Are you looking for a new series to transport you back to the glory days of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games? Trust me, I’ve been there—worrying I’ll never find anything as good as the adventures I went on with Tris Prior and Percy Jackson. Procrastinating buying that new book in the bookstore because it could never give you the same feelings of nostalgia of reading Twilight for the first time? I get it, but it’s time to move on. There are bigger and better books out there; just as there are more characters to grow with and tropes to fall in love with. I promise. And with everything going on right now, a series is just the heavy duty escape into a magical world to occupy you for more than a few days. So, here are five book series to get your reading mojo back—adding a book to each series the further you read on.
Six of Crows—Leigh Bardugo. Starting off with this duology, Six of Crows introduces a slew of characters for you to meet: a witch hunter, sharpshooter, a former servant with a talent for stealth and knife-wielding, and many more. This character-driven plot consists of heists and cons against the Ice Court, wealthy merchants, and crime bosses. With only two books, it’s an easy way to ease back into reading.
This series is part of the Grishaverse, which means there is a separate series called The Shadow and Bone trilogy that you can read after! This series is also coming to Netflix April 23.
Caraval—Stephanie Garber. This is the first trilogy I read after my three year slump of reading, and it totally kick started my reading addiction again. These three books follow the two sisters Scarlett and Tella Dragna as they find themselves at Caraval, an exclusive once-a-year performance in which the audience gets to participate to win a special prize. Things take turn, however, when the sisters end up in a sinister game fighting for love and family.
As you dive deeper into the series, you discover mysterious forces and secrets that go back to before they were even born—all orchestrated by the anonymous ringmaster and the all-powerful Fates.
Crave—Tracy Wolff. A great recommendation for all vampire lovers, Wolff’s series takes place at Katmere Academy: a school full of shapeshifters, witches and vampires. For Grace, this is the last place she wants to be…that is, until she meets Jaxon, a charming vampire with deadly secrets. This young adult series is the next series to sink your teeth into.
The fourth book of this series comes out September 28th, 2021—plenty of time for you to catch up on this series full of twists, romance, and deep fantasy lore; so sit back, relax, and read as slow as you want to.
The Heroes of Olympus—Rick Riordan. If you took quizzes to see who your godly parent was, this five-book series is for you. Chances are, if you’ve already read the original (beloved) Percy Jackson series, then you’ve already heard about this series. Whether you brushed it off or thought it wouldn’t live up to its hype, this is your sign to finally read them. It mixes familiar faces from Camp Half Blood and introduces new ones from Camp Jupiter to unite seven half bloods to fulfill another prophecy and save the world.
The Heroes of Olympus series expands on the mythological world and gives the characters from the original series another chance to continue their story, set a couple months after The Last Olympian.
A Court of Thorns and Roses—Sarah J. Maas. Sarah J. Maas is taking the world by storm with her A Court of Thorns and Roses series. This is the first series in a long time where I’ve stayed up until two in the morning just to finish reading. Classified as a “New Adult” genre, this series can be described as Beauty and the Beast meets magical kingdom of faeries. If you’re into amazing world building and obsessing over characters, I highly recommend it, 11/10. While only four books are out on the market right now, Maas is under contract to write two more, ensuring the perfect amount of satisfaction and anticipation in a series.
P.S. If you like this series you can level up and go for Sarah J. Maas’ seven book series, Throne of Glass. Psst…this series is completed. Yay!
The Stormlight Archive—Brandon Sanderson. Last but not least, we have Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re not afraid of commitment, I highly suggest it and I applaud you for diving head first into reading again. Although there are only four books out, there are ten planned.
So, if you’re ready to invest six to ten years on a series, this one is perfect to get you back into the reading saddle. Happy reading!
Have you heard that old bit about goldfish and water? Two young goldfish are swimming around and they pass an older goldfish who says to them, “Water’s great today!” After, one of the young goldfish says, “What the heck is water?” Diet culture is like the water around us; we swim through it everyday and it seems so normal and commonplace that we don’t even recognize it’s there.
Diet culture is a system of beliefs that equates thinness to health and a higher moral and social status, that promotes weight loss and shrinking one’s body, and perpetuates fatphobia and oppresses people in non-normative bodies, especially people of color, disabled people, queer people, and trans people. Seventy five percent of women exhibit disordered eating or thoughts about food or their bodies. Ninety one percent of women try to control their weight with dieting and 22% are “always” dieting. Are you tired of the shame we put on diverse bodies? Are you sick of the constant diet cycle and shame of “failing” over and over when actually 95% of diets fail you?
