A Series of Unfortunate Events Ranked

When I was little, my mother bought all 13 books in this series because it was the first series we found to have a character named ‘Violet,’ my sister’s somewhat unusual name. This was what began my love for this series, and I have endlessly consumed the books, movies, and TV shows based on it ever since. From Klaus’ distaste of bread pudding to Violet tying her hair up when inventing, and from Sunny transforming from an infant who loved to bite into a brilliant chef to Lemony Snicket’s endless wit, I love everything about this series. That being said, I love some of the books more than others. Here is my ranked list of every book in the series.


13. The Vile VillageThis book just didn’t do it for me. It was lacking the humor and the storyline, and characters were just not as engaging as the other books on this list. In each of these books, ridiculous and comically unfair things happen; here, it felt like just unfair things happened. It is somewhat of an outlier in the series, both in terms of plot and tone, which is why it ended up near the bottom of the list. Also, the book seems to taunt the audience by naming the town “VFD,” but it isn’t the real VFD we don’t even learn anything about VFD!

12. The Miserable MillAs much as I enjoyed Count Olaf dressing up as Dr. Georgina Orwell, this book just was not as interesting as some of the others. I found the tone depressing, but not in Lemony Snicket’s classic, darkly humorous way. In general, this book felt like filler and it didn’t have much of a real and lasting impact on the broader plot of the novels. Overall, it was not my favorite and was pretty hard to get through without feeling sad.

11. The Slippery SlopeWhat this book is missing is the dynamic between the Baudelaires and their guardians. Though naturally they need to be on their own at some point, as well as the plot needing some diversification, this book lacked many of the elements that make A Series of Unfortunate Events books so wonderful. I also felt like this book dragged on a bit too long, and with the exception of meeting Quigley, it was not as integral to the plot of the series.

10. The Carnivorous CarnivalThis book definitely isn’t bad, but it just isn’t my favorite. I really liked the “freaks” who were really just relatively normal human beings, and I love the sheer absurdity of feeding the Baudelaires to the hungry lions. However, despite these humorous moments, it was simply not as engaging as some of the others, and I did not leave this book desperate to read the next one like I did with the books further up on this list.

9. The EndThough this book is rather sad and I wish things could be different, the ending of the series is fitting. I found it bittersweet to learn the answers to some of the secrets that had plagued the Baudelaires since the beginning of the series. Part of the fun of the books was the thrill of the secrets and reading until late hours in the night hoping to find answers. Secrets were a driving part of the plot, and, while my curiosity was satiated, I was slightly saddened to learn the answers because it meant that the series was over. That being said, it is a good and interesting conclusion to this 13 book series.

8. The Hostile HospitalWe are now getting into the section of this list where I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books listed here. Cutting off Violet’s head is a stroke of genius and Lemony Snicket’s writing perfectly blends humor and horror. The library is also one of the best parts of this book because it makes the mystery of VFD even more intense.

7. The Penultimate PerilThe morality of this book is a lot more gray than some of the earlier ones, with some characters not exclusively good or evil. Though I like this development a lot, it does not lend itself to as much wittiness as the stricter binaries that the earlier books do. My favorite part of this novel is how close we get to unraveling the secrets without actually revealing them. This makes it very intense and engaging. It’s also a stroke of sheer inspiration to organize a hotel based on the Dewey Decimal System!

6. The Bad BeginningThe first book in this series is a classic for a reason. Meeting iconic characters like the Baudelaire orphans, Count Olaf, and Mr. Poe is the reason why this book is number six on the list. It establishes the amazing dichotomy between children and adults, good and evil, and smart and stupid. I really adore how the children need to convince an incompetent adult that Count Olaf is evil. This is not present in some of the later books and it is detrimental to them. Though the plot is not as complex and interesting as some of the later books, it is still amazing, absolutely hilarious, and sets the tone that we all know and love for the rest of the series.

5. The Grim GrottoThis book sets up the ending for the next two books and introduces the newest danger: the Medusoid Mycelium. I also love the mystery of the Question Mark, which only shows up on the radar as a “?.” I’m still angry at the TV series for telling us what the question mark was, because the ominousness of not knowing was why it was so terrifying. Overall, this was an excellent addition to the series and I love the shenanigans—albeit rather frightening ones—that accompany the Baudelaires and Count Olaf on a submarine.

4. The Reptile RoomWho can forget the whole page of “ever?” The Reptile Room is full of wonderfully executed twists and turns, and I adore that it almost reads like a classic mystery novel. Uncle Monty is also one of my favorite adults in the whole series, and his charm is one of the reasons why I love this book as much as I do. This is also the first novel where we get one of Count Olaf’s disguises. The disguises are a hilarious constant throughout the series. When I was reading the series the first time, finding out his latest disguise was always one of my favorite parts to each novel so needless to say, the very first disguise he donned was particularly exciting.

