7 Magical Reads for Harry Potter Fans

Break out the cake, Dobby—it’s Harry Potter’s 39th birthday today! To celebrate, the girls in my house have been doing a Harry Potter book club, and it has been, in a word, fantastic. But we all know that eventually we will have to read Rowling’s last, “All was well,” at which point we will turn to these seven magical reads.


Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is perfect for any fan of fast-paced and beautifully written fantasy. When our Editor-In-Chief lent me this book (which, incredibly, was originally a draft for NaNoWriMo), I had no idea how much I would enjoy escaping into the world of Celia and Marco in Le Cirque des Rêves. Its powerful imagery and sorcery are reminiscent of the Time-Turner complications with magic that Harry Potter encounters in his third year.


For fans of the later and darker Harry Potter books, The Red Queen is an explosive start to a now-famous young adult series that satisfies readers who enjoy court intrigue, unsteady relationships, and supernatural violence. A powerful protagonist, a glitteringly gory setting, and the swiftly changing loyalties and truths in the narrative make this book hard to read without immediately picking up the next of the series.


Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted follows Ella of Frell in her quest to break her curse of obedience. This is potentially one of my favorite stand-alone fantasy novels, perhaps because it combines the complications of magic that resonate in the later parts of the Harry Potter series (particularly with Harry’s discoveries about prophecies, curses, and destinies) with the simplicity of action and strength of character that Harry shows from the beginning.


For fantasy readers who find themselves somewhat disappointed that dragons are only featured in a few (key, but brief) scenes of J. K. Rowling’s series, turn to Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers trilogy that follows Creel in her enchanting journey through a fantasy full of delightfully personable dragons.


Readers who loved Harry Potter as “the Chosen One” will enjoy Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince, where an orphan thief named Sage confronts his identity and potential in a fantasy kingdom. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy deals with many of the same themes found in Harry Potter’s encounters with navigating fame and accepting responsibility.


Gwendolyn Clare’s Ink, Iron, and Glass builds an engaging fantasy world of scriptology where Elsa learns to navigate reality while understanding the power of the written word. Her realizations about truth mirror Harry’s encounters with Umbridge’s lesson, “I must not tell lies,” in his fifth year, as well as his learning how to sift fact from fiction in Rita Skeeter’s Dumbledore biography in the seventh book. Clare’s book is perfect for Potter fans!


Last but not least, Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms series has perfect action scenes for those readers who loved the various encounters that Harry and his friends had with magical creatures—including trolls and spiders. Sky Raiders is full of Cole’s adventures that are enthralling like Harry’s, and there are four more books to enjoy in the series!


Book Review

Strange Diary Days by Blake Edwards

Publisher: Independently published, 2018
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Hailing from Tucson, Arizona, local author Blake Edwards shares the first volume of his two volume collection, Strange Diary Days.

Beginning in ethereal desert landscapes, readers soon leave the dust behind as they are transported into a world both surreal yet strikingly tangible.

From dirt roads to ancient spells awaking, Edwards’ work truly delivers his promise to his readers—a world where all that can be imagined exists; and you are right in the middle of it.

Thoughts

I would like to preface my review with this tidbit of knowledge about my literary preferences: normally, I am not one to get easily immersed in fantasy. My poetry collections are few, and they are grounded in reality with the likes of Carolyn Forche. To be honest, I just wasn’t sure if I would connect with this collection because of it’s promises.

I have never been so pleased at being wrong.

Edwards took a brilliant approach to this collection; the first poem of the collection, “Strange Diary Days,” hints at the otherworldly themes readers will encounter later, but only just so. He then goes on to ground his readers in beautiful but relatable realities in which he describes the desert and his perspective having grown up in Tucson, Arizona.

My favorite poem from this first part of the collection is “Winter Throes.” I found Edwards’ details so tangible—”I listen to the fire crackle deep, yet the floor is cold”—yet also so ethereal—”Past these boneyards lie quick-wild spring, where colors spill over and salve the scars away.” His words were the perfect balance of grounding and ethereal, poignantly preparing the reader for what was to come in the later half of the volume.

Slowly I saw the ethereal take hold over the realistic, as if each poem were my feet leaving the ground a little bit more, until I looked down and saw that they were no longer on the floor. It was gradual, painless, and so cleverly crafted.

“Wicked” was my favorite poem from the second half of the collection, clocking in at four stanzas and leaving me pouring over them again and again. Edwards’ craftsmanship with each word left an incredible imprint on me as a reader.

