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!

Harry Potter Books Ranked

I’m sure most, if not all of us, are familiar with the Harry Potter series. They have taken the world by storm ever since Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997. It’s safe to say even if you love them all, there are probably some you love more than the others. Here, I have compiled my ranking of the novels ending with my all-time favorite. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)


7. The Chamber of Secrets. Starting the list at number seven is The Chamber of Secrets. I put this here because although it contains a multitude of catalysts for the rest of the series, I just don’t find myself drawn to it as much as I am to the others. It is chalked full of adventure and clues which I love, but I can’t see myself choosing it off the shelf first.


6. The Philosophers Stone (AKA The Sorcerers Stone). Next we have The Philosophers Stone, which, for obvious reasons, is a classic. This is the first in the series and the Harry Potter world would be nothing without it. There is something magical about meeting all the characters for the first time and learning about magic with them. That being said, the other books have more dynamic qualities surrounding the characters—and even Rowling’s writing—and so due to that, The Philosopher’s Stone comes in at number six on the list.


5. The Prisoner of Azkaban. The fifth novel on the list gives us further insight into the creatures of the Wizarding World. I love the symbolism of the patronus and it’s contrast with the dementors, and of course, meeting Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black for the first time. This book does follow the traditional pattern of time that I grew to love in the first two, but the excitement of switching that pattern up in the other novels ranks this one just a tad lower on my list.


4. The Half-Blood Prince. Now I know the order of this list is a little chaotic, but stay with me. The Half-Blood Prince is a staple in the series, with the discovery of the first horcrux and of course the death of Dumbledore. A lot happens in this book to set up the last one in the series, but, I placed it here on the list because I feel it has just a little less excitement and character growth than the following three books on the list. It is still full of enchantment and moves the plot effortlessly, however, I find myself gravitating towards these next three novels the most.


3. The Goblet of Fire. The next book on my list is a fan favorite. Almost everyone I know favors this book and I can see why. The Goblet of Fire is the fourth book in the series and at this point, most of the readers are in a routine where Harry goes to Hogwarts and something out of the ordinary happens throughout the school year. This book switches up the routine with the Tri-Wizard Tournament, which adds a new and exciting element to the traditional pace of the story. It is also the catalyst for the next three novels with the return of Voldemort and the first “real” death of the series (RIP Cedric Diggory). Overall, this book is full of adventure and excitement, making it a very fun read and great addition to the series.

2. The Order of the Phoenix. My second all-time favorite Harry Potter book tends to be a bit controversial, but there’s a few reasons why The Order of the Phoenix has always been one of my favorites. First, my favorite relationship throughout the novels is Sirius Black and Harry Potter’s. It’s the first time that Harry has a father figure and feels truly happy, and I love seeing that development between the third and fifth book. That being said, this makes his death in this novel all the more emotional. The first time I read it, it was entirely unexpected and 100% made me cry, making it very memorable for me. I also strongly dislike Umbridge, so a lot of different emotions came out of this—and I think that is the marking of a good book.


1. The Deathly Hallows. It may seem cliché for the last book in a series to be my number one pick, but in my opinion this novel ends the series perfectly and shows the most growth in all of the characters. Throughout the series, most of the audience grew with both the characters and Rowling. We saw them find their voices as she found hers. Every character was their most dynamic in this novel and it was heartwarming to experience. Even Neville Longbottom came out of his shell, which I’m sure we were all waiting for. It has emotional deaths, suspense, and a satisfying end with a look at the future. I don’t think the series could have ended any better.


This list was incredibly hard to make, I mean how do you rank literary genius? However, I went with my gut and thought about the novels I re-read constantly and am generally drawn to, and thus this list of rankings emerged. Feel free to comment your list and let us know what you think! If you’re interesting in purchasing any of these, you can find them all on Changing Hands’ website here.

