Amanda Thomas is a senior in Arizona State University's Online Program. She majors in English and has studied Art and Humanities with Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She has always harbored a love for literature, creative writing, art, and all things strange and unusual. When at home, she enjoys reading, journaling, writing poetry, and painting while plants, pets, and her two children vie for her attention. She lives with her family in Omaha, Nebraska currently but plans to travel the world someday and write about and photograph her experiences. She is an avid nature lover who also hopes to start a nature writing blog in the near future.
The new year offers New Year’s resolutions and fresh beginnings for lots of people—more so this year than probably ever before, as we anticipate a vast improvement from the turmoil of 2020. While most of what the new year might bring remains a mystery, we can look forward to new releases by some of our favorite authors. Below are some of the YA fantasy releases I’m most excited about (some have even prompted a pre-order).
Rule of Wolves—Leigh Bardugo. The Grisha novels by Leigh Bardugo have been some of my favorite YA books that I’ve read this year. Luckily for me, I was able to tackle the Shadow and Bone trilogy in its entirety and the subsequent Six of Crows duology to get fully immersed in Bardugo’s mysterious and magic-filled Eastern European world. King of Scars sees the return of a fan favorite from the original trilogy (I know Nikolai was my personal favorite) and Rule of Wolves continues his story.
Release Date: March 30, 2021
A Court of Silver Flames—Sarah J. Maas. Sarah J. Maas has taken the fantasy world by storm with her A Court of Thorns and Roses (or ACOTAR) and Throne of Glass (TOG) novels. Delving into the ever-popular dynamic of mortals, magic, and the realm of the Fae, A Court of Silver Flames is a continuation of her ACOTAR series: this novel follows Nesta Acheron as she contends with political and romantic intrigue in the court of the Fae.
Release Date: February 16, 2021
Chain of Iron—Cassandra Clare. The sequel to Chain of Gold, Cassandra Clare returns to the Shadowhunters universe that has enchanted readers since City of Bones was published in 2007. Over the years, Clare has seen her stories translated to the silver screen as well as the small screen via a hit television series, so the Shadowhunters have become a household name throughout the various crossovers that Clare has created. Her newest series is called “The Last Hours” and is set in Edwardian London.
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Tales from the Hinterland—Melissa Albert. Most of us know The Hazel Wood from its wild popularity on bookstagram and other social media thanks to its gilded and intricately designed cover art that made for perfect book photography. However, it wasn’t just the cover art that managed to enchant audiences, as Melissa Albert introduced everyone to a new world based on dark fairy tales. Tales From the Hinterland is listed as “Book 3” of The Hazel Wood series; however, the description suggests it is to be a collection of stories set in the Hinterland world, which I’m sure is no less exciting to fans of Albert’s novels.
Release Date: January 23, 2021
Legacy of Orisha Book 3—Tomi Adeyemi. Pictured is the cover art for book two of Tomi Adeyemi’s series, as cover art and exact release dates have not been announced for book three. However, Adeyemi has confirmed via her website that the next installment will be hitting shelves sometime in 2021, and so I just had to give it an honorable mention for those that have been following this groundbreaking series. The Children of Blood and Bone and its sequel have revolutionized the YA scene and provided a different type of fantasy novel that is sorely needed within the genre. Influenced by Adeyemi’s West African heritage, these books blend African deities with magic, peril, deep character development, and representation, making The Legacy of Orisha books worth the read and worth the anticipation of the newest book.
During brunch a few weeks ago, I was gifted a new book by a friend for my reading pleasure. The New Deepby Hunter Codner was emblazoned on the front cover. Any day that begins with the collection of a new book is a great day to me and to many fellow bibliophiles, but what my friend said next changed the context of this particular book: it was written by a coworker of my husband.
It’s not unheard of for book lovers to be avid writers as well—for many it’s our dream to write that novel, build our own world, tell our own story, and the biggest step towards that goal, in the words of Stephen King, are to “read more books.” So I took a second long, good look at this new book in my possession. At the fabulous artwork on the cover, at the professional matte paperback finish of it, and finally at the name of the author, which suddenly rang a bell to me as an individual my husband had mentioned speaking and working with. For me, it hit close to home: it made the goal of publishing a novel so much more real and tangible. I took it home and, with a stack of TBR books on my nightstand, I devoured The New Deep in one evening, late into the night. I was enamored with the rich characters and sci-fi world of Hunter’s debut novel, and in addition to wanting to tell the world about the success and triumph of an acquaintance from our very own neighborhood, I had a need to ask him about how he went about making “the dream” happen. So as follows is my interview with the author of The New Deep, and I hope that his story provides some ideas for my fellow writers considering the avenue of self-publication, and inspires you to check out Hunter Codner’s excellent new addition to the science fiction genre.
