Taylor Swift—The Poet of Our Generation

In case you missed it, Taylor Swift has been very busy during the pandemic. Within the span of five months, she released two studio albums—Folklore and Evermore—bringing her to a grand total of nine studio albums. Now you may be wondering, why is a book blog telling me about Taylor Swift? Well the truth is, whether you love or hate her music, her poetic songwriting ability rivals that of some of the best poets to date. She started by creating stories within 3–4 minute songs and now creates love triangles by connecting individual songs. If you still don’t believe me, let’s look at some of her best lyrical work. There is a multitude of ways to analyze her work, but I will be breaking it down into three different categories: literature references, powerful lines, and storytelling.

Literature References

Taylor loves her literature references—and so do I. Some of them are very obvious, such as “Love Story,” (which I won’t include for that reason) but a lot of them are more subtle, which just adds to her genius. This list is not exhaustive and doesn’t include every album, but let’s look at a few of my favorites:

  1. “Wonderland”: Taylor took it up a notch on her fifth album, 1989, by creating an entire song based on a literary reference. The song “Wonderland” is a reference to Alice in Wonderland and the idea of getting so lost in love that you don’t realize you fell down a rabbit hole and now you have to figure out how to escape or spend forever where “life was never worse but never better” (Swift, 2014). Taylor directly references the beloved tale with lines such as “Took a wrong turn and we / Fell down the rabbit hole,” and “Didn’t you call my fears with a Cheshire Cat smile?” (Swift, 2014), meaning the subject of the song wrote off her fears with a wide grin, causing her to feel falsely assured. This song is a prime example of the strengthening of Taylor’s literary references.
  2. This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”: All of Taylor’s albums are an era in their own right, but Reputation took that to the next level. A number of the songs on this album allude to various classics, from A Tale of Two Cities to Slaughterhouse Five, but I am just going to talk about the most thorough reference on the album, which is “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” This song is basically The Great Gatsby explained in three minutes and 27 seconds. It details a friendship that was extravagant and wild—much like the way Gatsby would party—that ends due to secrets and lies, much like the way friendships and relationships ended in Gatsby’s world. The first verse reveals this idea immediately with the lines, “It was so nice throwing big parties / Jump into the pool from the balcony / Everyone swimming in a champagne sea / And there are no rules when you show up here / Bass beat rattling the chandelier / Feeling so Gatsby for that whole year” (Swift, 2017). If that doesn’t sound like a Gatsby party, I don’t know what does.
  3. “Invisible String”: I am going to break my “explaining one literary reference per album” streak here, because Folklore is an English major’s dream. “Invisible String” contains a nod to the popular line from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” (Hemingway, 1926). In the chorus she sings, “And isn’t it just so pretty to think / All along there was some / Invisible string / Tying you to me?” (Swift, 2020). Personally, I think this is one of her most beautiful songs and I love the way she slipped this reference in there.
  4. “The Lakes”: Before Taylor started writing in quarantine, she must have been reading, because this song immediately took me back to my English Literature class. In this song, Taylor references what I guessed to be the five Lake Poets from the late 18th to early 19th century. The chorus opens with “Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die” (Swift, 2020), which, if I remember correctly, were the big five romantic poets. Upon further listen, I noticed an interesting line which I believe is a further nod to them. In the second verse she sings, “I’ve come too far to watch some namedropping sleaze / Tell me what are my words worth” (Swift, 2020). William Wordsworth was one of the five Lake Poets, so I can’t help but to think that the last bit of that verse is meant to continue the allusion to the poet. It could be a coincidence, but most of us know by now that Taylor doesn’t do coincidences.
  5. “Happiness”: Moving into her most recent album, Evermore, we have the song “Happiness.” When I first heard this song, I nearly died. Not just because it’s one of her saddest songs ever, but because the literary references in it made my nerdy heart swell. Once again, Taylor has alluded to The Great Gatsby, but in an even more poetic way. In the second verse, she sings “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool” (Swift, 2020), which is an obvious nod to Daisy’s famous line from the novel and I audibly gasped on my first listen. Towards the end, there is also a line that says, “All you want from me now / Is the green light of forgiveness” (Swift, 2020), which I also took to be an allusion to Gatsby. It may just be me, but I am trained to think Gatsby when I hear green light, so I think this is the perfect subtle nudge towards it.
  6. “Tis the Damn Season”: By now, we’ve probably noticed that Taylor has taken to referencing phrases and lines from famous works and that’s exactly what she does in “Tis the Damn Season.” In the chorus of this song, she makes a direct reference to Robert Frost’s beloved narrative poem, “The Road Not Taken,” with the line, “And the road not taken looks real good now” (Swift, 2020). This poem was engrained in my head as early as middle school, so naturally I was extremely excited about this reference.

