10 Books To Look Forward To In 2022

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


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

Release Date: May 23,2022


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

Release Date: January 11, 2022


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

Release Date: May 3, 2022


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

Release Date: April 5, 2022


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

Release Date: March 15, 2022


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

Release Date: February 8, 2022


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

Release Date: January 11, 2022


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

Release Date: August 9, 2022


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

Release Date: January 4, 2022


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

Release Date: March 1, 2022

Our Favorite Tropes: 6 Recommendations and Why We Love Them

This post is a collaboration between Makayla Aysien and Lauren Kuhman

Enemies to Lovers

The Hating Game—Sally Thorne. The Hating Game follows Lucy and Josh—two people who work for the same publishing company—who are forced to work in the same office space, and who absolutely despise each other. Lucy is sweet, colorful, passionate, and friendly, while Josh is tough, reserved, and intimidating, but no less passionate than Lucy. The two clash so often and so epically that their heated relationship is infamous at their little publishing company, Bexley & Gamin. When a promotion becomes available—available to only one of them—their competition appears to come to an all-time high. Amid the chaos of change, and the two of them knowing that their current dynamic will surely be altered by this promotion, the main question is what kind of new relationship might blossom between the two of them. 

The Hating Game is the book that pulled me into the romance genre. I thought I had picked up a mediocre book that wouldn’t distract me while I was supposed to be committed to schoolwork, but this turned out to be one of the best mistakes I have ever made! With its endless hilarity and truly passionate romance, I couldn’t put it down. Other enemies to lovers books like to point out the fact that their main characters are “verbally sparring” without actually bantering, but Lucy and Josh know what it means to be witty. I think it’s safe to say that Sally Thorne has reinvigorated the enemies to lovers trope in the modern romance genre.


Found Family

Six of Crows—Leigh Bardugo. Six of Crows follows a handful of teenagers in Ketterdam, a city where capitalists’ dreams come true and gangs run the streets. When an opportunity comes along to become obscenely wealthy, Kaz Brekker—leader of one of Ketterdam’s prominent gangs, the Dregs—recruits an unlikely crew to complete a heist. 

Six of Crows is everywhere, and it deserves all the hype it gets. It intertwines some of the greatest storylines and tropes imaginable, from heists and trickery to young love and friendship. Bardugo has created vivid, lively, but vastly different personalities who somehow come together to achieve their goals. Every member of Kaz’s crew comes from some sort of great familial loss, but in working together, they discover a love for each other that is more important than any other wealth.


Workplace Romance

If I Never Met You—Mhairi McFarlane. This romance follows Laurie, a successful career woman, whose longtime boyfriend suddenly and unexpectedly ends their relationship. Their breakup is made all the more awkward by the fact that they work for the exact same law firm. Laurie hasn’t dated in years, but her ex and his new girlfriend, as well as the workplace gossip about her love life, pushes her to take action. After running into Jamie Carter, the office playboy whose love life is the topic of conversation far too often, they hatch a plan to pretend that they are dating.

If I Never Met You combines one of my favorite tropes—workplace romances—with another amazing romance trope: fake dating. While this is very much a romance novel, it offers a unique type of romance to the genre. It’s subtle, slow, and sweet. This book focuses a great deal on Laurie and what it’s like to move on from a relationship that ended in profound heartbreak, but also offers a gentle hand to those who are learning to open their hearts back up again.


Main Character Ends Up with a Celebrity

Catch a Falling Star—Kim Culbertson. I am a supporter of the fact that romances don’t need to be incredibly physical to be amazing or that adults can’t enjoy YA novels—and Catch a Falling Star is no exception. One of the first novels I bought and read myself at my school’s Scholastic Book Fair, Catch a Falling Star perfectly encompasses all the feelings of young love with the caveat that the main character doesn’t initially want such feelings. This fairly short novel is about a small town girl who, when a movie star comes to film in her town, is asked to portray the celebrity’s girlfriend. While the relationship is tense at first, it isn’t before long that both catch feelings. But is it real? Can the two survive the pull of their completely different lives?

