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.

6 Book Series to Get You Back Into Reading

Are you looking for a new series to transport you back to the glory days of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games? Trust me, I’ve been there—worrying I’ll never find anything as good as the adventures I went on with Tris Prior and Percy Jackson. Procrastinating buying that new book in the bookstore because it could never give you the same feelings of nostalgia of reading Twilight for the first time? I get it, but it’s time to move on. There are bigger and better books out there; just as there are more characters to grow with and tropes to fall in love with. I promise. And with everything going on right now, a series is just the heavy duty escape into a magical world to occupy you for more than a few days. So, here are five book series to get your reading mojo back—adding a book to each series the further you read on.


Six of Crows—Leigh Bardugo. Starting off with this duology, Six of Crows introduces a slew of characters for you to meet: a witch hunter, sharpshooter, a former servant with a talent for stealth and knife-wielding, and many more. This character-driven plot consists of heists and cons against the Ice Court, wealthy merchants, and crime bosses. With only two books, it’s an easy way to ease back into reading.

This series is part of the Grishaverse, which means there is a separate series called The Shadow and Bone trilogy that you can read after! This series is also coming to Netflix April 23.


Caraval—Stephanie Garber. This is the first trilogy I read after my three year slump of reading, and it totally kick started my reading addiction again. These three books follow the two sisters Scarlett and Tella Dragna as they find themselves at Caraval, an exclusive once-a-year performance in which the audience gets to participate to win a special prize. Things take turn, however, when the sisters end up in a sinister game fighting for love and family.

As you dive deeper into the series, you discover mysterious forces and secrets that go back to before they were even born—all orchestrated by the anonymous ringmaster and the all-powerful Fates.


Crave—Tracy Wolff. A great recommendation for all vampire lovers, Wolff’s series takes place at Katmere Academy: a school full of shapeshifters, witches and vampires. For Grace, this is the last place she wants to be…that is, until she meets Jaxon, a charming vampire with deadly secrets. This young adult series is the next series to sink your teeth into.

The fourth book of this series comes out September 28th, 2021—plenty of time for you to catch up on this series full of twists, romance, and deep fantasy lore; so sit back, relax, and read as slow as you want to.


The Heroes of Olympus—Rick Riordan. If you took quizzes to see who your godly parent was, this five-book series is for you. Chances are, if you’ve already read the original (beloved) Percy Jackson series, then you’ve already heard about this series. Whether you brushed it off or thought it wouldn’t live up to its hype, this is your sign to finally read them. It mixes familiar faces from Camp Half Blood and introduces new ones from Camp Jupiter to unite seven half bloods to fulfill another prophecy and save the world.

The Heroes of Olympus series expands on the mythological world and gives the characters from the original series another chance to continue their story, set a couple months after The Last Olympian.


A Court of Thorns and Roses—Sarah J. Maas. Sarah J. Maas is taking the world by storm with her A Court of Thorns and Roses series. This is the first series in a long time where I’ve stayed up until two in the morning just to finish reading. Classified as a “New Adult” genre, this series can be described as Beauty and the Beast meets magical kingdom of faeries. If you’re into amazing world building and obsessing over characters, I highly recommend it, 11/10. While only four books are out on the market right now, Maas is under contract to write two more, ensuring the perfect amount of satisfaction and anticipation in a series. 

P.S. If you like this series you can level up and go for Sarah J. Maas’ seven book series, Throne of Glass. Psst…this series is completed. Yay!


The Stormlight Archive—Brandon Sanderson. Last but not least, we have Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re not afraid of commitment, I highly suggest it and I applaud you for diving head first into reading again. Although there are only four books out, there are ten planned.

So, if you’re ready to invest six to ten years on a series, this one is perfect to get you back into the reading saddle. Happy reading!

Twilight Books Ranked

Most of us are likely familiar with the Twilight Saga from Stephanie Meyer. If you were a teenager in the late 2000s–early 2010s, you probably saw the series everywhere. Meyer’s vampire versus werewolf world had us captivated. Like with all series, I’m sure each of us has our favorite installment. Here, I have compiled my ranking from least to most favorite. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)

4. New Moon. Starting out the list at the bottom is New Moon. I loved this series for the better part of my young adult life, and while I do appreciate this installment in the series, it does fall at the bottom of my list. This may seem counter-intuitive as I was Team Jacob growing up and we see the most of Jacob in this novel, but I can’t fully handle lifeless-adrenaline-chasing Bella. I definitely understand where her emotions were coming from, but it doesn’t exactly make for the most riveting read. That being said, I do love how we learn about the werewolves here and see Bella’s friendship with Jacob evolve.