Did you always set out to write and publish a novel? I’ve wanted to write a novel for a while now, but I never got past the world-building stage. I finally decided to push through and do it after I went to Gen Con last year and saw all the folk in author’s alley. From there, I knew that I wanted to write and publish a book.
What was a big motivator for you to develop your idea and pursue a novel-length story? There were two enormous motivators for me to push through with the story. One was that I knew I absolutely wanted to write a book and share it with people. The second was that I had been working on my science fiction world for over a decade and finally had the drive to do something with it. Then inspiration struck—surprisingly, not from any science fiction source but from D&D. I had this idea of a spaceship that wasn’t really a ship but instead a giant mimic, and I went from there.
What were some of your biggest challenges? One of the largest challenges was striking a balance between my job, my hobbies, and trying to write. After finding that balance, I hit a hard wall about fifteen thousand words into the story. I had to eventually just take time off work so that I could push myself over the wall and finally finish the story.
When you finished, what were your first thoughts? I didn’t really believe it, but I was also super pumped—not as much as my husband, though. It was like being on a super tough hike, and finally, I had reached the first significant milestone. Right after I finished, I started researching about the next steps for the process.
How did you begin the proofreading/editing process, and how did you get in touch with an editor? For an editor, I lucked out in that I had a friend who wanted to become an editor and was going to school for it, so I offered my book. Unluckily for her, I’m a new author, and at that time, I was even less knowledgeable than I am now and just sent her first draft, untouched. Bless her heart, she was patient with me and worked with me for almost an entire year and through many drafts/revisions until we had a workable product.
What motivated you to pursue self-publishing rather than using a publishing company? I decided on self-publishing after I finished the first draft, and I saw it was only the length of a novella (after the editing process, it did reach novel-length). I didn’t think that a publishing company would want to take up a thirty-thousand-word story from a new author (and after some research, I was correct). After researching self-publishing, I realized that Amazon had made the process so easy that there was no real reason I shouldn’t.
What was your biggest source of information for the process of self-publishing? Oh man, the site two sites I think I visited the most were Reedsy and the Kindle Direct Publishing main site. Reedsy is a great blog with articles about writing and publishing that really helped me figure out the process and things I needed to get done. The KDP site has an FAQ section that goes through everything. They cover not only the things you need for publishing through KDP, but also guides on typesetting, layouts, and cover design. Besides those two though, there are so many different sources of information for people wanted to self-publish: one quick Google search, and you’ll have a tsunami of useful info.
How did you go about choosing the designs and getting copies of your book printed? Lucky for me, my husband is a graphic designer and artist. He insisted that not only did he want to draw the cover of the book, but also draw chapter art. Later, when I was typesetting and laying out the interior of the book, he also found me a great font to use for chapter headings and cover. As for physical copies, surprisingly, Kindle (Amazon) does that as well, and it’s pretty straightforward. While I highly recommend hiring someone to layout out your book, Amazon does have step-by-step guides on how to properly layout your book for print.
What has been the most rewarding thing about self-publishing your first novel? The most rewarding moment was when I finally hit publish for the physical copies on Amazon. I had spent maybe a week and a half working on the layouts for the book, then uploaded them and ordered my proof copies to make sure everything was ready to go as we believed. Thank God we did. In the flurry of getting the book ready to publish, I had missed so many tiny things that it made the book look sloppy. My husband, editor, and I spent a weekend pouring back through the book—both digitally and physically—until we felt that we had caught everything. So, when I finally hit publish the next weekend, it was a sigh of relief.
What advice do you have for other writers? Would you suggest for them to pursue self-publishing? My advice would be that no matter how ready you think that the first draft is for someone to see, it’s not. Don’t send anything before the third draft to an editor, and look for some good honest beta readers to look at your story, too. As for self-publishing, I suggest going through the process even if you don’t plan on hitting publish, just so you know each point of the process of publishing a book.
Lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Sure, currently I’m listening to the audiobook version of the first Redwall novel.
