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

Sisters in crime: A visit with the Daring Dames of High Desert Intrigue

The moon cut the night sky, a razor-sharp glint casting only enough light to throw all into shadow. Pools of light cut feebly into the night, outlining the figures that moved swiftly through them, in and out of darkness. The figures hastened towards a brightly lit building in the distance as if pulled there by some unseen force. There was a metallic taste to the air, and the girl breathed in deeply, sucking the hint of electrical current deep into her lungs.

Tonight was the night of the gathering. Her pulse quickened as she took her first step through the maze of shadows. Perhaps she would be met by only whispers and furtive glances, huddled figures gathered closely in dim corners. The fabrics of their elegant clothes swishing softly, the deep folds capable of hiding any number of perilous items. Instruments edged with the same precision as the neatly honed words of the authors of mystery and suspense who collected inside. Fear mingled with excitement, and her curiosity drove her onward towards the distant glow which broke the darkness.

My Night at Croak & Dagger

Though this may be a highly romanticized version of the night I visited with the New Mexico chapter of the Sisters in Crime organization, neatly titled Croak & Dagger, my excitement was no less palpable. I was elated at the idea of a network of women writers who share my love of characters that cannot be trusted, moonless nights whispering the promise of death and betrayal, and the thrill of the hunt. I knew upon learning of this society that here I would find kindred spirits, here I would find women laced together in ink and blood.

The Sisters in Crime is a world-wide network of writers and bibliophiles boasting more than 60 chapters with over 4000 members. Self-described on their website as “authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by our affection for the genre and our support of women crime writers.” With more than 50 chapters existing in the United States, the syndicate’s wide-spread reach is indicative of the enthusiasm which permeates its meetings.

I arrived with notebook hand, armed with the name Charlene Dietz, president of the local chapter with whom I had corresponded. The room itself was in stark contrast with my gloomy musings, brightly lit and inviting, packed with chairs in neat rows. There was a colorful array of scarves, jewelry and cozy sweaters to stave off the chill of the late winter air outside. A buzz filled the room, people happily chatting, leaning close in to each other in their excitement. I was greeted at once by a warm smile by a woman who introduced herself as Ann, and gently pulled me into the fold. We were greeted, in turn, by a tall woman with perfectly bobbed, silvery hair and an equally gentle look. As she introduced herself, this was Madame President, she welcomed me with a hug and I felt immediately at ease.

I took my place in the front row as the meeting commenced with a jovial feeling. There was light banter back and forth between the speakers and crowd. A change in future meeting venue was being discussed, and as one speaker stated, “I cannot stress to you how hard it is to find a parking spot,” she was answered with a mischievous “How hard is it?”, the company bubbling with laughter. This was the business portion of the evening, and topics ranged from upcoming meetings to community events were discussed. The line-up of speakers for the next few months included a court reporter, a fellow author, and a neurologist. Each of these presenters selected for the knowledge they could impart which was relevant to the crime genre. The members discussed an upcoming “speed dating” event which would consist of a conversation between one writer and one reader for three minute increments in several rounds.

The members enthusiastically planned for events such as a library tour in Albuquerque and the surrounding area, as well as celebrating each other’s publishing and writing successes. One author was scheduled as a panelist for a literary conference in California, another had just gotten his 600th Amazon review. Yes, there were also a few men sprinkled throughout the meeting, illustrating the inclusivity which I had already felt. Perhaps the greatest excitement in the room came when the premiere event of 2020 was reviewed. Having a submitted a request to the national syndicate, Croak & Dagger was proud to announce that it had been given permission to have an event with best-selling mystery author Rhys Bowen. With discussion of sister chapters and the appearance of a nationally known writer, it was apparent that while this chapter was local, the interest and the network itself was ubiquitous. I got the feeling that no matter where a person might visit the Sisters in Crime, they would be greeted with as much warmth and literary fervor as I had been.

The latter half of the meeting consisted of a panel discussion, consisting of the voices of readers, the subject of which was “What Do Readers Want Authors to Know?”. Introductions of the panelists were made by Charlene, prefaced with the statement “this may or may not be true.” Some of the biographical information she shared was fictional, and everyone present was delighted by the creative energy. After being asked what they looked for in covers when choosing a book, ideas such as “interesting details” and “what other authors have blurbed about the book” on the back cover were mentioned. One panelist looked for an interesting font on the spine of a book when choosing. The members of the crowd paid close attention, each visibly storing away the information for future perusal. Some plot dos and don’ts were also brought up, such as not killing off an important character, or not allowing for a character to betray the reader by acting against their nature.