I would recommend Strange Diary Days to anyone—no matter what genre, material, or platform you prefer. It was a true delight to be taken into Edwards’ world, and I hope each reader gets a chance to experience what I did.


I would like to thank Blake Edwards for the ARC in exchange
for an honest and unbiased review.

A Thousand Lives: How Books Connect Us to Our World and Beyond

As readers, we live double lives—the first as individuals who exist within the confines of reality, the second as incessant travelers. 

My library, ever-growing and changing through the years, has taken me across different universes. From large-scale battles between humans and High Fae, to adventures with sword-bearing demigods, to life-altering cab rides with a driver carrying messages. The destinations and layovers are endless, yet the vehicle remains the same: books.

Fantasy writer George R.R. Martin once explained, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.” But books do more than connect us to other fictional lives. They also connect us to our own lives in the real world.

Today, I’d like to share just a few small—but powerful—ways in which books have personally connected me to the world.

Exchanges

From lending out well-loved copies of Harry Potter in exchange for Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, to borrowing a roommate’s graphic novel collection of The Last Airbender in exchange for Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn trilogy, book exchanges have strengthened my relationships in incredible ways. In fact, I like to think that my roommate became a close confidant largely because of our shared evenings filled with animated book discussions.

Recently, I participated in an online book exchange that I stumbled upon on Instagram. I sat with a close friend of mine over frozen yogurt and scattered stationary as we wrote letters to our respective recipients. The experience was a firm reminder of how book reading can enrich existing friendships, as well as provide hope for a new one that is waiting to form.

Reminders of Strength

As a lover of literature, books have been more than a way to pass the time—they have smoothed things over for me both in turbulent times and in the chaos of travel; I imagine this rings true for all of you self-proclaimed book worms. 

Traveling has been embedded in my identity the very moment I stuffed my belongings into a bright red suitcase seven years ago. When my family and I left my small Philippine hometown to pursue a better life in the United States, the very act of traveling suddenly took the connotation of hard goodbyes and painful memories.

What helped me during the moving process itself was what came inside that bright red suitcase. Stuffed in its main compartment were bits from home: my grandmother’s rosary, printed photos from my childhood, pressed flowers from our home garden. And in the front pocket, situated there entirely for accessibility, was my copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

Mariam and Laia’s story has always inspired me, but right then, it was different. It was a more immersive experience; I took all of my anxiety and dismay and allowed them to suspend momentarily. Instead, I dove deep into a story of turmoil paired with healing. As I folded myself into the uncomfortable airplane seat, I was able to draw irrevocable strength from the characters’ experiences of loss, pain, and ultimately, powerful recovery.

Sources of Comfort

Whenever I set out on a journey, I always ensure at least one thing makes it onto my agenda: a trip to a new bookstore.

My trip to San Francisco comes to mind most readily. As I explored City Lights Bookstore, I felt a keen and deep sense of belonging upon seeing titles that promised paths to different universes—titles that allowed me to brave the unfamiliar and terrifying in more accessible (yet still exhilarating) ways. In books, I found the stepping stones I needed towards courage.

So, although traveling—especially when it entails abandoning the familiar—is never a comforting experience, books have given me an avenue out of the uncertainty and discomfort: a way to ground myself in familiarity for when I inevitably travel again.

***

Through books, I have seen places of pure fantasy come to life; I have learned new ways to make closer bonds out of my friendships, to look at wrenching pain as a story of redemption, and to find comfort even in the most frightening places.

In reading, we get to live the only way we should: fully, completely, and—if we’re lucky—a thousand times.


Guest blog post courtesy of Arni Dizon.

Book Signing: Thrillers @ The Poisoned Pen

Snipers, missiles, and conspiracies—oh my!

You won’t want to miss next week’s book signing at The Poisoned Pen. The bookstore will be hosting three authors for a thriller book signing event from 7 to 8 p.m. on July 29. Authors include Jack Carr of True Believer, Mark Greaney of Red Metal, and Stephen Hunter of Game of Snipers. Be sure to check out the bookstore before the author event to order your books!

True Believer by Jack Carr. Former Navy SEAL James Reece’s skill and cunning are put to the test when the CIA recruits him to travel the globe and target terrorist leaders. But be careful who you trust in this political thriller—the conspiracies may prove to be more than simple rumors.

Red Metal by Mark Greaney. Amidst attacks from Russian tanks and satellite killing missiles, an American Marine lieutenant, French Special Forces captain and his intelligence operative father, female Polish partisan fighter, A-10 Warthog pilot, American tank platoon captain, and German sergeant must all work together on Operation Red Metal to defend America and her allies.