Powerful Lines

Taylor may be the queen of literature references, but some of her best lines have nothing to do with allusions and are simply poetic in their own right. I consider music and songwriting to be a form of poetry, therefore most of her songs themselves read as a poem. Honestly, I could pick a line at random and it would probably be beautifully written, but then we would be here all day. So, in no particular order, I’ll just go through a few of the ones that really strike a cord with me.

  1. “And you come away / With a great little story / Of a mess of a dreamer / With the nerve to adore you”—”Cold as You” (Swift, 2006). Taylor wrote her first album at 15 and she has grown a lot since then, and as such most of my favorite lines won’t be from her debut album. However, I think it is important to look at her old lyrics to help see how far she has come, and these lines from “Cold as You” still get me even after all these years.
  2. “So I’ll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep / And I feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe”—”Last Kiss” (Swift, 2010). This song, particularly this line, always hits me even now—despite the fact that I was 12 when it was released.
  3. “You call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest / I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here / ‘Cause I remember it all, all, all too well / Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it”—”All too Well” (Swift, 2012). Unfortunately, I cannot paste the entirety of “All too Well” but this bridge speaks for itself.
  4. “Cause you can hear it in the silence / You can feel it on the way home / You can see it with the lights out / You are in love”—”You are in Love” (Swift, 2014). By itself, this doesn’t seem like much, but the song is about saying you’re in love without saying it directly, and I absolutely love the way she chose these lines to depict that.
  5. “Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere”— “New Years Day (Swift, 2017). Even though this is just a one liner, it gets me every time. Taylor has a way of describing scenarios in one line that packs a punch, and this is one of those instances.
  6. “I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you / And I snuck in through the garden gate / Every night that summer just to seal my fate / And I screamed for whatever it’s worth / ‘I love you,’ ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?”—”Cruel Summer” (Swift, 2019). The beginning and end of this verse are my absolute favorite, but I also love Taylor’s allusion to gardens throughout so many of her songs. It gives them such a whimsical feeling. Also, it was a cruel summer so it seems fitting.
  7. “You drew stars around my scars / But now I’m bleedin”—”Cardigan” (Swift, 2020). “Cardigan” is one of my favorite songs off of Folklore, because there are so many lines like this one that pack a punch but also tell a story, which is something she consistently does beautifully.
  8. “But I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm / If your cascade ocean wave blues come / All / these people think love’s for show / But I would die for you in secret”—”Peace” (Swift, 2020). This song is another one of my favorites off of Folklore (honestly, I love every song on this album). There is something undeniably poetic about this line in particular, with the metaphoric language and symbolism. I get the chills every time.
  9. “I don’t like that falling feels like flying ’til the bone crush”—”Gold Rush” (Swift, 2020). This is another one liner, but it does such a good job capturing a feeling that we all probably know in just a few words. Even though it’s short, it’s extremely descriptive and really shows off her talent.
  10. “While you were out building other worlds, where was I? / Where’s that man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire? / I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life”—”Tolerate It” (Swift, 2020). I had a hard time picking just one line from this song, to the point that I considered pasting the whole song in. It’s honestly a very underrated addition to Evermore, but from a poetry standpoint is absolutely beautiful. If I read this in a poetry anthology I wouldn’t blink an eye.
  11. “There’ll be happiness after you / But there was happiness because of you too / Both of these things can be true”—”Happiness (Swift, 2020). I’m including this one as a bonus, because I couldn’t not talk about it. Not only is “Happiness” ironically the saddest song ever, but the emotion she captures is astounding. This is one of my favorites from the album because it is so mature and really shows how she’s grown as a person and writer.

Storytelling

Finally, we move into the last category, which is the storytelling she does in some of her songs. Like any good songwriter, Taylor knows how to tell a story. She writes about her experiences, but also creates characters in her songs. These are five of my favorite stories she has told, in no particular order.

  1. The Betty, Augustine, and James love triangle from Folklore. This Taylor original is one of my favorites because she gives us a presumed cheating scandal, but from the perspective of each person involved. There is no blaming the other woman or anything like that, and we get to see how each person may feel in a situation like this. It is a really interesting story and each song, “Betty,” “August,” and “Cardigan,” is different but equally fantastic.
  2. The failed marriage proposal in “Champagne Problems.” The phrase “champagne problems” means an issue that in the grand scheme of things may not seem like a big deal, but matters a lot to the person. In this song, Taylor effortlessly tells the story of a person who has turned down a proposal due to their own problems. Each verse adds to the story, hooking you from the beginning. It is heartbreaking and beautiful and I absolutely love it.
  3. The wedding being crashed in “Speak Now.” This song is great for a number of reasons. It tells the story of a girl who decides to crash her ex’s wedding by choosing to “speak now” rather than “forever hold their peace.” The imagery is so detailed it feels like you are watching the events unfold. Each verse gets closer and closer to the action until it unfolds, and they run away together (presumably). It is a lot more lighthearted than the previously mentioned storylines, but very well done nonetheless.
  4. The story of a young girl growing up and appreciating her mom in “The Best Day.” This song goes through a young girls life, presumably Taylor’s, and all of the small things that make growing up hard. Throughout it, she reflects on how the one constant was her mom. This song is extremely nostalgic for me. I used to listen to it on family road trips and I would think about how I wasn’t even close to the age she was by the end of the song. It made me appreciate my mom a lot more and how she was there for me through everything.
  5. Handling the illness of a loved one in “Soon You’ll Get Better.” In this song, Taylor tells the story of someone who has to deal with someone close to them being sick. It goes through all the motions of going to the hospital with them and watching them get worse and better and worse again. I don’t listen to this song often, simply because it is honestly so sad and it makes me think about what I would do if my mom got sick. However, as heartbreaking as it is, its extremely well written and never fails to pull on my heartstrings.


