Book Review

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Publisher: Random House
Genre: Autobiography, Memoir
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
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Summary

Growing up in a remote area of beautiful Idaho may seem like a dream come true. But for Tara Westover, the remote location mirrored her own isolation, both in beliefs and in terms of those she could relate to.

Born into a family of devout Mormon extremists and survivalists, Tara was not allowed to take medicine, have a valid form of personal identification, or even attend school. Moments that might have been spent learning how to read were instead needed to prepare for the inevitable doomsday that her family believed was quickly approaching.

My Thoughts

Tara’s journey—from a child unable to attend school to a young adult earning her PhD at the renowned Cambridge University—is filled with heartbreak, tears, and genuine happiness. The eloquent yet accessible nature of Tara’s writing style allows her readers to go through the journey of her young life with her. Even though her life experiences are likely vastly different from those of the majority of her readers, Tara has a way of telling her story that is innately human. Although most of her readers may not relate to Tara’s memories of things like being in a horrible car accident and then forbidden to go to the hospital for her injuries, themes like familial tensions and the struggle to find the meaning of one’s academic education will certainly resonate with many others. 

Educated is worth the read not only because Tara’s story is compelling, but also because it will positively leave readers with something long after they’ve closed the book—whether that be gratefulness for the opportunities education has afforded the audience or reflection on what life and education means to them. I encourage everyone to delve in as soon as possible, and I promise you won’t be able to put it down.

All the Bright Places: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

Each time I go to Goodwill, I end up leaving with a stack of books that live on my shelf indefinitely. I always plan to read them, yet somehow always end up with more that I don’t get around to. A few weeks ago, I found All the Bright Places sitting on my shelf and was drawn to it. I had heard some things about it, but was not at all expecting the emotional whirlwind it took me on. I devoured it in a day, then immediately watched the movie afterwards to compare—and I have some thoughts on the adaptation.

All the Bright Places tells the story of Finch and Violet, an unlikely pair that first meet on the top of the school’s bell tower. They are the only two who know the truth about who saved who as the story circulates the school. When they’re paired to do a school project together, they discover just how much they need each other. But as Violet heals, Finch begins to sink.

I fell in love with this book the second I finished it and I knew it had been made into a movie, so immediately after closing the book I pulled it up on Netflix.
Generally, the movie did a good job bringing these characters to life. The casting is one place where they excelled. Elle Fanning is a perfect Violet—she’s exactly how I pictured her in my head. Justice Smith, as Finch, was excellently cast as well, which really aided in putting the story on the big screen.


Casting aside, there were a few changes made that I found a bit odd. For starters, in the novel Violet and Finch meet on the top of the bell tower and most of the school sees them up there, turning it into a whole ordeal. In the movie, however, Violet is on a bridge when Finch finds her. It seems like a minor change, yet in the novel a large part of the reason they’re thrown together is because of the news story that spirals from being caught up there. Ultimately, this didn’t make a huge difference to the overall feeling and message of the story, but I was surprised when at it.

A common flaw when translating a book to a movie is the timeline. I noticed while watching that it almost felt rushed, but I also think that is just a result of the medium. Generally speaking, the important moments were articulated well and the actors did a great job bringing this movie to life. I will almost always favor books to movies, and I definitely recommend reading the book first, but the movie does bring the story to life in a touching way. 

If you haven’t read this book already, I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a new tearjerker. Niven touches on a lot of important, and often overlooked, issues, especially in literature, and for that I applaud her. I recommend both the novel and the film, but I suggest that you read the book first to get the full effect. You can purchase it here.

Book Review

Better Together by Christine Riccio

Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Young Adult, Coming of Age
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

If you’re looking for an extraordinarily unique, dark twist on a classic story, look no further than Christine Riccio’s Better Together. Jamie and Siri are sisters separated at a young age and completely devoid of contact for over a decade due to their parents’ nasty divorce.

In a twist of luck (or fate) the two sisters are reunited at the same “rediscover yourself” retreat and hatch a devious plan: the two will switch places and confront their respective parents.