3. The Wide WindowThere is something deliciously hilarious about Count Olaf dressing up as a sailor named Captain Sham and having none of the adults notice his disguise. This book really sets the precedent that the adults either can’t or won’t help the Baudelaires, something that remains constant throughout the series. Thus, in this book, we find the orphans coming into their own. 

2. The Austere AcademyThis was our first introduction to the Quagmires! I absolutely love the Quagmires, and their introduction leads to even more knowledge of VFD and the secret lives of the Baudelaires’ parents. It is also where we first meet Carmelita Spats, who is undoubtedly one of the most hilariously entitled characters that I’ve ever read. The ideas of an “Orphan Shack” and a Vice Principal named Nero who plays the violin are similarly brilliant. Overall, this book is amazing and one of my favorites!

1. The Ersatz ElevatorThis book is my all time favorite! I love the constant fluctuation between what is “in” and “out.” It also exemplifies the narrator’s dark humor and both clever and hilarious writing style.The Ersatz Elevator is also perfectly paced and highly suspenseful and it was honestly difficult to find anything wrong with it. I also love how it introduced us to Esmé Squalor, a recurring character. She adds a lot to Count Olaf’s pretensions of grandeur and their relationship creates two compelling villains for the remainder of the series. This book represents everything that is great about the series!


I hope you enjoyed my ranking of these childhood classics! Feel free to comment your list or to disagree with me in the comments! If you want to purchase any of these books, go here!

Perfect Imperfections

If Sense and Sensibility were a twenty-first century novel, Marianne would be the heroine, not Elinor. There is no way a woman with perfect composure who never offends anybody would take the spotlight. Marianne always speaks her mind, sometimes to the degree of incivility. She wears her heart on her sleeve and gets it broken. This brings a drastic change in her personality as she adopts discretion for the first time in her life. Elinor, whose perspective we have the most access to, and can therefore be considered the primary character, is politically correct from the beginning. She is fully functional when she’s down in the dumps and low-key patronizes her sister for indulging in a mourning period.

Granted, it’s Jane Austen. But even Thomas Hardy with his candid, earthy writing could not do worse than Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd, whose only fault is that she dares to run a farm without consulting a man. She is punished for it by being put through a series of toxic relationships that break her spirit and rob her of her independence until, spoiler alert, she finally submits to the man she spurns in the first chapter.

Many of our revered classics—The Picture of Dorian Gray, Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby for example—were highly controversial when they were first published and received mixed reviews. It had a lot to do with the fact that the main characters sinned repeatedly without obvious remorse, and that readers of that time could not stomach the acres of moral grey area that these fictional worlds presented. One could say that they were ahead of their time, like most great works of art. They paved the way for eminent writers of our time to create realistic characters with quirks, vulnerabilities, and impulses.

It’s more than just the artistic cliche of romanticizing pain. I think society became more accepting of imperfection as time went by—or at least less ashamed of it. We finally admit that we relate well to flawed characters because they give us hope that we too can experience amazing, extraordinary things, battered and dented as we are. The last thing the modern reader wants is a morally unscrupulous hero or heroine. What we want is to witness growth.

Percy Jackson Books Ranked

As I’m sure many of you have already heard, Rick Riordan recently announced a Percy Jackson TV series coming to Disney+. This is a much-deserved reward for the loyal fans who have read and loved the books, only to be sorely disappointed by the film counterparts. Our patience has finally paid off—now, we’re getting a series comprised of one season for each book, produced by Riordan himself! In honor of the wonderful news and to help pass the time before it comes out, I have put together a personal ranking of the books in Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Bear in mind that this list does not include the books from the Heroes of Olympus or Trials of Apollo spin-off series. It also goes without saying that this list is rife with spoilers—read on at your own risk!


5. The Sea of Monsters. Starting things off at number five is The Sea of Monsters. Granted, this book has plenty of memorable moments: Annabeth listening to the sirens, the team’s fight with Polyphemus, and—of course—Tyson’s introduction as Percy’s cyclops half-brother. This book was also a beautiful ode to The Odyssey, and featured a host of callbacks, from the sorceress Circe to Polyphemus’s anger with being thwarted by Nobody. This book is last on my list, however, mainly because it largely focuses on setting the stage for the books that follow—aside from the few interactions with Luke’s assembled army, there is little development in regards to the war with Kronos and the Titans. Despite this, The Sea of Monsters has perhaps one of the best endings in the series, with Thalia being resurrected by the Golden Fleece, adding a twist to the Great Prophecy.