Sharp Objects: Book-to-Miniseries

Book

Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Broadway Books
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Pages: 272
Buy Local

Like any lover of books and cinema, I’m always excited to watch a film adaptation of a book I’ve finished reading. Most recently, I’ve been interested in the literary miniseries trend, where producers transform a book into several television episodes, often adding complexity to the story with additional characters and storylines. The HBO miniseries Sharp Objects, based on the book by Gillian Flynn, does exactly this.

Both the book and miniseries follow Camille Preaker, a mediocre reporter who is sent on an assignment to cover the murders of two preteen girls in her tiny hometown, Wind Gap. Camille’s editor, Curry, senses a compelling story is waiting to be uncovered in the southern town, but he also believes sending Camille to her hometown could be healing for her since she recently had a brief stay at a psych hospital after self-harming. Once in Wind Gap, Camille receives a chilling, unwelcoming greeting from her mother, meets her half-sister for the first time, and struggles to find any information on the case from townsfolk, the police, or the dapper detective from out of town. Amidst her own troublesome memory and trauma, Camille feels she must unravel the story of her town and her own past to make sense of this mystery.

While I think the miniseries was excellently cast, I think actress Patricia Clarkson (as Adora, Camille’s mother) was particularly accurate. From her appearance, to her mannerisms, costume, voice, and acting, Clarkson’s portrayal of Adora felt spot on. Clarkson captured the Adora I had imagined while reading the book, and it was amazing to see her acting on screen in this series.

While there were several changes made in the miniseries—including an additional storyline about Camille’s rehab roommate, a scene about Calhoun Day that created a toxic Southern Gothic atmosphere, and more town drama in general—I think the most substantial change between book and television was the removal of the first person narrator.

In Gillian Flynn’s novel, we receive all of our information through the mouth of Camille Preaker. On the other hand, in the HBO series, we lack this narration and are not limited to one perspective. I think this cinematic choice made Camille’s alcohol abuse much more apparent in the story. While there were certainly murmurs of alcoholism in the novel, the first person narration did not emphasize this self-medication issue as seriously as the miniseries did.

The choice to remove the first person narrator also makes it harder for the viewer to access Camille’s complex mental states. In the book, the reader gets to see Camille’s thoughts and trauma unveiled—or, at least, as unveiled as Camille is willing to let her thoughts be. In the miniseries, the viewer must rely on fairly chaotic flashbacks to Camille’s haunting memories to understand her mind instead. This reliance on flashbacks to explain Camille’s mind seems to downplay Camille’s sexual trauma, which was more apparent in the book. It also makes Camille’s mental illness more mysterious since the viewer is left to fill in his or her own conclusions.

Of course, most obviously, the miniseries’ removal of the first person narrator also allows the viewer more information to which Camille is not privy. For example, the miniseries provides much more insight into the out-of-town detective and Camille’s editor, making them both more likable characters.

Another (albeit less significant but still interesting) change was the miniseries’ inclusion of music. The soundtrack is entirely diegetic, so whenever a song is featured, it’s because a character turned on a radio, pulled out an old iPod, or started a record. In order to accomplish this feat and avoid creating a dull soundscape, the miniseries gave Alan (Adora’s husband and Camille’s stepfather) a strange obsession with music. In much of the series, the viewer finds Alan tinkering with his stereo system, turning a blind eye—and ear—to the more sinister things happening around him. The miniseries also gave Camille a cracked iPod, which belonged to her old roommate from her stay in the psychiatric hospital. These two additional items provide most of the soundtrack for the series.

In large part, I think the television series and original novel both use their literary and cinematic advantages to highlight the dangers of denial. Throughout this suspenseful story, we see both young and grown characters deny traumatic memories of rape, abuse, and bullying. We see Camille struggling to accept herself and denying vulnerability, pain, love, healing, and truth. We see a townswoman named Jackie who denies a horrible truth she has uncovered about a lifelong friend that she refuses to reveal. And we see the town denying the reality of the two murders as they place more importance on maintaining their own social reputation and standing.

