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 Haven – Nicholas 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 Now – Tim 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.
April Fools’ Day: that first day of April when numerous people, from the smallest kindergartner to the largest corporations, try to put one over on each other. Today, pranks include Swiss farmers announcing a record “spaghetti crop,” Taco Bell buying Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and renaming it the “Taco Liberty Bell,” and Burger King’s “left handed Whopper” making its way onto the menu.
You may be surprised, however, to discover that April Fools’ Day has a long and historic past. One popular theory states that its roots could very well go back as far as 1582 when France switched calendars. Those who did not realize the new year had changed to January 1st, and who continued to celebrate at the end of March/beginning of April, became the victims of hoaxes and pranks. The befuddled revelers got a paper fish placed on their backs and were referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish) which signified gullibility.
So, in honor of this fun, albeit confusing “holiday,” I give you four (to coincide with the month’s number, of course) literary legends of the prank.
The Weasley Twins – J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Fred and George Weasley get high marks as jokesters at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With aging potions gone wrong, pinching the Marauder’s Map, and identity switching just to confuse their poor mother Molly, the fiery headed brothers never fail to delight us with their shenanigans. Eventually they take their tricks outside the classroom with their very own novelty joke shop. The name? “Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes”—we love a good alliteration!
Chip “The Colonel” Martin – John Green’sLooking for Alaska. At another boarding school thousand of miles away, Chip “The Colonel” Martin brings his friends along on his prank parade while deceiving the strict headmaster, “The Eagle.” Providing some much needed levity in a rather heavy novel, “The Colonel” spends his time trying to buck the school’s rigid rules. Defying “The Eagle” by spending a night in the woods just to get a school’s bully to dye his own hair blue? Now that is commitment.
Puck – William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Jester, fairy, sprite—whatever name you choose to call him, William Shakespeare’s Puck from A Midsummer’s Night Dream is the quintessential prankster. On a mission to collect a love potion flower, Puck creates chaos for those around him by bewitching the wrong lovers, and turning Bottom’s head into an ass. While his antics do vex those around him, he eventually rights his wrongs, and Shakespeare’s play ends on a happy note (for a change).
Loki – Norse Mythology. Without a doubt our most powerful and ambiguous trickster on the list, Loki from Norse mythology, has the power to wreak havoc in some serious ways. Nihilistic and playful, he can change shape, and sex, which he often used to trick his fellow gods. Having been known to act without regard for others, Loki masterminds the death of beloved god, Baldr, inciting the gods to tie him to a rock while a serpent drips venom on him. Far worse than being charged with underage magic or detention! Loki’s power to beguile and confuse astounds most scholars who debate the reason for his existence at all.
Now that you have some literary inspiration, go pay tribute to these tricksters by planning to wreak a little (safe) havoc of your own this upcoming April Fools’ Day!
Spring is a perfect time for fresh starts. From spring cleaning to admiring the growth of new flowers, springtime is a chance to reflect on your yearly progress and turn over a new leaf by building healthy habits. With spring right around the corner, why not take this chance to embrace the cheerful season of change and create good habits to sneak more joyful reading time into your days? Below, I’ve shared a few quick tips to help you find more reading time this spring.
Create a Bedtime Reading Routine.
Nighttime is great for reading. Not only does it give you the opportunity to relax after a long day of work, but research suggests that reading just six minutes can reduce stress levels by 68%, readying the mind for bed. (Of course, I recommend reading for longer if you can!) So, ditch the phone before bedtime and delve into your current read instead.
Bonus Tip: As you work to build this new habit, consider leaving your book on your pillow or bed stand as a reminder to read a few pages before you hit the hay.
Embrace the Audiobook Life.
Listening to stories is an age-old tradition, and the audiobook craze is the newest spin on ancient oral storytelling. Audiobooks are a great way to slip extra reading time into your day. You can listen to books during a long commute or while you cook dinner, clean the house, or run at the gym.
