Book Review

Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon

Publisher: Ruby Dixon, 2015
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Pages: 188
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Georgie had a normal life here on earth. That is, until she was kidnapped by aliens who intended to sell her, and the other women they stole, as slaves. After a ship malfunction, Georgie and the rest of the women are dumped on an ice planet until the aliens can return.

Frozen and starving, Georgie sets out to find help and meets Vektal, a six-foot-tall blue alien with massive horns on his head and an instant attraction to her.

Together, they work to save the women from their captors and, maybe, fall in love in this spicy tale of fate and discovery.

Thoughts

The fun of Ice Planet Barbarians is the inherent lunacy of the story’s premise. The plot is insane, but Ruby Dixon’s willingness to embrace the madness allows the reader to do so as well, resulting in an adventure of a book where logic is abandoned and the reader can just enjoy the ride.

The book wastes no time getting to the story, opting instead to thrust the reader, along with the characters, right into the bizarre environment. This creates a fast paced and engaging narrative that draws you in almost as soon as you start reading. Not only that, it also forms a connection between the reader and Georgie as they are equally clueless to the world.

Speaking of Georgie, her and Vektal’s relationship is masterfully crafted. Ruby Dixon has a gift for creating romantic pairings that feel natural. Both Georgie and Vektal are remarkably similar and when paired together they strengthen each other, creating a positive and sincere romance. The book doesn’t shy away from steamy moments—in fact, it’s full of them—but they are well written and offset by scenes of casual affection and connection, creating a well-rounded romance that’s a delight to read.

While the book focuses on Georgie and Vektal, the other kidnapped women and the aliens are also well developed. Since this book is the first in series, each of the kidnapped women and aliens are fleshed out to some degree, to the point that observant readers may be able to determine the future pairings from their personalities alone. This not only sets up the future books, but also serves to create a really dynamic cast of characters who add another layer to the story.

Overall, I loved this book. It was a wild, outlandish romance with sincere and relatable characters. Ruby Dixon has a real knack for romance, and Ice Planet Barbarians is a perfect example of that. I have read six books in this series so far and, in my opinion, they only get better. If you’re looking for a racy romance, Ice Planet Barbarians is the book for you.

Storytelling Apps: Are They Worth It?

If you’ve used social media recently, you’ve likely come across at least one ad promoting a storytelling app. From Choices to Hooked, this new sub-genre has grown considerably, often stealing the spotlight with bizarre ads promoting stories about romance, murder, and more. However, despite their initial similarities, these apps vary wildly in genre, style, and—most importantly—in quality. While some apps provide a rich reading experience, others lack story and are more focused on encouraging the user to spend money. In order to determine which storytelling apps are actually worth the storage space, I downloaded five of the most commonly promoted apps and gave them a full month of use. I will be reviewing them based on the quality of the stories and of the app itself to decide which of these apps are hidden gems, and which are better left uninstalled.


Hooked: 3/10. Hooked is an app that specializes in telling stories through the texting format. It does this by having the reader click the screen, causing the text to appear in small chunks, similar to reading a text conversation. It also has short form shows as well, but for this list I will only be reviewing the written stories.

The minute I installed this app I knew that this app would not be great. In order to access ANY of Hooked’s stories the user must subscribe to pay five dollars a WEEK! To put this into perspective, Netflix and Hulu both cost less than ten dollars a MONTH. I subscribed to the free trial so I could at least view the content, but this was already foreboding.

The stories on Hooked are fine. They aren’t anything special, but they aren’t terrible. The unique formatting helps the stories that focus on scarier elements stand out, but it falls flat when there are more contemporary plots. Simply put, Hooked is not worth paying five dollars a week, and I cancelled my subscription before I was charged.


Galatea: 7/10. Galatea is an app that functions a lot like a Kindle, with an expansive library of stories for the user to read. Unlike many of the other apps on this list, Galatea is not a choose your own adventure style app—rather, it just provides the stories as is. The stories on the app can vary in quality, but overall they tend to be written professionally and offer several stories that I personally really enjoyed. There are occasional oddities in the stories that may confuse readers who are more used to professionally published work, but overall the stories are coherent and often fast paced.

The stories featured tend to focus on the romance genre, specifically paranormal romance, and a majority of the stories on the app surround werewolves or some other creature. I’m a fan of paranormal romance, so this wasn’t an issue for me, but readers who are unfamiliar with some the the common tropes of this genre may not enjoy it.