If you’re still here, thank you, and I hope you enjoyed analyzing the inner-workings of Taylor Swift’s music and songwriting abilities with me. Between her literature references, undeniably poetic lyrics, and strong storytelling, I think it’s safe to say she is truly the poet of our generation.

Top 4 Netflix Book-to-Movie Adaptations

As Netflix has grown more popular, they have started producing more and more of their own content. Plenty of top ranking shows, movies, and documentaries are Netflix originals. A handful of these are based on best-selling novels, and most of the time they do a pretty solid job bringing these beloved books to life. I have compiled a list of my top four book-to-film adaptations from Netflix which are all very close to my heart.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before—Jenny Han. When I was 14, this was one of my all-time favorite books, but I had forgotten about it as I got older. As soon as I heard Netflix was coming out with a movie adaptation of it, it immediately jogged my memory and I couldn’t wait.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, it is about a girl named Lara Jean who wrote five love letters throughout her life, kept them in a box with no intention to mail them. So when they suddenly got out and all the recipients had them, including her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh, Lara Jean freaks out. She decides to fake date a different letter recipient named Peter to throw Josh off, but that doesn’t exactly go as planned—you’ll have to watch to find out why.


Book to movie adaptations are always hit-or-miss, but this one did not disappoint for me. They cast it well because the characters are exactly how I envisioned them, and they truly brought the story to life. I highly recommend this film to any lovers of the books!

All the Bright PlacesJennifer Niven. This novel is definitely a bit heavier than the previously mentioned one, but it is still phenomenal. It’s definitely a tear jerker, but in the best way. If you haven’t read the book, it follows Theodore Finch starting when he finds his classmate, Violet Markey, about to jump off a roof. He doesn’t know her very well but decides to befriend her anyway, making a silent pack to himself that he won’t let her struggle alone. As he is dealing with his own mental health issues, this is something he hopes will help him, too. It’s a beautifully written story, but I definitely recommend reading it alone (unless you don’t mind people seeing you sob uncontrollably).


Netflix did a great job bringing it to life as a film—it’s a great blend of tragic and heartwarming, and is sure to tug on your heartstrings. Whether you loved the book or just prefer to watch movies, I recommend getting cozy with a box of tissues and putting this one on.

1922—Stephen King. This one is for the horror/suspense junkies out there. This novella is quite different from the previous two books on this list, but the film adaptation is pretty solid and very underrated. The story follows a farmer named Wilfred who kills his wife—and gets his son in on it—in order to avoid having to sell his land. After this happens, weird things begin to happen around the farm, most of them unexplainable.
The film adaptation came out in 2017, which was a big year for King, so naturally this one was swept under the rug a bit more. That being said, the film does bring certain aspects of the novella to life and the story is very interesting. If you’re a fan of King and a fan of supernatural horror stories, this movie should definitely be included in your scary movie marathon.

Let it Snow—John Green, Lauren Myracle, and Maureen Johnson. When I was in middle school, I went on a John Green kick, much like a lot of people my age. In doing so, I stumbled upon this masterpiece of a story. This is one of my favorite holiday stories and when I saw they were making a movie out of it, I freaked.


If you’re not familiar with the novel, it follows three different main characters in the same town as they handle various decisions. Without giving too much away, we have best friends who may or may not have feelings for each other, a celebrity encounter, and a girl dealing with a breakup. These stories all take place simultaneously around the holiday season—I mean, what more could you ask for?!
Netflix turned this novel into a film last year and despite some small changes, I absolutely loved it. I felt that the changes really added to the story and the actors were perfectly chosen. It really is an adorable film and sure to put you in the holiday spirit (so maybe save this one for after Thanksgiving).

Book Review

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 517
Format: Hardcover
Buy Local
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Summary

As I’m sure many of you know, this novel is the prequel to the Hunger Games series. It is set 63 years before Katniss’ Games and follows President Snow, known at this time as Coriolanus Snow.

