4 Unfinished Series So Good You Won’t Mind The Wait

I know what you’re thinking, why not wait until all the books are out? Well, my counter is: where’s the fun in that? Don’t you want that feeling of anticipation when the day of your favorite series’ next book finally comes? You head to the bookstore and see it front and center in a towering display of joy and satisfaction. You purchase it because one of the thrills of being a bookworm is, in fact, purchasing more books than you have room for. Then you go home and spend the next couple of hours reading the book you’ve been waiting for all your life. Here are four unfinished series with sequels coming soon that have the potential to become that book.


American Royals—Katharine McGee. I did not expect to love this as much as I did and now it’s one of my favorite books. I finished the first one in a couple of hours and headed straight back to buy the second. I thought this was a duology and almost cried when I found out there was going to be a third one. I need more of this story! The third book, Rivals, is expected May 31st. A short wait for such a high reward. (Preorder here.)


The Inheritance Games—Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Puzzles. Romance. Danger. I bought this on a whim without seeing if it was a completed series or not. It wasn’t, unfortunately, and now I find myself in the position of having to wait until August 30th to find out what happens next in The Final Gambit. So many twists and turns. So many questions left unanswered. (Preorder here.)


Once Upon a Broken Heart—Stephanie Garber. I thought this was a standalone spinoff to the completed series Caraval. It turns out it just continues the story of Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, and a new character Evangeline Fox. It’s full of fantasy and romance. You will want to read all of the books by Stephanie Garber. The expected publication is September 13th so there’s plenty of time to read Caraval and Once Upon a Broken Heart. (Preorder here.)


Gilded—Marissa Meyer. Perhaps the longest wait on the list, but it’s Marissa Meyer. I would wait an eternity for one of her novellas. Cursed is expected November 8th and I will be waiting outside the bookstore for this one. Gilded is a haunting retelling of Rumplestiltskin. Follow Serilda and her magical stories as she discovers an ancient curse.

Sensational She-Hulk, an Interview

It is truly rare when a story enters your life that changes the way you approach storytelling as a whole. As a fan of Byrne’s, I knew about his run on Sensational She-Hulk, but didn’t give it much thought until one dreaded night—overcome with boredom—when the book just called to me. It was truly—hang on, this is embarrassing. Do you hear that noise? Sounds like it’s coming from—

All right, hold your applause!

Take a look at how I can move between comic panels– truly Sensational, if I say so myself! -She-Hulk

She-Hulk?! For the love of—I knew something was up when I saw I was in italics! How’d you get in here?

We only have 800 words in this article, and you want to write about THAT?

Ah, right, I get it. When you were relaunched, Byrne wrote your series with the unique twist that you were aware you were in a comic book. But Shulkie, this isn’t a comic book! Why are you here?

To give you an exclusive interview, of course! It’s been a while since someone has talked about my Byrne days. You really should be reading something a bit more…contemporary.

W-Well… I’m flattered! But quite frankly, this was supposed to be an article, not an interview. I don’t… really know where to begin. Also, what’s wrong with the classics? The late ’80s/early ’90s were a great time.

Ouch. I’m still young, you know. Don’t call me “classic”.

Oh, right. You don’t age as long as you’re in print. How has that been going for you?

Well, after I killed Byrne—

HANG ON! You can’t just SPOIL the last issue of Byrne’s run in my article talking about Byrne’s run! What about the people who want to read it? And HEY! GET THAT PAGE SCAN OUT OF HERE!

Michael can’t stop me from putting up this page scan, he doesn’t have editor access! -She-Hulk

Do people really want to read the things you’re writing about? Looking at your analytics…

W-Whoa! Come on now, you can’t just look at a man’s analytics…!

Y’know, now that I think about it, I don’t even know why I agreed to this interview at all. You’re barely even qualified to call yourself a writer. 

Hang on a sec—

And you own an entire longbox worth of my comics? I mean, talk about obsessed…

HEY! First of all, that’s PERSONAL. BUSINESS. What I read is sacred! Second of all, of course I have a bunch of your comics: I’m writing this article about you, after all! Third, I NEVER WANTED TO INTERVIEW YOU. You just popped in with your bold font and took over my article! You spoiled the ending to Byrne’s run and you insulted me for being a loyal fan! That hurts, Jen.

Don’t call me Jen!

But that’s your name! You’re Jennifer Walters—you were a regular old lawyer until a car hit you and your cousin Bruce Banner gave you a blood transfusion. Everyone knows that.

You don’t just expose a girl’s entire tragic backstory after calling her by her former pet-name. 

Oh right, sorry. I forgot that you and Wyatt Wingfoot—your boyfriend in Byrne’s run—haven’t really been…a thing recently. Your relationship history as of late has been interesting. Speaking of relationships, how are you and Byrne doing?

Well, killing him didn’t stick. Something to do with him being a Life Model Decoy. Typical. So we mutually agreed to part ways. 

I’m sorry to hear that. I really enjoyed what you two managed to do together.