One area that will make orbreak one’s enjoyment of this app is the adult themes. The romance on this app can be very spicy and sex scenes are pretty common. This doesn’t effect the rating of the app overall, but it is important to know going in that explicit content is the norm, so those who are uncomfortable with them can avoid it.

Where the app lost some points for me, however, is their built in monetary system. When reading a story the user can only read one ‘chapter’ every six hours. If the user wants to keep on reading they can either pay five dollars a month for unlimited reading or buy coins to unlock the next chapter. Due to these intensives, the app can be difficult to use without paying, and since there is no in-app way to earn coins, the monetary system is designed exclusively to get more money.

However, I was able to use the app successfully without spending much money, and I do feel that many of the stories on the app are worth the wait.


Is it Love? Drago: 1/10. Is it Love? Drago is one in a series of apps, all titled Is it Love?, that have been regularly advertised. Since I didn’t want to play every app in the series, I downloaded the one that they seemed to advertise the most. This means that, unlike the other apps on this list, Is it love? Drago only tells one story.

The app tells the story of a young witch who has been hired as a nanny for a little girl while she’s in college. The house where she works also has two mysterious men who live there, and the young nanny must grapple with her attraction and curiosity as she discovers the secrets of this family. As a choose your own adventure style game, the user must guide the nanny and make choices that shape the ending.

To call this story a Twilight ripoff would be disrespectful to the Twilight books. The “mystery” element is completely pointless, especially because the logo for the app makes the answer painfully clear, and this leaves the reader frustrated as the nanny acts oblivious to the obvious red flags. The vampires also behave uncomfortably throughout the game, often just staring quietly at the character and never answering her questions and just overall being boring. The dialogue is also very stilted and it reads like a first draft, ruining any enjoyment that the reader could gain from playing. Truthfully, while I did attempt to play the game for a full month, I did not progress through much of the story because I had to constantly stop due to the writing; so while it is theoretically possible that the story improves, if I wasn’t writing this article I wouldn’t have completed the first chapter.

There is a coin system at play in the game—specifically, the user must pay coins to access each line, and after you spend them you either pay for more or wait 24 hours for more coins. This is a manageable system where the user can choose to be patient and get through the game without paying, however it doesn’t hide the overall flimsy storytelling of the app.


Choices: 7/10. Choices is a choose your own adventure game that has tons of different stories to choose from. The user selects a story from the many available and then reads it all the while making choices that effect the outcome of the game.

This was a difficult app to review due to the massive diversity presented by the stories available. While it does have some common themes, like a heavy focus on romance, the overall quality of each story varies wildly. In the end, I had to split the difference in my rating as it neither exceptional nor terrible.

In a similar vein, the monetary system for this app is also neither exceptional nor terrible. Diamonds are needed for certain choices and to style the playable character’s avatar, but it is possible to earn more as you play and they aren’t necessary to use the app successfully. Overall, Choices is a broad app that has its hits and misses but is generally a solid storytelling app.


The Arcana: 10/10. Lastly, we have The Arcana, a choose your own adventure game set in a medieval fantasy setting. The reader plays as the apprentice to the magician Asra who has lost all their memories except for the past three years. The apprentice is hired by the countess, Nadia, to catch a man named Julian who murdered the count, Lucio, three years ago. In this fantasy mystery, the reader can choose between six different paths, each with a character that they fall in love with. Each path also comes with a good and a bad ending, depending on the readers’ choices.

To say that I love this app is an understatement. Every character is meticulously written with unique and dynamic character arcs that make each romance plot fascinating. The amount of detail included in both the artwork and the storytelling also creates a reading experience that is unparalleled by any other app on this list. While the focus of the app is on the relationships, the plot of each route also receives a great deal of effort and care, making the stories told on this app truly magnificent.

The game does have a coin mechanic, but the coins are only used to buy extra scenes within each chapter and do not affect the story in any way. It is fully possible to complete every route without spending any coins. There is also a mini-game where the user can earn coins, so the user could do that as well. All in all, this is a fantastic storytelling app that has set the bar high for others like it.

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.

Chaos Walking: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

When I first heard that The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness was going to be made into a movie, I was cautiously optimistic. This book seemed like an odd choice for a movie adaptation, as it was filled with dark themes and had a very complicated setting that would be hard to translate into a movie. However, if done right, I could absolutely see this adaptation becoming something like The Hunger Games, where the dark themes and complex world were translated almost seamlessly to film. And seeing as they cast two of my favorite actors to play the leads, Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, I knew that I at least needed to give this movie a chance. However, after finally getting to watch this adaptation, I have to admit that I am disappointed. While it was by no means terrible, the movie sanded down a great deal of what I loved about this book, leaving behind a movie that just felt underwhelming. In this reflection I will detail the things I enjoyed, and the things that let me down, in Chaos Walking.