Game of Snipers by Stephen Hunter. Master Sniper Bob Lee Swagger decides to help a young woman who lost her son to war by finding the sniper who pulled the trigger. However, this favor soon turns into a consuming obsession, putting Swagger back into the action as he teams up with others to track the assassin whose skills seem to match his own.

Read more information about the book signing event here.

Location: The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, 4014 N. Goldwater Boulevard, Scottsdale

Date: Monday, July 29

Time: 7–8 p.m.

Book Review

Family of Origin by CJ Hauser

Publisher: Doubleday Books, 2019
Genre: Fiction novel
Pages: 283
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

On hearing that their biologist father Dr. Ian Grey has died, estranged half-siblings Nolan and Elsa Grey reunite. They travel to his island research station and become acquainted with his team, the Reversalists, who study a duck species in an attempt to prove their theory of reverse evolution.

While learning about and searching for the “Paradise Duck” for which their father had been preoccupied, they also learn about their own “family of origin,” uncovering various layers of family secrets and complications. With flashbacks and foreshadowing, Hauser illustrates the complication that comes with determining how much of the past should affect the future.

Thoughts

To be honest, the first time I attempted to read this book, I failed to get through it. I think this is perhaps because I was not in the right frame of mind to make sense of Hauser’s web of themes and stylistic choices. The flashbacks and foreshadowing tell compelling backstories, but are also more complicated to read than a traditionally chronological narrative. I also particularly struggled with her decision to not separate dialogue with quotation marks. This made the conversational flow difficult for me personally to follow.

That being said, I felt like what redeemed this book was its layering of familial secrets, histories, and relationships. This made the characters feel real and the narrative more engaging. As a reader, I wanted the estranged siblings to find out more about their past which would help them to connect in the present. It was interesting to consider family dynamics in relation to the evolutionary theories posited in the novel.

I would recommend this book to adult readers who like learning about backstories, histories, and scientific theories—and who do not mind the absence of dialogue quotes.


Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

6 Best Movies that Began As Books

There is no way around it: there are some books that are just completely butchered as movies. And it. is. so. painful. I would argue, almost nothing is worse for a literary junkie. However, we don’t like to focus on the bad things here at Spellbinding Shelf, hence why I decided to bring you my list of the “6 Best Movies that Began As Books.” So for those of you who may need your faith restored in the cinematic world, fear not—I have the solutions right here.


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien. If this wasn’t first on the list, I think I could be put in literary jail. Putting myself in Peter Jackson’s shoes, I’m still in awe that he was not only able to undertake such a massive project like this (dealing with a literary legend), but turn it into a cinematic masterpiece as well. While a few of our favorite characters may not have made it to the screen in this iconic trilogy (Tom Bombadil anyone?), there is no doubt that Peter Jackson brought Tolkien’s magnificent world to life in the most fulfilling way.


Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling. “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Bless all of the memes that came from this wonderful line of dialogue from the first book in Rowling’s seven part series. Spanning nearly a decade of filming, numerous directors, and (sadly) two Dumbledores, the screen adaptation of Rowling’s iconic series is—without a doubt—a cinematic masterpiece. With each of Rowling’s characters brought perfectly to life through incredible acting, there is no debate that the Harry Potter movie series is every inch as magical as us Potterheads could ever hope for.


The Fault In Our Stars – John Green. If you try to tell me that Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley’s performance as Hazel and Augustus wasn’t sheer perfection, I call foul, sir. Originally winning the reader’s heart on the page, John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars continued to break our hearts in the most wonderful way as it made its screen debut. With incredibly raw and emotionally-captivating performances by everyone on screen, The Fault In Our Stars remains one of my favorite book-to-movie creations.


The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks. Name one person who doesn’t love this movie. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Don’t worry, I can’t think of anyone either. Each time I watch this movie, I am still so overcome by the incredible performances from Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as they so poignantly bring Noah and Ally to life. With a love story so ridiculous, crazy, and beautiful, the screen adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook perfectly captures every emotion we as readers felt on the page.


Les Miserables – Victor Hugo. Okay, to be fair, it was a musical long before it was brought to life on screen in 2012, but I say: mere technicality! It’s a movie now. As a viewer, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first found out Les Mis was going to be a movie. Could they capture the vulnerability that Hugo left on the pages and numerous stars had left on stages around the world? Spoiler alert: heck. yes. Boasting some of (what I think to be) the most magnificent performances to have ever graced the silver screen, Les Miserables is a movie that does not disappoint its OG readers.


Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. And of course, my dear Pride and Prejudice. Did I choose this merely because of Keira Knightley? No, but, if I did, would that really be so bad? Though the movie version may not have Colin Firth in it (*sigh*), watching Jane Austen’s most iconic work come to life on screen is an unforgettable experience. So for any of my classics lovers, if you haven’t already seen the movie, my advice is this: hunker with a bottle of wine, your best friends, and your Mr. Darcy daydreams. It will not disappoint.


Book Review

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

Publisher: Ecco, 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

In this coming-of-age story, we see a young girl named Katherine grow up to become a well-respected mathematician with a fascination for all things numbers and a special interest in the famous Riemann hypothesis.

As she pursues a career in mathematics, she is forced to question and evaluate her identity. Growing up in the 1950s, she studies in a male-dominated field where she feels she must learn how to fit in when she can’t help but stand out. Hoping to find her biological parents for answers about who she really is, she uncovers a complicated, tangled family history that seems to raise more questions than answers.

Katherine learns to rethink her identity as she discovers beautiful mathematics as well as chilling stories of the women who came before her.

Thoughts

Before I begin, I do have a confession: I am a bit of a math nerd. Going against the stereotype that English majors fear and despise numbers, I actually enjoy learning theorems and even took a few college mathematics courses despite my academic advisor’s confusion and explanation that the classes wouldn’t help me graduate.

Because of my love for numbers and logic, I really adored Catherine Chung’s well-researched novel about a young mathematician. The book contains quite a few hidden math gems such as a variation of the Gauss addition story, the Königsberg bridge problem, and several references to historical mathematicians and scientists. That being said, you don’t have to love math to appreciate Chung’s beautiful novel that explores identity, family history, and legacy.

Since the theorems and math references are written about in more of a metaphorical way than a technical manner, the book makes imagining the experience of a young woman trying to find her place in the world of mathematics accessible to a wider reading audience.

The main character, Katherine, grows up with the understanding that she is the daughter of a Chinese immigrant and World War II American veteran. However, she soon learns that her family history is much more complicated than her parents once claimed. This, in addition to the realization that some people questioned her place in mathematics, forces her to redefine her identity and learn to make a contribution to mathematics—for herself, and by herself.

It’s a beautiful novel that examines what it means to truly know yourself and act independently of societal expectations, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of historical or bildungsroman fiction.


If you are, in fact, a math nerd like me, you can learn more about the Riemann hypothesis, which Katherine attempts to tackle in the book, in the video below.


Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

6 Powerfully American Novels

From Memorial Day to Independence Day to Labor Day and everywhere in between, summer is the perfect time for fiction that explores what it means to be American! While it’s great to return to classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Howard Fast’s April Morning, and Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, not every American origin story centers on a white man in wartime. Here are six powerful classics that reflect the scope of our country’s diversity, showing the value of the past and the determination towards the future that unites Americans regardless of time period or background.


Amy Tan’s masterful The Joy Luck Club is a classic fiction novel that provides a realistic portrayal of American families. Beginning in China and continuing in San Francisco, the Joy Luck Club meets weekly to play mahjong. When its founder, Suyuan, passes away in the 1950s, her daughter Jing-mei is confronted with the truth about her mother’s complicated past. Jing-mei’s feelings of inadequacy in telling her mother’s story are echoed by the other daughters of the club members, as being raised in America gave them markedly distinct experiences than that of their mothers. Told in a series of linked shorter accounts, the book gives us a glimpse into the cultural and generational conflicts with immigrant mothers and American-raised daughters. This novel offers a powerful definition of being American: how—instead of abandoning of the past—the American spirit is strengthened by retaining cultural heritage while still moving forward.


Mexican-American Esperanza may only be twelve years old, but that does not keep her from having big dreams and being determined to leave her family’s poverty in the past. As she matures and undergoes traumatic experiences throughout the year, Esperanza’s story provides a real, raw look into the racial segregation, financial difficulties, and physical challenges that many Americans on the fringe experienced in the late 1950s, just as Esperanza did where she lived in a poor Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza’s learning to balance cultural heritage and personal progression to help others exemplifies a critical dichotomy in true Americanism.


Octavia Butler’s Kindred follows Dana, a 26-year-old black woman in California in 1976, and her literal connections with her past as she interacts with her ancestors in slavery in the early 1800s in Maryland. She makes difficult choices and experiences the atrocities of slavery in a personal way, made more poignant by comparison to her white husband’s treatment. Dana’s cross-century experiences of taking control of her life in the face of misogyny and racism prove the persistence of the past in the attitudes of the present, providing a vivid perspective on these periods in American history that is often overlooked.