Nothing good ever lasts.

Like your good characterization.

And besides, he’s a bit of a jerk from what I’ve heard. It’s a good thing for my brand to distance itself from…wait. What do you mean by my “good characterization?”

Well, you haven’t been breaking the fourth wall recently for starters. We’ve missed the Snarky She-Hulk! You were breaking the fourth wall before Dead-

-before Deadpool. Right. You and everyone who’s ever read a cheap clickbait comic book news article says that. Well you know what? A girl just wanted to have fun. Is that too much to ask?! I’ve been stuck in Jason Aaron’s Avengers book for YEARS, and I knew that he didn’t really get me. He took away my smarts, my looks, my legacy. All because he wanted Hulk in his comic. But what could I do? Marvel Editorial no longer took my calls, and I’m not even sure if they even exist anymore. The Comics Code Authority has long since been abandoned, so I couldn’t complain to THEM about MY IMAGE being RUINED. 

Shulkie, the Comics Code Authority wasn’t established for-

LET ME FINISH! Then I come to find that Byrne is neck-deep in controversy, so I can’t even go back to him. Peter David’s busy writing for Cousin Bruce, so I can’t work with HIM anymore. Sure, being in Dan Slott’s recent Fantastic Four book was fine and all, but I wouldn’t call that book anything special. I haven’t been…me for a while. They haven’t…Marvel hasn’t let me be…me. So I just…went into autopilot. Put on a smile…

Are you…are you okay She-Hulk? …do you want a hug?

Ugh…what? No…It’s…It’s fine. I’m fine. I just, I just need a minute. Let’s not lose the readers, you go on talking about me.

Okay…if you say so. We are a bit short on words so I’ll make this quick: Byrne’s She-Hulk was so good that it built the foundation for what would be many more years of brilliant She-Hulk stories. The run brought in an amazing amount of female readers, old and new. It was a pretty great comedy comic for its time, and it’s now considered a fan favorite. Jennifer Walters—She-Hulk—is more than just a female version of Hulk. She’s one of comics’ feminist icons, going so far as to-

F-feminist icon?

Well, yeah! You fought against Byrne’s odd obsession to sexualize you, and with Weezi’s help, you gave yourself a good life.

Can I really be a feminist icon in comics when the internet keeps showing out-of-context pictures of the…“jump rope issue?”

Ah… the jump rope issue. Where you told readers of Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk that you’d jump rope naked if that’s what it took to get sales. To be fair, you started that. But you also ended it. You were poking fun at how comics were using sex appeal to sell issues at the time, I thought it was a pretty clever stunt. That sounds like feminism in comics to me. You did that a lot in Byrne’s run, and you continued to do that with other writers.

Huh…I never thought about it like that before. I was just being…y’know, me. 

Like Daisy Miller?

Like Daisy Miller!

Except you’re a much more intelligent, deliberate Daisy Miller who knows that promiscuity makes men uncomfortable. You just…own who you are. It’s inspiring. Truly. And I’m excited for your show.

Oh that’s right—I have a show coming out! Well if your readers like my old “feminist” Byrne comic then they’d love to check out my show! I didn’t even think to talk about that…

Well, we can’t. We’re way over my word-limit for this article.

Oh…I didn’t even realize.

Eh, neither did the readers. Unless they’ve been counting every word. That would be…obsessive.

Said the pot to the kettle.

Ouch! Alright She-Hulk, this has been a pleasure, but I think I’ll call the interview off here. This has truly been a dream of mine, and I’m glad my readers have had a chance to get to know the real you. 

And they can continue to get to know the real me by watching my upcoming Disney+ show and reading my new She-Hulk series—written by Rainbow Rowell—coming to your local comic shop this January, 2022! 

Alright alright, I’m not getting paid for any of these endorsements. Get out of here!

Phew…she’s gone. Oh…hey! The italics are gone too! I’m free! I’m…lonely…Well, at least I have you, my loyal readers! Right?

Oh.

10 Books To Look Forward To In 2022

A new year brings with it another crop of incredible books for readers to enjoy—and while it’s impossible to know which books will captivate the world in 2022, these 10 books appear to be full of potential. Mark your calendars, because these amazing stories will be hitting bookstore shelves this year, and you won’t want to miss them.


Book of Night—Holly Black. From the beloved author Holly Black comes the story of Charlie, a con artist working as a bartender. In her world, shadows can be manipulated, changing a person’s memories, feelings, powers, and more—but these changes come with a serious price. When a figure from her past arrives at Charlie’s door, she must re-enter the terrible world of shadow trading, facing off against thieves and nobles, all hell-bent on controlling the power of the shadow. In this world of shadows and deceit, is there truly anyone Charlie can trust?

Release Date: May 23,2022


Daughter of the Moon Goddess—Sue Lynn Tan. Inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess, this story follows Xingyin, a young girl who lives on the moon to hide from the celestial Emperor who exiled her mother until she is discovered and forced to flee. She makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom where she, in disguise, begins to train with the Emperor’s son. However, even as passion blooms between the two, forbidden magic threatens the kingdom and Xingyin will soon have to choose between saving the realm or saving those she loves the most.