Snow is only 18, and his family is facing hard times as the effects of the war play out. The story begins the morning of the reaping for the 10th annual Hunger Games. Snow is determined to get into University, and needs to mentor a winning tribute to help solidify his spot. The odds are not in his favor when he is assigned the girl tribute from District 12.

Much to his surprise, his tribute wows the crowd all on her own. Determined to win, no matter the cost, Snow takes a chance on her. He grows close to her as their fates are largely intertwined in a game unlike any before, leaving him to wonder, was it all worth it?

Thoughts

There were a lot of mixed expectations towards this novel—some people were upset that President Snow was getting a prequel when he was very clearly a terrible person. While I would love a prequel about Finnick or Mags, I also love a good villain origin story and couldn’t wait for this novel to come out. The moment I saw it on the shelf at Target, I ran to pick it up and, honestly, it exceeded my expectations.

I fully expected it to be a story that showed Snow as an empathetic, caring person who was turned sour by a negative experience. Without giving too much away, I can say the story subverted my expectations completely. While he certainly did not have the upbringing I expected, his goal was always clear. Various obstacles were thrown in his way, all adding to his character but never wavering his stance. In that way, the star of the story is the first person point-of-view. His actions and his thoughts are so different at times, if we weren’t constantly in his head, that we would have no idea. It appears that from a young age, Snow mastered the art of performance. While he certainly isn’t an admirable character, he sure is an interesting one. The connections between his actions and circumstances in this novel, to that in original Hunger Games novel are beautifully done and I loved finding them laced throughout. I had more ah-hah moments than I can count!

The only reason I didn’t give this novel a full 5/5 stars is because of the ending. There was one unanswered question that I still haven’t found the answer to, which caused some of the ending to feel anti-climatic. It is too small of a detail, though, for me to not highly recommend all Hunger Games trilogy lovers give it a read.

Even if you absolutely despise President Snow, this will be a treat for you. I truly hope it becomes a movie soon so I can enjoy it all over again!

John Green Books Ranked

By now, most of us have at least heard of John Green, even if you haven’t read any of his books. His novels have won multiple awards and many have made it to #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. Almost all of them have been adapted into a movie or TV show, and for good reason—he has a way of writing that transports the reader into the novel immediately. I am quite the John Green fanatic (if you couldn’t tell), so I decided to create a ranking of his solo novels, ending with my all time favorite at number one. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)


5. Paper Towns. Starting the list at number five is Paper Towns. This novel is great, as all of Green’s are, but I find myself drawn to the others more. As vibrant as the characters are in this book, I always find the ending more anti-climactic than I expected. The novel takes you on such a wild ride to get there, though, that it is absolutely worth it, so I still highly recommend it!

4. An Abundance of Katherines. Next on the list is An Abundance of Katherines. This is Green’s second novel and one of his least well-known, but it is still a great book. My favorite thing about the comic novel is that the main character, Colin, isn’t immediately likable. When you open a book and start reading, there is a pressure to like the protagonist because they are who you’ll spend the book with, so I love that this particular novel breaks that expectation. As much as I love it though, the other three novels on this list have a special place in my heart.

3. Looking for Alaska. Coming in at number three is Looking for Alaska. This is Green’s first novel and the second I ever read. One of the best parts about this book is the characters—they are unbelievably vibrant and alive; you can’t help but feel for each and every one of them. It is a heartbreakingly real story and each time I read it I am moved in a different way. The story is raw, and I think that is what makes it such a page turner. I will always recommend this book. (T/W Suicide)

2. Turtles All the Way Down. Next on the list is Turtles All the Way Down. This is Green’s most recent novel, and naturally I picked it up as soon as it was released. I hold this novel close to my heart because it deals with mental illness, specifically anxiety and OCD. Both of these are hard to write about accurately because there are so many different ways they can affect someone’s life. In my opinion, he did this exceptionally well, creating a character that is relatable and eye-opening. I feel like there aren’t a ton of YA books that deal with these topics, and I am glad Green helped change that. This novel is definitely a must read!

1. The Fault in Our Stars. Rounding out the list at number one is my all time favorite novel, The Fault in Our Stars. This is most likely Green’s most popular novel, but there is good reason for that. At this point, I have probably read it around seven times, and I always end up crying. As I get older and continue to re-read it, I always find new passages that resonate with me. It is truly a timeless novel with beautifully written characters. I think Green tackled the topic of cancer well by showing how awful and ruthless it can truly be. I will always recommend this novel to anyone, just make sure you have your tissues ready!


As always, this list was difficult to make as I love each of his novels so much. However, I am drawn to some more than others and kept that in mind throughout. I did not include any novels Green has co-written either, but those are exceptional as well. Feel free to leave a comment with your ranking, we’d love to know what you think! If you’re interested in purchasing any of these novels, you can do so on Changing Hands website here.