You can purchaseHunter Codner’s debut novel The New Deep at Changing Hands Bookstore here.
Thank you to the author for providing this ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
October 12 officially became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937. It had been celebrated far before it was federally recognized as the day that Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ what would become the America we all know today. In recent years, the celebration of colonization and the subsequent mass genocide of the indigenous people that already inhabited this continent has finally come under public scrutiny. Today, many cities and states have made the progressive move forward to instead celebrate this holiday as “Indigenous People’s Day” to honor those native to this land rather than to celebrate an individual who set into motion centuries of oppression for Native Americans.
In light of this, we approach another critical holiday in American history. No doubt many of us remember the story of the Native Americans and the pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts sitting down to a grand feast of unity that gave rise to Thanksgiving Day. It’s an important and touching image of peace that serves as a starting point in grade school for teaching acceptance and thankfulness, and in no way should our idea of a moment of unity or peace be broken (rather, we need it now more than ever)—but we should never favor only the positive aspects of our history since the truth is so important in moving forward. For this reason, the month of November in which we celebrate Thanksgiving is also Native American Heritage month, in support of further education and awareness of the people who originally loved and lived off this land and who have suffered greatly throughout history. When America was colonized, there were hundreds of separate Native American tribes across the country, each practicing their own religions, governments, and culture. Much of this was eradicated over time, along with many lives, languages, and customs. Native Americans were torn away from their lands, murdered, and indoctrinated. Many still struggle today to deal with poverty, persisting class divides, racism, misogyny, and injustice. This is the reality, and something that cannot be ignored over stereotypical imagery and concepts. In the wake of the BLM movement and the resulting uprise in racial sensitivity and revolution for equal treatment, the need for further education on Native American history and their similar systemic injustice is no less important.
One way to do this is to support indigenous authors and their work, which often shines a light on Native American heritage and hardships. In the same way that literature has taken on the task in today’s political climate to enlighten people and youth about racism in Black lives, we can seek out the following authors and their work to provide them the recognition they deserve—and educate ourselves in the process.
There There—Tommy Orange. Tommy Orange is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and currently resides in Oakland, California. His breakout novel There There was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2019, and tells the story of several Native American characters dealing with personal demons and their own racial identity, converging together at a Pow Wow towards the end of the novel. This novel has made waves for its relevant themes and rich characterization, so it is definitely one to check out—and keep an eye out for Orange’s future hits.
Where the Dead Sit Talking—Brandon Hobson. A member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Brandon Hobson’s latest novel follows the story of a teen boy living in rural Oklahoma. In Where the Dead Sit Talking, Sequoyah deals with his mother’s substance abuse, life in the foster system, and meeting another teen girl dealing with much of the same trauma. It is set in the 1980s and is an authentic Native American coming-of-age story detailing the struggles present in many native communities.
The Only Good Indians—Stephen Graham Jones. Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfoot Native American who has left his mark across multiple genres of fiction over the past 20 years, all met with great success. He has definitely made an imprint in the literary world for indigenous authors and he has done so with work that not only stands on great plot, but informative work that represents his culture. The Only Good Indians is his latest work that delves into the horror genre, following four Native American men returning from a hunting trip with a vengeful entity following close behind.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven—Sherman Alexie. I have a personal bias for Sherman Alexie—he is intelligent, witty, and a brilliant writer able to equally cater to the YA genre as he does adult readers. I chose The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven not for the long and entertaining name, but because this novel served as the inspiration for the movie that Alexie wrote and produced, Smoke Signals. Essentially, the novel conveys a compelling and darkly humorous story of growing up on reservations and coming to terms with broken families and self. I will also recommend Alexie’s equally compelling YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
#notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women—Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. The editors of this compilation are both prominent names in indigenous publications, Lisa Charleyboy specifically serving as the editor for Urban Native Magazine. #notyourprincess is a collection of poems and prose by Native American women authors that highlight injustice and misogyny, as well and the inherent fears and defiance felt by native feminists. The works in this book confront stereotypes and celebrates heritage and strength in a modern world in which there are still additional hurdles if you are also a woman.
Winter in the Blood—James Welch. James Welch is considered by many a founding author in the Native American Renaissance, which is an uptake in indigenous authors and production of work in the 1960s. Winter in the Blood is a novel that follows a narrator haunted by the past and burdened with the weight of loss in the face of conflict between the reservation he resides on and the white settlement nearby. A slightly older novel in this lineup, the significance of James Welch and this haunting work still stands.