However, not everything goes as planned, and it’s going to take a lot more than switching places to understand each other, find themselves, and ultimately face the complexities of family.

Thoughts

It has been almost a year since my very first post with The Spellbinding Shelf where I discussed one of my favorite young adult novels, Again but Better by Christine Riccio. Now, coming full circle, I decided to review her newly released second novel, Better Together. While very witty, I have to admit that initially I was not completely sold on the plot—mostly because it wasn’t my usual type of young adult novel. The whimsical magic reminiscent of The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday are classically engaging, but I was not as enthused with those themes. Perhaps due to my hesitancy, I ended up being disengaged, and the combination of short and rather uneventful chapters left me searching for more.

Despite some of these shortcomings, I was pleasantly surprised with Riccio’s capability to take a traditionally lighthearted storyline and investigate the twisted, dark, and traumatizing difficulties of divorce, dysfunctional families, and the impact of parents’ choices on their children. Indeed, there were moments in the book where, while I was craving more action, I couldn’t ignore the insight and attention to how both Jamie and Siri processed their emotional baggage. Riccio does an amazing job detailing the struggles of both characters who have completely different personalities and means of handling their past to move towards their future. There were multiple times in which I had to underline prominent messages or found myself laughing at the page as Riccio nicely combined comedy, romance, and sardonic tones with the seriousness of her overall topic.

Most importantly, Better Together was primarily written during the pandemic—a heaviness that is translated in its pages as the reader slowly feels the suffocation and eventual release of tension most everyone has felt over the past year. In this manner, I appreciated Better Together not only because of its mix of tragedy and comedy, but also its overall feeling of angst and the eventual, much needed, feeling of relief.

Book Review

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba

Publisher: Haymarket Books
Genre: Political Science, Essays
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Educator, organizer, and curator Mariame Kaba collects seven years of essays and conversations on Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) abolition into one volume.

Kaba has been a foundational organizer in multiple prison abolition projects, including Survived and Punished (which helps free “survivors of domestic and sexual violence and other forms of gender violence who are imprisoned for survival actions”) and Project NIA (which aims “to dramatically reduce the reliance on arrest, detention, and incarceration for addressing youth violence”).

For those who were first introduced to PIC abolitionism last summer through #DefundThePolice, Kaba presents a holistic vision of the movement’s history, present, and future.

Thoughts

The modern theory and practice of PIC abolitionism grew out of the civil rights movement half a century ago. The movement’s roots, as the name implies, can be traced back to the slavery abolition movement that presaged the American Civil War. However, PIC abolition has been almost entirely excluded from mainstream conversations about the American justice system, until its ideas became central to the Ferguson uprising of 2014 and the George Floyd uprising of 2020. But as “Defund the Police”—the first demand of #8toAbolition—became a policy demand of a plurality of local Black Lives Matter organizations, the national news media were forced to suddenly contend with the work and vision of PIC abolitionists.

By the summer of 2020, Mariame Kaba had been writing about PIC abolition for a decade on her blog Prison Culture. I was introduced to PIC abolition through Kaba’s work, as were many other young abolitionists. She is a gateway for a new generation into the ongoing struggle for emancipation.

Kaba’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is the combination of her writing’s accessibility and her scrupulous care to cite the sources of her ideas. I often have trouble understanding works of political theory, but Kaba stubbornly refuses to deal in the abstract; every idea she presents is grounded in examples drawn from her work as an organizer. Likewise, each idea is attributed to the activists, organizers, and writers who provided her with its germ. ‘Til We Free Us thus functions as not only an introductory text, but an index of foundational PIC abolitionist writers (almost entirely Black women).

If you would like a taste of what this book offers, I’d recommend starting with Kaba’s June 2020 opinion piece for the New York Times, “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police,” which is also included in this anthology.