Making peace with our bodies, with eating, with taking up space figuratively and literally, is a radical act while living in a culture steeped in dieting, diet culture, and oppression, and while dieting is a multi-billion dollar industry. To reject dieting, to fight diet culture, and to treat people living in larger bodies with dignity and respect is to live better in our personal lives and to make change socially and culturally. These five books will illuminate the myths surrounding equating health with thinness, challenge your assumptions about fat and size, educate you on the unethical treatment of fat people, and teach you how to live differently—and better—when you reach for liberation from dieting and diet culture.
She uncovers how the blame of dieting failures and weight stigma is not the fault of individuals, but rather the fault of the diet industry, creating victims for profits, and unethical science and attitudes.
Radical self-love is about healing the wounds of oppression, body terrorism, and systems that perpetuate racism, sexism, fatphobia, queerphobia, and ableism. Taylor invites us to dismantle those systems—with love and with a brand new chapter of tools and exercises published in this second edition.
Based on 10 principles, intuitive eating is about everything from rejecting diet mentality to respecting your body to relearning how to honor your hunger and respect your fullness. If this how-to guide is useful to you on your journey, consider their accompanying workbook or their recently published book of daily exercises.
As both a comedian and a former chronic dieter, Dooner’s anti-diet diet book is both funny and scientifically accurate. Are you still hungry after lunch? F*ck it, eat when your body is hungry. The lesson you’ll learn by the end of the book goes way beyond the irreverence or rebellion you might assume it teaches, but goes way deeper and down to relearning intuition and trusting our bodies again.
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat— Aubrey Gordon. Did you know housing and job discrimination because someone is fat is legal? And what if I told you that fat people received worse healthcare, not simply because half of all doctors describe their fat patients as “awkward” and “ugly” but also because fat people are regularly told to “lose weight” as treatment for things like ear infections or broken bones?
Gordon walks readers through the world of anti-fatness and the systems that keep it in place. This must end. As she says, “We can build a world that doesn’t assume fat people are failed thin people, or that thin people are categorically healthy and virtuous.”
Liberating yourself from dieting and diet culture is not easy, but it is important. These books will help you see differently, love yourself and others more, and ultimately live better. They will help you see the water around you—and you can’t clean up dirty water if you can’t see it.
Now more than ever, many people are finding their way to books. As the real world becomes progressively more and more like a dystopia, books provide a welcome escape to the turbulence of our everyday life. If you’re anything like me, this past year has made you even more dependent on fictional worlds to help make sense of the real one. While this escapism if often found in books, it’s also commonly found in the world of film and TV shows. In the spirit of fueling your next binge-reading and binge-watching experiences, I thought I’d provide some escapism series that have a film counterpart (or, at least one in the works). These selections are all made up of at least three books in the core series, and many include spin-offs or related works.
Shadow and Bone—Leigh Bardugo. Soon to be a Netflix series, now is the perfect time to read the Shadow and Bone series. The first book in the trilogy follows orphaned soldier Alina Starkov, who unwittingly reveals dormant and powerful magic to save her best friend when her regiment is attacked. She begins training with the Grisha—the magical military elite—under the guidance of their infamous leader, the Darkling, who believes that Alina’s power might be the key to saving their war-torn country. As Alina trains, she makes a dangerous discovery that threatens those she loves and her entire nation.
In addition to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Grishaverse also includes the Six of Crows duology and the King of Scars duology, whose final book was just released last month!
Dune—Frank Herbert. Lauded as one of the best science fiction novels of all time, you’ve likely heard about the adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya set to be released later this year. Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family on the desert planet Arrakis, who is tasked with ruling the desolate land and safeguarding the melange—a drug that is highly-coveted for its abilities to extend life and enhance consciousness. When Paul’s family is betrayed and destroyed, he goes on a journey to avenge his family and bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.
As an added perk for those looking to escape in the barren deserts of Arrakis, the Dune series contains many prequels and sequels written by both Frank Herbert himself as well as his son, Brian Herbert. For a complete list of the books in the Dune series (both novels and short stories) in chronological order, check out the Dune website here.