Not surprisingly, many bookworms take advantage of this “reading” opportunity. In fact, audio book sales grew nearly 25% in 2018. If you want to embrace this new audiobook life (with ancient traditions), be sure to check out your local library’s collection and free online audiobook collections. Of course, you can also purchase the newest audiobooks at several bookstores and sites too.
Find Your Book Tribe.
Friends, classmates, and teachers can help hold you accountable in your reading goals. For a more structured reading routine, consider joining a book club or enrolling in a literature class for a college elective.
On top of helping you more formally commit to additional reading, book clubs and literature classes can help you find your book tribe. And, as author Gabrielle Zevin explains, “There ain’t nobody in the world like book people. It’s a business of gentlemen and gentlewomen.” You just might find your new best friend over a conversation about Jane Austen or Stephen King.
The artwork featured on our blog post above was provided by artist Deandra Lee. You can view more artwork from Lee in her online portfolio or on Instagram @dan_wonders.
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 Woods – Harlan 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!
Outfox – Sandra 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 Train – Paula 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 Water – Catherine 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.
With all things love floating in the air around Valentine’s day, it is easy to become inundated with the sappy baby-Cupid and chalky-candy-heart energy of the whole affair. Nothing is so quick to activate my cynicism than heart shaped boxes filled with mediocre chocolates and plastic roses garishly displayed in every store. For anyone who has truly experienced the gamut of emotions which accompany love, its vicissitudes more closely resemble a fiery inferno than the saccharine-sweet sentiments the Valentine’s cards would have us believe. There is as much pain in love as there is pleasure.
Still, we are all rushing towards this elusive state of being in earnest. There is no way to deny the magnetism of love. So, rather than turn a blind eye to love at this time of year, it might behoove us to look at things from a different angle. Perhaps a fresh perspective will remind us of just why we are all so obsessed, constantly searching for this thing called love.
By way of this notion, I offer some literary couples who break the mold, their bonds more closely resembling love in its true state. As Lysander tells Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” and these couples prove that. Though their undying devotion to one another remains intact, each of the couples follow an interesting and often twisted path towards love.
In Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel, the unnamed narrator (an insomniac with existential tendencies) meets and becomes obsessed with a woman named Marla Singer. It is at a meeting of a testicular cancer support group that the narrator first meets Marla. He is enraged that she would have the audacity to attend the support group, although he does not have testicular cancer himself. The narrator frequents different types of support groups in order to counteract his growing sense of ennui. Once he realizes that Marla has similar tendencies as himself, he cannot escape his growing interest, although he does not recognize it as affection.
When Marla starts sleeping with his roommate Tyler Durden, the narrator’s obsession and irritation collide. Only through a surprising plot twist does the true shape of their love story become clear. As Marla states, “You love me. You hate me. You show me a sensitive side, then you turn into a total asshole.” He is both repelled by and drawn to Marla with equal fervor. Yet, it is with thoughts of Marla that he ends his narrative, promising a continuation of their anything-but-typical love story.
Lisbeth Salander & Mikael Blomkvist, Millennium(series)
A love story that spans across several novels, the complicated relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael unfolds with as much passion and pain as any true romance often does. In the first book, the two are drawn together through the power of shared experience as well as a mutual tendency towards acting as social pariahs. When Lisbeth finally decides to accept and express her love for Mikael at the end of the book, it is only to see him with another woman. This causes Lisbeth to push away her feelings, and for the larger part of the second novel, the two communicate only in a distant and business-like manner.
Through the impetus of another harrowing experience, Mikael must rescue Lisbeth from near-death, again forcing the two together through tragedy. This situational closeness continues in the third installment of the series, as Mikael and Lisbeth must face danger, the possible imprisonment of Salander, and major life changes together. Although they have continuously experienced separation, the third book closes with Mikael at Lisbeth’s door. Though they are both unsure, Lisbeth again welcomes him in, both to her home and to her heart.