Book Review

Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay

Publisher: Penguin Random House
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Pages: 335
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary

This novel follows best friends Jane and Marnie as they navigate adult life. The girls have been best friends since they were 12 and don’t know what a life without the other would look like. That is, until Marnie gets a boyfriend, Charles, whom Jane despises. When Marnie asks her if she likes him, Jane lies and says he is great. Jane’s one lie spirals into six more, each slightly worse than the last. Each one adds strain to a seemingly unbreakable friendship.
So when Charles dies, Jane is left wondering—if she didn’t tell that first lie, would he still be alive?

Thoughts

A lot can be said about the way in which a story is told, especially a retelling of events. Often, when we tell stories about ourselves, we subconsciously make ourselves seem better, or justified. Jane is the narrator of this story, meaning the recap of events we get is from her perspective. This allows the story to be extremely personal and unique, which I absolutely loved—it felt like sitting down with a friend and having them tell you a story. She wasn’t just telling the story, she was having a conversation with the reader. There were moments when she would directly address us to try and justify her actions. It made the story even more compelling and I found myself hanging on her every word. It forces the reader to look past the narrator and see her actions, good and bad, for what they are.

The story itself is extremely captivating. The narration style pulls you in, but the unfolding of events keeps you there. As each lie grows more intense, the reader is pulled further in until you are tearing through the pages to get to the end. While the things that take place seem impossible, they could happen to anyone; it makes us as readers contemplate the intentions behind our actions. We can often trick ourselves into thinking we are doing the right thing, but that doesn’t mean we’re fooling the people around us. Jane is the perfect character to remind us that even though we are the protagonist of our stories, that doesn’t make us perfect. It is often said that people will do anything for love, and Seven Lies reminds us that that includes platonic love, too.

Kay perfectly weaves suspense with heartfelt narration to create a novel that is sure to keep you on your toes. You never know what is around the corner and the end will leave you pondering this novel for days. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new book. It will be in stores June 16 and is available for pre-order from Changing Hands Bookstore here.


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


Book Review

The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Crime/Suspense
Pages: 321
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Summary

This novel follows Arden Maynor, now Olivia Meyer, on the 20th anniversary of the day she was found in the small town of Widow Hills. When Arden was six years old, she was sleepwalking and went missing for three days until she was found clinging to the bars of a storm drain.


After that, her life was never the same. Growing tired of the cameras in her face and the news constantly circling around her, she moved hundreds of miles away and changed her name to Oliva Meyer, hoping to start over. Which worked, for a while, until the 20th anniversary of the incident comes up, and everything Arden tried to bury comes bubbling to the surface.

Thoughts

This novel surprised me in many ways. I am a big fan of suspense/crime novels and because of that, I can be a bit critical of them. That being said, this novel delivered in every department necessary to make a good one. It had murder, mystery, a splash of romance, and a plot twist I never saw coming. Everything you think you know at the beginning of the novel is upended by the end, and I think I actually gasped at one point. The story truly whisks you away into the drama that seems to follow Arden everywhere.

Arden is a great example of an unreliable narrator, but somehow that made me trust her more. Being close to her as the reader brings the story closer—it allowed every twist and turn to be even more shocking as we found out things as they were revealed to her. The best stories are the ones that suck you in and make you a character, and this is one of those.

The only critique I have is that it starts a bit slow. The real action doesn’t occur until about a third of the way in. That being said, the characters are so interesting and mysterious that I was able to latch onto them immediately, and so, this didn’t prove to be too much of an issue.

If you’re in the market for a good suspense novel, The Girl from Widow Hills is sure to keep you on your toes. It will be in stores on June 23, 2020 and is available for pre-order from Changing Hands Bookstore here.


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

Author Interview with Novelist Stephanie Elliot

Meet Stephanie Elliot, local author of A Little Bit of Everything, and more prominently known for her recent novel, Sad Perfect. T/W, her novel is inspired by her daughter’s experience with ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). I had the pleasure of speaking with her about the novel, her current read, and more!

