Makenna Knighton is the current communications coordinator for The Spellbinding Shelf. She is studying English Literature through Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, planning to receive both her BA and MA with an emphasis in 19th-century British fiction. She works as a captioning agent, music teacher, and social media content coordinator for a clothing company.
Break out the cake, Dobby—it’s Harry Potter’s 39th birthday today! To celebrate, the girls in my house have been doing a Harry Potter book club, and it has been, in a word, fantastic. But we all know that eventually we will have to read Rowling’s last, “All was well,” at which point we will turn to these seven magical reads.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is perfect for any fan of fast-paced and beautifully written fantasy. When our Editor-In-Chief lent me this book (which, incredibly, was originally a draft for NaNoWriMo), I had no idea how much I would enjoy escaping into the world of Celia and Marco in Le Cirque des Rêves. Its powerful imagery and sorcery are reminiscent of the Time-Turner complications with magic that Harry Potter encounters in his third year.
For fans of the later and darker Harry Potter books,The Red Queen is an explosive start to a now-famous young adult series that satisfies readers who enjoy court intrigue, unsteady relationships, and supernatural violence. A powerful protagonist, a glitteringly gory setting, and the swiftly changing loyalties and truths in the narrative make this book hard to read without immediately picking up the next of the series.
Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchantedfollows Ella of Frell in her quest to break her curse of obedience. This is potentially one of my favorite stand-alone fantasy novels, perhaps because it combines the complications of magic that resonate in the later parts of the Harry Potter series (particularly with Harry’s discoveries about prophecies, curses, and destinies) with the simplicity of action and strength of character that Harry shows from the beginning.
For fantasy readers who find themselves somewhat disappointed that dragons are only featured in a few (key, but brief) scenes of J. K. Rowling’s series, turn to Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slipperstrilogy that follows Creel in her enchanting journey through a fantasy full of delightfully personable dragons.
Readers who loved Harry Potter as “the Chosen One” will enjoy Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince, where an orphan thief named Sage confronts his identity and potential in a fantasy kingdom. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy deals with many of the same themes found in Harry Potter’s encounters with navigating fame and accepting responsibility.
Gwendolyn Clare’s Ink, Iron, and Glassbuilds an engaging fantasy world of scriptology where Elsa learns to navigate reality while understanding the power of the written word. Her realizations about truth mirror Harry’s encounters with Umbridge’s lesson, “I must not tell lies,” in his fifth year, as well as his learning how to sift fact from fiction in Rita Skeeter’s Dumbledore biography in the seventh book. Clare’s book is perfect for Potter fans!
Last but not least, Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdomsseries has perfect action scenes for those readers who loved the various encounters that Harry and his friends had with magical creatures—including trolls and spiders. Sky Raiders is full of Cole’s adventures that are enthralling like Harry’s, and there are four more books to enjoy in the series!
Publisher: Doubleday Books, 2019 Genre: Fiction novel Pages: 283 Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 stars
On hearing that their biologist father Dr. Ian Grey has died, estranged half-siblings Nolan and Elsa Grey reunite. They travel to his island research station and become acquainted with his team, the Reversalists, who study a duck species in an attempt to prove their theory of reverse evolution.
While learning about and searching for the “Paradise Duck” for which their father had been preoccupied, they also learn about their own “family of origin,” uncovering various layers of family secrets and complications. With flashbacks and foreshadowing, Hauser illustrates the complication that comes with determining how much of the past should affect the future.
To be honest, the first time I attempted to read this book, I failed to get through it. I think this is perhaps because I was not in the right frame of mind to make sense of Hauser’s web of themes and stylistic choices. The flashbacks and foreshadowing tell compelling backstories, but are also more complicated to read than a traditionally chronological narrative. I also particularly struggled with her decision to not separate dialogue with quotation marks. This made the conversational flow difficult for me personally to follow.
That being said, I felt like what redeemed this book was its layering of familial secrets, histories, and relationships. This made the characters feel real and the narrative more engaging. As a reader, I wanted the estranged siblings to find out more about their past which would help them to connect in the present. It was interesting to consider family dynamics in relation to the evolutionary theories posited in the novel.
I would recommend this book to adult readers who like learning about backstories, histories, and scientific theories—and who do not mind the absence of dialogue quotes.
Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.