This is a great read any time of the year, but if you don’t like the cold and are dreaming of summer look no further for a perfect wish-I-was-on-the-beach read. As well, for fans of Disney Channel’s movie StarStruck this book encompasses those tensions, feelings, and hope that young love can offer.

Honorable Mention

Girls Save the World in this One—Ash Parsons. We couldn’t include this trope without mentioning Girls Save the World in this One by Ash Parsons. A quirky and lovable novel that combines unlikely romance and the zombie apocalypse, this book is perfect for anyone wanting a typical literary trope with a unique plot.



Self-Discovery and Mental Health

Dear Evan Hansen—Val Emmich. A musical, a book, and now a movie, it goes without saying that Dear Evan Hansen has become a world-wide phenomenon (and with good reason). The story follows Evan Hansen, an anxious and isolated high-schooler. One day he is tasked with writing a letter to himself by his therapist—however fellow student, Connor Murphy, takes the letter. The next day, Evan Hansen is approached by Connor’s grieving parents who believe that the letter was a final note from their son, who took his own life that day. Evan Hansen is pulled into a conflicting situation as he searches for belonging while addressing the harsh reality of being a young person and lifting the grief of the Murphy family.

Dear Evan Hansen is an amazing story and addresses so many ideas but mostly emphasizes the idea of personal growth and self discovery as Evan Hansen searches for meaning and belonging while making some pretty bad decisions. Additionally, the story is available in many formats that all articulate the prevalence of Evan Hansen’s journey. The book and movie are the most accessible, but as always I encourage you to read the book first (and as a bonus listen to the original sound track as you read!).


Psychological / Survivalist

Lord of the Flies—William Golding. Lord of the Flies by William Golding is just an all-around good book. Short and concise, the novel follows a group of young boys who have recently been stranded on an island. What begins as an organized attempt to survive quickly descends to chaos. Declared a classic and recipient of the Nobel Prize, the novel goes beyond its acclaimed status. It is the type of story that offers something new every time you read it; it takes on multiple forms, multiple focuses, and articulates new ideas. It is timeless not only because it speculates some of the most innate qualities of humanity, but because it is a story that answers the age-old question of what would happen if you were stranded on a desert island. So…what would you do?

Book Review

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

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

Summary

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Why Neurodivergent Representation Matters in the Romance Genre

When we speak about the romance genre in this setting, I’m referring to complete, nonstop romance. Virtually every scene, every word, every breath is imbued with romance, even if the degree of cheesiness is left to the prerogative of the author. This romance isn’t a mere subplot; it is the very essence of the novel, laying out what is often essentially 300 pages of fluff.

Despite its sweetness and all of the immediate joy these stories bring us, we cannot ignore that this genre is severely lacking in diversity. How many books featuring two cis straight white neurotypical people—one male, the other female—falling in love did publishers reasonably think they could pump out before we demanded more representation in race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity? The romance genre has begun giving us this diversity, but in our reimagining of the genre, I’m worried that queer characters, as well as the subject of this article, neurodivergent characters, are going to be left behind.

Two authors of neurodivergent and inclusive romance novels give me hope that this doesn’t have to be the case: Helen Hoang and Chloe Liese. Hoang has written three books featuring autistic characters: The Kiss Quotient, The Bride Test, and The Heart Principle. Liese has written eight novels featuring characters with autism, anxiety, and physical disabilities in her Tough Love and Bergman Brothers series. What’s even more exciting is that both of these authors have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), meaning that we get to read neurodivergent romance novels by authors who have an understanding of what it’s like to have a neurodivergent mind.

Throughout their books, we are given different illustrations of what the ASD experience might be like for different people. We get to see characters who received their diagnosis early in life, as well as those who weren’t diagnosed until adulthood, like the authors themselves. Moreover, Hoang and Liese sprinkle in particular experiences that people with ASD, and other neurodivergent folks, have, including overstimulation, touch sensitivity, confusion about certain social cues, and special interests.