I usually say the book is better than the film adaptation, but I think this HBO miniseries gave Sharp Objects a run for its money. All the same, I recommend starting with the book so you have the opportunity to see dreary, ominous Wind Gap through Camille’s own eyes first.

Miniseries

Network: HBO
No. of episodes: 8
Rating: TV–MA
Main actors: Amy Adams (as Camille Preaker), Patricia Clarkson (as Adora Crellin), Eliza Scanlen (as Amma Crellin)

An Unsettled Flying Sea: Reflection on a Poem by Frank O’Hara

In the late days of Tucson summer on a Sunday afternoon, I found myself overwhelmed by an excess of simultaneity. Calendars for work and school and my personal life needed further adjusting; a cross-town trip to find new eyeglass frames loomed; and I felt eager and anxious to start writing the weekly newsletter for my introductory English course section. I consulted my volume of Frank O’Hara’s poems for advice. Flipping the sturdy hardcover open, “Ode (to Joseph Leseur) on the Arrow that Flieth by Day” appeared.

As you’ll find in his poem, O’Hara’s agile and rapid mind departs from a quotidian Sunday radio broadcast described via an unlikely simile—“like dying after a party”—and arrives at the poem’s earth or sea cleaving conclusion a little over two dozen lines later. In between, we’re treated to an absurdist Mother’s Day greeting for Russia in the second stanza, what feels like an excerpt from an advertisement  (“Win a Dream Trip”) in the fifth stanza, the novelist Andre Gide’s name being dropped, and approval of a visit to listen to Aaron Copland’s Piano Fantasy (1957). I call this O’Hara’s cultured, joyous, caring grind—which isn’t a grind at all; it’s a slender-yet-sumptuous slice of the life of Frank O’Hara. Or in the life of any of us if we had the verbal skill and delighted in vulnerability as he did; I could only be pleased to write a poem or memoir or email that exuded such liveliness.

I considered “Ode (to Joseph Leseur) on the Arrow that Flieth by Day” in terms of departure and arrival, making this choice because the poem resembles a travelogue. O’Hara tells us very briefly what he’s experienced and the individuals he encountered along the way. No one can say how much of the voyage that is the “Ode” occurred in O’Hara’s mind alone, and the poem feels that much more confidential because of that. On reading it, I felt like he’d been kind enough to share some amusing and insightful asides with me, encouraging me to consider my to-do list as something other than a burden. 

Upon further musing, I realize O’Hara’s “Ode” transports me to the barely-breezy summer days when I began writing this reflective post, when there was less to coordinate and complete, if only because the temperature was often above 100 degrees. I picture myself after setting down the hardback volume of poems, feeling encouraged and comfortable with the uncertainties ahead, I walk outside. There, I lounge in the summer air next to the cacti and the cars, just beneath the sun. The four cats I live with are intrigued by me, ridiculous in my pink sandals, bemused by my exposed torso under the cactus sun, my eyeglasses already ready. 

I lounge and consider the heaviness that hangs over “Ode” like the sun hanging over me. That heaviness resides in the poem’s title, which comes from Psalm 91:5, where it is part of a memento mori—a reminder to remember your death. Death, if we can follow with O’Hara—if I can follow his joyous, caring grind so well—is the last thing among those contained by summer days. It can be touched without resistance, with a gentleness like saying “summer” or “our sea” or “hello.”


We would like to thank Nick Mueller for this guest blogger reflection.

Let it Snow: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

I remember falling in love with the novel Let it Snow during the peak of my John Green phase, at least 8 years ago. So, when I heard it was being made into a Netflix Original film, I actually screamed in excitement. I adore Christmas stories, so what could be better than three Christmas stories that are intertwined? Absolutely nothing. As with any book to movie adaptation, I was a bit nervous; however, despite minor differences, the film did not disappoint.


Let it Snow follows three different main stories, each one written by a different author; John Green, Lauren Myracle, and Maureen Johnson. Each story is separate yet still connected at the same time, making it one of my favorite elements of the story.