3. Twilight. As the book that began the whole series, it didn’t feel right to put it last. This book is important to me for a lot of reasons. I had seen the name being thrown around but wasn’t sure what to think. Eventually, the movie came out and I watched it and immediately fell in love. At that point, I picked up all of the books and read them immediately. So in that sense, it was this one that kicked it all off for me. That being said, I have always been a big fan of sequels in stories, which is likely why I am more drawn to the later installments in the series. I also think it’s fair to say that Meyer’s writing improves greatly across the series, therefore the others are just slightly better.

2. Breaking Dawn. Now this one may be controversial, as Breaking Dawn is a universal fan favorite. There are a lot of reasons to love this one—we get to see Bella as a Vampire, we learn about a new type of “magic,” and there is the ultimate vampire showdown. A lot of momentum has been building for this book, and it played out really well. It can be hard to end off a series and I think Meyer did a good job rounding everything out. The ranking of Breaking Dawn as 2nd is mostly due to what it lacks compared to Eclipse, which I will get into next.

1. Eclipse. There is a plethora of reasons that Eclipse takes the gold as my favorite installment of the Twilight Saga. One of the best parts of learning about any world is seeing world building while also getting to know more about the characters, and this is something Meyer’s does beautifully here. We learn about the newborn vampires and how they’re used for armies while getting to know more about Jasper. We also get Rosalie’s backstory as well as the backstory for the Quileute tribe. All of these are important pieces to the puzzle of the Twilight world and it makes for an extremely satisfying read. The love triangle between Bella, Jacob and Edward really comes to a head here as well. I remember reading this for the first time and finishing it within four days. Whenever I want to re-read or watch a part of the series, I always choose this one.


This list was not as hard to make as my list for The Harry Potter Books, however the amount of novels in the series played into that. Eclipse has been my favorite ever since I first read the series, but the rest I wasn’t sure about until I sat down and went through each of them again. 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.

4 Binge-Worthy Escapism Reads

Now more than ever, many people are finding their way to books. As the real world becomes progressively more and more like a dystopia, books provide a welcome escape to the turbulence of our everyday life. If you’re anything like me, this past year has made you even more dependent on fictional worlds to help make sense of the real one. While this escapism if often found in books, it’s also commonly found in the world of film and TV shows. In the spirit of fueling your next binge-reading and binge-watching experiences, I thought I’d provide some escapism series that have a film counterpart (or, at least one in the works). These selections are all made up of at least three books in the core series, and many include spin-offs or related works.


Shadow and Bone—Leigh Bardugo. Soon to be a Netflix series, now is the perfect time to read the Shadow and Bone series. The first book in the trilogy follows orphaned soldier Alina Starkov, who unwittingly reveals dormant and powerful magic to save her best friend when her regiment is attacked. She begins training with the Grisha—the magical military elite—under the guidance of their infamous leader, the Darkling, who believes that Alina’s power might be the key to saving their war-torn country. As Alina trains, she makes a dangerous discovery that threatens those she loves and her entire nation.

In addition to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Grishaverse also includes the Six of Crows duology and the King of Scars duology, whose final book was just released last month!


Dune—Frank Herbert. Lauded as one of the best science fiction novels of all time, you’ve likely heard about the adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya set to be released later this year. Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family on the desert planet Arrakis, who is tasked with ruling the desolate land and safeguarding the melange—a drug that is highly-coveted for its abilities to extend life and enhance consciousness. When Paul’s family is betrayed and destroyed, he goes on a journey to avenge his family and bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

As an added perk for those looking to escape in the barren deserts of Arrakis, the Dune series contains many prequels and sequels written by both Frank Herbert himself as well as his son, Brian Herbert. For a complete list of the books in the Dune series (both novels and short stories) in chronological order, check out the Dune website here.


A Darker Shade of Magic—V.E. Schwab. For those who have recently read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and have fallen in love with Schwab’s magical writing, I’d draw your attention to her older fantasy series, A Darker Shade of Magic. Schwab crafts a world of four parallel Londons: Red London, where magic and life are celebrated; Gray London, a poor land without magic; and White London, a city slowly losing its life force due to constant magical warfare. As for the fourth London, Black London, nobody speaks of it anymore. Almost nobody can travel between the Londons, as the magicians capable of teleporting between the worlds (the Antari) are all but extinct. One of the last remaining Antari, Kell, acts as a messenger between the Londons—as well as an unofficial smuggler of valuable artifacts, a side gig that often gets him into trouble. His misadventures cause his path to collide with Delilah Bard, a cutpurse looking for adventure.

