Book Review

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Publisher:  HarperTeen
Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 3/5 stars

Summary

In a dystopian world, the United States has become a monarchy named Illea where citizens are forced into a One (royalty) through Eight (criminals and outcasts) caste system. The prince of the country is looking for a new wife and will hold a competition with ordinary girls from all different castes and locations around the country to choose his new princess. 

 Kiera Cass’s novel, The Selection, is another classic 2010’s dystopian piece similar to Divergent, Hunger Games, with even a little bit of “The Bachelor” mixed in. The main protagonist in the story is a fiery red-head named America, a Five, who does not want to follow the rules of this repressive government. She is already in love with Aspen, a Seven, but when she is selected to enter into the Selection (basically the Prince’s version of “The Bachelor”), she is forced to leave behind her old life and enter into this cutthroat competition against girls of all different castes and locations for the crown.

Throughout the book, America comes to learn more about herself and what she is capable of and questions the beliefs and prejudices she has held for her whole life.

Thoughts

The Selection in its plot is very ordinary, almost fulfilling that checklist of YA dystopian novels: the love triangle, the feisty main character who has a blatant disregard for the rules, and the clear mistrust between the protagonist and the main leadership character (in this case, America and the King Clarkson). Despite its seemingly “normal-ness,” the book actually always sticks with me. Why? It’s not only because I have a taste for these dystopian YA novels, but because the book used such descriptive language so that I could see each character, emotion, and location clearly in my head. The images and feelings that were described by America and her backstories to help the audience understand the context of the situation are so detailed that I could imagine each of the scenes in my head, play-by-play. I knew exactly how the palace looked, her feelings about the Prince, the Selection, and even the strawberry tart she had before her first official meeting with Prince Maxon. The imagery in the text was strong and will make it memorable in this way for the audience. 

One of the most interesting themes of the story was actually along the lines of judgement and prejudice. Throughout the book, each of the characters has some sort of a judgment about the other characters due to the stereotypes of the castes and royalty that they have learned growing up. This stubborn prejudice clouds America’s judgement and prevents her from seeing the important and caring qualities that Maxon has, and her innate quality to rule. Maxon, on the other hand, also had prejudices about those from lower castes but he was quick to learn from his mistakes, which shows a stark contrast between America and Maxon’s characters and learning curves.

Overall, although the book was a bit predictable and followed the classic YA fiction tropes, I still found that it combined interesting themes and borrowed from pop culture in ways that were new (such as using the concept behind The Bachelor). It was the perfect before-bed read—relaxing, interesting, with the perfect amount of romance mixed in.



Thanks to Israa Jahan for this guest post.

4 Books to Help you Spring into the New Season

As the weather gets warmer and the flowers start to bloom, it’s the perfect time to pick up a new book. Whether you’re taking a break from spring cleaning or looking for an excuse to sit on the porch and relax, I’ve compiled a list of books sure to keep you occupied on a nice, spring afternoon.


Safe HavenNicholas Sparks. This is a great novel to begin with, but it is especially great for spring, a season of fresh starts. It follows Katie Feldman as she flees to the coast of North Carolina to start over. She attempts to lay low and keep to herself, but is won over by a local named Alex, who was recently widowed. As Katie grows closer to him and his two kids, she finally starts to feel a sense of belonging—until one day, when her past comes back to haunt her. Eventually, she has to decide between facing it or running away for the rest of her life. Throughout the novel, the reader is given small hints at what Katie’s past entails, which heightens some of the drama. This novel perfectly blends mystery and suspense with a heartfelt romance. It is sure to keep you on your toes and warm your heart at the same time.


The Spectacular NowTim Tharp. What kind of spring book list would it be without a blossoming romance? This novel is exactly that, and it is fantastic. The Spectacular Now follows the story of Sutter and Aimee, polar opposites with seemingly nothing in common. One morning, Sutter wakes up on someone’s front lawn and Aimee finds him. After learning a bit about her and her lifestyle, Sutter takes it upon himself to show her the “fun” side of life. But, what he doesn’t realize is how harmful his way of life is, as he drags her down with him. This novel takes place during a transitional time in life, making it perfect as we transition into spring. It is a bit on the heavier side, but will definitely keep you occupied—it’s a page turner! So, clear your afternoon and get ready for the roller coaster that is The Spectacular Now.


