Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe

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Title: Ruthless Magic (Conspiracy of Magic #1)
Author: Megan Crewe
Rating: 5/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

In the contest to keep their magic, the only options may be die… or kill.

Each year, the North American Confederation of Mages assesses every sixteen-year-old novice. Some will be chosen. The rest must undergo a procedure to destroy their magical ability unless they prove themselves in the mysterious and brutal Mages’ Exam.

Disadvantaged by her parents’ low standing, Rocío Lopez has dedicated herself to expanding her considerable talent to earn a place in the Confederation. Their rejection leaves her reeling—and determined to fight to keep her magic.

Long ashamed of his mediocre abilities, Finn Lockwood knows the Confederation accepted him only because of his prominent family. Declaring for the Exam instead means a chance to confirm his true worth.

Thrown into the testing with little preparation, Rocío and Finn find themselves becoming unlikely allies—and possibly more. But the Exam holds secrets more horrifying than either could have imagined. What are the examiners really testing them for? And as the trials become increasingly vicious, how much are they willing to sacrifice to win?

The first in a new series by USA Today bestselling author Megan Crewe, Ruthless Magic combines the magic of Harry Potter with the ferocity of The Hunger Games alongside a poignant romance. Fans of Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, look no further for your next urban fantasy fix!

***

Review:

Let me start by saying that if you compare a book with The Hunger Games, I will start reading it with dread in my heart. I love The Hunger Games, I really do, and therefore, I will judge the quality of the book without any pity. If you dare compare yourself, then your book better make me lose track of time and dream vividly at night.

And you know what – this one did.

Trust me, I wouldn’t have reviewed this book positively if it didn’t reach my expectations. I loved the world created in this book. I loved the concept (à la Hunger Games, obviously) of magic testing through the “exam”, or, The Magic Games as I started calling them in my head. There’s just enough difference between the two books that this read as a fresh story. The addition of magic was wonderful, and I didn’t force myself to suspend any disbelief.

There are a lot of characters, but nothing feels overwhelming. You’ll get attached to the two protagonists and to the other students as you follow them through the book. They’re relatable and they aren’t boring. I have to admit I was heavily rooting for Rocío throughout the book, but I liked Finn for his determination and his easygoing nature. Another five stars in this category for character development!

Extra points for a slow-build romance, and for avoiding the possible trope of the heart-wrenching love triangle!

I’d like to thank Another World Press, as well as Netgalley, for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I can’t wait for book 2! Until then, I will pick up the novella prequel, Magic Unmasked.
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The Wendy, by Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown

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Title: The Wendy
Author: Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown
Rating: 5/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

THE WRONG KIND OF HERO.

“Girls can’t be in the navy! Girls take care of babies! You’re so stupid, you don’t know anything!”

London. 1783. Wendy Darling is an orphan, living in an overcrowded almshouse, ridiculed for believing in a future she can never have. More than anything in the world, she wants to be the captain of a ship. But that’s impossible.
 Isn’t it?

By 1789, she’s sixteen, old enough to be sold into service as a dressmaker or a servant. When she learns the Home Office is accepting a handful of women into its ranks, she jumps at the chance, joining the fight against the most formidable threat England has ever faced. Magic.

But the secret service isn’t exactly what she had hoped. Accompanied by a reimagined cast of the original Peter Pan, Wendy soon discovers that her dreams are as far away as ever, that choosing sides isn’t as simple as she thought, and that the only man who isn’t blinded by her gender… might be her nation’s greatest enemy.
***

Review:

Usually, when I write a book review, it’s because I received a free copy through Netgalley in exchange for a review. I want to start this one by saying that I am writing this review simply because I want to, because this book deserves a review.

I’ve had a rather sluggish reading year so far. I am rereading old favourites instead of delving into new books, because the new ones didn’t satisfy me. However, I read The Wendy within a few days (and that was only because I already had plans out of the house). It’s easy to read, it’s a fun story, and the prose is witty and made me laugh out loud. It’s only a few bucks on the Kindle store, so I recommend that you encourage this author by buying a copy. I will be following the series – I can’t wait to read the next book!

Wendy is fierce, intelligent, and strong – anything you want from a good protagonist. From the very first page to the last, you will root for her and cheer her victories. I’ve never been a fan of Peter Pan, but this book makes me want to pick up the original tale to read. Thank you, authors, for sharing this wonderful story!