Savage Conversations—Leanne Howe.A member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Leanne Howe’s novel toes the line between fever dream and historical fiction. Mary Todd Lincoln is haunted by hallucinations, so much so that she is institutionalized, but could they be connected to the slaughter of Dakota Indians authorized by Abraham Lincoln himself? Strange Conversations is brilliant in its beauty and the uncomfortable re-evaluation we are forced to do over what little we may actually know of our country’s history.
How We Became Human—Joy Harjo. I’m ending this list with an individual I’ve admired all my life. Joy Harjo was born in Oklahoma and is a member of the Muscogee-Creek Nation. She is currently the Poet Laureate of the United States, the first Native American woman to hold that title in history. She is a musician, a painter, an author, and an educator in addition to being one of the greatest poets in the country. Her work represents her culture and her heritage, and tells the story of the past, present, and future of indigenous people. This anthology is a collection of her work through a large span of her career, and is a must-have to experience her talent and learn about Native Americans through the eyes of a woman who has represented her people with both grace and strength.
I was born and raised in Oklahoma, a state where Native American heritage and education is a priority in our curriculum. I started my college journey at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the Cherokee capital. I married a man who is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and our children are registered members as well. His ancestors walked the Trail of Tears to settle in Oklahoma, and he grew up hearing the stories and tales from his grandmother, which were her effort to keep their traditions alive in him. We will continue to nurture this same knowledge and heritage in our children. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Take notice of the plights of Native American communities across the country and get involved in spreading awareness for causes such as #MMIW or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. This Thanksgiving, keep those ideas of unity in your mind as we continue to reevaluate privilege and racism in America and confront those issues head on. If 2020 has done anything, it has created an opportunity for us to hold the less fortunate to a greater importance, whether they are individuals that are at higher risk for COVID-19, or those that have been victims of systemic racism throughout their lifetimes. Let’s have a safe holiday and remember to love one another.
In this new era of COVID-19, there are plenty of us staying at home suffering from a different kind of illness: cabin fever. Quarantine and isolation are entering their third month for many of us, and the spring season gaining traction isn’t helping at all. Spring typically motivates people to start new projects, clean out their homes and garages, start their gardens, and get outside. Unfortunately, for many people this still isn’t a safe option and may not be for a long time yet. For others, caution would still need to consistently exercised, but as local parks and trails begin to reopen, the opportunity to exercise some old fashioned social distancing by venturing out into nature might just be what the doctor ordered. Regardless of your options or what the future holds, a great way to scratch that itch for exploration is through the following books, each of which is able to spark that sense of wanderlust in their readers. The benefit of being a book-lover is that there are always worlds to explore inside the pages of a book, but, these books have the added benefit of offering a mental escape whilst reading that inspires real-life travel and adventure. So, let’s see if we can fight a little of that cabin fever with these seven books of wanderlust literature.
On the Roadby Jack Kerouac—I’ve always been a sucker for the Beat Generation, and On the Road is one of those iconic pieces of work that has come to represent the genre. The novel follows characters that can’t seem to sit still, and as such can never settle down and stay in one place for too long. They definitely make some questionable choices along the way, but there is something to be said about their sense of recklessness in association with their constant search for meaning and adventure in their lives. This novel has a sense of restlessness that all of us can feel sometimes deep down—especially now that we are confined in our homes and hometowns. While this book probably won’t inspire you to engage in the same sort of shenanigans the characters are engaging in (hopefully), it just might inspire you to do a little soul-searching like they have, whether its while you are lost in the pages or on the open road yourself.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson—Bill Bryson has become a famous voice in the world of travel writing, probably because he writes with the tone of the uncle who seems to have a funny anecdote for everything. What is really appealing about him, though, is just how relatable he can be—he’s a regular guy who decided to undertake a challenge usually only completed by people who have trained their whole life to do. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot harder than he anticipated. But, it’s his persistence and his observations that make his account so enjoyable. Sometimes, it just takes an itch for adventure and discovery to push us out the door, and despite the challenges that this might present, the journey, not the destination, ends up being the best part of the story.