Always Never Yours Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka. This novel is great for fans of YA fiction. It’s lighthearted and a bit corny—but in the best way. And, let’s be honest, we all could use a bit of that sometimes. It follows the story of Megan Harper, who dates someone until she finds them falling in love—with someone else. She doesn’t let this get her down though, and focuses on the next fling as well as getting into her dream school. To do so, she has to fulfill an acting requirement, which consequently lands her the lead in her school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Through this, she expects to find her next “thing” but ends up making an unlikely friend, who may end up being the one for her and not someone else. This novel is refreshing and sweet, making it the perfect light read for a nice spring day.


Dear Evan Hansen Val Emmich. Winter can be a tough season mentally, so as we transition out of it, a book around mental health can be a great addition to the process. Adapted from the musical, the novel follows Evan Hansen as he attempts to navigate the world. He starts his senior year of high school with a broken arm after falling out of a tree. On that same day, Connor Murphy, his classmate, commits suicide. Evan gets tied into the situation when Connor’s parents find what they believe is a suicide letter from their son addressed to Evan Hansen, leading the Murphy parents to believe Evan was their son’s only friend. In reality, the two were never friends—and the letter wasn’t actually Connor’s. It was a letter Evan wrote as an assignment from his therapist that Connor had stolen earlier that day. Afraid to upset Connor’s parents further, Evan goes with it and the lie spirals from there. He is forced to face the truth of the situation and about himself. This novel is definitely on the heavier side but a great staple for the transition of seasons. It is sure to keep you busy for the whole day and hopefully bring you some warmth as spring approaches.

Book Review

Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea

Publisher: Parnassus Press, 1968
Genre: Fantasy, Bildungsroman
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Although this book is considered by many to be a book of fantasy, A Wizard of Earthsea could very well also be considered in the self-help genre through the main character’s overcoming of his self. In the fictional archipelago of Earthsea, Ged, or “sparrowhawk” as he is also known, originally is born on the island of Gont. After practicing his mage work for some time, he decides that it is time for him to enroll in the school of wizardry. While at school, Ged engages in an argument with another student over who is the better wizard, and Ged subsequently performs a difficult spell that goes awry and releases a shadow creature. The rest of the novel contains the constant hunter v.s. hunted nature of Ged and his shadow, from which Ged hopes he will eventually be liberated.

Thoughts

To me, there is no better novel than one that equally applies to both children and adults. There is no need for sophisticated language or superior wording because the message and/or story is so strong, pure, and plain awesome. 

The first time that I ever even took a glance at the staff picks section of the Hayden library, I found this somewhat worn out and torn book with an interesting illustration on the front cover: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. The book is described as “a classic fantasy epic” that brings readers into an entirely new world. In my eyes, this book is the Harry Potter before Harry Potter. One enjoyable piece from Le Guin is her inclusion of a map of the new world, Earthsea, on the first page of the book. At times I found myself flipping back and forth between the page that I was reading and the map in the beginning, as though a treasure hunt was included. When speaking about Roke or a certain sailing direction past The Hands (2 islands in the novel), I searched through the map to get a feel for where this character, Ged, was travelling towards. It is as though the inclusion of the map brings readers back to a time period without Google search or the Internet. The name of an island was not able to be typed into a search bar and subsequently “magically” pop up in front of my eyes with almost no effort. No, the travelling character’s whereabouts and direction had to be searched for. Le Guin, with this process creation, made me feel as though this foreign land was real and had been lost in time.

Along with the fantasy epic’s awesome creativity, the illustrations by Ruth Robbins in the particular edition that I read are quite badass. At the beginning of each chapter, a picture is included that appears to be a mix of a stained glass window with fantasy myth.

The physical writing brings a reader to a new land; however, no land is complete without its own culture. Le Guin did a fantastic job of giving each island and its inhabitants their own faith & beliefs. Also, there are a few overlying beliefs for the entirety of Earthsea, such as the constant need for balance in the world. This relates to our modern world in that there are an infinite number of religions and beliefs out there; however, all have at least one underlying consistency: a belief in something greater than humanity. 

At the beginning of this novel I was a bit lost due to the new interestingly different cultures of those in the book, but once past this short phase I became captivated by the language and artistry used within the novel.  I highly recommend it to all who are searching for their next book to pickup… Especially recommend reading the paperback or hardcover version of this book found in the Hayden library so as to include illustrations, as Mrs. Le Guin originally desired.