Release Date: January 11, 2022


Book Lovers—Emily Henry. Nora Stephens is a cutthroat literary agent who is seeking a literary adventure of her own in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina. Despite her best efforts, though, she keeps running into Charlie Lastra, a brooding editor from the city and Nora’s personal rival. However, as their encounters become more and more frequent, Nora begins to discover that there is more to Charlie than what she first suspected.

Release Date: May 3, 2022


Dead Girls Can’t Tell Secrets—Chelsea Ichaso. Was Piper’s fall an accident? Piper Sullivan has been in a coma for a month after what everyone assumed was a freak hiking accident—but when her sister Savannah finds an invitation to a wilderness club at the very place and time her sister fell, she begins to suspect foul play. Savannah joins the club for the weekend camping trip at the same mountain, but the truth will not be found so easily. Everyone has secrets, including Savanah.

Release Date: April 5, 2022


The League of Gentlewomen Witches—India Holton. Charlotte Pettifer is the future leader of the League of Gentlewomen Witches, a group of witches dedicated to using magic to maintain what is proper. When the long-lost amulet of Black Beryl is discovered, Charlotte must team up with Alex O’Riley, a pirate who also desires to steal the amulet. But Charlotte must be careful or her pirate might run off with her heart.

Release Date: March 15, 2022


Dead Silence—S.A.Barnes. A salvage crew receives a distress call on their way back to earth and are shocked to discover that it’s The Aurora, a luxury spaceliner that vanished twenty years ago. The crew is elated as this salvage could set them up for life, but as they investigate further they realize something is very wrong. From messages in blood to haunting voices from the darkness, it’s clear that something horrible happened to the Aurora, and if they don’t figure out what happened soon, they might be next.

Release Date: February 8, 2022


Taking Down Backpage: Fighting the World’s Largest Sex Trafficker—Maggy Krell. Backpage was the largest sex trafficking operation in the world, advertising the sale of sex with vulnerable people in 800 cities and making millions of dollars. In Taking Down Backpage, Maggy Krell, a California prosecutor, details how she and her team managed to take down the trafficking monolith. From the victims’ stories to the sting operations to the future of sex trafficking, Taking Down Backpage provides a harrowing tale of the fight for justice in the digital age.

Release Date: January 11, 2022


The Book Eaters—Sunyi Dean. Devon belongs to a reclusive clan of book eaters, people who are able to gain a book’s content by eating it. As a woman, she was raised on a diet of fairytales and cautionary stories while her brothers were raised on stories of valor and adventure. However, all she’s ever learned from her years of book eating will be put to the test when she discovers her son doesn’t hunger for books, he hungers for human minds.

Release Date: August 9, 2022


Serendipity: Ten Romantic Tropes, Transformed—Edited by Marissa Meyer. Lovers of the romance genre will be familiar with the genre’s many beloved tropes. The fake relationship, the matchmaker, first love, unrequited love, secret admirers, and many more have delighted readers since the beginning of time. Now, ten young adult authors join forces to turn these tropes on their heads, creating new stories for readers to fall for.

Release Date: January 4, 2022


Gallant—V. E. Schwab. Olivia Prior is an orphan who was raised in a school for girls with only her mother’s journals to provide her any clue to her past. That is, until she receives a letter that invites her home to Gallant. However, she finds that there is more to the Gallant manor than the first meets the eye, and she must now decide where she truly belongs—with her prior family protecting the world from the master of the house, or by his side.

Release Date: March 1, 2022

Book Review

Monster Portraits by Del Samatar and Sofia Samatar

Publisher: Rose Metal Press
Genre: Autobiography
Pages: 84
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Monster Portraits is the autobiography of two siblings told through a collection of monsters. Each monster is given a visage through Del Samatar’s intricate illustrations and a voice through the collected snippets of story, lore, and ephemera transcribed by Sofia Samatar. But each portrait also contains a fragmented depiction of the authors. Their own mosaic portrait makes its lair in the margins.

Monster Portraits is as gorgeous as it is challenging. It won’t take you long to finish and once you do, you’ll immediately want to read it again.

Thoughts

I love books of monsters. The Monster Manuals of assorted tabletop roleplaying games, the seventh-century Liber Monstrorum, the apocalyptic visions of Daniel, and now Monster Portraits. As a kid I would pore through illustrated works of fantasy and religion looking for pictures of strange creatures. I made my own monster catalogues in 70-page college-ruled notebooks with pencil drawings to show where the claws and the guns and the wings went.

What compels me most about books of monsters is not first reading them, but rather returning to them later. Monsters draw their strength from how well they compel us to reimagine them again and again. They are representations of our fears, testing grounds for our desires, or metaphors for power beyond our reach. And so the ones we return to are those which are useful for storing bits of ourselves we cannot otherwise find shapes for. In this way, all books of monsters are autobiographical.