A Darker Shade of Magic—V.E. Schwab. For those who have recently read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and have fallen in love with Schwab’s magical writing, I’d draw your attention to her older fantasy series, A Darker Shade of Magic. Schwab crafts a world of four parallel Londons: Red London, where magic and life are celebrated; Gray London, a poor land without magic; and White London, a city slowly losing its life force due to constant magical warfare. As for the fourth London, Black London, nobody speaks of it anymore. Almost nobody can travel between the Londons, as the magicians capable of teleporting between the worlds (the Antari) are all but extinct. One of the last remaining Antari, Kell, acts as a messenger between the Londons—as well as an unofficial smuggler of valuable artifacts, a side gig that often gets him into trouble. His misadventures cause his path to collide with Delilah Bard, a cutpurse looking for adventure.
The Shades of Magic trilogy, while not as well-known as some of the other series on this list, is also slated for a film adaptation in the (hopefully) near future by writer Derek Kolstad.
Outlander—Diana Gabaldon.Outlander follows Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, as she returns home from the war in 1945. While on a second honeymoon with her husband, she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles of the British Isles and finds she is suddenly an outlander in a war-ravaged Scotland in the year 1743. As Claire attempts to navigate this violent world, she finds a companion in the young Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser. As their lives become more closely intertwined, Claire finds herself torn between two different men from two irreconcilable lives.
The Outlander series is currently eight books long, with a ninth set to be released sometime this year and a tenth promised after that. The series has also been adapted into a TV show, with 12–16 episode seasons for each book. The show just aired its fifth season—based on The Fiery Cross—last year, and has been renewed for a sixth and seventh season.
Podcasts are quickly growing as one of the most popular online storytelling mediums. One genre that has developed (thank the book gods) are ones that inspire, encourage, and inform you about the ins and outs of the writing world and help jumpstart your creativity. Below, I’ve compiled six amazing podcasts for writers who hope to one day share their creations with the world—or maybe even just their closest friends. These podcasts share everything from ways to make that story just a little extra special to the best ways to get a story published, giving you insider tips and tricks for whatever writing journey you’re on. I encourage you to check these ones out anywhere you get your podcasts (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, just to name a few), and to explore what other book-ish podcasts are out there.
88 Cups of Tea—Yin Chang.88 Cups of Tea is a great podcast if you’re looking for that “just sat down with my friend that gives the best advice while drinking a relaxing chamomile tea” vibe. I recommend this podcast for anyone who is looking to find out more about crafting advice, lifestyle habits that nurture creativity, and overcoming rejections in a gentle, encouraging delivery. This nurturing and supportive environment is great for any writer that might be scared to take that first step into the writing community. Don’t worry, the host Yin Chang will be delighted to have you, and already has a cup of tea waiting.
Write or Die—Claribel A. Ortega and Kat Cho. If you’re more of a tough-love-gets-the-job-done kind of a person, the Write or Die Podcast hosted by authors Claribel A. Ortega and Kat Cho will definitely push you outside your writing comfort zone by spilling all of the dirty, insider secrets of what it actually takes to become an author. The authors take you through the many challenges of what it takes to get published—time, energy, thousands of rejections, and many, many tears. However, they also talk about how many authors pushed through that and are now living their dreams. This podcast answers the question: Do you have what it takes to become an author?
Pub(lishing) Crawl—Various Authors. Pub(lishing) Crawl is led by a group of authors and industry professionals who dive deep into all things “reading, writing, books, and booze.” You get an insider perspective on industry secrets such as crafting a pitch, characters, publishing relationships, and many other techniques that publishers are specifically looking for. You know how you’re supposed to do a crazy amount of research on the company you want to work for? This podcast takes all the guesswork of knowing what publishers want and simply tell you the nitty-gritty inner workings of publishing companies.
The Happy Writer—Marissa Meyer. I may be a little biased on this one, but The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer—my favorite author, by the way—is one of my go-to podcasts. It is by authors for every writer, whether pro or beginner. Meyer and her guests join together for a fun chat about rejection, imposter syndrome, writer’s block and how to overcome all of it so that you can be…a happy writer! This podcast is great for talking about how writers can bring more joy to their writing process. Not only should writing be about getting published, but also about releasing stress, imagination, and writing about what makes you inspired.