Guest Post courtesy of Will Hillery

Top 4 Best Crime Novels

Crime-suspense is one of my favorite genres—I find that there is nothing better and more satisfying than solving a good mystery. So, whether you are just getting into the genre, or you’ve watched all the crime documentaries on Netflix and need more mystery, I’ve got just the thing for you: a list of my top 4 crime novels, written in various styles, so you can find the one that is right for you!


The WoodsHarlan Coben. This is one of my all time favorite novels. It follows the story of Paul Copeland, who lost his sister 20 years ago when she went missing from the summer camp they attended. Now, he is a prosecutor in New Jersey and goes by Cope. However, just as he begins to move forward from his sister’s death, a homicide victim comes forward that could be linked to his sister. As he works again to solve the mystery from 20 years ago, shocking new discoveries about the case are made. This novel is full of suspense and it is a true page-turner. With a plot twist that is absolutely mind blowing, I always recommend it to people who want to read a crime novel. Netflix even adapted it into a series (with only minor changes!). To this day, it is one of the best and most creative novels I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend everyone to pick up a copy!


OutfoxSandra Brown. This is a splendid novel for someone interested in a crime story mixed with a little bit of romance. It follows Drex Easton, an FBI agent who has been on the hunt for the same man for 30 years. This man, formerly known as Weston Graham, becomes close with wealthy women, and then murders them in ways that appear to be accidents, taking their money after. Each time, he changes his appearance and name completely, leaving no trace. Drex finally gets a lead on a him, but, in the process begins to fall in love with his wife. This novel perfectly intertwines a suspenseful chase with a heartwarming love story. As with any crime novel, it also includes an unanticipated plot twist. It is a definite read for anyone looking to enter the world of crime/mystery novels.


The Girl on the TrainPaula Hawkins. This novel is a little bit more well known, and also an excellent read. It follows the story of Rachel Watson, an alcoholic who grieves the end of her marriage with her husband Tom after he has an affair and marries the woman he cheated with. Rachel rides the train every morning and observes a seemingly perfect couple who lives on the street she used to live on. She becomes enchanted by the couple, reminiscing on the life she used to live. One day, she sees the wife kissing another man and days later, the woman has disappeared. Rachel remembers snippets of a night where she interacted with the missing woman, but has blacked out on most of the rest. The story progresses as she tries to piece together the true story of what happened, with a twist I did not see coming. This is a great crime/mystery novel for anyone who already loves the genre, or, for people starting to get into it. It was also made into a motion picture, but I recommend reading the book first to really get into the story!


Something in the WaterCatherine Steadman. This novel is another favorite of mine, however, it has a slightly different setup than the above novels. It primarily follows Erin Locke and her husband, Mark, after they find a mysterious bag floating in the water on their honeymoon filled with a bundle of cash, a gun, a flash drive, a bag of diamonds and a phone. They try to return the bag to the front desk, but it continues to appear in their room. Eventually, they decide to do some investigating themselves to see if they can maneuver their way into keeping the prizes. The interesting thing about this novel is that it starts months after they find the bag, at the height of the story and then goes back in time from there. This plot line gave some foreshadowing to the story and made my desire to unfold the mystery even stronger. This novel kept me flipping the pages and airs more on the side of suspense than true crime. I definitely recommend giving it a read.

Interview with Novelist, Screenwriter & Director, Stephen Chbosky

Meet Stephen Chbosky, whose 1999 novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower took the world by storm, inspiring young people everywhere to participate in the world around them. This novel has transcended time and remains an important staple in YA fiction—it was even made into a movie in 2012, which Chbosky wrote and directed as well. Now, 20 years later, he has written a new novel, Imaginary Friend, and I have had the pleasure to speak with him about it.

1. I’m sure most people are familiar with your first novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower, but your new novel, Imaginary Friend, takes on a much different genre than Perks. What was your motivation/inspiration behind this change?

My motivations for Imaginary Friend were many. One of my favorite genres is horror, I love Stephen King. I also love coming of age stories. Perks came out of my love for coming of ages stories, so Imaginary Friend came out of that same love, but for horror. I had such a great time with the Perks movie. It was the most satisfying experience of my life, so I wanted to do that again but in a different way. Also, to prove that I could write another novel. Most of what I do is in movies and T.V., and I wrote Perks when I was younger.