4. The Lightning Thief. Oh, The Lightning Thief. Where do I begin? When ranking a series, it’s worth mentioning that the readability of a series is largely dependent upon a captivating first book. If we didn’t like the first book, we wouldn’t want to read the rest. This book is singular in the series in that the reader is immersed in a world of modern-day Greek gods for the first time—from discovering Percy’s godly parent to learning that Mount Olympus now resides above the Empire State building, there is a certain level of novelty and whimsy that can’t be replicated in the other books. Overall, The Lightning Thief is a mostly-lighthearted introduction to life at Camp Half-Blood and the world of modern Greek mythology. It places fourth on the list only because I find the books get better as the plot thickens, which is why my top three picks are the last three books in the series.

3. The Battle of the Labyrinth. This book is centered around one of the coolest (and also creepiest) myths out there, which is why it is one of my favorites. Nearly everyone knows the story of Icarus and Daedalus, which means Riordan could spend less time on the backstory and fully focus on advancing the plot. This book was full of shocking twists—from the revelation that Quintus is actually Daedalus to Luke becoming the host for Kronos’s spirit, this book was certainly not lacking in action. The Battle of the Labyrinth itself was also a satisfying conclusion to the buildup of the preceding books regarding the two armies preparing for war. It was also refreshing to see Annabeth finally lead a quest of her own. The only aspect of this book that didn’t sit well with me was Rachel’s addition as a love interest for Percy—to me, this felt forced and unnecessary.

2. The Titan’s Curse. I truly can’t sing enough praises for this book. There are just too many wonderful things, where do I begin? We’re introduced to the hunters of Artemis, Thalia, and—of course—the di Angelo twins. We get to meet Nico and discover yet another child of the Big Three. Not to mention, there are some good dam jokes in this book. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The Titan’s Curse also serves as a bridge between the light-hearted books in the beginning of the series and the higher stakes characteristic of the later books. This is the first book featuring a major character death, and shows that war has casualties and nobody is safe.

1. The Last Olympian. I know, I know. Perhaps its cliché of me to choose the last book as the best, but come on. Finding out that Silena was Kronos’s spy at Camp Half-Blood still remains one of the greatest plot twists of all time. Percy taking on the Curse of Achilles was an amazing decision, and allowed for a much-needed exploration into Luke’s past. Plus, Percy and Annabeth’s relationship has such a beautiful progression throughout this book—Annabeth being Percy’s anchor to the mortal world? Percy turning down immortality for Annabeth? The underwater kiss? It was unbelievably satisfying to see these two finally get together. This book also has a wonderful redemption arc for Luke, and has a satisfying conclusion with Rachel’s status as the new oracle. It also sets the stage perfectly for the Heroes of Olympus with the next Great Prophecy.


So, there you have it! There’s definitely room for discussion regarding this list, but I hope you enjoyed this one reader’s thoughts. I’d love to hear your own ideas about the series, too! If you haven’t read these books, or are looking to reread them, you can find all of them at Changing Hands website here.

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.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette: Book-to-Film Adaptation

“People like you must create. If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society” – Paul Jellinek, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

In Maria Semple’s novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Bernadette Fox is a menace, both to herself and society. A lost soul, she finds a unique solution to rediscovering her creativity and the family whom she’s been neglecting by literally running away to Antarctica. As a woman right about Bernadette’s age, I am drawn to books and films that portray the protagonist in the throes of a breakdown or midlife crisis. It is highly satisfying to follow along on a character’s journey of self-discovery, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette is no exception. As an architectural-genius-gone-recluse after several setbacks, I thoroughly enjoyed her path to enlightenment. 

So, when they announced a film version starring Cate Blanchett in the titular role, I was cautiously optimistic. In truth, I would probably pay to watch Blanchett read the back of a cereal box, but I had my reservations about this particular book-to-film adaptation. As Semple’s novel is largely a collection of emails, letters, and police reports, I was unsure how writer and director Richard Linklater would translate that to the screen. In addition, the novel’s success is credited to the strong, multi-dimensional characters. As it turns out, I had some cause for concern. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead!


Blanchett rose beautifully to the challenge of portraying the quirky, vulnerable, and misguided genius Bernadette Fox. For me, Blanchett was Bernadette—with huge, dark sunglasses and a scarf draped over her hair, she was the epitome of the reclusive genius. She wears all of Bernadette’s absentmindedness, and eccentricities as portrayed in the novel as easily as she dons her rubber rain boots and fishing vest. 

Some of Blanchett’s best scenes, in my opinion, are the ones in which she composes frantic emails to Manjula, the identity thief posing as a Delhi personal assistant. The filmmakers make the wise decision to have Bernadette use voice to text email to communicate her exhaustive requests while she plods about her decrepit home making the odd repair, and sopping up rain from the constant roof leaks. The witty, and mostly manic, monologues from the novel surrounding planning her daughter Balakrishna’s (Bee) gift trip to Antarctica are hilarious. Most telling are the verbal detours that Bernadette takes in the form of tirades about Seattle and the gnats (otherwise known as the other parents). These rants, to a non-existent Manjula, reveal so much about Bernadette’s insecurities, paranoia, and anti-social behavior.