(Plus, for those of you for whom it matters: the cover art is SO PRETTY!)

The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner

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Title: The Mars Room
Author: Rachel Kushner
Rating : 4/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

From twice National Book Award–nominated Rachel Kushner, whose Flamethrowers was called “the best, most brazen, most interesting book of the year” (Kathryn Schulz, New York magazine), comes a spectacularly compelling, heart-stopping novel about a life gone off the rails in contemporary America.

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room demonstrates new levels of mastery and depth in Kushner’s work. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined. As James Wood said in The New Yorker, her fiction “succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive.”

***

Review:

The new season of Orange is the New Black recently hit Netflix – The Mars Room gave me just enough to satisfy my female inmates story craving to tide me over until the release… and for all of you who are fans of the series and already binged through the season, you should pick up this book.

I think you can imagine the concept of this book by reading the summary. Therefore, I am going to write my review on the style of this book. I felt like it reads a little bit like slam poetry. It’s a book that you almost want to read out loud, because it sounds like music when you read it. The prose is therefore poetic, and it adds so much emotion and intensity to this story. It’s a book you want to read slowly to savour the stories within, and the emotional aura within the pages will make you tear up. I’d say this is a slow paced book, so if you’re looking for a quick story, I would skip it.

I have to admit that I found that it ended too abruptly. I understand that there’s only so much one can do with someone convicted of a life sentence, but I wish the final chapters had been followed up by a few more.

I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster Canada, as well as Netgalley, for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I would recommend this book.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton

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Title: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton (ARC originally named The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle)
Author: Stuart Turton
Rating: 5/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads:

How do you stop a murder that’s already happened?

At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.

***

Review:

First off, let’s get one thing clear: this review isn’t fair. It’s not fair because I feel that the only way to properly review this book is to do so only after a second, if not a third, close read.

The 7 1/2 Deaths is Evelyn Hardcastle is a complex murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very last few pages. There’s just enough foreshadowing that you can see the ending coming, but at the same time, I doubt I could have guessed it correctly, which makes this book so valuable in my eyes.

I won’t lie, it’s hard to keep track of this story. It took me a long time to read it (I usually put a book away per week, but this one took me almost two months – and it wasn’t exceptionally long either) because I had to start it over at about the 20% mark just to make sure I had grasped what had happened in the first few chapters. I wish I had the time to read through this book again just so I can pick up on everything I’ve missed, as I did with my favourite book from Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a complex “Who Dun It” type of mystery with a bit of a supernatural twist. It was really good, although it took me forever to go through it. Some reviewers said they couldn’t put it down, but I find its the type of book that you have to enjoy slowly to pick up on the nuances that made it such a deliciously elegant mystery.

I’d like to thank Sourcebooks Lanark, as well as Netgalley, for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Now or Never Moment: Omnibus, by Katie Kaleski

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Title: The Now or Never Moment: Omnibus
Author: Katie Kaleski
Rating: 3/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

By the time she realizes she loves him, he’s already gone.

Shelby and Tanner have been inseparable ever since freshman year when she intervened to save him from a bully’s beating. Fast forward four intense years–Shelby is leaving for college. Without Tanner. Three days before she’s set to move, he hands her a thick envelope with explicit instructions:

In no way shape or form is she to open the envelope until she is perfectly settled in at school. She is not to even think of it until then.

No one has seen Tanner since that moment.

She opens the envelope to find a letter of epic proportions inside that spans their years in high school together. When she reads it out loud to almost her entire dorm, Shelby relives the good and all of the bad, and together they learn details that Tanner held back, the things he never told her. How much he really loves her.

Sometimes, all it takes is walking in someone else’s shoes to realize what you’ve known all along. Sometimes, that realization comes too late.

*this book deals with suicidal ideation, depression, and bullying*

***

Review:

If I could resume this book in just a few words, it would probably be: almost five hundred page long comedic tragedy. Because this book is sad, and because it’s so long, it feels like the sadness will never end… and then you get to the ending, which I personally didn’t expect after the drawn-out dramatic storyline I had just read. This book will make you laugh and it will make you tear up. Tragedies generally end with death, but comedies end with love… I’ll let you guess which one it will be.