2. Imaginary Friend came 20 years after Perks. Was this lapse in time intentional, or did it stem naturally from your writing process?

It wasn’t a deliberate career move, but it’s how things worked out. It was a very ambitious book and I wanted it to be special. If I put something into the world, I want people who like my work to know that it was my best effort. When I wrote Perks I was single and had no children. I could throw 16 hours into writing, but now I have a wife and children and my family comes first. I started Imaginary Friend 10 years ago.

3. How has your relationship with writing changed/evolved over the years and what (if any) factors have influenced this change?

It has changed as I’ve gotten older. It is harder now, harder to find time and to focus. Due to that, I’ve had to change some of my process to accommodate that. It’s harder to write now but it’s also more meaningful. Every time you stare at a blank page is a chance to do something special with it and I take that more seriously now, because now that I am older I have less blank pages to work on. It adds a lot of meaning for me.

4. Not only are you an author, you are also a screenwriter and director. How do these overlap and what challenges do you face trying to balance them all?

All of the different things I do influence the other. Writing screenplays are merciless when it comes to structure and because of that I am always thinking about the story moving forward, even in a longer book like Imaginary Friend. Naturally, as a film director it has made me think more visually with hearing and sound. So when I write a book, all these elements find their way into a novel. On the flip-side, since novels are treated as more serious than movies, my novel writing always reminds me to make sure my movies are quality. I always try for my best no matter what.

5. What is some advice you have for aspiring authors working towards publication?

1st is to never use the word aspiring again. I wrote Perks when I was 26 and the 2nd draft when I was 27. I couldn’t find an agent for a year, and due to circumstance and luck I got a publisher and an agent. Was I writer when I was 27 when I didn’t have a publisher? Yes of course, if you write you are a writer. It isn’t up to some publisher. It is important that writers and artists feel they are a part of their work.

2nd work hard to find your authentic voice. I don’t mean to write about your childhood, unless that is your voice. Think about the books that you love and have inspired you. I wrote coming of age stories because I love them, I wrote a horror novel because I love horror and Stephen King. Those are my passions, so I did it. I did because I loved it and it was my authentic voice. If you do that—where you’re always challenging  yourself to get better—you’re gonna have a much better time with it. There are writers who write pulp fiction and that is their authentic voice, and it is just as authentic as Fitzgerald and Hemingway. All that matters is their authentic voice.

3rd I offer a 4 point plan; One is to write down every idea you have. It is very important that it is every idea. It could be page, a paragraph or a sentence. Two create a PDF of that document and register it with Writers Guild of America East or West for proof that it is your idea. Three share it with 5-7 friends or family members. It has to be people whose taste you trust and who want you to succeed. No frenemies or people that would want you to fail. Four is listen to them. Say it takes you a year to write a book or story, so say you’re 20 years old, you have 60 chances to write something remarkable. Time is so precious, what if you spend 1 of your 60 years on one idea, but these people love this other idea more. By having this discussion, little by little you learn about your characters and a genre that you weren’t sure about and find your best narratives and titles and themes. What’s funny is we as readers can identify peoples identities. You know what a Stephen King book is, everyone who writes has that style and their version of it. It helps them find it a little faster. You never know when the right time is going to come and you never know when you won’t get the chance. If George Orwell had written Animal Farm at a different time, or gone with a different idea, it may not have become what it did. Write the story that feels right to you, but find the things that are most intriguing to others as well. It really increases your chances of having a successful novel.

6. Do you have any ideas or plans for future novels at the moment?

I believe that I will write a sequel to Imaginary Friend. I have many other ideas, I love directing movies which is a (good) distraction. I have many ideas though and Imaginary Friend will not be last my book.

7. And lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything right now that you would recommend?

Ironically, my current read is the novel Dear Evan Hansen. I am directing the movie of the musical and it is quite good. I am reading it professionally but it’s a great book, so I would recommend it to anyone.


I had an amazing time speaking with Stephen, everything he says is full of little nuggets of wisdom, all of which I made sure to share. I have always been a big fan of his work and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. If you wish to purchase Imaginary Friend, you can do so from Changing Hands here. You can also read my review of the novel here if you’re on the fence about it, I promise it’s worth it!