Before I begin, however, a quick spoiler warning. Since I will be comparing the book and the movie, there will be spoilers for both. If you wish to view either of them unspoiled you can find the book here and showtimes for the movie here.

The Good

First off, what I enjoyed about the movie. One of the areas where I was most skeptical when it came to adapting this book to a movie was the concept of the Noise. Basically, in the book, the humans live on a planet where the men are all able to hear each others thoughts all of the time, an ability which they call the Noise. This would obviously be very difficult to do in a movie, as the voices would eventually become overwhelming. Much to my surprise, however, the movie actually managed to portray this not only in a way that didn’t overwhelm the viewer, but also led to some of the best moments in the movie. The Noise is portrayed as an iridescent fog that whispers, which allows for the viewer to differentiate between spoken and thought dialogue, and only gets louder when it’s necessary for the scene. My favorite scene where this occurs is when Todd, the main character, learns that the town murdered his mother and all the other women in the town. Todd’s panic and his subsequent struggle to hide his thoughts leads to a wild hurricane of competing voices that expresses the turmoil of the scene perfectly. I would even argue that this was better than how it was handled in the book.

Another way the Noise is improved from the book is its ability to create illusions. In the book you can only hear the disembodied voices, but in the movie the Noise will periodically take the form of people and things that look real enough to fool several characters. This is used in my favorite scene in the entire movie, where the main antagonist is fooled into thinking that the ghosts of all the women he killed are confronting him. It creates a powerful moment where the movie finally addresses the darker themes of the book in a direct way, and if the movie had featured more moments like this I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more. Instead, the movie shied away from these themes, so I’m only left with a small handful of moments that I remember fondly.

The Bad

Sadly, the occasional good scene wasn’t able to save this movie—and for every good choice the movie made there were far more missteps that just didn’t work.

The first misstep in Chaos Walking was the age of the characters. The two main characters were 13 years old in the book, but in the movie their age seems to be somewhere in the 18–19-year-old zone. While I understand why movies age up characters, especially when the movie is rated PG-13 and contains a great deal of swearing and violence, this change damages a large portion of the movie. Todd, the male lead, is often treated like a child and behaves in a manner that would make sense if he was 13. He is also treated like a child by the adults in the movie. However, while Tom Holland is an actor that can often play younger characters, he’s still too old to fit in with the attitude and the treatment he receives. This problem also happens with Daisy Ridley’s character. She is treated and behaves like a frightened little girl, but she still comes off as a young adult and it creates a jarring disparity that is never really addressed. As much as I love Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, they weren’t the best pick for a story about children, and the confusion over their age and the way they behave follows them throughout the entire film.

The movie also removed Todd’s entire character arc—his struggle with what it means to be a man. In the book, Todd is repeatedly taught that in order to be a man he must be able to kill, and when he finally leaves his town, he is confronted with many opportunities to do so, some more justifiable than others. Todd struggles with his desire to prove himself a man to his society and his innate humanity, inevitably questioning what it even means to be a man and if he really wants to be one. This arc is helped by Todd’s age, as he is regarded by his entire town as a child whom they don’t take seriously, and he is frustrated over this treatment. This is completely absent in the movie. Todd has no hangups about killing; he says one line about being a man in the beginning but it never comes up again, and for all intents and purposes he doesn’t struggle at all with his identity. This wouldn’t be an issue if the movie added another aspect of Todd’s character to replace it, but instead Todd is just portrayed as a doe-eyed kid with very little substance to him. This is a shame, because his struggles with manhood would’ve been an unique arc, but instead Todd is left a very bland character.