Set in a fantastic and fairytale-like atmosphere, the love affair between Celia and Marco is equal in its intensity only by their inability to act upon it. The two are the pawns of powerful rival magicians, each tied to the magical Le Cirque des Reves and forced to use all of their abilities in an attempt to overcome one another. Although they cannot be together in any typical sense, the two are drawn to one another with a consuming passion. Each expresses their love through magical acts conjured to speak to the soul of the other, thus growing their bond from a forced distance.
Perhaps it is this very distance and the continual effort which it demands, that makes their love so perennial. Through the course of the novel it becomes clear that there can only be one winner in this dangerous competition, with the death of the loser as the inevitable outcome. Faced with Marco’s death, Celia risks herself to save him. The two are taken out of the physical world to become spirits, still tied to the circus, yet finally free from their bonds. As the book closes, the ghosts of Celia and Marco restore the devastated circus to its former splendor, ensuring that they will forever have a place where their love can endure.
Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel focuses on a lonesome unicorn who sets out on a quest to find her sisters, despite the danger of a formidable enemy, the Red Bull. According to the tale, the Red Bull has driven all of her sisters into the sea, and keeps them prisoner there, at the whim of the cruel King Haggard.
Along the way, the unicorn meets the failed magician Schmendrick and a nomad cook named Molly Grue who vow to help her with her quest. As the three get near Haggard’s castle, they come face to face with the Red Bull, and Schmendrick is forced to act quickly in order to save the unicorn’s life by turning her into a young woman, Lady Amalthea.
At the castle, Lady Amalthea encounters Haggard’s adopted son, Prince Lir, who becomes hypnotized by the beauty and mystery of the Lady Amalthea, and pursues her although she shows him only indifference at first. Later in the quest, Lir sacrifices himself in an act of love to save the unicorn from the Red Bull. She, in turn, revives him from death with the touch of her horn. As the book closes, the two lovers are forced to separate, each returning to their own destiny. While they cannot ultimately be together, their souls have grown with the experience, and both are forever changed.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and love is in the air! Whether you plan to celebrate with friends, family or a significant other, it’s a great day to remind people why you love them—and what better way to get into the spirit than with romantic novels? Here, I’ve compiled some of my favorite reads for Valentine’s Day that are sure to help even the most cynical fall in love with love.
The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks. This novel has always had a special place in my heart. It follows Ronnie Miller as she and her brother move to North Carolina to stay with their dad for the summer. However, ever since he left their family three years ago, Ronnie has held a grudge against him. She is an amazing musician with a scholarship to Julliard, but finds herself fighting that part of her because of the anger she holds towards her father. While in North Carolina, she meets Will who begins to thaw her heart. The more time she spends with him and learns about his family life, the more she learns to appreciate her own. It is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking story that beautifully captures the sweetness of new love, and the ups and downs of father-daughter relationships.
Me Before You– Jojo Moyes. Warning, this one is a real tear jerker, but, if this book doesn’t make you want to fall in love, I don’t know what will. The story follows Louisa Clark as she gets a job as a care-taker for a young man named Will Traynor. Will used to spend his time traveling the world doing every outdoor activity imaginable until he got in a motorcycle accident rendering him a quadriplegic. He’s been hardened by the accident and rarely interacts with people, but Louisa is determined to remind him how exciting life can be. The characters in this book are beautifully crafted and will truly leave a mark on your heart. The story is both sweet and heart-wrenching, the perfect mix for a Valentine’s Day read.
P.S. If you love this one, there’s two more in the trilogy!
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan. On more upbeat note, this novel is both funny and heartwarming. Rachel Chu is a professor at NYU dating Nick Young. Nick’s childhood best friend is getting married in Singapore and Nick is set to be the best man. Rachel has never met Nick’s family and has no idea what she is getting into by agreeing to attend the wedding with him. She is thrown into the whirlwind that is royalty in Singapore and doesn’t really know how to react. While in Singapore she learns about her own past as well as Nick’s, leaving her with very important decisions to make about her future. This novel is a beautiful blend of humor, family strife, and love. Plus, it’s also a part of a trilogy!