The final question of the night was, “What happens when you close a book?” A panelist replied simply, “If you’ve created a world that I can inhabit, I will remember.” This heady idea was agreed on by all the panelists and the discussion closed with all present reminded of the reason that we all love the written word. The panelists were each given an engraved silver-toned letter opener, marked S in C (Sisters in Crime) Croak & Dagger to mark the occasion.

As the meeting ended, the chatter crested throughout the room once again, this time filled excitement for the future and abuzz with fresh ideas. Members dwindled out, heading to the nearby coffee shop to continue the lively exchange. I hung back taking it all in. Several members spoke to me and expressed their pleasure at my presence and encouragement to me as a writer. Ann even shared with me some of her own story, telling me about her days writing as a both a student and teacher. I left with a feeling of deep satisfaction. I had not only found a meeting of like minds, I had found a sisterhood (ahem, and brotherhood) of kind and creative souls.


The Sisters in Crime is a world-wide network of authors and book enthusiasts open to any new members with a passion for finely crafted words and crime. For information on how to join, please visit https://www.sistersincrime.org/. Pages for Croak & Dagger, as well as the Arizona chapters Desert Sleuths (Phoenix metro), and the Tucson Sisters in Crime can be found both here and on the website.


Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea

Like many readers before me, my main question after finishing Jane Eyre was about Bertha Mason: who was she and why was she driven mad? I am always skeptical of the “madwoman in the attic” trope. It is too often used to reduce women’s rich internal lives and ignore the cause of their supposed “madness.” It is this insanity that Jean Rhys explores throughout her novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, giving life to a previously static character.

Who Was Bertha Mason?

An illustration of Bertha Mason from the second edition of Jane Eyre. The image says that it is public domain and I got it from Wikimedia Commons so I think it is alright to use this image. I am not sure though?
An illustration of Bertha Mason from the
second edition of Jane Eyre (1847)

Antoinette Cosway (whose name later changes to Bertha Mason) was born into a slaveholding family in Jamaica. Shortly after her birth, all of the slaves were liberated and her father died, presumably after drinking himself to death. Naturally, the Cosways were treated terribly after their slaves were emancipated and their house fell into disrepair. The former slaves hated the Cosways which led to Bertha’s mother going insane shortly afterwards. The tension escalated with the former slaves burning down their estate, in an event hauntingly similar to Bertha Mason burning down Mr. Rochester’s mansion in Jane Eyre.

It is quite interesting how these events are treated in the novel because Antoinette is relatively ignorant of her family history. Thus, she presents them as monumentally unfair. However, from a historical standpoint, the former slaves’ anger is arguably completely justified. Throughout the novel Antoinette is completely unaware of why things, particularly bad things, are happening to her. In many ways, she is a victim to the patriarchal and racial systems that determined her place in society and these effects drove her to insanity—this is typical of “madwomen in the attic.” Antoinette’s step brother viewed her as property and her husband viewed her the same way, only marrying her for her wealth. She was tossed around from house to house while being given absolutely no information, or choice, in the matter.

“They are both fighting each other for control of the other…”

However, it is incorrect to posit that Antoinette is only a victim, which seems to be the point of her character. Every character in the novel is morally gray, both harming other characters and being harmed themselves. After her relationship with Mr. Rochester sours, Bertha turns to her nurse, Christophine, for obeah magic so that she can rekindle their relationship. The novel insinuates that Antoinette sexually assaults him and he wakes up feeling violated. Later, Mr. Rochester sleeps with one of the maids within earshot of Antoinette in an effort to reclaim his freedom. They are both fighting each other for control of the other, both trying to remove the others’ sense of self. The actions that Mr. Rochester and Antoinette take towards each other are equal parts insidious and understandable.

Mr. Rochester arrived in Jamaica and was immediately lied to about Antoinette and her family so that she could marry him, and upon learning these lies, he felt betrayed and coerced. At one point in the novel, Mr. Rochester also begins calling Antoinette, “Bertha,” primarily as a means of control and separating her from her true identity as well as separate his mental image of her from the person who lied to him. This action is dehumanizing and, as Antoinette mentions, “names are important,” so changing one has a much broader impact.

“She cannot bring herself to see the truth: that they lost their way en route and, perhaps, never truly arrived.”

The prose in Wide Sargasso Sea is both beautiful and haunting, just like the novel as a whole. When Antoinette is narrating, her stream-of-consciousness style meanders through her various traumas. It mimics the landscape and her surreal relationship with it. Rochester’s prose begins as very proper English, but the more time he spends in Jamaica, the more his narrations resemble his wife’s and the more fantastical he becomes. Both of these characters feel as though they are in a dream world when they are in each other’s homes. When Antoinette is in England, she refuses to even acknowledge that they are in England because it defies her worldview so drastically. She cannot bring herself to see the truth: that they lost their way en route and, perhaps, never truly arrived.