Where the movie really drops the ball, in my opinion, is the removal of the religious themes. The main focus of the book was how religious extremism can lead to violence and evil, especially when faced with the unknown. This is shown in two ways: first, how the humans treat the natives of the world, known as the spackle; and how they treat women. Without giving too much away, The Knife of Never Letting Go shows just how dangerous fear of the unknown can be, and how opportunistic people can use fear combined with religion to manipulate the masses for their own selfish ends. However, this is not the case in Chaos Walking. While religion does occasionally make an appearance, it is limited to one character who is generally dismissed by others. The power that fear has is glossed over entirely, with only slight moments where people behave irrationally. The violence and death driven by fear is completely dismissed as well. The animosity between the humans and the spackle only makes one very brief appearance, and could honestly have been left out of the movie entirely. While the movie does address how they subjugated and murdered all the women, it is only focused on occasionally, and the movie pins most of the blame on two men (rather than acknowledging that it was done by the entire town). At times it feels like the movie is afraid to delve too deeply into these ideas and risk alienating movie watchers, which is a real shame seeing as, like I said before, the times where this movie shines is when it embraces the themes of the book. If Chaos Walking had taken the risk and addressed these themes head on, it would’ve been a much better movie, but instead it only went halfway and left a lot to be desired.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, I was pretty disappointed by this movie. I don’t necessarily blame anyone involved in the film, because this book was bound to be hard to make into a mainstream movie. It’s a book that is jam-packed with themes and ideas, and the movie struggled to include them and ended up feeling incomplete. As someone who read the book, I can’t say whether someone new to the story would enjoy the movie. I did watch this movie with my father, who hasn’t read the books, and he was often lost and confused, so I can’t imagine this movie being a good introduction the the world of The Knife of Never Letting Go. That being said, I can’t say that I completely regret watching it. The scenes where the movie really embraced the original story, though few and far between, were incredible to watch. Ultimately, I don’t see myself watching Chaos Walking again. It just lacked the spark I felt when reading The Knife of Never Letting Go that made me fall in love with the series.

Book Review

The Abarat Series by Clive Barker

Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Candy Quackenbush is sick of her life. She lives in Chickentown, the world’s most boring town, her father is a loudmouth drunk, and everyone except her soft-spoken mother views her as a freak. One day, however, Candy finds herself literally swept away by the magical sea to a place called the Abarat. The Abarat has 25 islands and each one is frozen at a specific time of day—for example, on one island the time is constantly midnight—and each island is filled with extraordinary creatures. Thrust into a world of magic and adventure, Candy is definitely no longer bored. However, Christopher Carrion, the fearsome prince of midnight, is dead set on capturing Candy by any means necessary. But why? What does the Prince of Midnight want with an ordinary girl from Chickentown? And furthermore, why is Candy so drawn to the Abarat?

Thoughts

Abarat is one of the most unique fantasy series I’ve read in some time. Rather than having traditional fantasy creatures populate the Abarat, Clive Barker filled the entire series with never-before-seen creatures. My personal favorites are John Mischief, a man with large antlers that has eight additional heads hanging from them also named John; and Squbb and Squiller, two tiny squid-like creatures that, when placed on your head, serve as binoculars. The introduction of these new creatures is aided by Clive Barker’s inclusion of elaborate paintings and drawings of his creations. If you’re considering reading this series I would highly recommend getting a copy that includes his art. Even though they are slightly more expensive, it is completely worth it. His artwork can only be described as eerily enchanting, and that, combined with the fact, this is the first time these creatures have ever been seen, it really allows you to relate to the wonder that Candy feels.

Speaking of Candy, she is a wonderful female protagonist. I often find that female characters in fantasy can sometimes be shoehorned into either being the damsel in distress or the ‘not like other girls’ archetype that completely rejects and looks down upon anything feminine. Candy Quackenbush subverts both of these effortlessly. She is a strange girl who is delighted to have found the Abarat and, despite its many dangers, is unafraid to rush headfirst into the unknown. She is also fiercely clever and kind, often helping those she comes across without a second thought. That being said, the author did not forget to give her flaws, and her fearless nature often leads to her attracting unwanted attention and putting herself into danger. Overall, she is an exceptional protagonist that I absolutely adored throughout the three books.

The most fascinating aspect of Abarat is how the book handles the themes of darkness and light. As stated before, each island on the Abarat is stuck in a particular time period, and throughout the book there is a prejudice towards the people and creatures that exist in the darkness. At first, we as the reader agree with these prejudices—especially since the creatures from the night islands tend to be horrifying—but as the story continues, we come to understand that looks can be deceiving. The creatures of darkness are fully capable of sincere love and heartbreak, while the creatures of light are also fully capable of unspeakable cruelty. Without giving too much away, this trilogy succeeds in having both an impressive villain redemption arc and a reverse arc where a beloved hero is revealed to be a bitter monster.

Going off of the themes of light and dark, Abarat is definitely not afraid to get exceptionally dark. After all, one of the characters keeps their pickled nightmares in a glass collar that they wear around their neck to remind them to never love again! The feud between darkness and light leads to many horrific acts being perpetrated by both sides—not to mention the dangers that eventually come from Chickentown once they learn of the Abarat. This book, though technically meant for all ages, does not shy away from death and suffering, and fully embraces the complexities of those themes.