Helping Writers Become Authors—K.M. Weiland. WARNING: Information Overload! K.M. Weiland has a straightforward, no-nonsense kind of attitude that is perfect for an information dump about “summoning inspiration, crafting solid characters, outlining and structuring novels, and polishing prose.” She educates her audience about writing and editing something that is good enough to see the light of day. The name of the podcasts speaks for itself, and anyone who listens to this will gain helpful knowledge about making your creations the best they can be.
Deadline City—Dhonielle Clayton and Zoraida Córdova. Sit down with Dhonielle Clayton and Zoraida Córdova to talk about things they’ve experienced in the time they’ve published 40 books. This podcast is incredibly fun as these New York City–based authors talk about “YA fiction, editing, reading reviews, and burnout.” Think of them as your two older sisters/best friends who just want the best for you and your writing endeavors. This is what I imagine each time I listen to them talk about love triangles or Hollywood adaptations of books. They’re young, fun and honest, but still know a thing or two about what lies beyond the industry curtain.
Birthdays are a funny thing. As I turn fifty this month, I realize that half a century is a big deal, and not just for people! As the years go by, books come and books go—but the really great ones stick around. So, to celebrate my birthday, I look to some novels and books that have truly stood the test of the time.
Our Bodies, Ourselves—Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, Judy Norsigian. In 1969, some women met at an Emmanuel College conference to discuss women and their bodies. From this gathering grew a group that eventually formed a collective that left nothing off the table when it came to women, their bodies, their sexuality, and even reproductive rights. “Women and Their Bodies,” a 193 page pamphlet, was published in 1970 and in 1971 was renamed Our Bodies Ourselves to reaffirm the ownership that women need to take in regards to their physical selves.
Several other niche editions have appeared as well, tackling menopause and pregnancy and birth. It has been updated every three to four years, but unfortunately due to some financial pressure the group’s last edition was in 2011. However, the information and spirit of Our Bodies Ourselves still holds on strong!
Go Ask Alice—Anonymous. Promoted as a real-life account of a teenage girl’s disturbing foray into the world of drugs, the authorship of Go Ask Alice has been called into question for quite some time. It has been suggested that the book is actually the combined efforts of several authors and not a true account at all.
Be that as it may, that does not negate the powerful story of “Alice,” who is never named in the novel, as she descends into a life of drugs and sexual abuse. Go Ask Alice is a cautionary tale that—despite its age—still holds up today, as proven by the 50th anniversary edition that was published in late December.
That Was Then, This Is Now—S. E. Hinton. While novelist Hinton is best known for The Outsiders, you cannot discuss groundbreaking young adult fiction without including That Was Then, This Is Now.
Set in what would be referred to now as the same “universe” as The Outsiders, the novel features some of the same characters, but focuses mainly on two close friends, Mark and Bryon. As a coming of age story, it explores the inevitable growth and tensions that come with being not only being a teenager, but the specific challenges of the 1960s.
The Exorcist—William Peter Blatty. Terrifying then, terrifying now, Blatty’s novel continues to define the horror genre with its disturbing imagery and details.
The novel explores themes of religion, faith, and death through the story of Regan, an 11-year-old who suffers possession at the hand of a demon. Her shocking journey is laid out graphically, and ultimately becomes a battle of good versus evil and a test of faith. The Exorcist has not only held up as a novel but it spawned a critically acclaimed film, and a recent television series.
Good books are like a fine wine, they only get better with age, so give one of these oldie-but-goodies a try!
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 Trial—Franz 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.
With every new year comes new books, and here at The Spellbinding Shelf we are always looking forward to new publications! No matter how old I get, I always find myself gravitating towards YA novels—there is something about coming-of-age stories that just comfort me. So, I’ve compiled a list of YA novels I am particularly stoked about for 2021.
The Girls I’ve Been—Tess Sharpe. This novel follows the daughter of a con-artist who escapes from her mother, only to end up as a hostage in a bank heist. This novel is so highly anticipated, that they already have a film planned for it starring Millie Bobbie Brown. However, I am a firm believer in reading the book before seeing the movie and I am looking forward to picking up this one on January 26th!
The Box in the Woods—Maureen Johnson. If you loved the Truly Devious stories, then you will be stoked for this release. Stevie Bell is back in another installment. Before kicking off what she thinks will be a normal summer, Stevie gets a call about the Box in the Woods Murders. Naturally, she can’t refuse and thus her investigating begins. This one won’t be available until June 15th, but you can always read the other three novels from the series in the meantime!