Sofia Samatar has been interested in monsters for a long time too. In many ways this book is a continuing conversation of her early short stories on monsters, particularly “Those” and “Ogres of East Africa.” Sympathy for and self-identification with monsters was also a major theme of her first novel, A Stranger in Olondria.

Del Samatar’s illustrations, however, force her writing into a new track. The monsters in this book feel quite distinct from those she usually writes about. Del’s illustrations are exactingly detailed—and so rather than clarifying, Sofia here seeks to obfuscate. Her fragments are interspersed with conjecture and tangent which add a layer of mystery to the precise images. Some of the entries read like prose poems, others like clippings from the history books of a parallel world, others like the start of short stories without endings.  

Book Review

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

Publisher: Aladdin
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Jason and Rachel were from our world and lived very ordinary lives until they were sucked into a magical realm known as Lyrian. This world is run by an evil ruler named Maldor. After accidentally discovering a secret that has Maldor hunting after them, Jason and Rachel must set off on a strange quest. There is a word that has been divided into several syllables that, if spoken to Maldor, will kill him. With the help of a blind king named Galloran and several new friends made along the way, Jason and Rachel will do whatever they can to end Maldor’s reign of terror.

However, Maldor has some tricks of his own. Deceitful loyalists, deadly obstacles, sinful temptations, and a dark secret from centuries ago will strive to stifle any attempt to unseat this dark ruler. After all, Lyrian is a world without heroes, and Maldor will do whatever it takes to keep it that way.

Thoughts

The best part of any Brandon Mull book is undeniably his world-building, and Beyonders is no exception. Lyrian is a magical realm unlike any other and is exclusively populated with unique fantasy characters that can’t be seen anywhere else. My two favorite creatures introduced are the displacers—beings who can remove any piece of their body without losing its function—and the seed-people, beings who, when they die, plant a seed found at the base of their neck and grow an entirely new body. These creatures make Lyrian a world that can only be experienced within this series, giving it a unique touch that makes rereading easy. Not only that, but the uniqueness of the people within Lyrian help guide the reader to oppose Maldor, as his destructive need to control Lyrian inherently threatens the world the reader has come to love.

In a similar vein, the character building in this series is also magnificent. Rachel and Jason are charming characters who balance their confusion and fear in the face of this new world with their desire to help their new friends seamlessly. They also have incredible chemistry as a duo and their interactions lead to some of the funniest parts of the series. The people they meet along the way are also unique and well-rounded—there are no throwaway characters in this series. Everyone has fully developed desires, aspirations, and personalities and they all feel integral to the overall narrative. This also aids in the reader’s investment when these characters are in danger or die. There are no meaningless deaths in this book: they all impact the characters and the reader.

The most unique aspect of character building in this series is the redemption arc of a specific character. Not to spoil the series, but there is one character revealed to be a spy for Maldor that eventually joins the heroes. The constant question as to whether they will betray them again is fascinating enough as it is, but it’s the struggle of the character themselves that really makes this story a special one. Brandon Mull doesn’t pull any punches with this character—rather, he fully addresses the difficultly of abandoning what you once believed, the struggle to be honest after deceiving for so long, and the pain of being constantly distrusted and despised even as you try to change. By far, this is the best arc of the series, and it ends perfectly in the third book, and anyone who wishes to write a redemption arc should read this series.

Lastly, this book also has both a great sense of humor and the ability to be serious. The comarderie between the characters leads to hilarious banter that really lets the characters connect on a personal level. Likewise, the book doesn’t shy away from showing the abuses that Maldor perpetrates and the risks that these characters face in opposing him. When characters die, they stay dead, and their loss is felt for the rest of the book. These conflicting energies play off each other perfectly, with the humorous moments showing the beauty of Lyrian and the serious moments showing how much would be lost if Maldor took over completely. The reader feels the risk and the loss along with the characters and is therefore brought along for the ride.

Overall, I adored this series. My favorite aspect of the fantasy genre is that the reader gets to experience a brand new world full of incredible people and places, and Beyonders delivered that in spades. I highly recommend Beyonders to anyone looking for a great fantasy adventure to dive into this year.

Book Review

Twisted Fairy Tales By Maura McHugh

Publisher: B.E.S. Publishing
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 144
Format: Hard Cover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

This Fairy Tale Anthology book is more than just another collection of classic Grimm Brothers’ Fairy tales. Each story contains a dark and dangerous heart that exposes the more fearsome side of these colorful tales. It includes 20 gothic retellings of classics such as Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Pied Piper of Hamelin, now filled with murder, blood, and a whole lot of macabre. Readers beware, the classics you loved are as twisted as they come, and you may never look at them the same again.