Origins of Disney Fairy Tales

Disney has had no trouble remaking and reimagining some of the most beloved fairy tales. Disney continues to inspire and promote the now often thought of as “original” Disney magic—from the live action retelling of the Jungle Book to the newly released villain origin story of Cruella. However, many of the most well-known princesses and plots that are famously attributed to Disney actually get their original magic from books. Here is a list of some of the most well known and oldest Disney stories originally inspired from novels.


Tarzan. This adventure classic is probably one of the first Disney movies many people see, however it was originally a book published in 1914 by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes consists of the same beloved plot: a young boy is raised by apes within an African jungle but when White explorers arrive within the area, the adult Tarzan adopts their ways to gain the love of Jane Porter. Ring any bells? However similarly Disney adapted the story, the original text highlights the differences, conflict, and struggle between what is considered the “wild” and the “civilized.” While the Disney version definitely provided some heartwarming magic and toe-tapping music to the story, the book provides a little more introspection.


The Jungle Book. The well-known author and Nobel Prize winner, Rudyard Kipling, is the original writer of the now Disney classic The Jungle Book. Originally published in 1894 the story follows the unlikely friendships between a young boy and various animals within the jungle. Disney adopted this classic into an animated film in 1967 and eventually created a live action remake in 2016. The Jungle Book is undoubtedly another example of Disney’s capability to not only popularize 100+ year old stories, but to bring them to life in a new way. I wonder what Kipling would have thought of his characters as Disney merchandise?


101 Dalmatians. The Hundred and One Dalmatians is actually a children’s novel written by Dodie Smith and originally published in 1956. The plot between the two works is similar, with Disney adapting original characters such as Pongo and Missis as well as the now infamous Cruella de Vil. The book is only 32 pages long, which is considerably shorter than the two plus hours of watch time for each 101 Dalmatians-themed movie. Nevertheless, we have Disney to thank for not only bringing life to these characters but expanding on and developing the heart behind Smith’s work


Peter Pan. The story and character of Peter Pan is as deep in history as the character and story originally created by J.M. Barrie in 1906. The story of Peter Pan began with the character who initially appeared in Barrie’s 1906 Novel The Little White Bird. This appearance was transferred into the 1906 lesser-known story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Peter’s story wasn’t fully developed until Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter and Wendy. The character is famous as a symbol of youth, and many of the characters and themes from this story are now the hallmark of Disney’s brand—from Tinker Bell’s prominent presence in marketing to the popular idea of “being a kid at heart” that builds the Disney aesthetic. Peter Pan is one of the most iconic characters in popular culture and in Disney, all thanks to the imagination of J.M. Barrie.


Pinocchio. Pinocchio is one of Disney’s earliest movies and stories. The animated film Pinocchio dates back to 1940, but the plot and character were originally created by Italian author Carlo Collodi in 1883. The original Italian story, however, is much darker than the beloved Disney adaption. Pinocchio, rather than becoming woodworker Geppetto’s friend and adoptive son, begins abusing him and eventually runs away as his feet are carved by the old man. Geppetto is eventually arrested for trying to recapture Pinocchio, after which Pinocchio returns to Geppetto’s house where he kills Jiminy Cricket. Additionally, Pinocchio is almost hanged by the Fox and Cat who want to steal Pinocchio’s gold, but he is saved by a Fairy at the last moment. However, Pinocchio doesn’t learn his lesson and after losing his gold to the Fox and Cat, he lives with the Fairy and her son where his mischievous lessons and dire consequences continue up until he turns into a real boy. The much longer and darker original story is meant to serve as a lesson for children and emphasize good behavior—a similar idea perhaps, although less lighthearted, than the Disney adaptation.


Bauer, P. & Lowne, C. (2018, October 23). The Adventures of Pinocchio. Britannica.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Adventures-of-Pinocchio

The Little White Bird. (2021, May 19). In Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_White_Bird

Photo Credits: Changing Hands Bookstore

Book Review

The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet by John Green

Publisher: Dutton
Genre: Social Science, Essays
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

John Green’s latest book is comprised of a series of essays describing and rating different aspects of the Anthropocene—the current geologic age— on a five star scale. Based on the podcast of the same name, The Anthropocene Reviewed tackles everything from humanity’s temporal range to the world’s largest ball of paint. At their core, these essays ponder the ways in which humans are profoundly and irreversibly shaping the world around us—and, by extension, how we too are being shaped by our actions and experiences in the modern age.