It is that true-to-the-novel attitude that works in telling Bernadette’s story. A fine example comes in the form of the video essay: after a chance meeting with a fan of her architectural work, Bernadette discovers a biographical video essay to commemorate one of her biggest accomplishments and heartbreaks, the Twenty Mile House. Done documentary-style, the video gives the audience a much-needed glimpse into Bernadette’s architectural past, offering an explanation as to why she has chosen to hide herself, and her talent, away. At one point in the film, the video and Elgin’s real-time discussion with a shrink about Bernadette’s self-destructive behavior toggle back and forth—this editing choice makes his concern for Bernadette all the more believable.

With Blanchett’s larger-than-life Bernadette, the other characters of the novel get short-changed, in my opinion. Bernadette’s husband, Elgin, played authentically by Billy Crudup, gets a bit of a makeover. In the novel, he is a self-absorbed Microsoft workaholic with little time for Bernadette and her shenanigans. His frustration leads to an affair with his assistant, Soo-Lin, who in the film is relegated to just being overly involved. The filmmakers choose to present him as more kindhearted and loyal, which works for the movie’s happy ending. 

Emma Nelson as Bee has some important scenes which establish the mother-daughter bond that is so evident in the novel. Unfortunately, in the movie, that bond manifests itself as mostly defending Bernadette’s actions. The two actresses however, are at their best when driving through the rain singing along to “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper. Bernadette’s love and affection for Bee is clear here, and evokes enough vulnerability to balance out her quirky recluse persona. She again taps into this vulnerability when the two lock eyes during Bee’s school performance. I found those scenes to be more affecting than the film’s parting, in which Bernadette’s letter to Bee from the novel becomes a voicemail message—Bernadette rambles into the telephone receiver as Elgin and Bee look on. While the reunion is sweet, I much preferred the novel’s ending that features Bernadette’s letter filled with hope, love, and the promise of a new future for all three of them.

A pivotal character that is far more prominent in the novel is Audrey Griffin, the gnat from Galer Street School which Bee attends. Played by Kristen Wiig, Audrey, like Elgin, is a little more palatable in the film than in the novel. The thorn in Bernadette’s anti-social side, Wiig provides the film with some standout moments from the novel including the injured foot, and the no trespassing billboard. Wiig does a good job of balancing out Audrey’s detestable personality with a vulnerability that comes through in an important moment during the escape. After Bernadette jumps out of her bathroom window, she and Audrey patch up their differences in a revealing and funny way that I preferred to the novel’s. Add the backdrop of Audrey’s filthy home thanks to the mudslide (as funny on film as it is in the novel) and you have a great scene between two confused women.


Overall, as a film about a woman rediscovering herself, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a success, in my opinion. It is wildly funny, and touching where it counts—thanks mainly to the strong lead performances, particularly Blanchett’s. Where the novel surpasses the film is in its development of the supporting characters and their contributions to the story. As you often see with a book-to-film adaptation, the novel offers more depth than its movie counterpart. Not a runaway hit, but still good fun.

The Heroines of Olympus

In 2005, Rick Riordan had the brilliant idea to write about a fantastical universe where ancient Greek mythical characters are “alive and kicking.” However, the gods have adapted to the growth of civilization and developed some new characteristics: Dionysus, god of wine, is on withdrawal and drinks nothing but Diet Coke. He is unhappily in charge of a summer camp for demigods, children of gods and mortals. Mount Olympus, home of the gods, is perched atop the Empire State Building (invisible to mortal eyes), which, of course, means that the entrance to the Underworld, land of the dead, is in L.A.

Growing up as a Riordan fan, I developed a keen interest in Greek and Egyptian mythology. But, as enraptured as I was with his three series—Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus (a spin-off of PJO) and The Kane Chronicles—I couldn’t help but notice a pattern in his character sketches that really bothered me.

No one can deny that Riordan has created some very powerful female characters. He places fierce warriors like Annabeth Chase and Clarisse La Rue on the frontline in battle scenes. His depiction of Artemis, goddess of the moon, and her immortal troupe of maiden hunters (who have swapped their tunics for camo pants and combat boots) is bordering on reverent. But he also, maybe inadvertently, puts down several female characters who are traditionally more feminine—Aphrodite, goddess of love, is portrayed as an affected diva who likes to meddle in people’s love lives. Most of her demigod children are vain and have skills that are of little use to Camp Half-Blood, and their cabin is described as “decorated like a Barbie house” where “supermodels go to die.” The final insult comes in the form of her daughter, Piper McLean, who is revolted to find out her godly parentage.