Thoughts

As a lover of classic fairy tales, this book was a nostalgic treat. The beats of the story remain the same overall, with only occasional twists that age up the children’s tales for a more adult audience. Snow White killing her mother, the witch being strangled by Rapunzel’s hair, Cinderella also being abused by her father, and the like give the stories a chilling aftereffect. This was helped by the fact that there were several less popular fairy tales included like “The Bone Whistle”, “May and the Elf Knight,” and “Vasilisa’s Fire.” These stories were completely new to me and as such their chilling elements had a stronger effect.

Aiding the book’s eerie atmosphere is the truly amazing art by Jane Laurie. These illustrations are the highlight of the book, providing gritty watercolored pictures of the book’s many gruesome stories. These images breathe new life into these old tales and create hauntingly beautiful portraits that pull the reader into the story in a way that the simple tales cannot. The book is also formatted beautifully, with purposely stained pages and a beautiful font that is reminiscent of the old Brothers Grimm books. This combined with Jane’s art creates a very stunning book that has an ambiance of both fear and beauty.

The one issue I took with this book is that, despite claiming to have a dangerous heart, the stories stuck too closely to the classic Brothers Grimm stories. If you are at all familiar with the origin of most of our beloved fairy tales you know that a great deal of them already have dark origins. Cinderella’s sisters cut off pieces of their feet to fit into the slipper, the Witch blinds the prince for falling in love with Rapunzel, the wolf eats Granny, and so on. When I began this book I assumed that these stories would be amped up to a more disturbing level, but for the most part, the stories simply returned to their origins and stuck with what was already dark about them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was far from the new take on fairytales I was hoping for and left the macabre fan in me disappointed.

Overall, this was a solid fairytale retelling for an older audience. Though the stories are a bit predictable, they maintain their enjoyability and the style and artwork make them unique. If you’re in the mood for a classic retelling that embraces the dark side of fairytales, Twisted Fairy Tales may be what you’re looking for.

5 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for YA Lovers

Of all genres, science fiction and fantasy most closely match the wild exuberance and sense of wonder that makes young adult fiction so enjoyable. But when new readers are introduced to these genres, they are often recommended the first 600 page tome in a series written by an old white guy with a beard. And while there’s nothing wrong with those epics (if that’s your thing), they are certainly not the only books these genres have to offer.

Here is a list of science fiction and fantasy titles that explore the themes of self-discovery and growing up YA readers will find comfortingly familiar, but feature styles, ideas, and worlds that YA readers will find enticingly novel.

These are some of my very favorites, and I hope you enjoy them!


Spinning Silver—Naomi Novik. The winters in Lithvas are getting longer, the harvests poorer. But Miryem Mandelstam, despite her youth, is keeping her family fed, clothed, and sheltered. She has taken over her father’s failing moneylending business and rebuilt it. But one day, proud of her success, she unwisely brags that she can “turn silver into gold.” Word of this brag reaches the Staryk—the strange and cruel winter fae who inhabit Lithvas’ woods. They take her brag literally, and show up at her doorstep with fairy silver, expecting gold in return. If she fails this impossible task, Miryem knows the Staryk will kill her, but even if she succeeds, the strange kindnesses of the fae may be more terrible than their wrath.

A new take on a classic fairy story, Spinning Silver is equal parts clever, romantic, and terrifying.

Trigger Warning(s): This book is written from a Jewish perspective and deals frankly with the history of antisemitism in Eastern Europe.


Parable of the Sower—Octavia E. Butler. In a future United States ravaged by climate change and capitalism (not too dissimilar from our current reality), teenaged Lauren Oya Olamina keeps a journal of her life. She had been blessed (cursed?) with the ability of hyper-empathy, which forces her to share the sensations of people around her. Hyper-empathy can be quite deadly to those who suffer from it in this violence-plagued world. Lauren must struggle to survive and grow, always seeking a place where she and her loved ones can be safe.

A decade before dystopian novels would become a trope of YA fiction, Parable of the Sower invented many of the conventions that would later become staples of the subgenre.

Trigger Warning(s): This book depicts a collapsing society. It contains depictions of violence, including racist and sexual violence.


Trail of Lightning—Rebecca Roanhorse. After a great flood, most of the world is underwater, but Dinétah—traditional homeland of the Diné (Navajo) bordered by four sacred mountains—has survived, becoming an independent nation in the post-apocalyptic world. The flood that obliterated most of the world brought back magic with it, and monsters. On Maggie Hoskie’s sixteenth birthday her grandmother is murdered and her home destroyed by a witch. This traumatic event activates her magic powers, inherited from her ancestral clans. Her magic attracts the attention of the demigod monster-slayer Neizghání, who agrees to train her in his craft. Filled with sorrow and a lust for vengeance, Maggie sets out on a quest to defend the people of Dinétah from monsters, by any means necessary.

A bold work of fantasy that blends tropes from the mythic and urban subgenres in a way I’ve ever seen before, Trail of Lightning is unputdownable.

Trigger Warning(s): This book deals frankly with violence and its aftereffects, including PTSD.