  1. From what I understand, your novel, Sad Perfect, was written while your daughter went through treatment for ARFID. Where did the idea to write about the experience come from and how did it affect the way you handled the situation?
    Yes, I did write Sad Perfect as my daughter was diagnosed with ARFID. I didn’t anticipate ever writing a young adult novel; my others have been more along the lines of women’s fiction. But when she was diagnosed and in an intense therapy program, I spent a lot of time across the street at a coffee shop and started writing it. It was so therapeutic for me to write as I was dealing with certain feelings of my own as well.
  1. This novel is based on your real-life experience with your daughter. How did this experience translate to the novel? That is, how did you balance actual events and the fictitious elements?
    As for the balancing of fact with fiction—everything in the book that has to do with how ARFID affects the person and her family is true to what my daughter and our family experienced with her ARFID. However, there are many fictionalized scenes. The book might have been very boring without them. While it’s true that my daughter did meet a boy rafting on the Salt River, she didn’t have a long term relationship with him like Pea and Ben did. My daughter also did not get admitted to the pysch ward in real life. Some discussions in the book about ARFID (like the first meeting with Shayna, the therapist) are almost identical to the conversations my daughter had with her therapist in real life. I wanted to put a face on ARFID, to let others know about it and share the real aspects of this disorder, while also ‘inventing’ some other stuff to make it more interesting.
  1. Sad Perfect is actually your second novel and differs a bit from your first, A Little Bit of Everything Lost. Aside from your experience with your daughter, did anything else inspire this change?
    As I said above, I hadn’t set out to write young adult. I had written and self-published A Little Bit of Everything Lost and several other more adult books and had no plan for YA. My daughter was the sole inspiration for making the change to young adult novels. I had been stuck writing a couple other adult books and then when the idea of Sad Perfect came out, it just poured out of me and I couldn’t NOT write it.
  1. Going along with the previous question, how has your approach to writing changed over the years?
    I have a really really really HORRIBLE approach to writing. I don’t do it steadily. I wish I was more disciplined in my writing, but I haven’t written a big chunk of anything in a really long time. But I’m not being hard on myself. Other stuff has gotten in the way: family issues, now Coronavirus—but, I feel that when it hits me again, when I get a really good story idea and start it, then it will roll out of me. I just wait and anticipate that I will be able to do it again someday, hopefully soon!
  1. Do you have any ideas or plans for another novel at this time?
    Yes, I would like to write a novel about a teen boy with mental health issues and severe depression who overcomes a lot. That’s all I’ve got so far so I better start thinking or maybe if I start writing it, stuff will appear on the page! 
  1. What advice do you have to writers working towards being published?
    Connect with other writers in any way that you can. Ask them for advice. Sit down and write. Never throw away anything that you think is not good writing—you can delete it, but keep these ‘trashed’ scenes in a file on your laptop—it might inspire something later! Also, do the work. If you want to get traditionally published, you need to finish your book, edit your book, share your book with people you trust, write a query letter, find an agent who will then hopefully find you a publisher! Sad Perfect was about my fourth or fifth completed manuscript before I was traditionally published. It takes thick skin and a lot of work and a lot of rejection to become a writer. Anticipate and appreciate the rejections because they bring you closer to the YES!
  1. And lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything right now that you would recommend?
    I just read STRUNG OUT by Erin Khar which is an amazing and inspiring memoir about how she overcame addiction. And, I just got the advance copy of Emily Giffin’s THE LIES THAT BIND. I love, love, love everything Emily writes and usually drop everything in life to start her books when they come out!

I really enjoyed working and speaking with Elliot, she has a lot of wisdom to share! Prior to the COVID-19 closures, she was the Writer in Residence at Tempe Library, so definitely keep an eye out when things open back up! I highly recommend everyone read Sad Perfect if interested, it is deeply honest and beautifully written. You can purchase it from Changing Hands Bookstore here.

4 Books to Help you Spring into the New Season

As the weather gets warmer and the flowers start to bloom, it’s the perfect time to pick up a new book. Whether you’re taking a break from spring cleaning or looking for an excuse to sit on the porch and relax, I’ve compiled a list of books sure to keep you occupied on a nice, spring afternoon.


Safe HavenNicholas Sparks. This is a great novel to begin with, but it is especially great for spring, a season of fresh starts. It follows Katie Feldman as she flees to the coast of North Carolina to start over. She attempts to lay low and keep to herself, but is won over by a local named Alex, who was recently widowed. As Katie grows closer to him and his two kids, she finally starts to feel a sense of belonging—until one day, when her past comes back to haunt her. Eventually, she has to decide between facing it or running away for the rest of her life. Throughout the novel, the reader is given small hints at what Katie’s past entails, which heightens some of the drama. This novel perfectly blends mystery and suspense with a heartfelt romance. It is sure to keep you on your toes and warm your heart at the same time.


The Spectacular NowTim Tharp. What kind of spring book list would it be without a blossoming romance? This novel is exactly that, and it is fantastic. The Spectacular Now follows the story of Sutter and Aimee, polar opposites with seemingly nothing in common. One morning, Sutter wakes up on someone’s front lawn and Aimee finds him. After learning a bit about her and her lifestyle, Sutter takes it upon himself to show her the “fun” side of life. But, what he doesn’t realize is how harmful his way of life is, as he drags her down with him. This novel takes place during a transitional time in life, making it perfect as we transition into spring. It is a bit on the heavier side, but will definitely keep you occupied—it’s a page turner! So, clear your afternoon and get ready for the roller coaster that is The Spectacular Now.