Warning: a lot of this book broke my heart. I wouldn’t recommend reading this if you aren’t in a good place emotionally, as it does deal with suicidal ideation, depression, and bullying… as well as unrequited love, PTSD, near-death experiences.

I would recommend to not let the beginning throw you off about the pacing of the book. The first few chapters are unsettling because they are so fast-paced, and there could be so much more context to this story. Then, once it gets into Tanner’s letter, the pacing stabilizes and everything reads smoothly… and then the ending is as quickly paced as the beginning. I think this is a collection of four novellas (one per school year), so perhaps the structure of it made more sense as such.

I’d like to thank Katie Kaleski, as well as Netgalley, for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Night Music, by Deanna Lynn Sletten

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Title: Night Music: A Novel
Author: Deanna Lynn Sletten
Rating: 4/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

1968 – 1971

Charlotte Parsons is devastated over losing her brother in the Vietnam War. Desperate to learn more about the war, she joins a group of college women who send letters to soldiers and befriends Joseph Russo, a young soldier. But a few months after they begin corresponding, his letters stop coming, and Char moves on, still confused as to why so many young lives are being lost so far away from home.

Two years later, Char begins college in her small Illinois town of Grand Falls. She’s been dating her brother’s long-time best friend, Deke Masterson, who is a senior in college and is deep into the anti-war movement. Char isn’t sure how she feels about the war. Then a stranger comes to town and changes everything.

Joseph Russo served in the Vietnam War, earning a Purple Heart for his injury as well as a life-long limp. He’s ready to put the war behind him. While in Vietnam, he’d corresponded with a girl from Grand Falls and he enjoyed reading about her idyllic life. When he’s discharged, he moves there to attend college. And when he meets Charlotte in person, he’s taken with her sweetness, intelligence, and beauty.

The battle lines are drawn as Deke resents Joe’s presence around Char. What started out as a well-deserved escape to a small town for Joe soon turns into a battle of wills between him and the idealistic Deke. And there stands Charlotte, right in the middle.

Night Music is a story about a moment in time when the world was chaotic and nothing was completely clear. In the midst of all the chaos, can Char and Joe find enough middle ground to fall in love?

***

Review:

One of my favourite books of 2017 was Atonement by Ian McEwan, so when I read the synopsis for this one, I couldn’t help but to draw a few resemblances and hit the request button. I was in the mood for a love story set in the past, and this book didn’t disappoint.

It’s definitely a slow burn type of book, and although it does deal with topics of veteran PTSD and of war opposition, it overall is a light, innocent book. I would even go as far as to qualify it as a “cute” story even though it does get quite intense at times.

I loved the characters, though. From protagonist Char all the way to secondary characters, they were all quite complex and I got attached to most, if not all, of them.

I’d like to thank Deanna Lynn Sletten, as well as Netgalley, for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. #NightMusic #NetGalley

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, by Kim Fu

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Title: The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore
Author: Kim Fu
Rating: 4.5/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

A group of young girls descend on Camp Forevermore, a sleepaway camp in the Pacific Northwest, where their days are filled with swimming lessons, friendship bracelets, and camp songs by the fire. Filled with excitement and nervous energy, they set off on an overnight kayaking trip to a nearby island. But before the night is over, they find themselves stranded, with no adults to help them survive or guide them home.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore traces these five girls—Nita, Kayla, Isabel, Dina, and Siobhan—through and beyond this fateful trip. We see them through successes and failures, loving relationships and heartbreaks; we see what it means to find, and define, oneself, and the ways in which the same experience is refracted through different people. In diamond-sharp prose, Kim Fu gives us a portrait of friendship and of the families we build for ourselves—and the pasts we can’t escape.

***

Review:

This was my first venture into the “New Adult” genre, and I’m so glad that I decided to give it a try. I suppose that New Adult explores themes that Young Adult books will shy away from, although I have to admit that I’ve read some YA that leaned quite heavily into mature subject matter. In The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, we read about five young girls go through a traumatizing event during a summer camp, interspersed with snippets about their adolescent and grown-up lives. Most of these girls carried issues with them throughout adulthood, and it was interesting to see how one event could be experienced so differently by all of them.