The basic structure of the story consists of three different Christmas love stories, each at a different stage. One pair has been best friends for years, the other just met on the train, and the last is getting over a breakup. They are all trying to muddle through the world around them the best they can, and even with all the chaos around them, they may just find love.

With any book to movie adaptation, there were some changes implemented. I’m sure we can all agree that, generally speaking, this is our least favorite part about these projects. However, most of these changes were small, and the two major changes made the story even better. What changes? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Change 1: The first of these changes comes from the story of Julie and Stuart, known in the book as Jubilee and Stuart.


In the written version, Jubilee is on the train headed to Florida, but it gets stuck in Gracetown. She meets Stuart on the train and they spend the day together. Most of this stays consistent in the movie, except that Jubilee’s name becomes Julie, she is not headed to Florida, and Stuart is a famous musician.


Personally, I think this change allowed their story to come to life even more. Julie’s family plays a larger role in the movie and her character is more dynamic in some ways, and that makes her story with Stuart even more sweet.
She ends up on the train because she is trying to find a gift for her mother, not because she is being sent to Florida.
This was one of my favorite sub-stories in the novel and the changes they made in the movie made me love it even more.

Change 2: The other major change in the film is more notable and had a much larger impact on the plot. I mentioned that the novel follows three love stories, but the movie decided to add a fourth.

This one follows Addie’s best friend, Dorrie. Addie’s story follows her dealing with the hard part of a relationship—a breakup, or potential breakup in her case. This breakup is paralleled with the novel, but Dorrie’s story is not. She was given her own spotlight, as she struggles trying to figure out if the girl she likes reciprocates her feelings. This is an important adaption for a number of reasons.

The new representation of the LGBTQ+ community gives the film more nuance. Unlike the novel, the film also incorporates an initial stage of relationships that I am sure we are all familiar with: the “do they like me back” battle we have internally. Dorrie’s new storyline was funny, adorable, and wholesome—which is everything I loved about the book to begin with. I am not generally a fan of major changes in book-to-movie adaptations, but this is one I can most definitely get behind.

I can honestly say that I have watched the movie three times since it was released, and plan to keep re-watching.


You can find the movie on Netflix by searching “Let it Snow.” If you are interested in purchasing the book, you can buy it from Changing Hands’ website here. I hope you love them both as much as I do!

A Descent Into Madness with Edgar Allan Poe

Listen, if you’ve read my previous post, you’re probably thinking to yourself…is Poe the only thing she ever writes about? The answer is, no. Come on though, it’s October! Who better to usher us (“The Fall of the House of Usher” anyone?) through this season than literature’s resident psychopomp, Edgar Allan Poe?

In all seriousness, Poe’s work has captured the imaginations of generations of readers, which made me want to consider why these stories keep us coming back. What is it about Poe’s writing that continues to intrigue and even terrify us?

My answer: meticulously crafted work; that is how. Poe is a master of his art. His words are carefully chosen to render their chosen effect, guiding the reader down whatever dark hallway, or shadowed path he has carved out for them. So, I invite you to examine with me one of Poe’s most famous works, his poem “The Raven,” and appraise exactly how this wordsmith operates.

The Raven

In Poe’s “The Raven,” the unnamed speaker slowly follows his own obsessive preoccupation with death into madness, taking the audience along with him. The speaker is addressing a bird (who may be a figment of his imagination) with philosophical questions regarding the afterlife. The repetition of an automated response from this bird causes the speaker to become emotionally unstable, his own morbid and melancholy brooding leading him to infer meanings from this response which further his distress. 

One of the main devices which Poe uses to achieve this effect is repetition. During the course of the poem, certain words, sounds, and emotions are reiterated in different variations so as to mimic the mania building inside of the speaker. 