4 Romances to Make You Fall in Love with Love

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and love is in the air! Whether you plan to celebrate with friends, family or a significant other, it’s a great day to remind people why you love them—and what better way to get into the spirit than with romantic novels? Here, I’ve compiled some of my favorite reads for Valentine’s Day that are sure to help even the most cynical fall in love with love.


The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks. This novel has always had a special place in my heart. It follows Ronnie Miller as she and her brother move to North Carolina to stay with their dad for the summer. However, ever since he left their family three years ago, Ronnie has held a grudge against him. She is an amazing musician with a scholarship to Julliard, but finds herself fighting that part of her because of the anger she holds towards her father. While in North Carolina, she meets Will who begins to thaw her heart. The more time she spends with him and learns about his family life, the more she learns to appreciate her own. It is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking story that beautifully captures the sweetness of new love, and the ups and downs of father-daughter relationships.


Me Before You – Jojo Moyes. Warning, this one is a real tear jerker, but, if this book doesn’t make you want to fall in love, I don’t know what will. The story follows Louisa Clark as she gets a job as a care-taker for a young man named Will Traynor. Will used to spend his time traveling the world doing every outdoor activity imaginable until he got in a motorcycle accident rendering him a quadriplegic. He’s been hardened by the accident and rarely interacts with people, but Louisa is determined to remind him how exciting life can be. The characters in this book are beautifully crafted and will truly leave a mark on your heart. The story is both sweet and heart-wrenching, the perfect mix for a Valentine’s Day read.

P.S. If you love this one, there’s two more in the trilogy!


Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan. On more upbeat note, this novel is both funny and heartwarming. Rachel Chu is a professor at NYU dating Nick Young. Nick’s childhood best friend is getting married in Singapore and Nick is set to be the best man. Rachel has never met Nick’s family and has no idea what she is getting into by agreeing to attend the wedding with him. She is thrown into the whirlwind that is royalty in Singapore and doesn’t really know how to react. While in Singapore she learns about her own past as well as Nick’s, leaving her with very important decisions to make about her future. This novel is a beautiful blend of humor, family strife, and love. Plus, it’s also a part of a trilogy!


The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger. This is another tear jerker that is totally worth it. It follows the love story of Clare and Henry as they try to maneuver through a life where Henry, essentially, time travels. He is diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder, which causes him to spontaneously transfer to a different time period of his life. Despite the difficulties this creates, Clare loves him so deeply that she tries her best to live with it. This life style is constantly testing the strength of their love as the world seems to be against it. The story is captivating and stressful at times, making it a real page turner. It’s sure to put you in all the feels and is the perfect addition to any Valentine’s Day reading list.

Book Review

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Format: Hardback
Pages: 498
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

As with all good things, this story begins with a book. Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a mildly enthusiastic college student, is wandering through the shelves of his university library. He is searching, although he does not know what for, when he happens upon a book which is more than it seems. The book is old, unmarked and deliciously mysterious. Once Zachary begins to read, he cannot stop, because in its pages Zachary finds stories of pirates, and gatekeepers, and finally, himself.

The book describes the young man as he was in his childhood. It is a chronicle of a moment of magic when Zachary was offered passage into another world—a moment which he chose not to seize. The promise of the book is that this moment has not been lost, only postponed. It is this promise that propels Zachary through a painted doorway into a world full of wonder, a world in which a Starless Sea exists beneath the earth, on whose shores exist all the stories that ever were and that will ever be.

Thoughts

The Starless Sea is long-form love letter to books. It is collection of stories within stories, all neatly woven together with the thread of the main narrative, which the reader learns is yet another story in another book. There is some not so subtle subtext here concerning the nature of “Story,” and what that means to those who are passionate about it. In one of my favorite tangents, those who wish to protect and keep the treasures of the Starless Sea must pass a test in which they relate a story to a single person. Based on their performance they are deemed either worthy or not. This is an enticing prospect, and a call-to-arms of those (such as myself) that fancy themselves storytellers. Morgenstern blatantly states, if you do not love books, this one is not for you.