From Memorial Day to Independence Day to Labor Day and everywhere in between, summer is the perfect time for fiction that explores what it means to be American! While it’s great to return to classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Howard Fast’s April Morning, and Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, not every American origin story centers on a white man in wartime. Here are six powerful classics that reflect the scope of our country’s diversity, showing the value of the past and the determination towards the future that unites Americans regardless of time period or background.
Amy Tan’s masterful The Joy Luck Club is a classic fiction novel that provides a realistic portrayal of American families. Beginning in China and continuing in San Francisco, the Joy Luck Club meets weekly to play mahjong. When its founder, Suyuan, passes away in the 1950s, her daughter Jing-mei is confronted with the truth about her mother’s complicated past. Jing-mei’s feelings of inadequacy in telling her mother’s story are echoed by the other daughters of the club members, as being raised in America gave them markedly distinct experiences than that of their mothers. Told in a series of linked shorter accounts, the book gives us a glimpse into the cultural and generational conflicts with immigrant mothers and American-raised daughters. This novel offers a powerful definition of being American: how—instead of abandoning of the past—the American spirit is strengthened by retaining cultural heritage while still moving forward.
Mexican-American Esperanza may only be twelve years old, but that does not keep her from having big dreams and being determined to leave her family’s poverty in the past. As she matures and undergoes traumatic experiences throughout the year, Esperanza’s story provides a real, raw look into the racial segregation, financial difficulties, and physical challenges that many Americans on the fringe experienced in the late 1950s, just as Esperanza did where she lived in a poor Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza’s learning to balance cultural heritage and personal progression to help others exemplifies a critical dichotomy in true Americanism.
Octavia Butler’s Kindred follows Dana, a 26-year-old black woman in California in 1976, and her literal connections with her past as she interacts with her ancestors in slavery in the early 1800s in Maryland. She makes difficult choices and experiences the atrocities of slavery in a personal way, made more poignant by comparison to her white husband’s treatment. Dana’s cross-century experiences of taking control of her life in the face of misogyny and racism prove the persistence of the past in the attitudes of the present, providing a vivid perspective on these periods in American history that is often overlooked.
Jim Burden reminisces on his experiences with his childhood friend, Ántonia Shimerda, who came with her Bohemian immigrant family to Nebraska in the 1880s. From teaching her English as children to visiting her with her own children decades later, Jim’s account of Ántonia’s life, especially in comparison to his own, does credit to both the lifelong friends. Ántonia’s actions throughout demonstrate her remarkable tenacity of spirit with the balance of remembering history while moving forward. Willa Cather’s masterpiece, My Ántonia, shows how—even with all the complications of her past experiences—Ántonia fully and truly embodies American values.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man begins and ends with the unnamed narrator hiding from the world underground saying he is invisible. Pondering Louis Armstrong’s lyrical question, “What did I do to be so black and blue?”, the African-American narrator tells the story of his life, from youth to college to employment centered in 1930s Harlem, where he continually experienced the invisibility that resulted from others’ conscious choices not to see him. This bitterly reflective classic points out that keeping the American spirit moving forward should not come at the expense of forgetting the more complicated parts of our past or ignoring the reminders of those circumstances that surround us.
And finally, perhaps the most classic of the list—Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, with its famous heroine Scarlett O’Hara in 1861 Georgia before, during, and after the Civil War. Scarlett is not at all the typical protagonist for a Civil War novel, nor is she the typical Southern Belle. With her quick thinking and perseverance, Scarlett never gives up despite all the challenges she encounters, and to the less-than-happy end she retains her determination, representing the true American spirit.
All readers are just one step away from being writers. If you’ve ever thought about being a writer but you aren’t sure how to make your dream into a reality—or even where to start—a panel of newly-published writers are coming to Changing Hands to explain how they went from dreamers to achievers!
Being the Phoenix chapter of the national women’s writing organization, Sisters in Crime, the Desert Sleuths panel is made up of local, published authors ready to support you in your writing dreams.
Find more information on Changing Hands’ website here!
Location: Changing Hands Phoenix, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing, 2019 Genre: Young Adult Literature Pages: 343 Format: Paperback Buy local My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Though everyone on the Internet thinks Claire Dixon is “life goals,” she isn’t sure how long she can keep having her life on display—but with her mom Ashley’s famous blog and her twin Poppy’s commitment to their social media influence, she doesn’t feel like she has much of a choice.