This demonization of femininity is not unique to Riordan. Many male authors find the need to create heroines who are unmistakably “tomboyish,” and who despise all things pale pink or frilly. Although the intent behind this is to empower these characters and, consecutively, the preadolescent girls who idolize them, it is inherently sexist because it assumes that femininity is weak. I can’t stress enough how damaging a message like this is to a young girl’s psyche—finding your identity as a teenager is confusing enough as it is. Adding to it, characters like Piper McLean, who has a huge “not-like-other-girls” complex, shame young girls with naturally feminine tastes. It also suggests to young boys that women who don’t show outward toughness somehow deserve less respect and are, therefore, at the mercy of the men in their world.

To Riordan’s credit, however, the vilification seems to reach its peak with Piper. Sadie Kane, who first appeared in 2010 in The Red Pyramid, the first book in The Kane Chronicles series, is more realistic. At twelve, she is moody, chews a lot of gum and wears combat boots. But she also wears a chic dress and light makeup to her school dance. She is much closer to the idea of a real adolescent girl than most of the heroines in the other two series because her personality grows and changes substantially through the series. More importantly, she’s respectful of other people’s tastes, even when they don’t match her own.

Despite giving the impression that they were all initially built from the same mold, Riordan’s heroines are inspirational to say the least. In the world of Greek mythology, which is the definition of a patriarchy, the idea of female heroes who go on quests with their male peers as equals is a novelty that the heroes take in their stride. The three series also address issues like racism and homophobia, which is rare for young adult fiction published around the same time. As a loyal reader who stuck with Annabeth and Sadie and their respective gangs till the very end, I hope to see more strong women with diverse personalities on the pages of Riordan’s future books.

Happiness Under Cover

In times of uncertainty and stress, I’ve always found myself with my nose in a book. But somehow, amidst the stress of working remotely and social distancing from the people I love the most, I found myself pushing away reading. Of course I would do some mild reading in my free time, but I couldn’t focus on the stories or get involved with the narrative the way I used to. Seeing my lack of motivation, a friend shared a podcast with me about how the objects around us can make us happy. I learned that the colors, shapes, and physical spaces we surround ourselves with have much more to do with our happiness than I ever imagined. Being the determined book lover I am, I decided to take this new knowledge to my bookshelf. Out of the nearly one hundred books I own but have not yet read, I selected the three with the covers that made me feel happiest. My hope was that seeing these covers would help me get involved with the story and give myself an escape from other daily stresses. The three books I discovered were The Nix by Nathan Hill, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, and Untamed by Glennon Doyle. These authors did not disappoint.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

With its bold, colorful font and homage to 1960’s “hippie” culture, the cover of The Nix called to me. I’m certainly glad it did. Within the pages of The Nix, I found an important story about a son’s re-connection with the mother who abandoned him. But, more importantly, I found characters I could relate to. Nathan Hill’s characters are the definition of flawed: they are selfish, lazy, untruthful and somehow they are exactly what I need at a time when I am distanced from the people I love. Within these flawed characters, I found people I could relate to and cheer on through their troubles. Reading The Nix was an oddly similar experience to listening to that one friend who always seems to have drama despite their good heart. I wanted to give Hill’s characters advice and became so wrapped up in their lives I forgot I was reading a seven hundred page novel. I would recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a realistic story about love and redemption.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

The cover of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth appealed to me with its simple beauty. This was not my first time enjoying Patchett’s work, so I wasn’t surprised to find the novel engaging and heartfelt. As always, Patchett’s characters are realistic and the plot felt important. However, I did have a tougher time getting through the work compared to some of her other novels; it almost felt like Commonwealth was written to be consumed slowly. There were many moments when tension between characters made me want to take a break in my reading to give myself and them a moment to breath. Although the work was slow paced, it did give me much of the same comfort as Hill’s novel, that comfort being knowledge that I am not alone in my inevitable human flaws.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle felt like a simultaneous breath of fresh air and a much needed slap in the face. Doyle is most famous for her work as a blogger and her memoir Love Warrior. I picked up Glennon Doyle’s newest memoir, Untamed, a few weeks after it came out in March 2020. I haven’t read Doyle’s other popular works, but this one had interested me because it supposedly told the story of her marriage to retired soccer star Abby Wambach. As an avid soccer fan, I was compelled to purchase the memoir, but it had been quickly forgotten on my bookshelf. Forgotten, that is, until I searched for the happiest covers I owned and found Untamed with it’s collage of glittery paint. Under this bold cover, I found Doyle’s voice summing up the lessons I had already been teaching myself through the other two novels I read; we all have setbacks, but they will not stop us. Although her memoir is aimed at women, it seems to apply to anyone who has experienced a disruption in their life they weren’t sure they would overcome. In a time where nearly every person in the world is experiencing a disruption of their normal lifestyle, Doyle’s words feel vital. Untamed was a memorable read that I am still contemplating even as I write about it.