Jim Burden reminisces on his experiences with his childhood friend, Ántonia Shimerda, who came with her Bohemian immigrant family to Nebraska in the 1880s. From teaching her English as children to visiting her with her own children decades later, Jim’s account of Ántonia’s life, especially in comparison to his own, does credit to both the lifelong friends. Ántonia’s actions throughout demonstrate her remarkable tenacity of spirit with the balance of remembering history while moving forward. Willa Cather’s masterpiece, My Ántonia, shows how—even with all the complications of her past experiences—Ántonia fully and truly embodies American values.


Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man begins and ends with the unnamed narrator hiding from the world underground saying he is invisible. Pondering Louis Armstrong’s lyrical question, “What did I do to be so black and blue?”, the African-American narrator tells the story of his life, from youth to college to employment centered in 1930s Harlem, where he continually experienced the invisibility that resulted from others’ conscious choices not to see him. This bitterly reflective classic points out that keeping the American spirit moving forward should not come at the expense of forgetting the more complicated parts of our past or ignoring the reminders of those circumstances that surround us.


And finally, perhaps the most classic of the list—Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, with its famous heroine Scarlett O’Hara in 1861 Georgia before, during, and after the Civil War. Scarlett is not at all the typical protagonist for a Civil War novel, nor is she the typical Southern Belle. With her quick thinking and perseverance, Scarlett never gives up despite all the challenges she encounters, and to the less-than-happy end she retains her determination, representing the true American spirit.



Storyline Slam: “Magic”

Get ready for some true storytelling magic to take place on Friday, July 19. Join Changing Hands Bookstore at their Phoenix location for another Storyline Slam where the theme is—you guessed it—magic.

Ten storytellers (drawn at random) will have six minutes to tell their own stories based on the theme.

With crowd judges, prize money, and an hour of magical stories, you won’t want to miss this latest installment of Storyline Slam.

Read more information here.

Location: The Newton, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

Date: Friday, July 19

Time: 7-9 p.m.

Ticket Price: $6 in advance; $8 at the door

Book Review

Bully Love by Patricia Colleen Murphy

Publisher: Press 53, April 2019
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 84
Format: Paperback
Buy Local

Summary

Winner of the 2019 Press 53 Award for Poetry, Patricia Colleen Murphy shares her journey from Ohio to Arizona in her latest book, Bully Love.

The collection offers glimpses into the harsh but beautiful Sonoran Desert, painful but important memories, and an unexpected but powerful love for landscape and people.

Amidst the many life changes—from Ohio twisters to Arizona monsoons, childhood to adulthood, and solitude to love—the poet examines how she finds peace and beauty in spite of hardships, including death and grief, as she leaves a broken home behind to build up a new life.

Thoughts

Although I consider myself to be more of a fiction junkie than anything else, a few poetry collections have found their way onto my bookshelves. Usually these collections sit on my shelves for years as I pick away at them one poem at a time. A poem here during a stressful finals week. A poem there to break up my reading flow during the hot summer months.

Reading Bully Love was a different poetry experience for me as I read it in its entirety (and even reread some of the poems) over a few short hours. I really appreciated the curation of this collection. Although each poem captures a specific scene or memory, they each clearly belong together to explain the poet’s transition from Ohio to Arizona. There’s a contrast between these two different landscapes that’s mirrored in other areas of the book: having parents and being parentless, being alone and finding a companion, remembering childhood and reflecting on adulthood. I think it’s this contrast in both the moments and scenery that tie the poems together and kept me reading.

I found the most haunting—and perhaps most revealing—poem to be “Tell Your Story Walking,” where the poet admits,

There are two ways to tell a story.

When I was fifteen you went mad and I saved you.

When I was fifteen you went mad and I never forgave you.

This collection embraces all of life—both the suffering and happiness it brings—bravely and without being timid. Although Murphy grapples with some difficult topics in many of her poems—such as loss, loneliness, and madness—the poems are still very digestible because of the imagery she couples these topics with. By sharing descriptions of the landscape and those who inhabit it, the poems make reflecting on life’s hardships feel more manageable.

As a fellow Arizonan hiker, I absolutely loved the landscape imagery and was even able to recognize some of the desert locations described. I think the writing brings the Sonoran Desert to life almost as a character of sorts. It was interesting to see how place, especially the desert, is so important to these poems. In fact, many of the poems’ titles are place names, reflecting the importance of the land in these shared memories.

I suspect that I’ll return to this collection soon—if not to read it in full, then to tuck a poem or two away for a stressful week, or a change of pace, or a reminder that unexpected beauty can be found even in hardship.