The Time Traveler’s Wife– Audrey Niffenegger. This is another tear jerker that is totally worth it. It follows the love story of Clare and Henry as they try to maneuver through a life where Henry, essentially, time travels. He is diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder, which causes him to spontaneously transfer to a different time period of his life. Despite the difficulties this creates, Clare loves him so deeply that she tries her best to live with it. This life style is constantly testing the strength of their love as the world seems to be against it. The story is captivating and stressful at times, making it a real page turner. It’s sure to put you in all the feels and is the perfect addition to any Valentine’s Day reading list.
For as long as stories have been being told on our screens, novels have been mined as source material. While often the product is far from the original text, adaptations can breathe new life into a story and illuminate a new aspects of some of our favorite fictional worlds. With the advent of popular streaming services and ever increasing production budgets, now more than ever books are being turned into films. Here are some of my favorite television shows based on books.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke. This book has it all—intricate history told against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, political intrigue, battle scenes, magicians, fairies, and books—so it is no surprise that it would be adapted into a stellar TV show. This seven episode mini-series produced by BBC One boasts an impressive cast with actors Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan in the titular roles. Of all of the adaptations on this list, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell stays as close to the story portrayed by the book as it can.
Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin. It seems like a given that Game of Thrones would be on this list. HBO’s mega-hit series has changed everything I thought possible when it comes to creating a TV show—especially a fantasy TV show. While the response to the last few seasons of this show was not as enthusiastic as when it was originally released, there is no denying the cultural impact it has had. This show is full of slow burning plot lines, unexpected twists, and makes for an experience that cannot be described as anything less than entertaining.
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin. In 2019 Netflix released a star studded revival of Armistead Maupin’s popular series Tales from the City. This miniseries is a continuation of three previous miniseries based on Maupin’s work and features some of the same characters. This incarnation of the show goes even further by way of diversity and inclusion and gives a voice to many characters who are extremely underrepresented by the media. All the while, a riveting and emotional mystery unfolds that will have viewers hooked until the end.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood. In 1985 when Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale, there was no way of knowing that the story would draw so many parallels to the coming world. In 2017 when season one premiered, it seemed as if there was no show that the world needed more. The Handmaid’s Tale shows just how fine the line is between freedom and a strict totalitarian regime. It emphasizes the danger of discrimination and valuing one type of human life over another. Most importantly, in my opinion, this show highlights the danger that some women face every day simply for existing.
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson. I started this list with an adaption that stayed fairly true to its source material, and so it feels only natural that I end it with something that deviates from the original in a big way. Like so many adaptions of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, the 2018 Netflix show is a far cry from the novel. This fresh take on the Hill House, however, is one of those cases where the story is given new life. As terrifying as it is compelling, this show will suck you in until its final episode. I only have two pieces of advice about how best to watch it: with the lights on and not alone!
It’s hard to believe how quickly this year has flown by! Before we head out to celebrate the new year and make those New Year’s resolutions, we thought we’d take a moment to reflect on 2019 and the gorgeous reads we’ve discovered. Each of our bloggers and editors have reflected on all the books—both old and new—they’ve read in the last 12 months and have chosen one book to highlight that impacted them most this 2019 calendar year. We hope this list inspires you to pick up a new book for your 2020 TBR list. Until then, The Spellbinding Shelf wishes you all another fantastic year filled with happy memories, adventures, time with family and friends, and—of course—lots of good books!
Staff Writer Roxanne Bingham
Harlan Coben’s Run Away follows Simon Greene as he tries to find his eldest daughter, Paige, who has become addicted to drugs and her terrible boyfriend. When her boyfriend winds up dead, Simon and his wife team up to find Paige and encounter danger along the way. With two other stories interwoven, the mystery complicates and leads the reader to wonder why Paige spiraled and how the characters are all connected. As the mystery unravels, so does Simon’s life as he knows it, with secrets about his wife coming to the surface.