Thoughts

If you’ve visited our blog before, you’re no doubt familiar with our deep and abiding love of John Green. When the writer/Youtuber/ die-hard Liverpool fan announced that his latest book was going to be a non-fiction collection of essays, I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed. While I would be happy reading Green’s shopping list, his novels hold a special place in my heart. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by The Anthropocene Reviewed, and especially by the glimpse that it gave us into the author’s life.

Through Green’s novels, we’ve learned a great deal about the author himself. Looking for Alaska provided a backdrop for some of the personal events in his own life. Turtles All the Way Down delved into what it’s like living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Green’s latest book is unique, however, in that his life is not being viewed through the lens of Pudge, or Aza, or Hazel. The stories and insights provided are unencumbered by narratives or characters, and the result is pure, unfiltered John Green.

Obviously, Green is no stranger to sharing personal information with his fans. Aside from his books and his website, he regularly engages with his fans on his Youtube channel, vlogbrothers, that he runs with his brother, Hank Green. Through all of these avenues, we’ve learned a great deal about Green’s life. His latest book differs however, in that it centers around opinions and musings that are deeply and intrinsically influenced by personal experiences. As a result, the author shares a great deal of personal anecdotes and stories about his life.

Another charming feature of this novel is found in its footnotes. I really enjoyed finding and reading the small print hidden throughout the front and back pages providing 5 star ratings about copyright and half-title pages. Beyond this, the back of the page also contains notes and sources for some of the facts and stories Green mentions in each essay. This feature is especially rewarding to the Green fans like myself who are continually amazed and baffled by the amount of diverse knowledge Green possesses about every aspect of human existence.

As a final note, I’d like to add that this book—while a wonderful read for anyone and everyone (since it concerns, well, humanity)—it might resonate more strongly with those who are already fans of Green’s work. I enjoyed seeing glimpses into the author’s early life and seeing connections between his personal experiences and his other novels, for example, which would not be as interesting to someone who knows nothing about John Green. Some of my personal favorite essays included those on our capacity for wonder, the movie Harvey, googling strangers, and Hiroyuki Doi’s circle drawings—all of which struck me as especially candid and earnest. I would recommend this book to any John Green fans, as well as those who enjoy learning obscure details about various facets of human existence.

Shadow and Bone: Book-to-Series Adaptation

Shadow and Bone, written by Leigh Bardugo in 2012 was recently translated into a Netflix series back in April. The show closely follows the plot of the first book in the trilogy: the plot in which Alina Starkov discovers she has special powers and is taken away to the Grisha palace in order to realize her full potential and help destroy the darkness that has been plaguing her country. Or so she thinks. 

If you tune into this show after reading only the first book in Bardugo’s trilogy expecting to see an exact play-by-play of the novel, you will definitely be in for a surprise. Thanks to showrunner and scriptwriter Eric Heisserer who wouldn’t create the show without both, Shadow and Bone meets Six of Crows in this crossover event of both books. Through this process of translation a fully new text was made, one that simultaneously has a strong relationship with its original source, yet is fully independent from it. For loyal fans of the books, it’s best to go into this show with the author’s words in mind. In an interview for the show Bardugo says, “When you write a book, you close the door on all the ‘what-ifs?’ Once it’s on the page there’s no way to revisit it, so the chance to see some of these characters interact in a way that they never interact on the page—the fact that Alina and Inej get to meet, the fact that General Kirigan, the Darkling, and Kaz face off in an alley—these are ‘what-ifs’ that I never would have gotten to explore in my books.” She added, “A lot of readers have asked me about over the years, so it was pretty spectacular to get to see them play out.” 