An Unkindness of Ghosts—Rivers Solomon. The survivors of Earth set out many years ago on the colossal spaceship Matilda towards a new planet. In the generations since its launch, society in the Matilda has stratified into a racial caste system reminiscent of an antebellum Southern plantation. Aster Gray is a healer born into a life of slavery on the lower decks. From her secret laboratory in a long abandoned part of the ship, she researches the journals her mother left behind before her death 25 years ago. Hidden in their pages may lie the secret to understanding her own history and how it entwines with the future of this broken ark. Or perhaps all she will find are ghosts.

A bleak, lyrical meditation on intergenerational trauma and claiming life amidst a system of racial oppression, An Unkindness of Ghosts is heavy and rewarding.

Trigger Warning(s): This book examines a system of slavery much like Southern chattel slavery of Black Americans. It contains depictions of the racial and sexual violence and the consequences of said violence.


Assassin’s Apprentice—Robin Hobb. FitzChivalry is a bastard. That’s what his name means: Prince Chivalry’s bastard. Royal bastards are considered dangerous in Buckkeep Castle—left unchecked they could become rivals to the true princes for the throne. Accordingly, royal bastards are never allowed independent lives, but are kept as servants and wards of the crown. They are trained as diplomats, magicians, and even assassins. Assassin’s Apprentice chronicles the childhood and young adulthood of a lonely boy caught up against his will in a political system much bigger than him. He is passed from faux father figure to tutor to liege lord, searching for an identity of his own and people who love him for more than the power he represents.

A tender, character-driven fantasy, Assassin’s Apprentice has the most memorable characters of any book I’ve ever read and a hero you can’t help but root for despite his flaws.

Trigger Warning(s): A dog dies in this book.

7 Books To Look Forward To This October

Every day exciting new stories are released to eagerly awaiting, book-loving masses. This October is no exception, and while it is impossible to know just how good these books will be, there are several that have caught my eye. Watch your bookstore shelves this October, because these 7 books sound like they will be worth a read.


A Spindle Splintered—Alix E. Harrow. In the first book of her new series, Alix Harrow tells the story of Zinna Gray, a girl infected with an illness that kills all who have it before they turn twenty two. On her twenty-first birthday, her friend Charm decides to throw her a Sleeping Beauty themed party for her last birthday, complete with a spinning wheel to prick her finger on. However, once she pricks her finger, Zinna is sent to another world and meets another sleeping beauty who’s just as eager to escape her fate.

This story sounds like it will be a fascinating addition to the growing collection of fable retellings we’ve seen recently, and the author has said there will be some wlw themes included. Sleeping Beauty is a fairytale that has been largely forgotten within the retelling trend, so I’m looking forward to seeing this classic re-imagined.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


Black Birds in the Sky—Brandy Colbert. Black Birds In The Sky is a nonfiction book that covers the Tulsa Race Massacre when, in 1921, a mob of white people burned down a thriving black neighborhood. It strives to answer the many burning questions surrounding this wildly whitewashed blight on American history, and ensure that the injustices that occurred are remembered.

As someone who has only recently begun to learn about the horrors that permeate American history, this book immediately caught my eye. We have experienced a major racial reckoning this year, and it is incredibly important that we learn from our past as we move forward. This book will undoubtedly shed light on this shameful corner of American history, and will be an enlightening read for all.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


Crossbones—Kimberly Vale. The recent death of the pirate king marks the beginning of an ancient contest where three competitors will risk everything they have to win the coveted bone crown and island throne. Csilla Abado, a young captain who must face those who doubt her and her sister’s desire for her position; Kane Blackwater, a young man who wishes to escape the dirty trades he’s made to keep himself captain of his father’s ship; and Lorelei Penny, a young stowaway who wishes to avenge her mother. All fighting to win, but something is brewing. If they’re not careful, they’ll be nothing left of them to bury.

This book reminded me of Six Of Crows as it also has a multiple perspective story told by morally grey characters. This, along with the delightful grim pirate anesthetic, sounds like a delightful fantasy read this October.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


Kingdom of the Cursed—Kerri Maniscalco. The sequel to Kingdom Of The Wicked, Kingdom Of The Cursed follows Emma, having just sold her soul to become the queen of the wicked, as she enters the seven circles of Hell with the Prince of Wrath in the hopes of avenging her sister’s murder. She soon finds, however, that navigating the sinful world of Hell is dangerous. Between sinful princes, stunning palaces, and a mystery to be solved, Emma has her work cut out for her as she begins to unravel her past and the truth behind her sister’s death.

This is the second book in a series, but the plot sounded far too intriguing to pass up for this list. With its Cruel Prince vibes and hints of romance, this series sounds like it will be the perfect book binge this October.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


Say Their Names: How Black Lives Came to Matter in America—Curtis Bunn, Michael Cottman, Patrice Gaines, Nick Charles, and Keith Harriston. The summer of 2020 shook the nation—from the horrifying video of George Floyd’s murder to the ensuing protests, conversations regarding race and the disadvantages and prejudices that come with being black in America were widespread, and the message ‘Black Lives Matter’ was broadcast across the country. Now, five journalists detail what it took to get to this moment in history. From mass incarceration to over-policing to the protests in Ferguson, they detail the systemic problems in our society, how they came to the forefront of public consciousnesses, and, crucially, what to do now.