Not only do we need this sort of representation across different mediums of storytelling and in everyday life, but we need to make sure that neurodivergent folks are incorporated in every genre, from action movies to fantasy novels. I find it frustrating when I go into a bookstore or library and find that books like LGBTQ+ fiction have their own section. Perhaps it’s just me, but it’s frustrating to see that there are usually so few and that they aren’t mixed in with the fiction novels. Why can’t we both write more LGBTQ+ fiction and not set them apart as if they’re an esoteric genre only queer people would read? The same must be said about novels with neurodivergent characters; we need more of them and they need to not be treated as a separate genre. This will help take away stereotypes and stigmas about neurodivergence. After all, if every human experience is unique to the person who experiences it, why should the neurodivergent experience be set apart from what it is: a unique human experience that should be cared about as much as all neurotypical experiences are?

By specifically placing neurodivergent folks in the romance genre, we get a closer look at how they might go about any human relationship, not simply romantic ones, but, of course, how they might want to receive romantic love and how they love others. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, it really is no different from a romantic relationship that neurotypicals would want to pursue. Most neurodivergent folks want a romantic relationship. They want hugs and hand holding and sex. They want their partner to feel loved. As with any relationship, there will be unique interests and things that certain people are uncomfortable with. In that case, people in a relationship should communicate to set up boundaries, but this is typical of any healthy relationship.

This is why romance novels featuring neurodivergent characters, especially those written by neurodivergent authors, are so important—they show us the reality that sweet, sexy, passionate, erotic, loving, and lasting romantic relationships aren’t unattainable or undesirable to neurodivergent folks because of their neurodivergence. What makes these relationships more difficult for some neurodivergent individuals is the expectation that they must act like neurotypicals. They must give and receive love as others typically do. These books show that this expectation is unhealthy, not simply for neurodivergent folks, but for neurotypical folks, as well. Learn how your partner loves. Do they want to infodump? Do they give you random small gifts because they were thinking about you and thought you would like it?

On a personal note, these books were here for me throughout my own diagnosis with ADHD, another neurodivergence. I read them before I even had a clue I had something in common with these characters, during the process of diagnosis, and now, after I know myself better than I ever have before. They serve as a beautiful reminder that my life, and in this context, my love life, doesn’t have to be different simply because I’m neurodivergent. They show me that I am still deserving of love. We all are.

Literary Event: Write Here, Write Now | Kelli Trapnell: “Using Genre Techniques in Literary Fiction”

Quickly now—grab your pens and all the paper you can find because Changing Hands Bookstore is hosting a virtual writing workshop!

The event is on Monday, October 25 from 6:30–8:00 p.m. (9:30–11:00 p.m. ET) and attendance is only $5. The workshop will be taught by Kelli Trapnell, who has a MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University and received both the Sandra Brown Excellence in Literary Fiction Award and the 2018 New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship in fiction.

The 90–minute session will include a 30–minute lesson on the difference between fiction and “literary fiction,” and specific time for personal literary exploration! The first half of the class will be an exploration and explanation of the literary genre using discussion of prominent authors and works. The second half of the class will take theory to application as you move through a variety of exercises to teach literary fiction techniques leading up to your own miniature story.

Do you have your pen ready? Great—let’s go! Register for the First Draft Book Club here.


Location: Online

Date: Monday, October 25, 2021

Time: 6:30–8:00 p.m. (9:30 – 11:00 p.m. ET)

Price of Ticket: $5.00 (+$1.24 fee)

Book Review

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Still Alice is a story about Alice. And her family. And her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Alice, a happily married college professor with a family, is only fifty years old when she develops the neurological disease. She begins to forget things, to lose her memory, and to experience cloudy thinking.

Alice’s story is about her struggles and triumphs in dealing with the disease and how it feels to navigate the heartbreak.

Thoughts

Every portrait is really a mirror for others to see themselves in. Still Alice is not a story about Alzheimer’s; it’s a story about Alice, her family, her career, her life, and also her struggles with Alzheimer’s dementia.  Research on dementia often tells a story that is essentialized to a medicalization, forgetting the person, the biography, the daily life. Says the book’s author Lisa Genova, “Five million people have Alzheimer’s, and each has family and friends who know them and care about them.” Alice’s story is a portrait for others with dementia or with loved ones with dementia—to see themselves in.

Still Alice serves as evidence for promoting a person-centered approach to researching dementia and caring for those with it—a holistic approach seeing the whole person and not just their illness. The story is unique in that it is told from the inside looking out, from the point of view of Alice, the person with dementia instead of being told by a caregiver or family member. It’s her story. 