Always Never Yours Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka. This novel is great for fans of YA fiction. It’s lighthearted and a bit corny—but in the best way. And, let’s be honest, we all could use a bit of that sometimes. It follows the story of Megan Harper, who dates someone until she finds them falling in love—with someone else. She doesn’t let this get her down though, and focuses on the next fling as well as getting into her dream school. To do so, she has to fulfill an acting requirement, which consequently lands her the lead in her school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Through this, she expects to find her next “thing” but ends up making an unlikely friend, who may end up being the one for her and not someone else. This novel is refreshing and sweet, making it the perfect light read for a nice spring day.


Dear Evan Hansen Val Emmich. Winter can be a tough season mentally, so as we transition out of it, a book around mental health can be a great addition to the process. Adapted from the musical, the novel follows Evan Hansen as he attempts to navigate the world. He starts his senior year of high school with a broken arm after falling out of a tree. On that same day, Connor Murphy, his classmate, commits suicide. Evan gets tied into the situation when Connor’s parents find what they believe is a suicide letter from their son addressed to Evan Hansen, leading the Murphy parents to believe Evan was their son’s only friend. In reality, the two were never friends—and the letter wasn’t actually Connor’s. It was a letter Evan wrote as an assignment from his therapist that Connor had stolen earlier that day. Afraid to upset Connor’s parents further, Evan goes with it and the lie spirals from there. He is forced to face the truth of the situation and about himself. This novel is definitely on the heavier side but a great staple for the transition of seasons. It is sure to keep you busy for the whole day and hopefully bring you some warmth as spring approaches.

Top 4 Best Crime Novels

Crime-suspense is one of my favorite genres—I find that there is nothing better and more satisfying than solving a good mystery. So, whether you are just getting into the genre, or you’ve watched all the crime documentaries on Netflix and need more mystery, I’ve got just the thing for you: a list of my top 4 crime novels, written in various styles, so you can find the one that is right for you!


The WoodsHarlan Coben. This is one of my all time favorite novels. It follows the story of Paul Copeland, who lost his sister 20 years ago when she went missing from the summer camp they attended. Now, he is a prosecutor in New Jersey and goes by Cope. However, just as he begins to move forward from his sister’s death, a homicide victim comes forward that could be linked to his sister. As he works again to solve the mystery from 20 years ago, shocking new discoveries about the case are made. This novel is full of suspense and it is a true page-turner. With a plot twist that is absolutely mind blowing, I always recommend it to people who want to read a crime novel. Netflix even adapted it into a series (with only minor changes!). To this day, it is one of the best and most creative novels I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend everyone to pick up a copy!


OutfoxSandra Brown. This is a splendid novel for someone interested in a crime story mixed with a little bit of romance. It follows Drex Easton, an FBI agent who has been on the hunt for the same man for 30 years. This man, formerly known as Weston Graham, becomes close with wealthy women, and then murders them in ways that appear to be accidents, taking their money after. Each time, he changes his appearance and name completely, leaving no trace. Drex finally gets a lead on a him, but, in the process begins to fall in love with his wife. This novel perfectly intertwines a suspenseful chase with a heartwarming love story. As with any crime novel, it also includes an unanticipated plot twist. It is a definite read for anyone looking to enter the world of crime/mystery novels.


The Girl on the TrainPaula Hawkins. This novel is a little bit more well known, and also an excellent read. It follows the story of Rachel Watson, an alcoholic who grieves the end of her marriage with her husband Tom after he has an affair and marries the woman he cheated with. Rachel rides the train every morning and observes a seemingly perfect couple who lives on the street she used to live on. She becomes enchanted by the couple, reminiscing on the life she used to live. One day, she sees the wife kissing another man and days later, the woman has disappeared. Rachel remembers snippets of a night where she interacted with the missing woman, but has blacked out on most of the rest. The story progresses as she tries to piece together the true story of what happened, with a twist I did not see coming. This is a great crime/mystery novel for anyone who already loves the genre, or, for people starting to get into it. It was also made into a motion picture, but I recommend reading the book first to really get into the story!


Something in the WaterCatherine Steadman. This novel is another favorite of mine, however, it has a slightly different setup than the above novels. It primarily follows Erin Locke and her husband, Mark, after they find a mysterious bag floating in the water on their honeymoon filled with a bundle of cash, a gun, a flash drive, a bag of diamonds and a phone. They try to return the bag to the front desk, but it continues to appear in their room. Eventually, they decide to do some investigating themselves to see if they can maneuver their way into keeping the prizes. The interesting thing about this novel is that it starts months after they find the bag, at the height of the story and then goes back in time from there. This plot line gave some foreshadowing to the story and made my desire to unfold the mystery even stronger. This novel kept me flipping the pages and airs more on the side of suspense than true crime. I definitely recommend giving it a read.

Interview with Novelist, Screenwriter & Director, Stephen Chbosky

Meet Stephen Chbosky, whose 1999 novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower took the world by storm, inspiring young people everywhere to participate in the world around them. This novel has transcended time and remains an important staple in YA fiction—it was even made into a movie in 2012, which Chbosky wrote and directed as well. Now, 20 years later, he has written a new novel, Imaginary Friend, and I have had the pleasure to speak with him about it.