It’s definitely more psychological than a YA novel would be. There’s very little of the novel that explores what happened at Camp Forevermore — the bulk of the book is reserved for these character stories. Still, it’s honestly a page-turner, and Kim Fu doesn’t paint these girls through rose-coloured glasses. It almost, at times, reads like a memoir of these characters, and I really enjoyed it.
I have only two complaints about this book. The first complaint would have to be about the ending. It was rushed, and I believe that there could have been a full chapter more, at the very least. The entire story just feels like a big buildup with little satisfaction at the end. My second complaint is about the choice of one specific “present-day” stories – one chapter explores the life of the sister of one of the girls who went to Camp Forevermore, which means that we only got a little bit of insight on how the camp sister’s life went after the event. However, the rest of the book is so well crafted that those two complaints don’t really change my overall perception of the book.

I’d like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as well as Netgalley, for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I really enjoyed it, and I encourage you to pick up a copy when it’ll hit the shelves next month!

*Note to Netgalley reviewers: this is e-pub format only and thus will not load on your Kindle.

Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson

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Title: Wolves of Winter
Author: Tyrell Johnson
Rating: 4/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As memories of her old life haunt her, she has been forced to forge ahead in the snow-covered Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap to survive.

But her fragile existence is about to be shattered. Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who sets in motion a chain of events that will force Lynn to fulfill a destiny she never imagined.

***

Review:

I closed my 2017 reading challenge with this book, and there couldn’t be a more perfect one for the subzero temperatures we’ve been seeing here. The atmosphere in the book is glacial and miserable, so I highly recommend this book during the dead of winter, or when it’s so hot outside that only imagination can cool you down!

In all honesty, however, it was refreshing (is this a pun?) to read a dystopian where the weather turns snowy as opposed to hot, dry, deserted wastelands. The author doesn’t gloss over glamourized details of a winter apocalypse – we see the characters suffer from the cold, the blandness of the food, the loneliness that can only be caused by strictly living with family members. We also get to read about the nostalgia caused by losing almost everything one had taken for granted, both through the character’s present-time and through flashbacks. There’s a grim reality in these pages that some dystopian books lack, so I truly appreciated reading about Lynn and her family’s struggles.

The characters were all wonderful with the exception perhaps of Conrad – I’m still not sure what was the purpose of adding a perverted, violent man for only a handful of pages? The book could have lived quite wonderfully without the Conrad-related arcs, but I suppose it would be important to show that survival can turn a person into something this nasty.

I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster as well as Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I would recommend picking it up!

ReWired, by S. R. Johannes

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Title: ReWired
Author: S. R. Johannes
Rating: 3/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

YA cyber thriller, ReWired, by Shelli Johannes-Wells (writing as S.R. Johannes), which offers a fresh and exciting new take on the genre, and could be described as Ally Carter’s HEIST SOCIETY meets THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO for teens.

Sixteen-year-old Ada Lovelace is never more alive and sure of herself than when she’s hacking into a “secure” network as her alter ego, the Dark Angel. In the real world, Ada is broken, reeling from her best friend Simone’s recent suicide. But online, the reclusive daughter of Senator Lovelace (champion of the new Online Privacy Bill) is a daring white hat hacker and the only female member of the Orwellians, an elite group responsible for a string of high-profile hacks against major corporations, with a mission to protect the little guy. Ada is swiftly proving she’s a force to be reckoned with, when a fellow Orwellian betrays her to the FBI. To protect her father’s career, Ada is sent to ReBoot, a technology rehab facility for teens…the same rehab Simone attended right before killing herself.

It’s bad enough that the ReBoot facility is creepy in an Overlook-Hotel-meets-Winchester-Mansion way, but when Ada realizes Simone’s suicide is just one in an increasingly suspicious string of “accidental” deaths and “suicides” occurring just after kids leave ReBoot, Ada knows she can’t leave without figuring out what really happened to her best friend. The massive cyber conspiracy she uncovers will threaten everything she cares about–her dad’s career, her new relationship with a wry, handsome, reformed hacker who gets under her skin, and most of all–the version of herself Ada likes best–the Dark Angel.

With a deliciously twisty plot, the topical bite of Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER, ReWired delves into technology addiction, internet privacy, and corporate/government collection of data, as it vividly illuminates the universally human questions about ethics, privacy, and self-definition that both underpin these socio-political issues and dovetail with classic coming-of-age themes. Ultimately, ReWired is about the daily choices we all make about who we want to be, how much of ourselves we choose to share with others, and the terrifying risks and exhilarating rewards of being ourselves, online and off.

