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)

Book Review

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Publisher: Tor.com
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 160
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

In this queer fantasy romance, Aqib bgm Sadiqi, son of a lesser noble in the court of Olorum, falls hard for Lucrio, a Daluçan soldier in the city as part of a trade delegation. Their love burns quick and bright, both knowing that each moment together is precious. All too soon the treaty will be signed, and Lucrio will be called back home. But they must also be careful, for the religion of Aqib’s forefathers does not approve of their union.

While kings and gods negotiate the future of their nations, Aqib and Lucrio negotiate their own futures in a treaty no less monumental for all that it defines—not relations between kingdoms and empires, but only between their two hearts.

Thoughts

The wonderful thing about short books is that you can read them in one sitting, and ever since Tor.com decided to start publishing novellas (one of the most underappreciated literary forms, in my humble opinion) I’ve been on the hype train.

A Taste of Honey is Wilson’s second novella from the imprint, set in the same world as his debut The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. Tonally, however, the two books could not be more different. Sorcerer was a tour de force of experimental fantasy: a traditional sword-and-sorcery story with a non-linear narrative structure, and a masterful use of layered, naturalistic dialect. Imagine my surprise upon picking A Taste of Honey to discover an aching summer romance, full of queer longing and forbidden love.

Honey is in many ways a more casually approachable work than Sorcerer. This was a purposeful decision on the part of Wilson, who wrote in his essay “A POC Guide to Writing Dialect in Fiction” that “Many people won’t read even gorgeously written dialect—cannot, in the first place, perceive the beauty in it.” Therefore he toned-down the dialect in his second work, though he notes that Honey is still “deeply although subtly spiced with it.” His experiments with form, on the other hand, have been—if anything—heightened. The warp and weft of interwoven past and present give the book an almost dreamlike quality, imbedding the reader into a diachronic character study of Aqib bmg Sadiqi.

Aqib’s personal turmoil takes center stage in Honey. I’m not ashamed to say this book made me cry as Aqib’s thorny relationship with his family tore its way through my heart. (Don’t worry though, Ashante knows better than to violate romance’s sacred trust of the happily ever after).

And Lucrio—sweet Lucrio—is just about the best Prince Charming I’ve ever encountered in print. If you fall hopelessly in love with storybook characters (as I do), be prepared to go head over heels for this strong and gentle Daluçan soldier.

I recommend this book whole-heartedly. You would be hard pressed to find a more intimate portrait of tragedy, romance, and longing in a smaller package than A Taste of Honey. Come spend a chilly winter evening warmed by love and the light of the Olorum summer sun.

Book Review

The Abarat Series by Clive Barker

Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Candy Quackenbush is sick of her life. She lives in Chickentown, the world’s most boring town, her father is a loudmouth drunk, and everyone except her soft-spoken mother views her as a freak. One day, however, Candy finds herself literally swept away by the magical sea to a place called the Abarat. The Abarat has 25 islands and each one is frozen at a specific time of day—for example, on one island the time is constantly midnight—and each island is filled with extraordinary creatures. Thrust into a world of magic and adventure, Candy is definitely no longer bored. However, Christopher Carrion, the fearsome prince of midnight, is dead set on capturing Candy by any means necessary. But why? What does the Prince of Midnight want with an ordinary girl from Chickentown? And furthermore, why is Candy so drawn to the Abarat?

Thoughts

Abarat is one of the most unique fantasy series I’ve read in some time. Rather than having traditional fantasy creatures populate the Abarat, Clive Barker filled the entire series with never-before-seen creatures. My personal favorites are John Mischief, a man with large antlers that has eight additional heads hanging from them also named John; and Squbb and Squiller, two tiny squid-like creatures that, when placed on your head, serve as binoculars. The introduction of these new creatures is aided by Clive Barker’s inclusion of elaborate paintings and drawings of his creations. If you’re considering reading this series I would highly recommend getting a copy that includes his art. Even though they are slightly more expensive, it is completely worth it. His artwork can only be described as eerily enchanting, and that, combined with the fact, this is the first time these creatures have ever been seen, it really allows you to relate to the wonder that Candy feels.