One Last Stop—Casey McQuiston.Red, White & Royal Blue was everywhere this summer, and Casey McQuiston is back with another novel that is sure to steal your heart. Twenty-three-year-old August finds out that her subway crush is from 1970’s Brooklyn, and now she must figure out how to help her. I am super excited about the representation in this book and can’t wait for it to be released on June 1st!
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega—Crystal Maldonado. This book follows Charlie Vega, a young girl navigating the scary world that is high school. Additionally, her own mother is pushing the skinny, white narrative onto her—despite the fact that she is neither of those things! When the boy who asked her best friend out asks Charlie out, she can’t help but wonder if people truly see her. I am especially excited for this book because I think the world of YA books needs more diversity in it’s main characters. You can check the shelves for this one on February 2nd!
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet—Laekan Zea Kemp. This novel was pitched as I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter meets Emergency Contact, which sounds fantastic to me. It follows the story of a young girl named Penelope who dreams of opening her own pastry shop next door to her father’s taco shop. When her father hires a new boy to work in the shop, Penelope can’t help but get close to him. So, when his immigration status and the shop are threatened, Penelope has to come up with a plan to save them both. This novel sounds like an absolute tearjerker and I cannot wait to pick it up on April 6th.
The new year offers New Year’s resolutions and fresh beginnings for lots of people—more so this year than probably ever before, as we anticipate a vast improvement from the turmoil of 2020. While most of what the new year might bring remains a mystery, we can look forward to new releases by some of our favorite authors. Below are some of the YA fantasy releases I’m most excited about (some have even prompted a pre-order).
Rule of Wolves—Leigh Bardugo. The Grisha novels by Leigh Bardugo have been some of my favorite YA books that I’ve read this year. Luckily for me, I was able to tackle the Shadow and Bone trilogy in its entirety and the subsequent Six of Crows duology to get fully immersed in Bardugo’s mysterious and magic-filled Eastern European world. King of Scars sees the return of a fan favorite from the original trilogy (I know Nikolai was my personal favorite) and Rule of Wolves continues his story.
Release Date: March 30, 2021
A Court of Silver Flames—Sarah J. Maas. Sarah J. Maas has taken the fantasy world by storm with her A Court of Thorns and Roses (or ACOTAR) and Throne of Glass (TOG) novels. Delving into the ever-popular dynamic of mortals, magic, and the realm of the Fae, A Court of Silver Flames is a continuation of her ACOTAR series: this novel follows Nesta Acheron as she contends with political and romantic intrigue in the court of the Fae.
Release Date: February 16, 2021
Chain of Iron—Cassandra Clare. The sequel to Chain of Gold, Cassandra Clare returns to the Shadowhunters universe that has enchanted readers since City of Bones was published in 2007. Over the years, Clare has seen her stories translated to the silver screen as well as the small screen via a hit television series, so the Shadowhunters have become a household name throughout the various crossovers that Clare has created. Her newest series is called “The Last Hours” and is set in Edwardian London.
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Tales from the Hinterland—Melissa Albert. Most of us know The Hazel Wood from its wild popularity on bookstagram and other social media thanks to its gilded and intricately designed cover art that made for perfect book photography. However, it wasn’t just the cover art that managed to enchant audiences, as Melissa Albert introduced everyone to a new world based on dark fairy tales. Tales From the Hinterland is listed as “Book 3” of The Hazel Wood series; however, the description suggests it is to be a collection of stories set in the Hinterland world, which I’m sure is no less exciting to fans of Albert’s novels.
Release Date: January 23, 2021
Legacy of Orisha Book 3—Tomi Adeyemi. Pictured is the cover art for book two of Tomi Adeyemi’s series, as cover art and exact release dates have not been announced for book three. However, Adeyemi has confirmed via her website that the next installment will be hitting shelves sometime in 2021, and so I just had to give it an honorable mention for those that have been following this groundbreaking series. The Children of Blood and Bone and its sequel have revolutionized the YA scene and provided a different type of fantasy novel that is sorely needed within the genre. Influenced by Adeyemi’s West African heritage, these books blend African deities with magic, peril, deep character development, and representation, making The Legacy of Orisha books worth the read and worth the anticipation of the newest book.