Walden: Life in the Woodsby Henry David Thoreau—A book quoted by naturalists for the last hundred years or more, Walden is the ultimate memoir for the nature lover. Thoreau’s spiritual quest to connect with mother nature is recounted in great and quotable detail in this book. What’s so important about this novel in the current climate is the idea that isolation and solitude are not always negative things to undergo in one’s lifetime, and in fact can sometimes be good for the human spirit. Reconnecting with one’s self, beliefs, and nature itself is important for the mind, body, and soul—and what better time to attempt it? Meanwhile, enjoy this classic piece of influential literature and the enlightenment that it can offer.
Into the Wildby Jon Krakauer—This is a book that has been mentioned on this blog before, and for good reason—it’s a powerful and tragic true story of a boy who wanted to attempt something greater than himself. Idols such as Jack London, John Muir, and the aforementioned Thoreau inspired the love of nature and travel which sent Chris McCandless on his ill-fated journey. And though most of us know about his sad, lonely end, his drive to push on into the wilderness still inspires a sense of romance and wanderlust in the readers of his story.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed—Second only to the infamous Appalachian Trail is the Pacific Crest trail on the other side of the country. Reflecting on a painful divorce, the illness and subsequent death of her mother, and the influence of drug use, Strayed makes the decision to set out on the trail with no prior experience or knowledge if only to get moving to try to find something missing from her life. It’s also a familiar feeling, to feel powerless as one’s life spirals out of control, to want to run or move to try to escape your problems. On the trail, instead of running away, Strayed confronts her past and finds a sort of spiritual awakening in the different kind of difficulties she encounters there. While not the safest guidebook on attempting a hike of this magnitude, Strayed’s memoir is a truly a “lost to found” kind of story.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert—In this well-known memoir about self-discovery, Gilbert travels across Italy, India, and Indonesia after a difficult divorce and a failed rebound relationship. At a certain point, we sometimes have to contemplate if we are happy with the way our lives are going. The bravery to make a change and to pursue your own happiness is a powerful message in Gilbert’s novel, and is something many people never had the chance to consider when we’re rushing through our work weeks and trying to make ends meet. This time to slow down can be used to take a closer look at our own happiness and to make the changes we need.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien—I seriously considered leaving this book off this list, but, I simply could not do it. The Hobbit is so near and dear to my heart that a list about wanderlust and finding yourself seemed incomplete without it. While it stands apart as a work of fantasy compared to the memoirs on this list, it is no less the story of Bilbo Baggins taking that first step out his door (with a little bit of a nudge from Gandalf) and discovering a whole new side to himself along an epic and dangerous journey. If we are confined to literature and fantasy to satisfy our cabin fever, then so be it, a trip from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain might just be the cure we need. And if it’s future real-life adventure you’re craving, The Hobbit, and all the other books on this list, are testament to what can be gained from taking that first step.
As a female book lover, there is nothing quite like being able to effectively identify with a female protagonist. This is especially true when the heroine of the book isn’t reduced to a simpering mess without a romantic driving force, or when the author is able to use that trope as a way to balance the strength of their protagonist. Some books are able to do this well, and some, not so much. But, it just so happens that sometimes the strongest female characters are created by writers who also are strong, independent women. Below is a list of books starring female characters that are able to overcome anything life throws at them. These women are real, flawed characters that are more than a pretty face or pining heart—they are mothers, sisters, wives, and lovers—fulfilling these roles in a way that represents strength, class, and perseverance. In turn, these books are written by female authors that also fulfill these roles: talented women that give a voice to women of all ages through their novels, empowering current and future generations through their work.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë—Let’s start this list off with a classic. Jane Eyre is the timeless story of a young girl’s life from the time she is passed into the care of her cruel aunt, to living in poverty at a derelict boarding school, to finally finding her purpose as a governess for an arrogant, but alluring gentleman. What makes Jane’s story iconic isn’t her romance with Mr. Rochester, but her tenacity through all the trials and tribulations that plague her throughout her story. She overcomes and remains true to herself throughout. The same can be said of the writer, the eldest Brontë sister. Despite having to don masculine pseudonyms to have their work published, the sisters have gone down in literary history for their role as women writers.
Ezperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan—Set during the Great Depression, Ezperanza’s story begins with the death of her father in Mexico, her family forced to flee to the United States to start a new life. To go from a position of wealth to one of hard work and toil is difficult for 13-year old Ezperanza to come to terms with, but, throughout the novel she grows as a young woman and learns to adapt and have hope. Writer Pam Munoz Ryan has won numerous awards for Esperanza Rising and other works, representing strong role models for young girls and her own Mexican heritage.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd—Lily Owens is haunted by the memory of her mother’s death and the abuse she sustains from her father T. Ray. Her only ally is their maid, Rosaleen. After an incident that sets them on the run, Lily attempts to track down the truth about her mother’s life and in the process, comes to terms with her role in her death, finding her own inner strength. Sue Monk Kidd continues to honor her role as a feminist after the immense success of TheSecret Life of Bees and its important message not only for feminism, but for its depictions of the civil rights era and the relationship of a little white girl with strong women of color.
Untwine by Edwidge Danticat—Untwine is the story of 16-year-old Giselle and her twin sister Isabelle. This novel explores the bonds of family, especially those between sisters, as a horrific accident forces Giselle to look back on her past and come to terms with change, garnered by the love for her sister. Edwidge Danticat has become a driving force as a female Haitian-American writer. Her work continues to be praised for shedding light on historical and current issues ongoing in Haiti.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin—The Awakening has earned its place as a literary classic most commonly associated with female independence, a concept that is discussed and symbolized greatly throughout the novel. Edna Pontellier is a wife and a mother, but she takes on that role only because that is what society has deemed appropriate for a woman to do. When she falls in love with a younger man, for the first time in her life she starts to consider what it would be like to break free of societal constraints. While her thoughts might be tied to her romance, Edna still represents a woman struggling to break free, and that lack of freedom is what drives her. Kate Chopin also was able to cement herself among the great female writers of history, alongside Flannery O’Connor and Edith Wharton.
White Oleander by Janet Fitch—Astrid Magnussen is only 12 when her mother poisons her cheating boyfriend and is sent to jail. Astrid then begins a long journey between foster homes; dealing with addiction, abuse, and trying to grow up without her mother in her life and reconciling with who she is. This is a powerful novel about growing up and becoming your own person, and an equally important novel exploring the concepts of motherhood. Janet Fitch gained notoriety with this bestselling book after transitioning from her love of history to writing fiction.
Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison—Another novel that explores the complex feminine role of motherhood, Cavedweller follows Delia Byrd and her daughter Cissy. Delia has two other daughters that are estranged, working throughout the novel to establish a relationship with them. Dorothy Allison became a household name with her novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, another novel with a strong female protagonist, and often explores complex relationships in a brutally honest fashion. She champions her own fearless brand of feminist lesbian representation in her work.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker—Celie’s story is as iconic as it is tragic. A poverty-stricken African American girl, she suffers rape and abuse at the hands of her father. The two children she mothers in her youth are taken from her, and the only bond she can rely on in the world is the one she shares with her sister Nettie. Once she loses her, she must learn to find strength in herself. Celie finds this through relationships with other strong women throughout her life, until she is finally reunited with her loved ones. The Color Purple is an incredibly moving account of the bonds of sisterhood and motherhood. Alice Walker is a household name in the literary community, through this masterpiece and her work championing African American women writers.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah—In another story that explores the bonds of sisterhood, The Nightingale tells a tale of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, surviving through the Nazi occupation of France. With both sisters exhibiting their own unique display of strength during a time of violence and war, this book is a poignant and powerful tale of perseverance. Kristin Hannah used real women who resisted the Nazi occupation and rescued allied soldiers to inspire her bestselling novel.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott—Last but not least, we return to another classic. Little Women has been inspiring young girls and breaking hearts for many years—still remaining a testament to the roles of mothers and sisters to create independent women. The main character, Jo, defies many gender norms and remains true to herself in her journey to become a writer and was a source of inspiration for me as a young girl. It is a powerful novel of women supporting other women, and one that has stood the test of time. Louisa May Alcott based the character of Jo on herself, and was an abolitionist who was active in women’s suffrage throughout her life.
The artwork featured on our blog post above was provided by female local artist Kelly Seifert.
Hollywood horror movies have earned their place as the reigning champions of clichés and overdone tropes. Iconic stories like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” have been recycled, re-imagined, and represented both with success and resounding box office failure (looking at you, 2017’s “The Mummy”). Right alongside our favorite monsters are the ghost stories—which happen to be a personal favorite of mine. In my opinion, it’s a little harder to make a good ghost story into a movie, because suspense is harder to portray successfully then a well-done CGI monster. Ghost stories have their moments, and just like our iconic monsters, there are some ghost stories that stand the test of time and earn their place among the great horror novels of history, and thus their place in cinema.