With that being said, as a hardcore book lover, I was extremely skeptical of merging two series within the same universe but with completely different timelines. It just doesn’t feel right, I thought. There’s no way to have the characters in the same timeline without the world imploding, I thought. How is the integrity of Shadow and Bone going to be kept when it has to be intertwined with the Six of Crows plot? And vice versa. How wrong I was. 

Before I get into how amazing this show was, I have to say that it’s taken me about two rewatches and a trip to the bookstore in order to buy the last books in the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology in order to find any thoughts other than “Squeeeeeeeeeee!” after my first viewing. 

To start off, I have to discuss the element that hooked me right off the bat—the cast. The wonderful, lovely, diverse cast who seemed as if they were picked right out of the books themselves. The script and actors worked seamlessly to capture the characters in a way that brought the book to life, even with this new take on the Grishaverse. It’s one thing for actors to play their characters from the exact source material, it’s another to embody them so well that no matter what direction they go in, they’re able to know exactly what the characters in the book would do. 

While Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov and Ben Barnes as General Kirigan, a.k.a. The Darkling, brought life and tension into their characters and relationships, all my doubts went away as soon as I first saw the Crows on screen. Freddy Carter as Kaz, Kit Young as Jesper, and Amita Suman as Inej took my breath away—and not just because Freddy Carter is now my phone wallpaper. The Crows righted the wrongs that I felt while reading the first book which eliminated my worries about how the show would work. During my Shadow and Bone read, I often found myself bored and needing action. There was too much exposition, too much of Alina learning about her powers and strength. I am positive that without the immersion of the action packed, heist-filled book about criminals, the show would have been dragged out in a way that left the viewers sleeping with the show on in the background. Six of Crows brought out what Shadow and Bone was missing and brought balance to the world that was originally built with the information and exposition in the first book. 

The show also righted the wrong of Malyen Oretsev played by Archie Renaux. Mal in the book was portrayed as a one note character who wasn’t likable in the slightest. I didn’t root for him and Alina in the book at all. Although I’m still a Darklina shipper, I found myself believing in their relationship a lot more in the series. The show went into depth in showing Alina and Mal’s relationship as children and showed the lengths Mal was going to in order to reunite with Alina. 

Though you can probably guess that my affection leans towards the Crows, I was still on the edge of my seat for how and when the characters from both series would finally cross paths. The more comfortable you get with the idea of creating an entirely different plot, the more excited you get watching your favorite characters interacting with each other in a way that was never possible before. It’s really something magical, and I feel like all book lovers can appreciate this new way to create and merge what they loved on the page, even though it might be different than what you imagined and were loyal to in the books. 

My only qualm about this TV series is that our Sun Summoner, Alina Starkov, was a little bland. I was unimpressed by her character in the book as well since she spent the entire time writing letters and training. My only wish is to have her develop more in the next season, with more focus on her own character and who she is as a person, and less on her relationships.

Overall, readers and non-readers alike will find something to fall in love with with the new Shadow and Bone TV series. There was just so much care and detail brought into this show, which I believe everyone can appreciate. Details such as Ravkan money in the Crow Club, keftas intricately embroidered, Genya’s tailoring with things found in nature (which is a small detail in the book, and I was pleased that’s how they made her magic work in the show as well), and an entirely new made up language really immerse people into this world. Whether it’s the characters, exquisite costumes, beautiful scenery, ingenious scriptwriting, or the magical lore that Leigh Bardugo created, I have no doubts that this should be your next binge watch or read. Or both. And when you’ve finished, you can find me in my Ketterdam sweatshirt learning how to throw knives and sharpshoot so we can talk about it together.


“‘Shadow and Bone’ Cast Break Down New Netflix Series | Around the Table | Entertainment Weekly.” YouTube, uploaded by Entertainment Weekly, 30 April 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXSB5LyD4Q8&t=412s

Book Review

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 496
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Ryland Grace has to save the earth. By himself. In space. And he doesn’t remember who he is.