I love everything Coben writes, but I really enjoyed this one because it highlights familial love and what one is willing to do to save their child. We receive clues as the characters do, making it a real page turner to get to the heart of the mystery. For any crime novel or mystery lovers, I definitely recommend Run Away!
Staff Writer Abhilasha Mandal
Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is about two people in Japan, Tengo and Aomame, who are pulled into a dystopian world parallel to the year 1984, where a series of inexplicable events envelops them and they are left wondering if time itself isn’t a loop in the world they nickname 1Q84.
It is so rare to find a book written for an adult audience that employs elements of fantasy that I recoiled in surprise when I first reached the page that revealed the supernatural theme of the novel.
The story is so captivating and unpredictable that for two whole chapters I found myself questioning which of the two worlds was “real.” This is a must-read for fans of fantastical thrillers.
Staff Writer Brandi Martinez
Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous presents a letter to a mother who might never read the message’s contents because she cannot read English. This makes the outpouring of Vuong’s heart even more poignant. In this exposed and emotional account of the author’s life growing up with a single mother, he examines their relationship and how these experiences have shaped his view of the world. The author knows that he may never receive answers to the many open-ended questions which he asks his mother throughout the work, but his need to voice these questions is laced through the memories which he recounts.
Vuong utilizes the beauty of the poetic language to weave together the pieces of his youth. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is at once urgent in its need to find meaning in the memories, and languid in its wandering quality which relishes the moments for their own unique beauty. I was entranced by both the beauty of Vuong’s words as well as the sincerity and openness of his self-perspective. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to swim in a sea of haunting beauty and fearlessness.
Staff Writer Jade Stanton
Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time provides an summative explanation of the history and theories behind our current understanding of the universe. Hawking’s aim was to create a book to explain complex theories that could be understood by anyone with an eighth grade understanding of math and physics.
Hawking’s book, although published in 1988, is my staff pick for the year mainly because of the advancements made in our understanding of the universe in recent times, specifically the first photographed picture of a black hole taken on April 10th of this year. It is these advancements that show just how important it is for all people to have a basic understanding of the theories and concepts at work, so that they can better understand the importance of the discoveries being made today. Although Hawking has since passed, his work in the field (and in our lives) has remained extremely relevant, and we owe him so much for our current understanding of the world around us.
Staff Writer Edward Dolehanty
Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In the Dream House, explores Machado’s experience in a same-sex relationship that featured domestic abuse as well as the cannon of domestic abuse in lesbian relationships. Full of emotional depth and imaginatively told, this story attempts to show an aspect of the underbelly of modern queer culture through Machado’s personal story, literary and film criticism, and through the dissection of pop-culture.
I love this book because like Machado’s previous work, Her Body and Other Parties, it is unlike anything that I have read before. As soon as I was finished reading it I wanted to start reading it again. The world which Machado creates and so elaborately and seamlessly weaves together is equally impressive and immersive. While the story comes from her distinctly queer perspective, that is not to say that there is not something in this book for everyone as it shines light upon the emotional traumas that unfold in our everyday lives.
Communications Coordinator Makenna Knighton
Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward follows a girl named Spensa who wants nothing more than to be a pilot and clear her father’s name. However, she almost misses the test to get into flight school because she finds M-Bot, an abandoned starship, while exploring—and Spensa’s challenges only get more difficult from there. While juggling escapes with M-Bot, tensions with her classmates, and her own impulsiveness, Spensa discovers important truths about herself and her surroundings, making it through to the surprising future after an engaging journey.
I love how this novel blends the science fiction and young adult genres, like Ender’s Game and How to Train Your Dragon combined at Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy. With perfect pacing through the pleasantly long and thought-provoking narrative, you won’t want to miss Spensa’s riveting adventure—and the sequel, Starsight, released last month!
