conveniently was never mentioned. Also, keeping track of everyone is infinitely harder with different time frames. I also, recently, tend to prefer contemporary fiction, simply because there’s less world-building to slog through.

Having said that, this book does a great job with setting up rules and sticking to them. Of keeping world building relatively subdued but understandable. Within the first few pages we get a good idea of what’s going on without being bored by description. Part of this comes from my favorite part of the book, the quotes/journal entries/etc at the beginning of each chapter, along with the dates. There are clear character arcs and each character feels unique and dynamic.

The descriptions were really well done. Very vibrant and easy to read. I was able to read this book in basically one sitting which attests to its pacing, stakes, and characters.

One thing I struggled with, though, especially at the beginning, was the dialogue. It felt too “on the nose’ (ie too much information in a way that people don’t really talk, functioning as a way to inform the reader but lacking in naturalness). For example, I really, really hated the word ‘na (ie I did’na quit my day job). It took me a while to understand it and even when I got that it stood for not, it felt awkward and kept tripping me up.

All in all, Huffmire is a talented author and this is a great debut book– I can’t wait to read more of what she writes and I recommend you check out this book, especially if you love time travel and historical fiction. 



There are some things I really wanted to like but couldn’t. For example, as much as I love feminism, back then a strong woman ordering a count around, especially at their first meeting, would not go over well. Even if he is a great guy. It’s just the power of social norms, sorry. He would at least be taken aback. It took me out of the story because it just wasn’t believable. (As much as I wanted to, I really did.)

I felt that the Mirror’s underlying motives for the whole operation was somewhat lacking. He wants money to keep the program going, sure, but the rest he’s just doing out of the goodness of his heart? I buy this more as the story goes on but not much at the beginning and not as much as I would like. Also, what makes him so committed to random people, like Bianka, enough that he would undergo a split? Again, I see glimpses of the answer but would have liked a bit more.

I enjoyed the fairy tale ending (with the brothers Grimm) immensely. This was both clever and satisfying. I also liked the Mirror coming to care for Bianka at the end. This helped the book not only plot wise and character wise, but also felt right– not forced nor out-of-the-blue nor predictable. Finally, I liked that the end was wrapped up but still open in some ways (for a sequel perhaps??) Can’t wait to read it, if so.



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Review of Borrowed by Lucia DiStefano


Happy Holidays!

I bought this book on pre-order after following Lucia DiStefano on Twitter. She is an amazing writer and person and I was intrigued by the blurb she tweeted about her novel, Borrowed.


Blurb of the book:

Love, mystery, and danger collide in this new literary thriller with the dark heart of a Gillian Flynn novel and the lyrical prose of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

A triumph of authenticity, grace, and nail-biting suspense, Lucia DiStefano’s ingenious debut is an unflinching, genre-bending page-turner.

As seventeen-year-old Linnea celebrates the first anniversary of her heart transplant, she can’t escape the feeling that the wires have been crossed. After a series of unsettling dreams, inked messages mysteriously appear on her body, and she starts to wonder if this new heart belongs to her at all.

In another Austin neighborhood, Maxine braces for a heartbreaking anniversary: her sister Harper’s death. Between raising her brothers and parenting her grief-stricken mother, Max is unable to ignore her guilty crush on Harper’s old flame or shake her lingering suspicion that her sister’s drowning wasn’t really an accident. With Harper as the sole connection, Linnea and Maxine are soon brought together in fantastic and terrifying ways as the shocking truth behind Harper’s death comes to light.


Strengths of this book:

Pacing. I finished it in less than 3 hours, in one sitting. The prose is tight, the stakes high, and the concept intriguing. In many books I read I can see what the ending will be and what will happen but I was consistently surprised while reading Borrowed.

I appreciated that while the heart transplant set the stage for the story, it wasn’t the whole story. (Almost like *gasp* the characters– like people themselves– are more complex than one attribute. In this way, the characters were round (with interests besides Finding The One™) and clear personalities).

Toxic relationships were portrayed as the toxic person’s fault (as they should be more often in literature!) The toxicity of certain people not initially apparent, just as it isn’t in real life.

The more-or-less happy ending, without being too cliche or forced. Along with that, there was a lack of cliche characters, plot points, genre tropes, etc. Very refreshing.

The parents and/or love interests do not save the damsel-in-distress™. Many books that now try to have Strong Female Characters™ actually don’t let her ‘save herself’ or solve the main conflict.

I love the name Linnea (almost as if I used a version of it in my own novel Insomnus). Also, having the main characters have different-sounding names helped some with distinguishing between them.


Things I wish were better:

I really wish I was less confused while reading. I got lost during some transitions between points of view. Some of the ‘reveals’ were not obvious enough or had not enough foreshadowing that initially I had trouble believing them (*I’m looking at you Tyler. Where did you come from?*). Namely, I didn’t have an issue with these plot points (I think they were great ideas) per say, but they felt out-of-the-blue when they were revealed. Some were well foreshadowed (ie the writing on the arm, etc) but some were not sufficiently hinted at.

I had trouble with one scene towards the end that was relatively unpleasant (if you’ve read it, you should know which one I mean). I go back and forth about it because I think the book could have done without it, but also understand, to some extent, why it was there. I think, all in all, I would have liked it better if it was threatened but didn’t actually occur. The story was already dark enough, the character in question was unlikable/smarmy/etc enough without it.

Something just felt off at the end. Perhaps it was the confusion. Perhaps it was that at certain points I felt the character’s actions weren’t the most realistic– see spoilers below for details. But I loved the end end (the very last bit).