Thoughts

Everyone has been warned not to judge books by their covers, but if it might bring you happiness, then why not? I’ve never been the type of reader to select a book at random. I usually have a list of which books I will be reading next based on recommendations, new releases and reviews I read about them. Defying this usual routine felt liberating in a way that allowed me to enjoy the novels for what they were instead of what I expected them to be. Who knows, I might even make it a habit to read a book every once in a while simply because looking at it makes me happy.

Staff Book Spine Poetry

Since we were unable to meet in person for a social event this semester, our staff connected through a virtual book spine poetry reading, a great option that was both bookish and fun. Over video chat, each staff member shared a picture of their book stack, where they’d arranged the titles into a poem of their own. We found our results engaging and thought we would share them below!


Rachel, Editor-in-Chief

Wicked
headstrong,
big, little lies
FOOL
wise blood.

While creating this book spine poetry about the steadfastness of lies, I had to keep reminding myself to work with the titles I had on my bookshelf and to not get distracted by my wandering imagination. I needed to restrict my vocabulary to that of the authors in my library. In this challenging writing practice, I was reminded that limitations force us to be creative in new ways. What at first seems to be an unfortunate obstacle can actually help us to think differently and to create uniquely. As many of us find ourselves in uncertain and seemingly impossible situations during this new season, I think one hopeful silver lining is that this resilient, creative force we each have is able to thrive in moments of limitation. 


Payton, Managing Editor

Losers. 
Dispatches from the 
other side of the scoreboard;
Great expectations.
Girl, wash your face,
Eat, pray, love,
I'd give anything. 

My poem is about the struggle with perfectionism (very close to my heart) and the growth/pain of learning to accept weaknesses, picking yourself up, and not letting accomplishments or met/unmet expectations define your worth. 


Makenna, Communications Coordinator

This is What Happy Looks Like
This is what happy looks like:
a light in the attic,
love and gelato,
our family recipes.
Happier at home:
no one can take your place.

I dedicated this poem to my twin sister, who recently returned from eighteen months away from home on a service mission in another country. It represents our experience in two-week quarantine at home which was full of love and happiness through our reunion together as a family.


Roxanne, Staff Writer & Communications Coordinator Apprentice

Diary of an Oxygen Thief
A Dance with Dragons,
Imaginary Friend.
A Wrinkle in Time,
The Fault in our Stars.
Two by Two,
The Tenth of December.

The process behind this poem was a little chaotic. I essentially pulled out all of the books I have from my bookshelf at my college housing and stacked them in various ways, but it took a while to find a combination that I liked. Finally, I decided Diary of an Oxygen Thief was a great poem title, so I started there and moved down the line. I wanted to make sure it flowed like a poem, so I made sure some titles had determiners in them like “a” and “the” to add some separation. While it is still kind of list-like to me, I liked that it almost reads like thoughts or words someone (an oxygen thief?) jotted down quickly in a notebook. It adds an element of mysteriousness and that kind of became the mood of the poem in the end! 


Edward, Staff Writer

Pity the Reader 
We the Animals
In the Dream House

I composed my poem specifically about the sound, wanting to put unique titles together.


Abhilasha, Staff Writer

Matters of the heart
Trouble the saints—
The cheapest nights,
Dead land.

When we’re emotionally involved, the lines between right and wrong get blurred. Matters of the heart need a margin of human error. Also, the most imperfect things can be beautified by a loving gaze—the cheapest nights, a stretch of barren land.


Jade, Staff Writer

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living:
Now that you're here, 
Don't be a stranger. 
Rise and shine, 
Chasers of the light: 
Start something that matters. 

When creating my book spine poem, my mind immediately went to the current state of the world and the fear and anxiety we are all undoubtedly feeling. My poem is meant to be a response to this and a reminder that the important things in our lives (connection, love, meaning) still exist amid the uncertainties. While worrying is an inevitable part of life, it’s important to remind ourselves that we can still choose to focus on the important things in life that bring us joy and a sense of meaning


Mackenzie, Staff Writer

One Hundred Years of Solitude: The Stranger Ruins All the Bright Places

My process for creating this poem was to try to construct a narrative, so I looked for a book title that contained a verb and worked from there. I also tried to incorporate different genres of books I liked so that it represented what I like to read.


Erin, Staff Writer

Lost Souls
Waiting
On Earth we are briefly Gorgeous
Mumbo Jumbo

My book spine poem was created by grouping together titles that evoked similar feelings or images. Although I was working with a limited collection of my books, I enjoy how the poem turned out. My untitled poem is about the feelings of confusion and uncertainty that are plentiful in the world right now. For me, the poem acknowledges the beauty of being human in a largely chaotic world.