***

Review:

This is a strange book to review, because there’s so much contained between those few hundred pages. Where to start? The characters? The intrigue? The clash between the cyber world and the natural world? The romance or the friendship? There is just so much crammed in there that it’s hard to focus my review on a particular aspect, so I will simply resume what I liked and didn’t like.

What I enjoyed: this book reads like a Nancy Drew novel aimed at an older (see: teenager) audience. You know the tropes: witty young girl becomes involved in a mystery that she has to solve, gets herself in these terribly dangerous situations, always comes back relatively unscathed, etc. One moment, she is safe, and then the next she’s falling through the floor or being shot with strange objects… All to solve the mystery along with her sidekicks, but definitely always working better on her own. Luckily, I absolutely adored the Nancy Drew books as a tween, and therefore, I did really enjoy the intrigue behind ReWired.

I also loved how funny this book was; I genuinely laughed out loud a few times! There is a really good balance between serious topics and light-hearted intercessions, and the book never felt overwhelming in a specific kind of tropes.

Which brings me to what I liked a little less: the pacing – that was overwhelming. I love past-paced books as much as any other reader, but I honestly think this novel could have been a trilogy. It goes from everyone hating themselves to being super close all at once, which left me feeling rather indifferent about anyone but the protagonist.

Also, I think I received an ARC; I hope the cut-off sentences and missing words and grammatical errors were fixed before the release, because it sucks when you get to the end of the paragraph and your sentence doesn’t end.

Still, it wasn’t a bad book; I’d be curious to see what the final version looks like. I’d like to thank Coleman and Stott for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Immortal Creators, by Jill Bowers

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Title: Immortal Creators
Author: Jill Bowers
Rating: 4.5/5, rounded up

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

Sixteen-year-old author Scott Beck never wanted to be an Immortal Writer—not after his father was killed on a mission attempting to dispatch his own villain. Scott blames Shakespeare and the Writers for his father’s untimely demise, but no amount of hatred will prevent the oncoming alien attack, which has come over to reality straight from Scott’s book.

Scott is forced to collect his characters—an Air Force colonel, two of the best pilots on Earth, and an alien enthusiast from the year 2134—and defeat the alien king before Earth is obliterated by his ships. But an odd sickness Scott calls his Writing Fever might just kill him before the aliens have the chance.

Will Scott be able to defeat the monsters he created, or will the world end in flames?

***

(Warning: this review may contain spoiler-y content for the first book in this series.)

Sequels should be about coming home, and this book really hits the mark. While readers get to enjoy a fresh new author protagonist and wonderful supporting characters, they are also treated with a glimpse into everything that made the first book so wonderful: the Writer’s Castle and its colourful quirks, a few memorable appearances by Liz and Curtis, and, of course, Shakespeare and other well-known authors. Bowers writes so well that readers will end up with a series containing entertaining books that are both familiar and fresh – I already can’t wait to read the third one.

Back to the book itself: this time around, we are dealing with a science fiction book and not a fantasy one, so instead of dragons, we get aliens as antagonists. I actually thought it was pretty cool, and I look forward to seeing what other genres will be explored in the next book, as the author really seems to be nailing each one so far.

I suppose that if I had to choose something to complain about, it would be the lack of chemistry between the author (the in-book author, Scott, and not Jill Bowers – she has excellent chemistry with her characters!) and his characters. I suppose that this might have been intended, since Scott is a lot more reluctant to follow the Immortal Writer lifestyle than Liz was in the first book; however, I wish there would have been more delving into the characters’ lives and personalities. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, however, so it was more of a disappointment than a deal breaker… I guess it’s not a flaw when your only complaint is “I wish I knew more about the characters”!

Still, I really loved Scott. I was disappointed at first that Liz wasn’t the protagonist, but Scott was such a well-rounded character that I quickly got over it. He feels so real. He is an angry teenage boy who gets embarrassed when he’s not as mighty as the others, who eats strange food combinations and who bickers with his brother. Also, he transforms throughout the book, and last-chapter Scott is so different than first-chapter Scott. You’ll love it, trust me.

And the ending… don’t get me started on that cliff-hanger. I can’t believe this book is only going to be published in 2018, which means I’ll have to wait for a long time before the third book.

I’d like to thank Blue Moon Publishers for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I would recommend this book, and I really look forward to reading what else Jill Bowers comes up with!