Though the premise of this novel is fan fiction, the end result is a stand-alone work. The reader walks away confused, unsure if the characters are likable, or even telling the truth. Both Mr. Rochester and Antoinette’s actions are justified in some sense, but also hurt each other very deeply. Each character in the novel functions this way, leaving the reader wondering who is in fact reliable and trustworthy.

Ultimately, Wide Sargasso Sea provides a beautiful and terrifying picture of the effects of isolation. Mr. Rochester is a stranger in Jamaica, and Antionette is a white creole girl on an island surrounded by her former slaves. They are both out of place, but do not have a true place either, which drives them to hurt each other in insurmountable ways to escape from their drowning feelings of solitude. Overall, it was a wonderful read and adds rich new texture to Jane Eyre.

Little Women: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

We all have our favorite type of book. Personally,  I am drawn to those that make me feel more like myself after reading them. More often than not, these books are classics, and Little Women is no exception. Due to my fondness of this gorgeous novel, I had very high standards for the recent movie adaption, and am pleased to say that they were exceeded. Before we dive into my thoughts, please keep in mind that this post contains major spoilers for the Little Women novel and film—read on at your own risk!


It’s become common vernacular to call classics “timeless,” but modern adaptations are always a welcome reminder of the enduring themes found in these works. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy were catered to an audience from more than a century ago, yet we can still relate to and feel seen by the sisters’ personalities (Jo, here!). Many of the ideas expressed throughout are still relevant today as we grapple with similar roles and expectations. Try as I might, I don’t think there is room in this post to capture every wonderful thing about this adaptation. Instead, I’d like to focus on three main differences between the book and film.

The first of these changes is Greta Gerwig’s ingenious decision to create a fractured narrative of the original storyline. Instead of beginning on Christmas day with four little girls, we see four grown women already established in the world. If you’ve read the novel before seeing it in theaters, it was a bit jarring to be thrust in nearly three-quarters of the way through, but the purpose soon became apparent during the first flashback to the Gardiner’s party seven years early. This creates an interesting twist on the familiar story by starting with well-established women making their way in the world, and then going back to show their beginnings. It also allowed for some powerful juxtapositions, such as Beth’s heartbreaking death scene. To keep the storyline from getting too muddled along the way, the film follows two timelines: one starting in the winter of 1861, and one starting in the fall of 1868. Both timelines progress forward from their origin point.

The second of these changes involved Laurie’s relationship with Jo and Amy. Personally, I thought Amy and Laurie’s engagement in the novel was quite abrupt, and even went so far as to reread the book upon finishing to see if I had missed clues of their feelings for each other earlier on. By comparison, Amy is seen pining after Laurie throughout the entirety of the film, and even says that she’s loved him her entire life. I found this change refreshing, as it gave the viewer more insight into Amy’s character and better justified her actions.

This change did, however, have an interesting effect on Jo’s character. In keeping with the original story, Laurie proposes to Jo, and is rejected, but she later reflects that she might have been wrong to turn him down and goes on to write him a letter asking to marry him after all. The letter is never delivered, however, as Amy and Laurie return from France engaged, leaving Jo to frantically retrieve and destroy the letter. While this change did give the viewer more insight into Jo’s feelings (an Oscar-worthy speech delivered by Saoirse Ronan on gender roles and loneliness that still has us sobbing), it also painted Jo as being somewhat resentful of Amy’s relationship. 

Perhaps the most noteworthy change Gerwig made to the original storyline is the film’s ending. After Freidrich leaves for California, the family comes together to tell Jo that she loves him and needs to go after him. The scene suddenly cuts to Jo in the publishing house with Mr. Dashwood, with the former explaining that her character doesn’t get married, and the latter insisting that her book won’t sell if it doesn’t end with marriage. Jo reluctantly agrees, and the scene shifts to a (possibly fabricated) past where Jo confesses her love to Friedrich. The ending is open to the viewer’s interpretation: the first is a meta twist where Jo publishes her book, Little Women, and remains happily unmarried, and the other stays true to the novel’s conclusion, with Jo and Friedrich getting married and opening a school together. This dual-ending could reflect Alcott’s own life, or the story she would’ve chosen for Jo if she didn’t have to meet the demands of the time period, but still honors the book’s original ending. More so than this, however, it suggests that it is not the chief end and aim of the story to focus on whether or not Jo marries.

No adaptation is without its cuts, and while I mourn the loss of Jo’s disastrous dinner party and Beth’s kittens, this film did an admirable job of condensing nearly 800 pages into a two hour film while still including the best parts.


If you have already seen the movie and are interested in reading this book yourself, you can buy it from Changing Hand’s website here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!