Sharon, Staff Writer

"no rules!"
RULES
exciting times
but
hey, kiddo
look
both
ways

As my daughter turns 18, her thoughts are consumed with the “no rules” lifestyle that she believes college will bring her. My poem is about my acknowledgement that these are indeed exciting times, but hey kiddo, you have to look both ways and not get tripped up by your own sense of freedom.


Amanda, Staff Writer

Into the wild, wise child
What dreams may come
With wicked, reckless 
Beautiful creatures
Catching fire
Crazy making
Writing magic

My inspiration came from Reckless and Beautiful Creatures being next to each other on my bookshelf. This poem is about being a writer, and how the writing process includes a little bit of chaos and darkness.


Bonus: Mackenzie, Staff Writer

History
A Dark History, The Tudors. The Source: Six Wives. —The Executioner's Journal.

I used my history books to construct a little joke about the craziness that is Tudor history. Enjoy!


The Screw Keeps Turning

Hollywood horror movies have earned their place as the reigning champions of clichés and overdone tropes. Iconic stories like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” have been recycled, re-imagined, and represented both with success and resounding box office failure (looking at you, 2017’s “The Mummy”). Right alongside our favorite monsters are the ghost stories—which happen to be a personal favorite of mine. In my opinion, it’s a little harder to make a good ghost story into a movie, because suspense is harder to portray successfully then a well-done CGI monster. Ghost stories have their moments, and just like our iconic monsters, there are some ghost stories that stand the test of time and earn their place among the great horror novels of history, and thus their place in cinema.

The Turn of the Screw is the type of ghost story you may not have known you’ve seen before. It has the creepy house with dodgy staff, a spotty history with unexplained deaths, and Hollywood’s favorite horror trope, creepy children. Not only is it a staple of Henry James’s work, but it has been made and remade into films for decades, some successful, and some, not so much.  At one point, James’s strange Gothic tale of a governess and her encounter with the supernatural was even transformed into an opera. Just like the works of Shelley and Stoker, ghost stories like The Turn of the Screw have their moments in the spotlight, and we need only wait for the right inspiration before they return to mainstream relevancy with a vengeance.

Early this year, Universal Studios released The Turning, which is a modern take on Henry James’s novella. One of the brightest stars recognizable from the new adaptation would be Finn Wolfhard, from Netflix’s of Stranger Things, as Miles. Miles is one of the two children that are central to the plot of The Turn of the Screw, and Wolfhard accurately portrays his eerie childlike beauty as well as his somewhat unsettling nature. The young actor already has some clout with horror, even though Stranger Things errs more on the side of science-fiction, but the hype his casting creates certainly puts this iconic Henry James piece back on the map for an audience that might not otherwise be exposed to the 1898 classic.

…”The THeater of the mind [is]… so much more powerful than any screen…”

Now, in concerns to move adaptations, book lovers often must take them with a large grain of salt. Not only is the theater of the mind so much more powerful than any screen, some of the most defining traits of our favorite stories are the ways in which they are written. Henry James’ unique style of writing and the way in which he builds the tension in his novella are defining characteristics that have never been successfully translated to the big screen. This, coupled with the description “re-imagining” means that I went into this film trying to maintain an open mind and not be too harsh on how it might stray from the original story. I don’t intend to write any spoilers, especially since the national COVID-19 epidemic has closed theaters almost right in the middle of its run, but I left this film feeling quite underwhelmed. Not only does it miss the subtlety that makes The Turn of the Screw as iconic and masterful as it is, but many of the plot points are cheapened to produce a quick scare. I’m as much a fan of the jump scare as the next person, but when you associate a film with a book, you take on certain responsibilities to represent that story and what makes it so beloved for its readers. Far be it from me to hold Hollywood to that, especially since we have so many flops seeming to communicate that faith to the original work is the least of their worries.

Adaptations done right

But all is not lost. Just like we have these adaptations that fall short of our love for a certain story, sometimes we have one that rises to the occasion. A breakout hit on Netflix in the Fall of 2018 was The Haunting of Hill House. You might recognize the title from another master of the ghost story, Shirley Jackson. Even though it fell even more firmly under the category of “re-imagining,” I would venture to say this is one cinematic endeavor that did so successfully, albeit in a serial format rather than a feature-length movie. The series managed to capture the tell-tale gothic atmosphere that make most ghost stories successful, and took enough elements of the novel to pay homage to the original while also weaving a unique tale. The result was a series that honored Shirley Jackson’s work and created a beautiful, stand-alone story with rich characters, suspense, horror, and heart. After the award-winning success of their first season, Netflix announced a follow-up second season that would utilize the same actors, but tell the story of another haunted estate near and dear to a book lover’s heart. This second season will be called “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” which should be recognizable as the estate in which The Turn of the Screw takes place. Let’s just say that my hopes are considerably higher for this iteration of this incredible novella, if how much I loved the first season is any indication. While I expect the same treatment with the story that Hill House underwent, the attention paid to the spirit of the source material coupled with real creativity and good writing makes the giant leap between films like The Turning and what I expect The Haunting of Bly Manor will be. For that comparison, however, we will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, one can always content themselves with the original. The Turn of the Screw is a quick read, but lingers with you long after it is finished. The novella begins like the best of ghost stories—with a group of friends around a fire, exchanging scary stories. It is a secondhand account, passed down from the protagonist that experienced the event, a young governess commissioned to teach the orphans Miles and Flora at Bly Manor. We know what we are getting into from the beginning, but still, the suspense built from the unusual circumstances of her employment to the occurrences on the manor grounds draw the reader in and keeps them guessing, on the edge of their seat.