With all my gushing about this series, you may wonder if there is anything negative I could possibly say about it. Unfortunately, there is one issue that may deter readers, and that is how the series has ended—or rather, how it refuses to end. Abarat is supposed to be a five-book series, but since the release of book three Abarat: Absolute Midnight in 2011 there have been no new books in the series. The author still occasionally posts about completing the series, but aside from that, there has been virtually no news. While I definitely do not regret reading this series I would warn those who don’t like cliffhangers that the final book leaves plenty of plot points up in the air. Despite this shortcoming, I honestly couldn’t bear to give this book any less than five stars. Even though I may never know how it ends, I still consider it one of my favorite book series and I cannot wait until the day I can finally read the last two books.

In summary, the Abarat series is absolutely fantastic. Clive Barker is an incredible author and the effort and care he put into every aspect of this series shines through. While I may never get to see the end of Candy Quackenbush’s adventures in the Abarat, I will always be fond of the fascinating three books I was able to read. I fully recommend this book to fantasy readers of all ages.

5 Books Entering the Public Domain in 2021

The start of this new year brought with it a collection of books entering the public domain. So many fascinating tales are now available for the public to adapt, share, and create with—from compelling dramas, to absurdists allegories, to tragic tales of love and loss, this year’s batch is truly extraordinary. To celebrate the arrival of these classic stories, I’ve complied a list of my favorite books that have entered the public domain this year! May they continue to inspire for generations.


The Great Gatsby—F. Scott Fitzgerald. You may remember this story of greed and love from your high school English class. Set in the early 1920s, young businessman Nick Carroway rents a home in New York for the summer and finds himself entangled with an eccentric ‘new money’ millionaire named Jay Gatsby who assists him in his quest to win the heart of Daisy Buchanan. There’s only one problem; Daisy is married to a rich (and unfaithful) husband. The death of the American Dream in the face of unfettered ambition is an idea that still rings true today, and I, for one, cannot wait to see what stories come from this book’s entry into the public domain.


In Our Time—Ernest Hemingway. If you love stories of the trials of war, this collection of short stories is right up your alley! Set around the First World War, In Our Time is a collection of tales surrounding all aspects of wartime—from scenes of evacuations, to the experiences of soldiers, to life after the war, this book showcases the ever present humanity behind one of the world’s bloodiest wars.


The TrialFranz Kafka. (German Version) Much like Alice In Wonderland or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Trial by Franz Kafka follows the story of the ‘every man’ thrust into a world of madness and confusion, where the rules don’t matter, except when they do, and chaos runs rampant. It follows a man named Josef K. who is awoken late one night by two officers informing him that he has been accused of a crime and that he must prepare his case. The problem? Josef has no clue what he’s been accused of, nor does he know where these men came from or for whom they work. From then on it only gets more complicated for poor Josef as he desperately tries to navigate a world of increasingly intricate bureaucracy to prove that he is innocent of a crime that he knows nothing about. With a world as bizarre as our own criminal justice system, this story will have you entranced till the end as you too try to understand the peculiar world of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.


An American Tragedy—Theodore Dreiser. The 1900s era of storytelling is best known for being about the “lost generation,” which refers to the feeling of displacement that many young men felt after returning from war and finding it difficult to believe in the American Dream again. Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy perfectly encapsulates the sorrow that was often synonymous with this theme. This book tells the story of Clyde Griffiths, a factory worker who becomes entangled in a love triangle between a wealthy socialite and a fellow factory worker whom he got pregnant. Based on the murder of Grace Brown in 1906, this story is perfect for those who enjoy a look into the darker side of love and ambition.


Mrs. Dalloway—Virginia Woolf. In yet another perfect example of the ‘lost generation’ theme of the 1900s, Mrs. Dalloway follows the life of Clarissa as she prepares for a party that she plans to throw that night. Throughout the day, she interacts with various people and ponders her life and whether she will be happy with her choices as she continues to grow old. Running parallel to her story is the life of Septimus Warren Smith, a World War I veteran who struggles with his past and relives the horrors of war. Mrs. Dalloway, at it’s core, is a story of choice and the effects they can have—even years down the line. I related greatly to Clarissa Dalloway’s insecurities regarding her choices, as I know what it’s like to worry that you one day you will harbor regrets. Overall, Mrs. Dalloway shows the joy that can come from embracing one’s choices and living in the present, and the despair that can come from clinging to the past.