This movement is often misunderstood and misinterpreted by society. This due in large part to the general public’s lack of knowledge of the issues being discussed, as they aren’t commonly taught in school. This book is a must-read for people still struggling to understand the BLM movement and what must be done to move forward.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


The Haunting Season: Eight Ghostly Tales for Long Winter Nights—Various Authors. Eight authors worked to create this collection of spooky tales all set in the dark cold of winter. From a girl frozen in death, to a bustling Christmas market, to an estate with a deadly secret, these tales will give you chills for two entirely different reasons.

With Halloween right around the corner and the Arizona heat in full force, these stories are perfect for creating a chilly, spooky atmosphere this holiday season.

Release Date: October 12, 2021


Where They Wait—Scott Carson. Nick Bishop, a down on his luck journalist, takes a job reviewing a new mindfulness app, Clarity. This app contains “sleep songs” that are designed to help the user sleep. The songs are haunting ballads sung by an unknown women and they seem to work perfectly—that is, except for the nightmares. Every night, Nick dreams of a haunting woman who calls his name and whispers to him. As his dreams start to seep into his waking life, Nick realize that the people behind Clarity are interested in more than just his writing.

Another perfect tale for Halloween, Where They Wait is perfect for anyone looking to get into the spooky spirit this October.

Release Date: October 26, 2021

The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience

Photo by Tuyen Vo on Unsplash

Almost a year ago I was sitting in a staff meeting for The Spellbinding Shelf and mentioned that I had never read Harry Potter. *gasp* It gets worse—not only had I never read any of the books, but I had never seen any of the movies, paid no attention to any of the references, or experienced any of the fan culture. *double gasp* I’m not joking: the only thing I knew about the series was that it was about wizards. My fellow writers were astonished—a book lover and blogger who has never read one of the most iconic literary series of all time?!

It wasn’t necessarily my fault—my younger self enjoyed dystopian-themed novels and by the time Harry Potter was “a thing” I felt the time had passed for me to jump on that train. However, this staff meeting was the catalyst that pushed me to finally commit to reading the series. I jumped in headfirst and took one of the most risky literary gambles any reader will understand: buying the box set. Of a previously unread series. When I later described this new journey, my fellow bloggers were excited as well as interested: I was basically a case study of how readers still respond to the books without the pressure of pop culture and a now multi-billion dollar industry. 

After seven months of reading I am here to give my reflection and opinion on the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” It is worth noting that while the series is surrounded in controversy due to J.K. Rowlings’ problematic comments in recent years, this reflection does not condone her actions in any way. Rather, I endeavor to share my experience as a reader with the story, for which I can say it is amazing.

Words cannot express my deep attachment, love, and appreciation for this series. I loved everything from the character development to the intricate spells. The experience was so immersive that from the first page I wished I lived in the world presented by the series and was thankful for the chance to imagine I was in such a world. There is too much to behold to accurately capture the seven book series that is Harry Potter, so I’ve decided to describe some of my favorite moments, thoughts, and reactions—including some choice texts I sent to my friend that I feel best captures my emotions during and after each book. So without further ado: The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. A fantastic beginning to fuel the long and turbulent journey of Harry Potter. I felt all the emotions a reader and fan of the series should feel: absolute contempt for the Dursleys, the excitement and nervousness of Harry on his first day, and the promise of a journey filled with mischief and wonder. The Sorcerer’s Stone really helped introduce Harry’s thoughts and emotions which aids in the reader’s emotional attachment to the characters and their development. It is also worth noting that I shipped Ron and Hermione from the very beginning.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I liked The Chamber of Secrets because it had all the promise of what being a second year student feels like in any situation. Harry was more confident in his abilities and his joy in being a wizard emanated from the pages as he, as well as the reader, began to connect and discover more of his past. Additionally, what I love about the series as a whole is that while the books are individually read with a typical literary arc, the series does as well. This fluidity aids in the literary experience and creates a unique and immersive atmosphere any reader will love.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Now, this book was insane in all the best ways. I could not believe it when Cedric died, and one thing I determined (and had reaffirmed throughout the rest of the series) was that authors are cruel, sadistic people who want their readers to suffer. After reading this book I texted my friend, “…it’s just playing with my emotions on a whole new level.” This comment adequately describes how much this book (and series) roped me in and how ignorant I was to the pain that would come.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On almost every page where Umbridge made an appearance, I wrote some form of grievance because I could not stand her character—it got to the point that I was going to throw the book at the wall. I really liked the Order of the Phoenix because of the leadership Harry, Ron, and Hermione assumed as well as the number of questions it began to ask and answer. Whereas The Goblet of Fire was one of the last books where Harry experienced a  “childhood,” The Order of the Phoenix began introducing the intricacies of the magical war in which Harry would take part. I was also so incredibly proud of Fred and George (two of my favorite Weasleys) for their amazing mischief and success—I love them so much. However, amidst this triumph, The Order of the Phoenix was the first book in the series that made me cry because of Sirius’ death. When that happened I had two chapters left and messaged my friend the following:

“THEY KILLED SIRIUS/NO/NO/NO/NO/THAT’S NOT FAIR/AGHAGGAHGGAA ITS NOT FAIR/UGHHHH WHY DO THEY TRY TO MAKE ME SUFFER”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Honestly, this book wasn’t my favorite out of the series but I can’t deny that it was incredibly needed. That might have been partly because “The Big Bang Theory” spoiled Dumbledore’s death or because I personally trusted Snape while Harry was still very much suspicious of his character. However, in the end I found myself doubting my own beliefs of Dumbledore’s trust in Snape and I became ever more worried about the fate of the wizarding world and Harry when the locket was found to be a fake Horcrux. I could once again feel Harry’s grief—as well as that of the others—and I knew in my heart that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would not be the same. On another note, I was extremely heartbroken when Harry broke up with Ginny but very happy when Ron and Hermione finally showed some flirtatious interaction. It became increasingly difficult to stay away from Harry Potter fan content so I went on a hiatus from most social media and television to avoid spoilers. Afterwards I noted:

“I’m a little worried about Harry too. He seems like he lost something inside him like happiness or I guess that childlike enjoyment and curiosity and it makes me hurt for him although considering he has to kill Voldemort I get why he’s anxious…”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Nothing impacted me more in this series than the final chapters: when Harry walked solemnly into the forest during battle, I bawled. In those last chapters I had trouble reading the page (partly due to tears); the amount of emotion within the scene and the impact of being on Harry’s journey to get to this point hit me in full force. In the end, I was right to have faith in Snape, Ron and Hermione did end up together (yay!), and I was very pleased to see Harry and Ginny together. So in the end, at 10:48 pm on August 12, I texted my friend:

“AGH/AGHHHHHHH/I FINISHED/WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS ANYTHING/MY WHOLE HEART HURTS”

And those emotions continue today. I am so incredibly grateful for this journey and even more grateful that I could experience it (mostly) without spoilers and properly digest every theme and moment. While I didn’t get to grow up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione I will undoubtedly continue to experience their journey as I reread their stories and feel the impact that Hogwarts has left on my heart. Sometimes, ironically, words cannot express the feeling a book gives you—any reader will understand this impact and I am so lucky to have experienced this feeling. I know (as I have felt the last month) that I will continue to fangirl, obsess, and mourn the finishing of Harry Potter for a long time to come.

Book Review

Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon

Publisher: Ruby Dixon, 2015
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Pages: 188
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Georgie had a normal life here on earth. That is, until she was kidnapped by aliens who intended to sell her, and the other women they stole, as slaves. After a ship malfunction, Georgie and the rest of the women are dumped on an ice planet until the aliens can return.

Frozen and starving, Georgie sets out to find help and meets Vektal, a six-foot-tall blue alien with massive horns on his head and an instant attraction to her.

Together, they work to save the women from their captors and, maybe, fall in love in this spicy tale of fate and discovery.

Thoughts

The fun of Ice Planet Barbarians is the inherent lunacy of the story’s premise. The plot is insane, but Ruby Dixon’s willingness to embrace the madness allows the reader to do so as well, resulting in an adventure of a book where logic is abandoned and the reader can just enjoy the ride.

The book wastes no time getting to the story, opting instead to thrust the reader, along with the characters, right into the bizarre environment. This creates a fast paced and engaging narrative that draws you in almost as soon as you start reading. Not only that, it also forms a connection between the reader and Georgie as they are equally clueless to the world.

Speaking of Georgie, her and Vektal’s relationship is masterfully crafted. Ruby Dixon has a gift for creating romantic pairings that feel natural. Both Georgie and Vektal are remarkably similar and when paired together they strengthen each other, creating a positive and sincere romance. The book doesn’t shy away from steamy moments—in fact, it’s full of them—but they are well written and offset by scenes of casual affection and connection, creating a well-rounded romance that’s a delight to read.

While the book focuses on Georgie and Vektal, the other kidnapped women and the aliens are also well developed. Since this book is the first in series, each of the kidnapped women and aliens are fleshed out to some degree, to the point that observant readers may be able to determine the future pairings from their personalities alone. This not only sets up the future books, but also serves to create a really dynamic cast of characters who add another layer to the story.

Overall, I loved this book. It was a wild, outlandish romance with sincere and relatable characters. Ruby Dixon has a real knack for romance, and Ice Planet Barbarians is a perfect example of that. I have read six books in this series so far and, in my opinion, they only get better. If you’re looking for a racy romance, Ice Planet Barbarians is the book for you.