With viral videos, stolen secrets, and critical choices, Claire navigates how to let herself be “just Claire.” This insightful read follows her journey to recognize that life shouldn’t be “just for clicks,” revealing that under the surface of this teen Internet star’s life is the depth of real emotions and the courage of personal discovery.
Being a twin from Arizona, I expected to relate to this narrative superficially; what I did not expect was to feel so much genuine emotion during what I assumed would be a light read. The heart-wrenching account with discovery of family and oneself felt powerfully real.
I thought that the themes and messages were particularly relevant and poignant. Claire, the narrator, provides an honest look into a high schooler trying to find her own identity through all the likes and texts.
Beyond suggesting that no online profile, no matter how perfect, provides an accurate picture into reality, Claire’s journey explores the choices that each of us as young adults have to make in today’s society, including when to go with family and when to find your own path, when to forgive and when to say no, when to make eye contact, and when to press delete.
For anyone familiar with the experience of high school in the Valley of the Sun, this book will be a treat for its accurate portrayal of Gilbert and the surrounding area. The descriptions are both strikingly beautiful and impressively accurate.
Krut’s collection contains three sections: the first two with fourteen poems each and the last one with thirteen. The poems do not necessarily tell a single unified narrative, though they do flow and have a definitively similar tone.
However, it is worth noting that these poems must be read in order to gain a true sense of the collection.
While I cannot claim a perfect understanding of this collection, I can say that the title gives a good indication of the themes, subjects, and images that repeat throughout the collection. The sky is dark “now”, encompasses the immediate value and poignancy of these poems, as well as the action they contain. The striking images of a dark sky setting us on fire illuminates how the natural world has this effect on “us all”, a reminder of a unifying inability to control our own mortality.
When you read a poem, you get a tiny glimpse into the author’s perspective on the poem’s subject filtered through the perception of the poem’s speaker. But when you read a collection of poems, you really get a sense for who the author is, what they feel, and what is on their mind. This poetry collection reveals the mind of a man who has a sharp eye for observation and keen insight into the common experience of human emotions, filtered through startlingly unique and moving imagery.
Krut’s collection surprised me with its portrayals of the world that felt both aptly universal and intensely personal, capturing the essence of the human journey with its yearnings and fears. The most repeated setting, or at least the one that left the deepest impression on me, was the graffitied streets of a city bustling with cabs that was still somehow hollow inside. Krut’s distinctive voice characterized cities and their residents with unique associations that relayed powerful truths.
Though many of the images in Krut’s collection were unsettling, this felt intentional rather than jarring. Each poem had its beauty, albeit an evocative and haunting appeal. My personal favorite, “The Tuning Fork and the Listeners,” was the one that seemed to most aptly characterize the echoing that resounds throughout our world, masterfully applied through the metaphor of song and a tuning fork. Krut’s skill in conveying ideas in a few lines is evident on each page in the collection; the short length is a gift that allows readers to return and glean more insight from the poetry.
Despite the intensity of the imagery and sophisticated writing, I believe high school students and above should be able to understand Krut’s message, or at least, appreciate his thematic and stylistic construction.
Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.
We all love a good summer book, but why stop there? A summer series means less getting up and more time with characters we grow to love—sounds perfect to me! Each of these eight sweet summer series follows a girl, or groups of girls, in enchanting settings throughout their summers, loves, and heartaches—all to discover their real selves and learn something about the world along the way.
First on the list is Jenny Han’s summer trilogy, The Summer I Turned Pretty, perfect for anyone wanting a story about the complications of summer love. Belly lives for the months of June through August, where she leaves her boring life behind for a summer at a beach house with her closest family friends. But now that they’re older, Cousins Beach isn’t just a simple place of friends and good times. Throughout the three books about successive summers, Belly has to discover what (and who) is in her heart and decide whether she will be true to herself.
This next trilogy from Jenny Han is less specifically focused on summer, but it’s still a perfect read for this season. The first book in this trilogy, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is now a famous movie, but it’s also a beautiful summer romance! For everyone who loved the story of Lara Jean confronting her past crushes, this summer is the perfect chance to pick up all three books and take the journey with her as she discovers what love really means.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is the quintessential summer series: full of vacations, camps, drama, and adventure. Four best friends pass around a pair of pants in their very different lives, with a sisterhood that endures through successive summers. Starting midway through high school and continuing past college, each of the four main books covers one summer, along with a fifth book showing the friends a decade later. You won’t want to miss Ann Brashares’ famous series this summer!