Was it all in her head? you can decide, come April 7th

Ambiguity is also a defining feature of The Turn of the Screw, leading us to wonder whether it was all in the governess’s head, or if she really was a victim of the ghosts of Bly Manor—and, isn’t that the best thing about ghost stories? We get to be scared and are still left to wonder if ghosts are real or if it’s all in our head. The Turn of the Screw is worth a read anytime of the year, not just during Halloween when we’re in the mood for scary stories. And if you are still curious about The Turning and would like to draw your own conclusions, you won’t be able to catch it in theaters, but you can still catch it on streaming services starting April 7, 2020.

If you are like me, and are sitting on pins and needles for the Netflix’s second season The Haunting of Bly Manor, you will be happy to know that production wrapped up filming in February and the show is set to premiere sometime in 2020. (I’m willing to wager around Fall, since that’s when most people are looking for their horror fix.) Until then…

Double Indemnity and the Lost Art of Noir Fiction

Noir fiction is a lost art, and maybe for good reason. The genre is rife with misogyny, sexism, and toxic masculinity, traits that don’t fare well in modern culture. But every era is just a capsule that shows how its people were raised, what they valued, and what they envisioned for the future. While we can read noir fiction with a bad taste in our mouths, we can also read it with detached curiosity about the time capsule in which it’s contained. In doing so, we inevitably find a genre rich with sharp storytelling, witty dialogue, and crafty characters.

Double Indemnity

The novel Double Indemnity is no exception. Written in 1943 by American novelist James M. Cain, it inverts the typical salty and wise-cracking detective story into one of an anti-hero. This is the story of the criminal himself, insurance salesman Walter Huff.

Huff is hardworking, all-American, laser-focused, and keen to ferret out shady deals to protect the firm he works for. When he drops by the Nirdlinger residence to remind the elusive Mr. Nirdlinger to renew his automobile insurance policy, he meets the volumptuous femme fatale Phyllis, the dissatisfied wife of Mr. Nirdlinger. Phyllis discusses insurance with Huff, feigning ignorance of the whole process, but when she starts fishing for information about accident coverage, Huff grows suspicious. He knows immediately that Phyllis wants accident insurance to pull a fast one on Mr. Nirdlinger, and he wants no part of it. That is, until later that night when he starts stewing over the idea. What if he devised a perfect scheme to collect an accident insurance claim? After all, Huff knows every angle of the insurance business, and it’s something he’s thought about more than once. 

Romance, premeditated murder, and a faked train accident

Thus begins a taut narrative of romance, premeditated murder, a faked train accident, and a suspicious insurance agency that will find any reason not to pay out the claim. Huff plays it cool, but as his boss, Keyes, begins to piece together the evidence, the tension begins to crack the relationship between Huff and Phyllis. Huff drifts away out of self-preservation, but he begins to form a close bond with Nirdlinger’s daughter from a previous marriage, who confesses that she thinks her stepmother, Phyllis, killed her father. Huff tries to talk her down, until he learns a shocking truth about Phyllis, one that will lead him to do the unthinkable.

While readers might be quick to dub Phyllis an archetypal spider-woman, who lures Huff into the twisted web of her plot, it is Huff who masterminds the murder and orchestrates it. Still, it’s difficult to see Walter Huff as a real criminal. Cain sketches his character with enough human complexity that he emerges as a near hero by the end of the book, leaving Phyllis behind as the twisted villain. But we can’t quite forgive Huff for committing murder, and neither can Cain. In the end, Huff’s and Phyllis’s mutual culpability drags them to a surprising ending.

Say what you will about the noir fiction genre of the early 20th century, but many of these stories were ahead of their time. Their exploration of sexuality and hard crime were deemed appalling by readers of the era, though these themes feel tame by modern standards. Still, the grip these stories have on the history of crime fiction and thrillers is undeniable, and they provide a history lesson that will keep you up reading late into the night. 


Guest Post courtesy of Ryan Doskocil