The Turn of the Screw is the type of ghost story you may not have known you’ve seen before. It has the creepy house with dodgy staff, a spotty history with unexplained deaths, and Hollywood’s favorite horror trope, creepy children. Not only is it a staple of Henry James’s work, but it has been made and remade into films for decades, some successful, and some, not so much. At one point, James’s strange Gothic tale of a governess and her encounter with the supernatural was even transformed into an opera. Just like the works of Shelley and Stoker, ghost stories like The Turn of the Screw have their moments in the spotlight, and we need only wait for the right inspiration before they return to mainstream relevancy with a vengeance.
Early this year, Universal Studios released The Turning, which is a modern take on Henry James’s novella. One of the brightest stars recognizable from the new adaptation would be Finn Wolfhard, from Netflix’s of Stranger Things, as Miles. Miles is one of the two children that are central to the plot of The Turn of the Screw, and Wolfhard accurately portrays his eerie childlike beauty as well as his somewhat unsettling nature. The young actor already has some clout with horror, even though Stranger Things errs more on the side of science-fiction, but the hype his casting creates certainly puts this iconic Henry James piece back on the map for an audience that might not otherwise be exposed to the 1898 classic.
…”The THeater of the mind [is]… so much more powerful than any screen…”
Now, in concerns to move adaptations, book lovers often must take them with a large grain of salt. Not only is the theater of the mind so much more powerful than any screen, some of the most defining traits of our favorite stories are the ways in which they are written. Henry James’ unique style of writing and the way in which he builds the tension in his novella are defining characteristics that have never been successfully translated to the big screen. This, coupled with the description “re-imagining” means that I went into this film trying to maintain an open mind and not be too harsh on how it might stray from the original story. I don’t intend to write any spoilers, especially since the national COVID-19 epidemic has closed theaters almost right in the middle of its run, but I left this film feeling quite underwhelmed. Not only does it miss the subtlety that makes The Turn of the Screw as iconic and masterful as it is, but many of the plot points are cheapened to produce a quick scare. I’m as much a fan of the jump scare as the next person, but when you associate a film with a book, you take on certain responsibilities to represent that story and what makes it so beloved for its readers. Far be it from me to hold Hollywood to that, especially since we have so many flops seeming to communicate that faith to the original work is the least of their worries.
Adaptations done right
But all is not lost. Just like we have these adaptations that fall short of our love for a certain story, sometimes we have one that rises to the occasion. A breakout hit on Netflix in the Fall of 2018 was The Haunting of Hill House. You might recognize the title from another master of the ghost story, Shirley Jackson. Even though it fell even more firmly under the category of “re-imagining,” I would venture to say this is one cinematic endeavor that did so successfully, albeit in a serial format rather than a feature-length movie. The series managed to capture the tell-tale gothic atmosphere that make most ghost stories successful, and took enough elements of the novel to pay homage to the original while also weaving a unique tale. The result was a series that honored Shirley Jackson’s work and created a beautiful, stand-alone story with rich characters, suspense, horror, and heart. After the award-winning success of their first season, Netflix announced a follow-up second season that would utilize the same actors, but tell the story of another haunted estate near and dear to a book lover’s heart. This second season will be called “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” which should be recognizable as the estate in which The Turn of the Screw takes place. Let’s just say that my hopes are considerably higher for this iteration of this incredible novella, if how much I loved the first season is any indication. While I expect the same treatment with the story that Hill House underwent, the attention paid to the spirit of the source material coupled with real creativity and good writing makes the giant leap between films like The Turning and what I expect The Haunting of Bly Manor will be. For that comparison, however, we will have to wait and see.
In the meantime, one can always content themselves with the original. The Turn of the Screw is a quick read, but lingers with you long after it is finished. The novella begins like the best of ghost stories—with a group of friends around a fire, exchanging scary stories. It is a secondhand account, passed down from the protagonist that experienced the event, a young governess commissioned to teach the orphans Miles and Flora at Bly Manor. We know what we are getting into from the beginning, but still, the suspense built from the unusual circumstances of her employment to the occurrences on the manor grounds draw the reader in and keeps them guessing, on the edge of their seat.