6 Bookish Crochet Projects to Snuggle With This Winter

Is there anything better than snuggling with a cup of hot cocoa, a good book, and a nice crochet project? I don’t think so. That’s why this winter I’ve found six incredible crochet projects for us crafty book nerds to enjoy. From cute plushies, to sweaters, to bookmarks, there’s a project here for any book lover this holiday season!


Mrs. Weasley’s Christmas Sweaters from Harry Potter. These adorable hand knitted sweaters were a yearly gift from Mrs. Weasley to her many children while they were away at Hogwarts. Just thinking about these sweaters and how loving Mrs. Weasley was throughout the series never fails to warm my heart, especially since they were the first gift Harry was ever given after years of neglect from the Dursleys. Now we can recreate the magic of these enchanting jumpers with this pattern from CrochetWithMeg on Etsy! This pattern also provides diagrams so that you can use any letter you want for the center design, so you too can make a sweater for each member of your family!


Flowery Bookmarks. While I often use anything from wrappers to receipts to mark my page in my books, sometimes it is nice to have a proper bookmark to hold my place. These pretty little bookmarks make it look as though a daisy is growing from between the covers! This free pattern by Aseem Creations guides the reader through making the flower, attaching the stem, and making the cute little tassel at the bottom. This pattern is perfect for a reader who is looking for a quick, practical project this winter.


A Cthulhu Plushie from Call of Cthulhu. Cthulhu—one of the terrifying old gods from H. P. Lovecraft’s disturbing pantheon of unknowable monsters—isn’t often described as cute. In fact, his giant tentacles, leathery wings, and appetite for human flesh make him a perfect storm of nightmare fuel and existential terror for those who read his story. However, thanks to the incredible pattern creator Alysha, now Cthulhu is a must-have for those long winter nights. Follow this free pattern and within a few hour you too could cuddle with your own manifestation madness!


An Elvish Coat. Elves are a staple of the fantasy genre. With their spiky ears, elegant styles, and aloof attitudes, they are often the aristocrats of their respective stories and are usually sophisticated in style and mannerism. This Christmas, stay warm and cozy by making the pinnacle of elvish fashion, a long flowing coat with this free pattern by Morale Fiber. The pattern includes instructions on how to make a long button up coat with wide sleeves, a pointed hood, and a corset back. This elaborate design would be perfect for a cozy night in, so if you’re looking for a longer project this winter break, this is the craft for you.


Katniss Everdeen’s Winter Cowl from Catching Fire. This cozy neck warmer was worn by Katniss in Catching Fire during the snowy winter months in District Twelve looked toasty and soft. Can’t you just imagine wrapping yourself in it and then overthrowing the government? Well, imagine no more! Thanks to this pattern by Jazodee on Etsy, you can topple any empire you desire in fashion. It also includes alterations for sizing, so it can fit a revolutionary at any size!


Coraline’s Gloves from Coraline. Coraline Jones’ adventurous spirit made her a compelling protagonist, and her desire to stand out from crowd was especially relatable to the book’s young readers. Coraline Jones desperately wanted these gloves while back to school shopping to make sure that she stood out at her new school, much to her mother’s chagrin. You too can make a statement this winter with these iconic gloves! With this free pattern by Mad Hooker Crochet, you’ll be adventure ready in no time!

Book Review

Guantanamo Voices By Sarah Mirk

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Genre: Nonfiction, Journalism, Anthology, Graphic Novel
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Guantanamo Bay is often regarded as the world’s most infamous prison. Some believe it to be a place of unspeakable suffering that America continues to justify. Others hold firm to the belief that those held in this former refugee camp are criminals who deserve to remain there. But what was it like for the soldiers, prisoners, and lawyers who worked closely with this infamous prison?

Sarah Mirk, a multimedia journalist whose work focuses on sharing diverse human-focused stories, shows us what it was like by detailing nine accounts from inside Guantanamo Bay. From the conflicting emotions of those who worked at the prison, to the abuse and daily struggles of the prisoners as they fought to return home, to the lawyers and advocates who fought day and night to free them, this anthology strives to provide readers with a nuanced perspective of one of America’s most complex and controversial institutions.