The powerful imagery immerses the reader in a magical reality outside of the mundane world. From the masquerade party where the attendees must dress as literary characters, to the underground quarters where any food you wish appears by means of an enchanted dumbwaiter, each scenario is finely crafted to enchant the lover of the unusual and fantastic. While there is little explanation as to the why of events, the richness that they offer renders this unnecessary. Why explain the realm of magic? The prose is lovely, full of metaphor, and unabashedly romantic.

For me, this books speaks with the voice of a kindred spirit. If the Reveurs of The Night Circus (Morgenstern’s first book) were my tribe, then this book is our destination. Were we all to go on a voyage, I am sure that we would set sail together on the Starless Sea. Of course, we would be traveling together on a boat crafted from heartwood of the Ancient Forest, with sails of silk woven from the hair of naiads and perfumed with the dew of night-blooming flowers. If this sounds like exactly the type of adventure that you would like to go on—one full of lovers, villains, and unlikely heroes—then this is the book for you. I would highly recommend it devotees of fantasy and bibliophiles alike. Curl up with a nice cup of tea and The Starless Sea and be prepare to be transported into a dream!

Harry Potter Books Ranked

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

Literary Event: The Sun Devil’s Writing Network

Are you a student writer at Arizona State University who is seeking out a small, but growing, community of writers who are as passionate about writing as you are? A place devoted to helping you further your craft and generate ideas? Then look no further than The Sun Devil’s Writing Network, an online creative writing workshop that meets online using Zoom on the second and fourth Monday of every month. The Sun Devil’s Writing Network seeks to develop member’s craft through peer review, honing their eye as critical readers, and fostering a sense of community.


Date: The 2nd and 4th Monday of every month, starting January 27th
Time: 3:00-4:30 p.m.
Location: Online using Zoom meeting code 802-685-7310 or by clicking this link.
Cost: Free

For more information about the Sun Devil’s Writing Network, click here.

Book Review

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2014
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Time Length: 7 hours, 2 minutes
Narrated by Scott Brick
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

With pitiful book sales, the theft of his most prized rare book, and the loss of his beloved wife, irritable A.J. Fikry begins to dread his life as the sole bookstore owner of Alice Island.

Soon though, a mysterious woman leaves a toddler in Fikry’s bookstore with a simple note: “I want Maya to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about such kinds of things. I love her very much, but I can no longer take care of her.”

As A.J. searches for Maya’s mother, befriends a local cop, and reaches out for childcare help, Fikry begins a journey of transformation that catches the attention of his local book readers as well as the eccentric Knightley Press sale rep, Amelia Loman.

Thoughts

I picked up an audiobook version of this novel after a good friend from our Spellbinding team recommended it to me. (Thank you, Payton, our lovely Managing Editor!)

Listening to this audiobook during my long commutes made me excited to drive to and from school. If you are not a local reader, I can assure you that traffic in the Phoenix area isn’t exactly a pleasant experience. Side effects include grumpiness, checking the time incessantly, boredom, and annoyance. While I might be dramatizing the state of Phoenix’s rush hour traffic, claiming that The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry made my commute enjoyable is, without a doubt, some high literary praise.

Aside from the immediate entertainment value, I adored this book for its narrator’s unabashed quirkiness and love for books. I felt as if I could befriend both A.J. and the book’s narrator, and I could see them fitting in well with the college and literary community here in Phoenix. There were murmurs of bookish preferences throughout the entire novel, from small praises of authors like Flannery O’Connor to an abrupt and hilarious quip about a well-known thriller author using a ghostwriter. Zevin is even comfortable and masterful enough to playfully poke fun at her story’s own intentional cliches.

On top of winning me over for its clear focus on books and the reading life, I easily fell in love with the novel’s main characters. When lovable characters were in pain, my heart sank; and when they triumphed, my heart soared.

I will say, some of the plot was fairly predictable, but certainly not in a disappointing way. It was more a mark of good craftsmanship, as Fikry might suggest.

This book is absolutely perfect for any bookworm with a hunger for literary references and a good story. Any book lover will feel right at home in the cozy bookstore of A.J. Fikry with its stacks of ARCs, Moby Dick-themed restaurant, and both disastrous and successful literary events.


And since I can only imagine A.J. Fikry himself would be appalled at my choice to include an audiobook (Heavens! At least I didn’t include information for an ebook!), I’ll include a link to a locally-sold paperback as well.