Was it all in her head? you can decide, come April 7th
Ambiguity is also a defining feature of The Turn of the Screw, leading us to wonder whether it was all in the governess’s head, or if she really was a victim of the ghosts of Bly Manor—and, isn’t that the best thing about ghost stories? We get to be scared and are still left to wonder if ghosts are real or if it’s all in our head. The Turn of the Screw is worth a read anytime of the year, not just during Halloween when we’re in the mood for scary stories. And if you are still curious about The Turning and would like to draw your own conclusions, you won’t be able to catch it in theaters, but you can still catch it on streaming services starting April 7, 2020.
If you are like me, and are sitting on pins and needles for the Netflix’s second season The Haunting of Bly Manor, you will be happy to know that production wrapped up filming in February and the show is set to premiere sometime in 2020. (I’m willing to wager around Fall, since that’s when most people are looking for their horror fix.) Until then…
Publisher: Mariner Books Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir Pages: 233 pages Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 4/5
Alison Bechdel brings her troubled journey into adulthood to life in this groundbreaking graphic memoir. She chronicles a tumultuous relationship with her father while using lighthearted graphics, heavy literary allusion, and tough personal topics which redefine what we might come to expect from the “comic book” or “graphic novel” genre. Alison recalls moments from her childhood that may have led to the discovery of her father’s closeted homosexuality and his eventual suspected suicide, all while simultaneously discovering her own identity as a lesbian. Bechdel never quite comes to terms with her father’s actions or the truth behind his death, but it becomes a poignant story about making peace with the man that he was and the part he played in who she became.
Fun Home is a graphic novel that tackles some heavy concepts in an unconventional medium. The coined term “tragicomic” aptly describes the feelings of isolation Bechdel struggles with while growing up with her distant and private father, who is a staunch perfectionist with a quick temper. Her father’s fate is quickly revealed, and his supposed suicide sets the tone for the rest of her story. Despite the somber faces drawn on her cartoonish characters, there is the distinct undertone of a child who sorely wants to just be a normal child—and to be loved and noticed by her parents.
Fun Home is also able to effectively describe the struggle of a child trying to make sense of their identity when everyone around them is giving them contradicting signals. Its an important coming-of-age story for LBGTQ+ youth, as we see the signals in Bechdel’s childhood that she only took notice of in her adult years. However, this definitely isn’t a children’s graphic novel. There are mild but definite depictions of sex and masturbation as well as the unfortunate story of her father’s cavorting with his English students that present some rather mature discussions. The novel in all aspects is meant to make you think and reconsider the fear of recognizing your own identity and facing the judgement of your peers. There is a complex understanding between Bechdel and her father that translates to the reader as we try to decide if we feel sorry for her father having been born in a time he felt he had to hide his sexuality, or if we feel the same sympathy for her mother after dealing with years of infidelity and covering up her husband’s affairs with young men. We are also presented with the aftermath of Bechdel’s coming out, where she is rejected by her mother but is able to develop a novel relationship with her father in his last few weeks of life. If anything, these conflicts and tough emotions make for a profoundly honest story, because real people aren’t always easy to understand.
Her father’s career as an English teacher and his passion for literature passed down to Bechdel herself adds another layer of depth to Fun Home. Books play a huge role in how Alison comes to embrace her sexuality, and later a way for her to connect with her father who has always struggled with honest communication. Bechdel’s father hides behind his books, and uses them as a way to communicate his truth without coming out with it. He presents Bechdel with a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce, and the novel not only becomes an important part of her coming out as a lesbian, but serves as another point of comparison for the complicated relationship she shares with her father. Indeed, throughout the book Bechdel references James Joyce works to illustrate her story, creating a layered story that might be somewhat exaggerated as a memoir, but becomes a novel that takes Bechdel’s life and makes it relevant to so many readers in an important way.
The end of the novel makes it very clear that there are no cut-and-paste methods to make peace with the loss of a parent, especially to set back years of complicated emotion and pain. Bechdel was only able to connect to her father in the months before his death, and this was not nearly enough time to come to terms with her childhood and the actions that he took while he hid who he really was from the world and let that action tear him apart inside. As you finish the book, you as a reader can feel the unfinished resolution that comes from death. Alison Bechdel’s story as an individual is unfinished, as evidenced by her continued and successful career as a writer and a champion of LGBTQ+ representation, but the enlightenment she gains from her memoir resonates with any person that is struggling or has struggled to find themselves.