Lisa Genova has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, and after she graduated, her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Still Alice is the result of a rigorous research process. She emailed daily and met with people with early-onset dementia. “They let me in and shared with me their most vulnerable selves.” She shadowed neurologists and social workers, she watched neurological testing with patients, she role-played with doctors, and she volunteered with the Dementia Advocacy and Support Network. 

Her research endeavors culminated into a novel, the best way she thought to reach people with the truths about dementia she had uncovered. Publishers initially rejected Lisa Genova’s manuscript, arguing both that it would only appeal to people with dementia and given her academia background, she should stick to writing non-fiction only. But fiction may be a powerful tool in creating empathy, especially for people with illnesses.

This novel offers a portrait of a person with a real illness and is a catalyst for developing empathy for people with those illnesses. Reading Alice’s story “can show us what it is like to be another person.” Fiction creates empathy for others through identification with a character, seeing yourself in their portrait. Because Still Alice is a story about Alice, what do you see in the mirror of Alice’s portrait? 

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.

An Homage to the Summer Reading Program and a Heavy Bookcase

This year, for the first time in over ten years, I thought about not participating in the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program.

Normally, I would have no problem soaring over the program’s simple, 1,000-minute reading threshold. In 2020, I had nothing else to do with my time, so I read. In 2019, I was desperate for college preparatory advice, and I read. Before that, I had summer homework that occasionally involved reading 700 pages of Democracy in America—I was a shoo-in for the program. As a child, I would use the time my mom read to me before putting me to sleep as part of my minutes. In fact, I remember using a sticker book to log my time before the program was fully digital. For years, the summer reading program was part of my DNA. By the end of each summer, I would have read well over the requirements, and I would have my prize for completion: a free book shipped to my local library.

This year, however, I was tired. After two years full of literature and writing classes for both my degree in English and my newly added journalism major, I felt drained by the written word. Despite my love of reading and writing, the last few years were rough. I was coming hot off of a semester where I had read numerous student papers for my on-campus job, and I was knee-deep in investigations for my newspaper. With next semester’s schedule packed with 18 credits of English and journalism classes (in addition to some of my final prerequisites), I decided I had done my due diligence for the time being. I would read later, spending my precious summer months doing anything but looking at a book.

Instead of working on the completion of the summer reading program, I was on a reading hiatus. It seemed to be working well enough: I would write for my job, then watch a show or listen to music, distracting myself in a way that did not involve words. My brain felt nice and quiet, albeit a little empty.

The new summer plan went smoothly until my mother decided to move our massive bookshelf. The monstrosity is so large and full of so many books—we have attempted (and failed) to thin it out many times—that it is physically impossible to move without emptying it first. So my mother, reasonably enough, asked me to take out my share of books so we could move it.

Suddenly, I found myself staring at my old favorites: On Writing by Stephen King, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and a Star Wars book called A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller that has been a longtime guilty pleasure.

Without making any promises to myself, I picked up A New Dawn and devoured it in two sittings. When I reached the last page, I was surprisingly disappointed that it was over.

The next thing I knew, I was back at my pile of books, digging for something that would take me far away from the struggles and burnout of the past year. I settled on a brief rereading of The Mysterious Benedict Society, a childhood favorite. This time, I pulled out my trusty iPhone timer so that I could keep track of my minutes. This reading quickly turned into me reading all four books of the series in one weekend.

Instead of being exhausted by the words, I was ravenous—and I could not have been more excited.

At this point, in mid-July, I’ve certainly exceeded the 1,000 minutes needed to complete the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program. More important to me, though, is that the feeling I’m chasing is not going away. I went to the library, bought a few books online, and am delving into a few fascinating nonfiction works that I never would have considered reading in the past. My mind is starting to think again, and I’ve even had the energy to work on writing for fun in addition to my job as a reporter.

Looking back on where I was a month and a half ago, I laugh at the thought that I could stay away from reading all summer. It’s okay to take breaks, but I know that sometimes you just need the right kind of push—and I also know that I have a bookcase and a steadfast summer reading program to thank.


Guest post courtesy of Anna Campbell