This has been a crazy year, to say the least, and during our time in quarantine, many of us have turned to books. Books have been both a source of enjoyment, a place of solace, and an escape from hectic times. Our staff writers have taken the time to reflect on books that were meaningful to them this year for all of these reasons and more. From fiction to nonfiction, old to new, there is something on this list for everyone. Everyone here at the Spellbinding Shelf wishes you a Happy New Year and (hopefully) a longer to-be-read list!
Staff Writer Rikki Tremblay
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma—Bessel van der Kolk. Dr. van der Kolk is a leading expert on trauma studies, and this book is a must-read for academics, professionals, and laypeople alike. You get a thorough and grounded definition and discussion of what trauma is—not just mentally, but physically, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Van der Kolk then covers various paths to recovery beyond just the orthodox approaches to trauma. You’ll learn how to use new techniques like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), acting, and yoga in the treatment of trauma.
As someone with cPTSD and recovering from past trauma myself, this book was such a gift. My copy of the book is heavily dog-eared, underlined, highlighted, and scribbled with notes, break-throughs, and revelations throughout. It’s not always an easy read because it will unearth ancient hurts and spark painful—but cathartic—connections at times. I’m happy to have read this book at the beginning of 2020 because I felt better prepared and equipped to survive the collective trauma we’ve all experienced the rest of the year!
Staff Writer Abhilasha Mandal
The Turn of the Screw—Henry James. This book is a horror novella published in 1898. It’s unique due to the psychoanalytical angle it takes on the main characters of the story—Miles, Flora and their governess. It is also largely open to interpretation.
Bly Manor, where they live, is haunted by two insidious spirits who seek to consume Miles and Flora. The governess learns of this and puts all her energy into protecting the children. But is what she’s seeing really there? There are several moments in the story that make you question the governess’s mental disposition. Also, even though she is very descriptive of her protective feelings for the children, some parts of her interactions with them suggest she is not disclosing her innermost feelings for them, especially the boy, Miles.
There is, in fact, much debate among scholars on the hidden meaning of this book. It has also received a lot of critique because it is suggestive of some things that are now inexcusable. But it is a gripping read, and it is best to read it and interpret it for yourself. The thrill doesn’t diminish upon rereading. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes psychological thrillers or gothic drama.
Staff Writer Melanie Wilson
The Alchemist—Paulo Coelho. My favorite book of 2020 has been The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I read it for the first time this year and I can understand why it’s a classic. My favorite quote from the book was “This is what we call love. When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you.”
Staff Writer Lauren Kuhman
The Hobbit—J.R.R. Tolkien. There are a plethora of good books—all of which were strong contenders for the title of my favorite book of 2020. However, I think that J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit stands out the most. I have never really read any fantasy novels, and whenever I approached any of Tolkien’s most famous works I was offered a slew of positive, yet cautionary advice on how some of them are lengthy, uneventful reads. Nevertheless, I was (and am) determined to begin the adventure that is The Lord of the Rings series. Since I had never before read these books—or even really watched the movies—I thought it would be appropriate to start at the beginning. While I have yet to begin any of The Lord of the Rings books, I still loved The Hobbit. It was an engaging read that, while being classified as a children’s book, was as exciting and mysterious as any adult novel I’ve read. Additionally, as a novice fantasy reader, I thought it to be a good introduction to the genre and incited me to seek out similar novels. 2020 has been an absolute whirlwind of the year with travesty, drama, some thrills, and complete horrors, so having the ability to tumble down waterfalls in wine barrels was a welcome relief from the very unique and complicated year that has been 2020.
Staff Writer Jaycee Graffius
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—Douglas Adams. This book had me laughing for days! I would sometimes have to put the book down and just giggle nonsensically at the matter-of-fact way in which the book would make absolutely absurd assertions. Each character was delightfully relatable, which is an impressive feat seeing as one of those characters was a hippie/former galactic president with five heads, and they each brought their own comedic flair to the story without feeling redundant. This book reminded me a lot of my favorite podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale,” which also uses absurdist humor to create a peculiar world. I’ve already purchased the entire series and cannot wait to explore the galaxy with my trusty towel!