Managing Editor Payton Kline
Wendy Webb’s Daughters of the Lake begins when a perfectly-preserved body washes up on the beach near Kate Granger’s childhood home along the North Shore of Lakes Superior—but, the body has been dead for nearly 100 years, and Kate’s family had something to do with it. Through a series of dreams and stories told through Kate and the murdered woman, Addie’s, eyes readers see this chilling story unfold in the most unexpected and deliciously uncanny ways.
For those of you who have read the blog before, you know that I adore the Minnesotan author Wendy Webb—so it will come as no surprise that my absolute favorite read of 2019 was her newest book, Daughters of the Lake. With characters that still cross my mind to this day, a setting so gorgeous yet so ominous, and a plot so compelling that I often read into the early morning hours, I cannot sing high enough praises for this newest novel from the queen of Northern Gothic herself. For those of you looking for an entertaining, yet thought-provoking book to kick off the new year, look no further than Daughters of the Lake.
Editor-in-Chief Rachel Hagerman
Tara Westover’s Educated traces Westover’s journey from living with a survivalist family in the states without any formal education to earning a PhD from Cambridge University. This memoir reflects on Tara’s childhood working alongside six siblings in a dangerous scrapyard managed by her domineering father and learning from her talented healer and midwife mother. From here, it follows her departure from home into the seemingly secular world for education at BYU followed by Cambridge.
I heard numerous wonderful things about this popular memoir while I waited until it was finally available for pickup at my local library. I have to admit that I was suspicious that the book wouldn’t live up to the hype, but I was pleasantly proven wrong. I absolutely loved Westover’s writing style and reflection. I appreciated her brutal honesty about her mental states and her reactions to defining moments in her coming-of-age story. I found her educational journey inspiring and her relationship to faith, and the people who abuse faith, heart-wrenching.
The artwork featured on our blog post above was provided by local artist Bruce Black. You can view more artwork from Black at bruceblackart.com or on Instagram @bruceblackart.
As the year is now winding down to a close, we enter a time of reflection of the joys 2019 held and begin to look forward to the future—a perfect time to look for new reads to brighten our 2020! Whether you are searching for new books to add to your TBR pile or a fun new book to gift to a friend or loved one, this list is guaranteed to fill your 2020 with delightful new reads. Some of these selections are beloved and long-awaited sequels, while others are relative newcomers to the bookish world, but all of them have something special to offer to every kind of reader.
The Kingdom of Back – Marie Lu. While Marie Lu is no stranger to the world of YA fiction, The Kingdom of Back is Lu’s first work of historical YA fantasy. This novel is centered around the two Mozart siblings, Nannerl and Wolfgang, and their love of music. Both siblings have a prodigious talent for playing and composing, but Nannerl’s ambition is hindered by the societal constructs of 18th century Europe that forbid women from composing. Wolfgang’s talents continue to grow and Nannerl’s hope dims further and further until a mysterious stranger appears offering her a deal that could cost her everything, or give her everything she’s ever wanted. This book tells a story of music, magic, and the unyielding bond between siblings.
Release Date: March 3, 2020
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins. This selection holds a special place in my heart, as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy was central to my literary journey as a middle school student.As of now, we don’t know much about what Collins has planned for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, but the novel will be a prequel to the trilogy, taking place sixty four years earlier than the events of The Hunger Games during the Tenth Annual Hunger Games. Although this novel will not include Katniss or Peeta (for obvious reasons) here’s to hoping that we might see some cameos of older characters from the original trilogy! This book is set to be released in May, giving us just enough time to reread the original books first.
Release Date: May 19, 2020
You Are Not Alone – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Hendricks and Pekkanen are already a highly-acclaimed writing duo, known for their top ten bestsellers The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl. Their latest novel, You Are Not Alone, is centered around Shay Miller, a woman without a job, apartment, or a love life. Her eyes are opened when she witnesses an average woman make the decision to end her life by jumping in front of a subway train and realizes that she could see herself traveling down the same spiral. She soon meets a group of glamorous, put-together women offering to take her in with the promise, “You are not alone.” As Shay becomes more involved with the enviable Moore sisters, she finds her life getting better and better, but at a terribly high price. As the stakes continue to grow higher and higher, Shay finds herself wondering if “You are not alone” is a promise, or a threat. This psychological thriller is sure to shock and fascinate all varieties of readers.