Thoughts

I came into this book with my own opinions on Guantanamo Bay already formed and fully expecting this book to agree with them—as such I was pleasantly surprised when this book not only subverted my expectations, but left me questioning my views. Sarah Mirk’s diverse collection of interviews allowed this book to address all aspects of Guantanamo Bay and brought a humanizing element to a story that is often viewed in black and white terms. I firmly believe that anyone, whether in favor of Guantanamo Bay or not, could benefit from reading Guantanamo Voices. Those who believe that Guantanamo Bay is a prison for only the worst of the worst would greatly benefit from hearing the story of Moazzam Begg, a Guantanamo prisoner who was held for three years without ever being charged with a crime while his wife and children were left behind. By the same token, those who condemn those who work within Guantanamo would benefit from hearing the story of Matt Diaz, a Navy Veteran who struggled with his duty as a soldier and his personal belief that what they were doing in Guantanamo Bay was wrong. Regardless of belief, Guantanamo Voices is written so that anyone can gain perspective into the controversial history of Guantanamo Bay.

One of the more unique aspects of this book is that it is written in a graphic novel format. This uncommon format for a nonfiction book is utilized to show the different perspectives of each interview, as each section has a slightly altered art style to reflect the different perspectives. This gives each interview its own sense of storytelling, allowing for the distinctions of each person’s story to shine through. This style also allows for a visualization of the treatment of the prisoners, allowing for some truly heartbreaking scenes. The one that sticks with me the most is from Moazzam Begg, who was imprisoned while his wife was three months pregnant. He breaks down crying after a soldier informs him that his wife gave birth without him present, and the imagery in the scene is incredibly powerful.

The first and last chapters of this book detail Sarah Mink’s personal trip to Guantanamo Bay. While not as emotionally stirring as the other stories told in this book, it does provide a look into Guantanamo Bay today. The secrecy and isolation of the base helped me to understand the isolation described in the interviews, and showed just how frightening Guantanamo Bay really could be. These sections also helped establish Sarah Mink’s journey from hearing about Guantanamo Bay to interviewing those who were involved, and finally visiting Guantanamo herself. Her personal journey comes full circle within these two chapters, giving the book a sense of narrative rather than just consisting of a collection of interviews.

Guantanamo Voices fully embodies the complicated factors that lead to places like Guantanamo Bay. It tackles the fears created by 9/11, the pain of the prisoners who lost decades of their lives, and the struggles of those on the outside to spark any policy change. I rarely step outside of my personal tastes in books, but I am so glad that I did, because Guantanamo Voices‘s human perspective on an often controversial and divisive topic truly touched me, and I look forward to seeing what other topics Sarah Mirk may choose to address.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

8 Spectacular Banned Books To Read This October

From September 27th to October 3rd, book-lovers all around the world celebrate the freedom to read by participating in Banned Books Week. The event began in the 1980s to bring attention to interest groups that were attempting to remove books they found offensive from libraries and schools. Today, it continues to address modern attempts at censorship and strives to support the sharing of ideas—even if they offend. Banned Books week has just wrapped up, so let’s keep celebrating the right to read by diving into these eight incredible and controversial tales.


The Giver—Lois Lowry. This book follows a boy named Jonas who discovers that he lives in a dystopia. His entire community strives to eliminate all suffering and pain  by removing anything that has the possibility of  introducing negativity or diversion from the norm, such as colors, love, or choice. When Jonas is assigned the feared position of “The Receiver of Memories,” he sees for the first time how far his community has fallen. Now that he knows of the world before “sameness,” he must decide to fight to return his society to the freedoms of the past, or see the wisdom in hiding from the dangers of choice.

Why this book was banned: The Giver includes references to sex, chemical castration, child murder, euthanasia, suicide, violence, and death, making it a controversial book for school libraries—especially in elementary schools. It was banned temporarily in California in 1994 due to its sexual content and in 1995 the book was challenged for its reference to euthanasia, causing schools in Montana to require parent permission for the book to be checked out. More recently, in April of 2001, a father tried to get the book removed from Colorado schools because he believed it would cause school shootings due to its violent nature.


The Golden Compass—Philip Pullman. In a world where humans are born with spirit animals, a young girl named Lyra must help stop children from being kidnapped, tortured, and killed by a powerful church that controls all aspects of her society. On her journey, she discovers a conspiracy by the church that threatens to change her world as she knows it.

Why this book was banned: The Golden Compass largely focuses on what is referred to as “dust,” which represents sin. The church in the story is fighting to stop the destruction of sin because it allows them to keep their absolute power over the entire world. This premise outraged several religious groups, specifically many Catholic groups who felt this book was a direct attack. The author has even been referred to as “the most dangerous author in Britain” and “the anti-C. S. Lewis” by Peter Hitchens, who is a journalist for The Daily Mail. Many Catholic schools have banned this book from their libraries due to this perception, such as the Halton Catholic School in 2007. 