The tone of irrational fixation becomes clear in the second stanza of the poem: 

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor, 
Eagerly I wished the morrow; –vainly I had tried to borrow 
From my books surcease of sorrow–sorrow for the lost Lenore–
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore–
Nameless here for evermore. (7-12) 

Poe makes a point to state that it is “bleak December” (7). This information, in addition to the fact that the events are taking place at midnight, alludes to the end of something, a kind of death of the day or year.  The emphasis is again placed on death when the speaker notes that, “each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor” (8). This vivid, and none too subtle, metaphor drives home the melancholy tenor of the speaker’s thoughts. 

It is then stated that this somber mood is because of the loss of a loved one, a beautiful woman named Lenore (11). Within this brief stanza the idea of death is hinted at, or directly addressed, over and over again, leaving no doubt as to the singularity of thought in the speaker. 

This stanza is also an excellent example of the pointed word choices that Poe employs. The author states in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” that he is building atmosphere by “unusual, and some altogether novel effects, arising from an extension of the application of the principles of rhyme and alliteration” (Poe, 743). The stanza is comprised of a quatrain and a couplet;  the final two lines (couplet) rhyme with one another, as well as rhyming with the final line in the quatrain. This produces a musical quality that is emphasized further by the use of internal rhyme within the stanza. 

In the first and second lines the words “remember,” “December,” and “ember” all appear in close proximity (7-8). This is mirrored in the third and fourth lines by the words “morrow,” “borrow,” and “sorrow” (9-10). This sing-song hypnotic quality pulls the reader in, as the speaker himself is being pulled into his obsession. 

By employing the device of repetition in both the tone of the poem, as well as in creative technique, Poe is able to establish an impression of compulsive insanity. The speaker circles around and around the same thought, with each pass becoming more frenzied and unstable. A replication of the anxiety which fills Poe’s speaker is created in the audience by proxy. The reader is subjected to the same unceasing thoughts that the speaker himself experiences. At the end of Poe’s poem, the desired effect is produced, and both the speaker and the reader are exhausted; each being oddly satisfied with an abundance of sorrow and lunacy. 


Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Philosophy of Composition.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Robert S. Levine. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym, Robert S. Levine. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Wendy Webb: The Queen of Northern Gothic

My favorite book is Jane Eyre, my second favorite being Pride and Prejudice—what can I say? I’m a classics lover.

But now, I have a third favorite book, and it’s all thanks to a magnificent new author on the scene: Wendy Webb. And spoiler alert, it’s not a classic that takes place in Regency Era England. I know, I didn’t think I could be swayed either.

But here we are.

Honestly, I am someone who has a very difficult time branching out and trying new authors. But, as with most good things in my life, I can thank my mom for this one. 

I’ve mentioned this before, but I lived on the gorgeous North Shore of Lake Superior in a quaint little city called Duluth. My second summer of living there, my parents came to visit and see what I kept raving about as “the most beautiful place in the whole world.” 

On one of our excursions, we visited the most charming little town of Grand Marais, and if you know my mom, we inevitably ended up at a bookstore. 

Not just any bookstore. A little Cape-Cod-style cottage painted in pastels that sat just a few hundred yards from the shore of the lake. Oh, and there was a donut shop right next door. I guess this is what they mean by location, location, location.

But I digress. 

In the local authors section (the best section!), she stumbled across a writer named Wendy Webb, someone who had made their debut within the last few years. Trusting the bookstore owner’s incessant praise, my mom purchased the first of many Wendy Webb books we would come to own. 

I remember being hesitant when my mom first suggested I read one of her books. See, Wendy Webb is a Northern Gothic writer—and gothic was not really a genre I tended to dive into. Remember my favorite books? But, I decided to give it a shot and cracked open her most recent novel, Daughters of the Lake. She was a local author after all. 

Best. Decision. Ever. 

While I typically think of mystery/gothic novels as being contrived, Webb was inventive and played with the well-loved framework brilliantly. Instead of being overly-predictable and cheesy, Webb created a believable world that left me guessing until the last chapter. Where I expected flat characters with flatter relationships, Webb breathed raw and wonderful life into every character that graced the pages of her novels. 

But fair warning, her ability to bring a story to life also left me with a fear of turning off the lights some nights. In the best way. 