Grace awakens onboard a spaceship many light-years and many literal years away from earth and from any other human. He has to learn not only who and where he is but why because Earth is in danger of being wiped out. Grace is their only hope for survival. And the clock is ticking.

Space is big. Really big. But Grace may not be as alone as he thought he was. With his unlikely partner and his memories slowly returning, he uses science to navigate his way through problems and challenges on an interstellar adventure filled with suspense, survival, and an unusual friendship.

Will he save Earth in time?

Thoughts

Project Hail Mary is my favorite book of the year. If you enjoyed Andy Weir’s 2011 novel The Martian, you will enjoy his newest novel Project Hail Mary published May 2021. Think The Martian meets Interstellar. There are a lot of welcomed similarities to his first novel: cheeky humor amid a grisly survival situation, lots of fascinating science, and a lone astronaut trying to survive. Except this time, it’s not the whole earth trying to save one astronaut—it’s one astronaut trying to save the whole earth.

The science Andy Weir weaves throughout the whole book is intriguing and complex, yet it is never overwhelming for novices or distracting from the story. Like in The Martian, the protagonist uses his expert knowledge to problem-solve and the science always moves the plot forward in exciting and page-turning ways. Project Hail Mary brings in microbiology, astrophysics, the theory of relativity, and even communication theory. Woven together are two storylines—the current events of Grace aboard his spaceship and revealing flashbacks back to earth of Grace in his memories.

Despite all the science, Project Hail Mary’s real story is about connection. I won’t share any spoilers, but I will say that the strange partnership—and real friendship—Ryland Grace makes on his adventure is one of the best parts of the novel. The friendship invites intriguing questions about language, communication, life, possibilities, and what it means to be human. Or not human. Despite all the science happening in the novel, the emotional story is what really shines in this novel.

In addition to the novel’s exploration of beyond-human connection, it’s also about connection with our own planet. Project Hail Mary is a piece of speculative fiction. Speculative fiction… well, speculates. What if this happened? What would we do? Even through imagined stories, speculative fiction theorizes about our current world. These “narratives” [are] concerned not so much with science or technology as with human actions in response to a new situation created by science or technology…speculative fiction highlights a human rather than technological problem.” Project Hail Mary is ultimately an optimistic story about saving the earth, which gifts the same optimism to readers living in a very real world with fears and anxieties about climate change and environmental collapse. This story gives us hope.

Book Review

Mara’s Awakening by Leo Flynn

Publisher: Leo Flynn
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 44
Format: e-Book
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My Rating: 3/5 stars

Summary

Mara’s Awakening follows Mara Keres, a half-robotic peacekeeper who has fallen from grace. She has been kept in solitary confinement in a high security space prison for six years, but is finally released into the general prison population, her captors beliving she is finally broken.

Still a fighting spirit, Mara immediately teams up with her new cell mates, Ishali, a half snake man, and Mallory, a human woman with a secret, to escape the prison. However, that is easier said than done, especially since Mara has made some powerful enemies who would like to see her dead. But who exactly are these enemies, and what did Mara, a renowned peacekeeper, do to find herself surrounded by criminals and hunted at every turn?

Thoughts

Starting off with the good, I really enjoyed the mystery this story presents in regards to how Mara wound up a criminal. Throughout the story the reader is introduced to several people from Mara’s past, all of whom seem to have a great deal of vitriol towards her for quote “betraying them.” Likewise, Mara seems to believe that the government in fact betrayed her—specifically referencing a council that is implied to be in control of the entire galaxy. This framing provides an engaging dichotomy where the reader is unsure if Mara is indeed a criminal or if the government is behind something nefarious. This makes for a fascinating read where the reader cannot trust anyone and must piece together the story from context clues and hints in the dialogue.

A small detail I also enjoyed was how the author gave the main character a distinct way of speaking. Mara speaks with a twang in her voice that is reminiscent of the cockney accent. This distinction helps establish that Mara doesn’t belong, as she is the only character who speaks that way in the entire book. It isolates her from the rest of the world and really drives home how she is, in a sense, adrift and abandoned. I really appreciated how this detail was able to establish so much about Mara’s character without feeling forced.