Animal Farm—George Orwell. This allegorical tale takes place on a farm where all of the animals have become fed up with the terrible treatment from the farmer. The animals revolt and succeed in expelling the farmer, leading to them creating a farm where “all animals are created equal.” As the farm grows, so does the corruption, as the once-great ideals of animal farm fade away until they are back to the same tyrannical rule, making it a perfect allegory for the communist uprising in Russia.

Why this book was banned: Animal Farm was banned in Russia until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 due to its anti-totalitarianism. Ironically, it was also banned in America during the Cold War due to the positive references to communism at the beginning of the book, meaning that Animal Farm has been banned for being both too communist and not communist enough.


Carrie—Stephen King. All Carrie White ever wanted was to be normal, but with an abusive religious zealot for a mother, Carrie could never fit in among her classmates. Each day she is forced to put up with relentless abuse from her classmates due to her odd clothing and beliefs, and abuse from her mother who is convinced that her daughter is a sinful demon that must be cleansed. One day, Carrie discovers she has telekinesis and begins to use her powers to finally take back her life, but the bullies at school have other ideas.

Why this book was banned: With its references to violence, puberty, religion, sex, and foul language, it’s no surprise that Carrie was often challenged by school officials. It was first banned by Clark High School in Nevada in 1975, then by The West Lyon Community School Library in Iowa in 1987, and most recently by the entire library district of Almar-parish Williamstown in New York in 1991. In response to these frequent bannings, Steven King was quoted saying “get a copy of what has been banned, read it carefully and discover what it is your elders don’t want you to know.”


Drama—Raina Telgemeier. Callie, a middle school techie, befriends two twin drama nerds during their middle school production of The Moon Over The Mississippi. Together, the three of them navigate the tumultuous world of junior high romance as they learn to embrace who they are and to be unashamed to share it with the world, regardless of who supports them.

Why this book was banned: Drama deals with realizing and accepting one’s sexuality and the blowback that can come from it, which makes it a controversial read for some—especially since it was published in 2012, before gay marriage was legalized in all states. Drama has been banned in Texas several times, first in 2014 by Chapel Hill Elementary, then in 2015 by Kirbyville Middle School, and, most recently, in 2016 it was banned by the entire Franklin Independent School District. This book is an anomaly on this list as it doesn’t contain anything sexually explicit, violent, or abusive—it just has LGBTQ+ characters.


My Brother Sam is Dead—James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. Set during the American Revolution, this book follows a boy named Tim Meeker as his family, who is on the side of the British, and his brother, who supports the revolution, struggles to survive during turmoil caused by the war. From looting, kidnapping, prison ships, hanging, mass slaughter, and much more, this book removes the veneer that often covers the Revolutionary War and shows the pain and suffering that both sides caused during America’s fight for independence.

Why this book was banned: The book often uses profane language and depicts graphic scenes of death and suffering, causing many schools to have it removed from their libraries. The American Library Association reports that My Brother Sam Is Dead is “the 12th most commonly challenged book” from 1990 to 2000 and the 27th most commonly challenged book from 2000 to 2009.


Mick Harte Was Here—Barbara Park. This book follows Phoebe Hart as she tries to make sense of the sudden tragic death of her younger brother Mick Harte and struggles to give meaning to his passing. Deceptively simple, this story shows the pain of sudden loss honestly and in a way that anyone can understand, all while imparting on the reader the importance of bike safety without coming across as preachy or distracting from the focus of the story. While this book was originally intended for younger audiences, the tact with which it deals with issues that affect everyone makes it a powerful read at any age.

Why this book was banned: This book does not pull its punches when it comes to addressing the serious pain that comes from death and loss, and, as such, it is often seen as far too intense for young readers. When the book was challenged at Centennial Elementary School in 2004, the mother leading the charge was quoted saying that she thinks “it takes the structure of an adult mind to deal with most of the themes in this book.”


The Origin of Species—Charles Darwin. Arguably the most famous and important scientific text ever written, The Origin of The Species relays the theory of evolution using evidence from Darwin’s studies on the Galapagos Islands. Using his studies on animals such as the Galapagos tortoises and mockingbirds, Darwin changed biology as we know it and allowed us to begin to answer many of life’s greatest questions.

Why was this book banned: This book was first banned by Trinity College, where Darwin attended school, when it was published due to it being declared “blasphemous” by all sects of Christianity at the time. It was also banned in Yugoslavia in 1935 and in Greece in 1937. The teaching of the theory of evolution from this book in America was also fraught with restrictions and outright banning, the most famous being the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, which surrounded a teacher who broke a Tennessee law that forbade the Teaching of Evolution.