Staff Writer Amanda Thomas
Shadow and Bone Trilogy—Leigh Bardugo. Young Adult Fantasy had always been my favorite genre, but when you’re deep into your English major, you learn to sample other genres like contemporary and speculative fiction, which leans towards more mature and controversial themes than fantasy and romance. Not to mention how monotonous the YA genre can get when there is a certain trope that authors tend to trend towards. It had been so long since I’d read a YA novel that when I came across this trilogy by Leigh Bardugo with the brilliant cover design, interesting titles, and intriguing summaries, I decided to give it a try. Let’s just say, this trilogy sparked my love of YA fantasy again. While it has its shortcomings, the introduction into the “Grishaverse” detailed a rich fantasy environment with political intrigue that truly felt engaging and unique. I was drawn into this world and fell in love with its characters and the structures of magic that were utilized. It has also inspired me to continue to read into this universe created by Bardugo as the stories and her writing has continued to improve. While I’m still thankful for being able to expand my horizons and read more “adult” types of fiction, reading YA feels like coming home to the type of reading and fantasy worlds that made me into the book lover I am today.
Staff Writer Sharon Enck
Weird Women: Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers: 1852-1923—Edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Lisa Morton. If Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe had a book-baby, it would be Weird Women: Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers: 1852-1923.It is my favorite read of 2020 because it mixes three of my literary loves: the horror genre, the short story, and narratives from a female perspective. Combining the beautiful turns of phrase a la Austen, with the spine tingling, teeth gnashing grittiness of Poe, Weird Women gives the reader lushly written tales of horror and the supernatural.
There is definitely something jolting about having topics like cruelty, murder, and loss being described as though they belong between the covers of Pride and Prejudice. And if you thought that Louisa May Alcott was only sugar and spice and everything Little Women, you would be deliciously wrong. I was pleasantly surprised to see that that particular author has a dark side as well as a heartwarming one. Among the distinguished list of female writers is Charlotte Perkins Gilman (yes, “The Yellow Wallpaper”) along with some new voices that I am thrilled to have discovered.
Communications Coordinator Roxanne Bingham
A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes—Suzanne Collins. This is the prequel to The Hunger Games and I loved getting a look at the mind of President Snow. It was really interesting to see how much The Hunger Games had changed between his mentoring and the games we know. I love villain origin stories, and seeing exactly how he became a villain was so satisfying. I hope she writes more prequels of some kind because I want to know more!
Managing Editor Jade Stanton
What We Owe To Each Other—T.M. Scanlon. This book provides a possible answer to some of the complex questions at the heart of morality and ethics: how should we judge whether an action is morally right and wrong? Why should we concern ourselves with morality in decision making? Scanlon posits that our conception of morality should be based upon what actions could not be reasonably rejected by others. In this way, what we owe to each other—and, by extension, our views of morality—are ever-evolving and depend on the specific circumstances of individual situations.
Full disclosure: I heard of this book by watching The Good Place, which aired its fourth and final season this year. While I will caution readers that this is a very (very) dense read, I found the ideas it presents to be very relevant to 2020. Between the pandemic and the civil unrest we have seen this year, it’s hard to deny the importance of morality and decency in today’s world. My favorite thing about this book, however, is that it’s underlying assumption is that, by the very nature of our shared humanity, we owe each other something. To quote The Good Place’s Chidi Anagonye, “we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.” This sentiment, while always important, feels especially poignant given the turbulence of this year. While we may not know what next year holds, let this be the message we carry into 2021.
Editor-in-Chief Mackenzie King
Tess of the Road—Rachel Hartman. This is probably one of my favorite books of all time, not just 2020. It is set in the same fantastical universe as Hartman’s other books, Seraphina and Shadow Scale (which I also recommend!) but it follows the protagonist’s younger half-sister. It has the main features of any vaguely medieval fantasy novel, with dragons and kings and mistresses, but Hartman’s take on the genre is refreshing and unique. Fantasy has always been my favorite genre, so it was a breath of fresh air to read a fantasy novel that did not fall into the usual tropes.
Tess is suffocating under the weight of her past “failures” and believes, in the words of her father, that she is “born bad.” Tess’s rebellious streak is highly relatable and her emotional responses draw you even further into the story. Even though I have not personally experienced all that she has, Hartman’s beautiful prose makes you completely understand the complexity of her character as she struggles to accept her past, her mind, and her body. All of the characters are remarkably human and real—even the non-human characters! The mystery of Tess’s past unfolds throughout the book, working through her traumas and disappointments until she eventually accepts them. I would have never thought a book about the main character simply travelling would be so compelling, but it is utterly fantastic! Also, the sequel, Tess of the Sea, will be released soon!
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!