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Imagine Me– Tahereh Mafi. Imagine Me is the sixth and final book in the explosive Shatter Me series. Try as I might, there are no words to accurately capture the beauty of this series. The series is set in a dystopian future and is centered around protagonist Juliette Ferrars. Juliette possesses a singular ability that makes her both powerful and feared: anyone who touches her feels immense pain and can be fatally wounded. Juliette uses her abilities to try and overthrow the tyrannical Reestablishment destroying her world. The prose of this series is especially noteworthy, as some lines and passages are crossed out to reflect Juliette’s train of thought. The Shatter Me series tells a story centered around love, resilience, and triumph over adversity. For those who have already read the other books in the series, I’m glad you can empathize with my bubbling excitement; for those that haven’t, you have almost four months to get caught up before the final book is released!
Release Date: March 31, 2020
The Authenticity Project – Clare Pooley. “Everybody lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth?” This is the question that aging artist Julian Jessop wrote in a green notebook labeled “The Authenticity Project” before leaving it in a local cafe. When Monica stumbles upon Julian’s notebook, she adds her own story and aims to find a way to make Julian feel less alone. Soon, a whole cast of characters have added their stories to the green notebook, and even begin to meet in real life, where they’ll subject themselves to the terrifying ordeal of being known. The Authenticity Project promises to be a lighthearted and quirky yet candid and outspoken narrative on the nature of honesty and love. This book is highly recommended for those looking for a book about the human condition and who want to change the way they think.
Even amongst bookish people, the topic of short stories can be a divisive one. Some readers see short stories as too tedious or time-consuming, while others readers might complain that they feel short stories lack the depth of a novel. Adding to this conundrum, some readers were never properly introduced to short stories and now feel too overwhelmed by the genre and don’t even know where to start. Whatever the case may be, we here at The Spellbinding Shelf celebrate short stories, inviting you to abandon all prior convictions with our comprehensive list of five collections that are bound to make you fall in love with short stories.
Her Body and Other Parties—Carmen Maria Machado. Machado is known for the macabre undertones in her writing and for creating female characters who are not always wholesomely motivated. The ease of her prose makes this collection incredibly alluring, but there is more to it than that—these stories are dark, empowering, nuanced, sinister, and above all else, great fun to read.
Civilwarland in Bad Decline—George Saunders. This is a powerfully imaginative collection that tests the elasticity of language. It doesn’t matter if Saunders is writing about subversive capitalistic greed or an amusement park that is reminiscent of West World, these tales are impeccably crafted. Each story presents a strange new world that will leave the reader intrigued and wanting more.
Stories of Your Life and Others—Ted Chiang. In this collection, Chiang challenges the notion of what short stories are capable of. He builds dense worlds rich with unique language and dynamic characters. He experiments with time to decrease the flow of information to a drip, and yet every page will leave you yearning to know the tales extraordinary conclusion. Ted Chiang is an author worth reading again and again.
Magic for Beginners—Kelly Link. While all of the authors on this list so far experiment with blending the lines between genre and literary fiction, none are so adept at it as Kelly Link. That is not to say that her stories are gimmicky or weighed down by superfluous magic systems and supernatural characters. On the contrary, Link’s stories are full of emotional truth and excavate the far reaches of the imagination. Simply put, these stories are magical, but their power does not come from casting spells, but rather, in their ability to entrance their reader.
Since 1978, the Best American Short Stories series has been a literary staple with anthologies cultivated by great writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Tobias Wolff, Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore, Roxane Gay, and most recently Anthony Doerr. Each year, this anthology puts forward twenty short stories that represent the best published short fiction. Each collection offers new worlds of enchantment, heartbreak, and excitement. There is no better place to find scores of talented writers, and also a plethora of publications, to further explore short stories—which by now you’re bound to love.