Speaking of Candy, she is a wonderful female protagonist. I often find that female characters in fantasy can sometimes be shoehorned into either being the damsel in distress or the ‘not like other girls’ archetype that completely rejects and looks down upon anything feminine. Candy Quackenbush subverts both of these effortlessly. She is a strange girl who is delighted to have found the Abarat and, despite its many dangers, is unafraid to rush headfirst into the unknown. She is also fiercely clever and kind, often helping those she comes across without a second thought. That being said, the author did not forget to give her flaws, and her fearless nature often leads to her attracting unwanted attention and putting herself into danger. Overall, she is an exceptional protagonist that I absolutely adored throughout the three books.

The most fascinating aspect of Abarat is how the book handles the themes of darkness and light. As stated before, each island on the Abarat is stuck in a particular time period, and throughout the book there is a prejudice towards the people and creatures that exist in the darkness. At first, we as the reader agree with these prejudices—especially since the creatures from the night islands tend to be horrifying—but as the story continues, we come to understand that looks can be deceiving. The creatures of darkness are fully capable of sincere love and heartbreak, while the creatures of light are also fully capable of unspeakable cruelty. Without giving too much away, this trilogy succeeds in having both an impressive villain redemption arc and a reverse arc where a beloved hero is revealed to be a bitter monster.

Going off of the themes of light and dark, Abarat is definitely not afraid to get exceptionally dark. After all, one of the characters keeps their pickled nightmares in a glass collar that they wear around their neck to remind them to never love again! The feud between darkness and light leads to many horrific acts being perpetrated by both sides—not to mention the dangers that eventually come from Chickentown once they learn of the Abarat. This book, though technically meant for all ages, does not shy away from death and suffering, and fully embraces the complexities of those themes.

With all my gushing about this series, you may wonder if there is anything negative I could possibly say about it. Unfortunately, there is one issue that may deter readers, and that is how the series has ended—or rather, how it refuses to end. Abarat is supposed to be a five-book series, but since the release of book three Abarat: Absolute Midnight in 2011 there have been no new books in the series. The author still occasionally posts about completing the series, but aside from that, there has been virtually no news. While I definitely do not regret reading this series I would warn those who don’t like cliffhangers that the final book leaves plenty of plot points up in the air. Despite this shortcoming, I honestly couldn’t bear to give this book any less than five stars. Even though I may never know how it ends, I still consider it one of my favorite book series and I cannot wait until the day I can finally read the last two books.

In summary, the Abarat series is absolutely fantastic. Clive Barker is an incredible author and the effort and care he put into every aspect of this series shines through. While I may never get to see the end of Candy Quackenbush’s adventures in the Abarat, I will always be fond of the fascinating three books I was able to read. I fully recommend this book to fantasy readers of all ages.

Book Review

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Adeline “Addie” LaRue was born in Villon-sur-Sarthe, France in 1714. She prays to the New God and the Old ones, but is warned to never pray to the God who answers after dark. However, in a moment of desperation, she accidentally does—and so begins the next 300 hundred years of her life.

In this life, she cannot die, but is remembered by no one once she is out of sight. She can’t even tell anyone her name. She lives her life alone, learning languages and watching the world as we know it evolve. Until, in New York City in 2014, she meets someone who remembers her, and everything changes.

Thoughts

This book continued to pop up everywhere I looked, so finally I caved and bought it. From what I had gathered, the book had a surprising twist and left a lot of people in tears—which is my kind of novel. It’s safe to say I had no idea what I was getting myself into. From the first chapter, I was drawn to Addie’s character, rooting and feeling sorry for her at the same time, while contemplating what I would do in her position. Schwab has created incredibly complex characters who pull at your heartstrings in every direction.

The story itself takes you through history as Addie watches events all around the world take place, with only the darkness to truly keep her company. Schwab has effortlessly weaved fantasy elements and historical events together, making the reader feel as if they were there too, walking the streets of Paris in 1750 or watching the Opera in Italy in 1870. The reader is just as much a part of the story as Addie, and I found myself furiously turning every page, and staying up until the wee hours of the morning just to find out more.

Just as I was warned though, the ending was like a knife to the heart. I kept wondering what it was going to be, what everyone was getting so worked up over, and then it happened. Of course, I won’t spoil it—but get your tissues ready. Not only is the turn of events shocking, but you will find yourself so invested in these characters and their relationships that when you do experience the ending, it breaks you.

I can honestly say I have never read a story like this; it is truly a unique experience. I cannot recommend this book enough, (I have already told all of my friends about it). This is one story I look forward to reading again and again.