1. I’m sure most people are familiar with your first novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower, but your new novel, Imaginary Friend, takes on a much different genre than Perks. What was your motivation/inspiration behind this change?

My motivations for Imaginary Friend were many. One of my favorite genres is horror, I love Stephen King. I also love coming of age stories. Perks came out of my love for coming of ages stories, so Imaginary Friend came out of that same love, but for horror. I had such a great time with the Perks movie. It was the most satisfying experience of my life, so I wanted to do that again but in a different way. Also, to prove that I could write another novel. Most of what I do is in movies and T.V., and I wrote Perks when I was younger.

2. Imaginary Friend came 20 years after Perks. Was this lapse in time intentional, or did it stem naturally from your writing process?

It wasn’t a deliberate career move, but it’s how things worked out. It was a very ambitious book and I wanted it to be special. If I put something into the world, I want people who like my work to know that it was my best effort. When I wrote Perks I was single and had no children. I could throw 16 hours into writing, but now I have a wife and children and my family comes first. I started Imaginary Friend 10 years ago.

3. How has your relationship with writing changed/evolved over the years and what (if any) factors have influenced this change?

It has changed as I’ve gotten older. It is harder now, harder to find time and to focus. Due to that, I’ve had to change some of my process to accommodate that. It’s harder to write now but it’s also more meaningful. Every time you stare at a blank page is a chance to do something special with it and I take that more seriously now, because now that I am older I have less blank pages to work on. It adds a lot of meaning for me.

4. Not only are you an author, you are also a screenwriter and director. How do these overlap and what challenges do you face trying to balance them all?

All of the different things I do influence the other. Writing screenplays are merciless when it comes to structure and because of that I am always thinking about the story moving forward, even in a longer book like Imaginary Friend. Naturally, as a film director it has made me think more visually with hearing and sound. So when I write a book, all these elements find their way into a novel. On the flip-side, since novels are treated as more serious than movies, my novel writing always reminds me to make sure my movies are quality. I always try for my best no matter what.

5. What is some advice you have for aspiring authors working towards publication?

1st is to never use the word aspiring again. I wrote Perks when I was 26 and the 2nd draft when I was 27. I couldn’t find an agent for a year, and due to circumstance and luck I got a publisher and an agent. Was I writer when I was 27 when I didn’t have a publisher? Yes of course, if you write you are a writer. It isn’t up to some publisher. It is important that writers and artists feel they are a part of their work.

2nd work hard to find your authentic voice. I don’t mean to write about your childhood, unless that is your voice. Think about the books that you love and have inspired you. I wrote coming of age stories because I love them, I wrote a horror novel because I love horror and Stephen King. Those are my passions, so I did it. I did because I loved it and it was my authentic voice. If you do that—where you’re always challenging  yourself to get better—you’re gonna have a much better time with it. There are writers who write pulp fiction and that is their authentic voice, and it is just as authentic as Fitzgerald and Hemingway. All that matters is their authentic voice.

3rd I offer a 4 point plan; One is to write down every idea you have. It is very important that it is every idea. It could be page, a paragraph or a sentence. Two create a PDF of that document and register it with Writers Guild of America East or West for proof that it is your idea. Three share it with 5-7 friends or family members. It has to be people whose taste you trust and who want you to succeed. No frenemies or people that would want you to fail. Four is listen to them. Say it takes you a year to write a book or story, so say you’re 20 years old, you have 60 chances to write something remarkable. Time is so precious, what if you spend 1 of your 60 years on one idea, but these people love this other idea more. By having this discussion, little by little you learn about your characters and a genre that you weren’t sure about and find your best narratives and titles and themes. What’s funny is we as readers can identify peoples identities. You know what a Stephen King book is, everyone who writes has that style and their version of it. It helps them find it a little faster. You never know when the right time is going to come and you never know when you won’t get the chance. If George Orwell had written Animal Farm at a different time, or gone with a different idea, it may not have become what it did. Write the story that feels right to you, but find the things that are most intriguing to others as well. It really increases your chances of having a successful novel.

6. Do you have any ideas or plans for future novels at the moment?

I believe that I will write a sequel to Imaginary Friend. I have many other ideas, I love directing movies which is a (good) distraction. I have many ideas though and Imaginary Friend will not be last my book.

7. And lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything right now that you would recommend?

Ironically, my current read is the novel Dear Evan Hansen. I am directing the movie of the musical and it is quite good. I am reading it professionally but it’s a great book, so I would recommend it to anyone.


I had an amazing time speaking with Stephen, everything he says is full of little nuggets of wisdom, all of which I made sure to share. I have always been a big fan of his work and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. If you wish to purchase Imaginary Friend, you can do so from Changing Hands here. You can also read my review of the novel here if you’re on the fence about it, I promise it’s worth it!