In the end though, what I found so exciting was that each novel took place along the North Shore of Lake Superior, some even in Duluth—though under different names. It was like a world that she created just for me, because I could envision every town and building she spoke of, having been there myself. 

And so, maybe I’m romanticizing an author because she sets her books so beautifully along the shore I love most in the world—but maybe, just maybe, she really is all I say she is. 

I guess it’s up to you to decide. 


For more information about Wendy Webb, click here.

Wendy Webb’s Full Works: The Tale of Halcyon Crane, The Fate of Mercy Alban, The Vanishing, The End of Temperance Dare, Daughters of the Lake

A Thousand Lives: How Books Connect Us to Our World and Beyond

As readers, we live double lives—the first as individuals who exist within the confines of reality, the second as incessant travelers. 

My library, ever-growing and changing through the years, has taken me across different universes. From large-scale battles between humans and High Fae, to adventures with sword-bearing demigods, to life-altering cab rides with a driver carrying messages. The destinations and layovers are endless, yet the vehicle remains the same: books.

Fantasy writer George R.R. Martin once explained, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.” But books do more than connect us to other fictional lives. They also connect us to our own lives in the real world.

Today, I’d like to share just a few small—but powerful—ways in which books have personally connected me to the world.

Exchanges

From lending out well-loved copies of Harry Potter in exchange for Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, to borrowing a roommate’s graphic novel collection of The Last Airbender in exchange for Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn trilogy, book exchanges have strengthened my relationships in incredible ways. In fact, I like to think that my roommate became a close confidant largely because of our shared evenings filled with animated book discussions.

Recently, I participated in an online book exchange that I stumbled upon on Instagram. I sat with a close friend of mine over frozen yogurt and scattered stationary as we wrote letters to our respective recipients. The experience was a firm reminder of how book reading can enrich existing friendships, as well as provide hope for a new one that is waiting to form.

Reminders of Strength

As a lover of literature, books have been more than a way to pass the time—they have smoothed things over for me both in turbulent times and in the chaos of travel; I imagine this rings true for all of you self-proclaimed book worms. 

Traveling has been embedded in my identity the very moment I stuffed my belongings into a bright red suitcase seven years ago. When my family and I left my small Philippine hometown to pursue a better life in the United States, the very act of traveling suddenly took the connotation of hard goodbyes and painful memories.

What helped me during the moving process itself was what came inside that bright red suitcase. Stuffed in its main compartment were bits from home: my grandmother’s rosary, printed photos from my childhood, pressed flowers from our home garden. And in the front pocket, situated there entirely for accessibility, was my copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

Mariam and Laia’s story has always inspired me, but right then, it was different. It was a more immersive experience; I took all of my anxiety and dismay and allowed them to suspend momentarily. Instead, I dove deep into a story of turmoil paired with healing. As I folded myself into the uncomfortable airplane seat, I was able to draw irrevocable strength from the characters’ experiences of loss, pain, and ultimately, powerful recovery.

Sources of Comfort

Whenever I set out on a journey, I always ensure at least one thing makes it onto my agenda: a trip to a new bookstore.

My trip to San Francisco comes to mind most readily. As I explored City Lights Bookstore, I felt a keen and deep sense of belonging upon seeing titles that promised paths to different universes—titles that allowed me to brave the unfamiliar and terrifying in more accessible (yet still exhilarating) ways. In books, I found the stepping stones I needed towards courage.

So, although traveling—especially when it entails abandoning the familiar—is never a comforting experience, books have given me an avenue out of the uncertainty and discomfort: a way to ground myself in familiarity for when I inevitably travel again.

***

Through books, I have seen places of pure fantasy come to life; I have learned new ways to make closer bonds out of my friendships, to look at wrenching pain as a story of redemption, and to find comfort even in the most frightening places.

In reading, we get to live the only way we should: fully, completely, and—if we’re lucky—a thousand times.


Guest blog post courtesy of Arni Dizon.