For readers who enjoy seeing a group of four close girl friends grow up together, Heather Vogel Frederick’s Mother-Daughter Book Club series is a wonderful choice. This beloved series follows the girls from junior high into college, accompanied by their great (and often classic) reads from the book club. Experience the New-England Concord life of Megan, Cassidy, Emma, and Jess, along with their mothers (and others) as they navigate through the crazy, wonderful, messy years of young adulthood.
Sophie Kinsella’s hilarious protagonist Becky Bloomwood has a huge presence, a gigantic shopping addiction, and an even bigger heart. For anyone looking to enjoy a little more time to read (and shop) this summer, Confessions of a Shopaholic and its sequels are the perfect companions for your outings! Fans of the first book (and/or movie) may be unaware that there are eight more Shopaholics books. Each of Becky’s stories are fast-paced with hilarious escapades paired with heart-warming relationships and important life lessons, all told in Kinsella’s trademark fun and compelling voice.
Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Peaches series, often described as The Breakfast Club meets The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, is the perfect Southern summer set in a special peach orchard in Georgia. Three best friends—Leeda, Murphy, and Birdie—experience a roller coaster of ups and downs throughout this trilogy of summer love and experience. Bursting with charm and humor, but also with poignant insights into love and friendship, the Peaches books are enduring summer classics to come back to over and over.
In Leah Rae Miller’s quick and fun The Summer I Became a Nerd, cheerleader Maddie tries to hide her secret comic book obsession; but, that doesn’t hold up when she starts to fall for a guy who isn’t afraid to be who he really is. As someone who kept re-reading Ready Player One, I really enjoyed this more romantic summer series that still had video game and comic book action! The second book, Romancing the Nerd, continues this fun combination but with new characters, telling the story from the guy’s perspective.
And last but not least…a series now becoming vintage but still beloved, at least by me: Ann M. Martin’s Babysitters’ Club! I reread this series every summer for years, going from Kristy’s Big Idea all the way to Super Special # 12. With literally hundreds of quick, fun reads about this group of friends in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, you’ll never run out of summer reading material again!
If you want to understand others, read on: Changing Hands Bookstore is hosting an author event with Elizabeth A. Segal, a professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, with her latest release, Social Empathy.
In this essential guide for anyone navigating a multicultural world, Segal’s explanation cuts through misconceptions to provide an illuminated picture into understanding across social groups, covering both the necessity of the skill of empathy and also how to achieve it. Founded on cognitive neuroscience, sociology, and psychology, Social Empathy provides a guide to overcoming barriers of fear, skepticism, and power structures to broaden perspectives, allowing individuals to move out of their narrow groups and become advocates for justice.
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2018 Genre: historical fiction Pages: 254 Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 stars
Morris takes us through the experience of Lale Sokolov, based on Ludwig ‘Lali’ Eisenburg, the Jewish man who becomes the Tattooist of Auschwitz. Lale survives the horrors of his surroundings in the concentration camp by reaching out to others whenever he can. Of all the individuals he helps, he feels the strongest connection to a woman named Gita. Lale and Gita meet whenever possible and dream about a future together after being freed from the camp. Enduring through countless struggles, the couple eventually has their dream fulfilled. Their lives are not perfect, but they remain grateful for even the simplest of things, especially their ability to stay together. Lale and Gita’s experience proves the redemption of human nature through the worst circumstances imaginable.
I was expecting great things from this novel and it mostly delivered. I finished the book in a few hours, and I felt like it provided a good sense of the horrors and hope of Lale and Gita’s experience.
The purposefully simple prose, probably a remnant of its original form as a screenplay, is engaging. The present tense format makes the narrative easy to read even while grappling with a difficult subject and complicated themes. Morris’s synthesis of the information does her credit.
Overall, The Tattooist of Auschwitz delivers on the “powerful true story of love and survival” it promised on the cover. There have been disputes concerning the accuracy of the historical details it describes, which are valid. But for me, it goes against the message of the novel to minutely dissect the intricacies of the writing because ultimately the larger truth speaks for itself. Lale’s story, thanks to Morris’s telling, teaches his mantra: “if you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.”
Based on the subject matter and the content, I would suggest that this book is best only for an audience of high school students or above. That being said, anyone who is able should read this book to recognize that no matter where you are or what has been taken from you, no one can take away your ability to choose kindness and love over selfishness and hate.