The Shades of Magic trilogy, while not as well-known as some of the other series on this list, is also slated for a film adaptation in the (hopefully) near future by writer Derek Kolstad.


Outlander—Diana Gabaldon. Outlander follows Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, as she returns home from the war in 1945. While on a second honeymoon with her husband, she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles of the British Isles and finds she is suddenly an outlander in a war-ravaged Scotland in the year 1743. As Claire attempts to navigate this violent world, she finds a companion in the young Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser. As their lives become more closely intertwined, Claire finds herself torn between two different men from two irreconcilable lives.

The Outlander series is currently eight books long, with a ninth set to be released sometime this year and a tenth promised after that. The series has also been adapted into a TV show, with 12–16 episode seasons for each book. The show just aired its fifth season—based on The Fiery Cross—last year, and has been renewed for a sixth and seventh season.

Real Life Magic

Reflecting on Maggie Steifvater’s The Raven Boys

As an avid book reader, I’d never been able to pick a favorite book. It had always felt like this unimaginable, impossible choice, like a mother picking her favorite child. I’d had favorites, of course—books I more than enjoyed (rated five stars on Goodreads enjoyed), and books that were quick to come to mind when asked for recommendations. But ask me for my favorite, my top pick, my if-I-were-stuck-on-a-deserted-island-and could-only-have-one-book-to-read read…I’d have nothing. So, to say that Maggie Steifvater’s The Raven Boys snuck up on me would be an understatement.

I first discovered The Raven Boys through Tumblr in 2015. My dashboard had been full of bloggers reposting quotes and character art and fancasts, all for a series that I’d never even heard of before. With such a dedicated fanbase that had seemingly come from nowhere, I’d decided to give it a try and bought a copy…

And didn’t like it.

Which sounds crazy, I know, for a book I’m claiming to be my favorite book. Shouldn’t it have been love at first page? But it took a little longer than that for me to start feeling the magic that Maggie had been building up to in those beginning chapters. In all honesty, it took me until about halfway through the book (roughly 200 pages in) to decide that it was something worth continuing. Once I got there, though—once it clicked—I was all in, devouring books one through three in a little more than two weeks. 

Looking back on it, what I considered to be slow pacing—my biggest issue with the beginning of the book— was actually careful building. There’s five characters that make up Blue and her Raven Boys: characters who’d been complete and utter strangers to one another in the beginning of the book. Characters that are so fundamentally different from one another, each with such different dynamics, personalities, backstories—if Maggie had simply thrown them together in the beginning, what would’ve been sacrificed were the moments that made them come to life before our very eyes. The moments that slowly but surely guaranteed that before you even realized it, you too had become part of the group (affectionately referred to by fans as the Gangsey).

More than Maggie’s ability to create such strong individuals, The Raven Boys truly does have something for everyone: romance, history, friendship, adventure, magic…but a different kind of magic than I’d ever felt before. 

Other fantasy novels, such as Harry Potter, make magic feel like real life. Like at any given moment, we too could receive our Hogwarts letters and be whisked away to a world of patronuses and magic wands and talking sorting hats. But The Raven Boys makes real life feel like magic, and that’s not something you feel by picking just any book off a shelf. It wasn’t even a distinction I was aware could be made until I felt it for myself. Don’t let the small town setting fool you: there is magic to be found in Henrietta, Virginia. Just maybe not in the places you’d expect.

Literary Event: Megan Whalen Turner in Conversation with Shannon Hale

Join Megan Whalen Turner, author of the New York Times bestselling Queen’s Thief series, and Shannon Hale, author of Kind of a Big Deal in conversation virtually on April 8th at 5:30pm.

Turner’s long-awaited Return of The Thief marks the conclusion of a twenty-years-in-the-making story of thief Eugenides. Hale has published over 30 books including the fantasy novels The Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days.

This event, hosted by Changing Hands Bookstore, has free admission tickets plus ticket and book bundles that are still available! For more information, and to register for this event, visit the Changing Hands Bookstore site here.


Location: Online

Date: Thursday, April 8th, 2021

Time: 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Price of Ticket: Free (with optional book and ticket bundle available)