However, where the book lost me was with the establishing of the setting. It’s important to note that this book is the first in a series of short stories that together tell the story of Mara. This means that the book had very few pages to establish the setting, the characters, and the plot for the entire series, and while the author did establish what the overarching plot of the book to be, the setting was underdeveloped. Through context clues the reader can determine that the prison is on some sort of spaceship, and that there are different species besides humans, but the overall universe where the characters live and the rules of said universe are left unexplained. This causes specific aspects of the book to feel disjointed and sudden. For example: when Ishali, the half-lizard man, is introduced the reader learns his species name, but not much else. The only way I was able to identify that he is a half-lizard man is by one sentence that references him having a lizard-like tail. However, the book doesn’t explain anything about his species nor does it clarify what they are, leaving me to guess that he is some sort of lizard-human hybrid. These disjointed pieces make the book feel like the first chapter to a book—which in a way it is—but since the next chapter would be found in the next book, it leaves the reader a little lost to the world where Mara’s Awakening takes place.

Overall, I loved the setup of the mystery and the characterization of Mara—especially in regards to Mara’s connection to the government—but was disappointed by the limited development of the setting. However, I do expect that the author will divulge more information in his second book, Mara’s Choice, so hopefully this limitation will correct itself with time. If you’re looking for a quick sci-fi read this summer with an excellent mystery and you don’t mind a little confusion, Mara’s Awakening is only 99 cents on Amazon and is definitely worth the read.

4 Books to Dive Into This Summer

Summer is just around the corner and, for me, there is nothing better than lying in a hammock with a good book. While it is arguable that most any book will work in this scenario, some books just scream “summer” more than others. After some thought, I have compiled a list of books that I think are perfect for diving into summer.


The Summer I Turned Pretty—Jenny Han. Starting off the list is a novel from the author of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series. It follows the story of Belly, who looks forward to the summer all year. Each year, her family spends the season in the small town of Cousins where they join the Fishers, whose sons Jeremiah and Conrad have grown up with Belly. It’s a story of first love, heartbreak, and the summer sun. I used to read this book every year—it’s the perfect YA summer love story. If you’re looking to get into the summer mood, then I highly recommend giving this novel a chance. If you like it, it’s part of a three book series!


Red White & Royal Blue—Casey McQuiston. It wouldn’t be a summer reads list without this fan favorite. This novel tells the story of Alex Claremont-Diaz, whose mom is the President of the United States. When the tabloids get a hold of a physical altercation between him and the Prince of Wales, a variety of problems arise. In the efforts between the two countries to mend the relationship comes a heart-warming and unlikely love story. There’s a reason this novel is so popular, and as summer rolls around I find myself gravitating towards it again.


It Had to Be You—Georgia Clark. This is a newer release—it came out about two weeks ago—but I have a feeling it is going to be the novel of the summer. Told in a style similar to Love Actually, this novel tells the story of Liv Goldenhorn, who is not only dealing with the death of her husband, but also the fact that he left half of their business to his mistress, Savannah. For obvious reasons, Liv isn’t happy about this, and when Savannah comes to work with her, they don’t exactly mesh right away. However, long nights and deep conversations have a way of revealing hidden depths about people, and both Savannah and Liv find that not everything is what meets the eye. It’s a witty, heartwarming story that perfectly captures that summer feeling.


The Girl from Widow Hills—Megan Miranda. I read this novel at the beginning of last summer and as I was thinking of novels for this post that were less romance-y but still summer-y, and this one immediately popped into my head. This novel follows Arden Maynor, who now goes by Olivia Meyer, 20 years after she was found in a storm drain in the small town of Widow Hills. She has spent her life trying to distance herself from her past, but it always has a way of catching up. This novel is shocking and thrilling while still maintaining that summer feeling. If summer romances aren’t as much your thing, I highly recommend checking this novel out.