Why did Linnea/Harper get into the back of the truck instead of just following him? Why did Max continue to be hostile towards Tyler after Harper told her what to do? (I can understand her being emotional, but it came off as just unintelligent). I really liked that Linnea/Harper had to eat the mushrooms– many times novels introduce conflict but don’t go far enough into them to have real stakes. In this way, I also liked that it ended up being Linnea at the end and the switching was due to death/near-death experiences (but wasn’t explicitly spelled out. Thus, the rules to the ‘magic’ were clear but not hit over our heads).

Every Last Word Review

EVERY LAST WORD by Tamara Ireland Stone



If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling. Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off. Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist. Caroline introduces Sam to the Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.



Wow. Another great book. From the first chapter I was hooked, not only by the tension and characters, but also by the immersive writing.

The representation of OCD was accurate, in a way that let the reader experience and understand how it feels. It also, thankfully, strayed away from the stereotypical hand-washing/cleaning OCD (because there are many, many types) but wasn’t only about Getting Better and Overcoming it. Indeed, while this is important, the emphasis on the main character empowering herself and feeling competent and confident (which, ultimately, is what OCD therapy is about) not only feels more realistic and helpful, but also relatable for those with and without the disorder.

By this, I especially mean that OCD was not the defining quality or hobby of the protagonist, unlike some “mental health” ya books. This is important not only because it is more realistic, but also because it puts mental health in a better perspective– it doesn’t define someone, even if it is something they have to deal with and overcome. (Quick side-note on mental health terminology- someone isn’t OCD or schizophrenic or anxious, they HAVE OCD or schizophrenia or anxiety. It doesn’t define them, or become a part of them, no less than having cancer makes one cancerous).

Also, some comments on other reviews have mentioned that OCD wasn’t represented well. Indeed, everyone’s experience of any mental illness is different but if this isn’t a good representation, then I don’t know what is. Complex characters. Therapy and medicine-positivity, both of which were accurate. Raw emotions without being over-the-top. The use of techniques like breathing and exposure (like the mother with the scissors at the beginning). For example, just because one war story or love story doesn’t match your own doesn’t mean it isn’t an accurate representation, just as a mental illness story can be accurate without representing everyone’s experience.

Some people have also mentioned that it was part of the “love-solves-all” trope but it isn’t. Love-solves-all involves the love to come FIRST, not after. And PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESSES ARE ALLOWED TO HAVE LOVE/HAPPY ENDINGS without it invalidating their story. Indeed, love should not solve all. But it doesn’t in this case– some of it comes from her empowering herself, some from creating a healthier environment (changing friends, finding passions, gaining confidence) and some from classic therapy techniques like exposure or mindfulness. This is how love and mental illness should be portrayed.

This book also tackled a lot of issues that are either glossed over or skipped in other books, like dealing with toxic friends, the normality of feeling anxious/horrible/etc when friends are exclusive or mean, poetry and writing as a way to find community, bullying and reconciliation (not just from the bullied person’s perspective), owning up to mistakes, and much more.

In this way, the ending was fitting (and slightly unexpected) but in the best way. It wasn’t cliche or obvious, but it made sense. It wasn’t romanticizing things it shouldn’t, nor either happy or sad just because.

The writing itself was lyrical. The kind where you forget you are reading, but when you step back each line is strong and powerful and so well done. No wonder this book has gotten so much acclaim. If you are looking for an accurate representation of ‘pure-o” OCD (focused on thoughts for both obsessions and compulsions, rather than physical compulsions like handwashing), that portrays mental illness and relationships in the way it should be portrayed, then check out this book.


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Why You Should Submit to a Literary Magazine

I wrote a small handful of short stories in high school, but almost always for class. In fact, almost all the short stories I have written so far have been for creative writing, even though I regularly work on novels in my free time. I have 2 short stories published, one pending publication, and one novel published with one in the query process. Although both novels and short stories take up precious time to write, they actually are mutually beneficial more than mutually detrimental.

  1. I’ve learned a lot about writing and my voice through short stories, especially with experimenting with points of view, tenses, subject matter, and styles (trying to write in another author’s style is both fun and informative—try it out). I’ve also learned a lot about dialogue, description and characterization through both novel writing and short story writing. The bonus is anything I learn about writing from one translates to another.
  2. Short story publications are great to include on book query letters and book publications are great to include on short story submissions. Also its just cool to say you’ve been published and literary magazines are a great way to do it.
  3. With short stories you can experiment and learn about being succinct. This includes giving brief but informative descriptions, short but effective character development, plot arcs in little words, etc. With novels you can learn about how to keep tension throughout the book but also how to increase and decrease it, character development with a broader set of characters, and commitment/consistency with writing as it takes more dedication to see a book through to completion.

Although much of this post has been about why you should write a short story, the next two points really emphasize why you should then publish said story.

  1. Although you should likely have someone else (a critique partner, writer friend, etc) read over your story before you submit (after you have read and re-read and edited it, of course), the worst-case scenario for submitting is getting told it won’t get published. Best case, you get a publication to your name and potentially money in the bank.
  2. It can help with the imposter syndrome. One hard thing about writing is going through most of the process without any feedback or reassurance. Getting a publication (while often subjective, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get accepted the first time) can help feel like you’re on the right track in your writing career (because, spoiler, you are).

As per Literary Magazines, specifically, most don’t have a reading fee (which is great if you are a starving artist- in fact many times reading fees can be scams). Also, they are published online which you can link to your blog or social media. Finally, they are easy to find (thanks google) and there are many genres and subgenres (such as undergraduate writers, flash fiction, etc).


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Check out my publications and some of the places I’ve submitted to here.