“Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien-Reviewed by JohnCarl McGrady

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It almost feels like cheating. “The Lord of the Rings” is not just a classic in the fantasy genre, it’s the standard by which all else is measured. Fantasy, the way it is perceived now, with epic sprawling universes and deep lore, did not exist before Tolkien published his masterpiece. That’s because Tolkien, who is rightfully known as the father of fantasy, kicked off the entire genre the way we know it. Sure, fantasy existed before Tolkien– think “Frankenstein” or “Dracula”– but it was a totally different game.

“The Lord of the Rings” redefined fantasy in a way no single book has ever redefined a genre. Anyone who knows anything about fantasy will agree; “The Lord of the Rings” is the end all be all. Every fantasy novel since has been judged by how it compares to “The Lord of the Rings. Fantasy subgenres have literally been divided along the lines of Tolkien. Pre-Tolkien fantasy and Post-Tolkien fantasy. Epic or High fantasy is just fantasy written in the style of Tolkien. One of the most common forms of praise you will find on the back of a book is a comparison to Tolkien, calling something the “next” “Lord of the Rings” or saying the author “matches Tolkien.”

With entire languages, dozens of volumes of history books, hundreds of thousands of pages, and a still active fandom, it’s hard to go wrong with “The Lord of the Rings.” Whether you like sprawling fantasy epics, deep and engaging characters, in depth lore and history, or classic good will triumph over evil narratives, “The Lord of the Rings” has something for you.

“Beware of Pity” by Stefan Zweig-Reviewed by Mookie Richards

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“The whole thing began with a blunder on my part, an entirely innocent piece of clumsiness, a gaffe, as the French call it. Then followed by an attempt to put things right; but if you try to repair a watch in too much of a hurry, you’re as likely as not to put the whole works out of order.” – the first paragraph of Stefan Zweig’s longest novel, “Beware of Pity.”

Written in 1939 by Austrian author Stefan Zweig, “Beware of Pity, translated by Joan Acocella, is a novel following the story of a young Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer. Herr Hofmiller lives in a small town on the edge of Austria’s empire. After being invited to a wealthy landowner’s house for dinner, Hofmiller falls into a chasm of pity when he accidentally asks the crippled daughter, Edith, for a dance. The majority of the story is learning the extent to which Hofmiller is able to pity Edith and the dangerous repercussions of this suffocating emotion.

Zweig was a very popular writer in the mid-1900s and has only resurfaced because of Oscar-winning director and storyteller Wes Anderson. The A24 Studio’s director has continually praised Zweig for his writing and storytelling techniques and has been a major inspiration in Anderson’s film. My personal idol and a huge inspiration, the famed director based his 8th feature film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” on Zweig’s works.

I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this book. Zweig’s work tackles a single human emotion present in every single aspect of his book: pity. Pity oozes through every scene and every character in this masterful work of fiction, similar to a play by Shakespeare. His poetic writing includes some of the best contextual relevant metaphors and descriptions I have ever read, and I highly recommend picking it up.

“Alabama Moon” by Watt Key-Reviewed by Emmet Clarke

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I first read “Alabama Moon” when I was in 6th grade, and it has stuck with me ever since. I have reread it two or three times, and each time I am able to find new details or pick up on themes or allusions that I did not recognize my first time reading it.

The story centers around a young 11-year-old boy named Moon Blake, who has lived his entire life with his father in the woods, surviving off the land with little contact with the outside world. When something happens to his father, Moon soon finds himself in a world he does not recognize, as local authorities take him into custody when the land he lives on is bought by a paper company. Moon meets many memorable characters along the way, and his story is one that anyone would find interesting.

The novel grapples with many diverse topics such as dealing with grief, repercussions of war (his dad was a Vietnam veteran), materialism in the modern world, and isolation. While appearing to be a kid’s book, it takes on these challenging subjects with ease and helps show life through the lens of a young child.

I think that this novel would be especially suited for younger high schoolers or teenagers, as I feel there are many parallels between Moon’s situation and many young adults. Moon and younger readers are faced with a world they know very little about and do not feel prepared to enter. For me, this book was able to help me learn how to deal with that struggle, and I believe that it certainly will for others.

The book itself is a very easy read, without any difficult word selection or sentence structure, so I doubt that anyone would have a struggle trying to get through it, as it is not super long either. Despite its short length, Alabama Moon will leave you amazed with the impact its many characters have upon you, such as the other young wards of the state that Moon spends a large portion of the novel with.

While some people might find the story a bit too sad or childish, Alabama Moon is a novel that will leave its mark upon any reader.

“Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling-Reviewed by Anna Steadman

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I get it, you have probably seen the movies or your friend has told you so much of the plot that it might not even seem like it is worth your time. That is where you are wrong. Harry Potter is way more than just some kid who flies around a broomstick trying to kill some psychopath named Lord Voldemort. There is very much a reason why the series is the third most read in the world. Author J.K. Rowling illustrates and submerges her readers into a world entirely unlike our own. While everyone may seem like a muggle on the outside, or a non-magical human, a complex and vivid society emerges where some are given the power of magic. One of the most iconic fantasy novels of all time, Harry Potter has created more than just a universe we visit while we read, but one in which we can picture ourselves. Each character becomes one of your best friends with every novel, as you get to see their personal growth and development.

So while yes, there are epic magical battles, flying cars and brooms, a school where the food is not only endless but also free, and characters that are so easy to fall in love with, it is so much more. Rowling touches on the struggles of losing a parent, feeling out of place, finding one’s personal identity, and perhaps most of all the value of friendship and sacrifice. Harry Potter is by far the best book, series, and the world I have ever discovered. Even if you don’t like reading, I have yet to hear a soul say they read the series and regretted it. So don’t just settle for movies and second-hand plot details. Settle down with a warm butterbeer, a chocolate frog,  crack open the first book, and open the doors to Hogwarts. Once you get going, the last page of book seven will be upon you before you know it, and you will be wishing to get back to the Cupboard Under the Stairs.

“Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson-Reviewed by Henry Dupont

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You’ve just gotta read “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson. The novel takes place in the country of Luthadel. Luthadel’s semi-divine emperor known as “The Lord Ruler” has kept the economy stable for centuries by enslaving the people known as the “Skaa” and selling them to the nobility. A small minority known as “Allomancers” have the ability to draw supernatural power from ingested metal.

While most Allomancers have the ability to utilize one metal, “Mistborns” are able to utilize all of them. These powers include pulling on metals, pushing on metals, increasing strength and agility, increasing sensory acuteness, soothing emotions, rioting emotions, hiding allomancy, sensing allomancy, and a few other more nuanced powers. Sanderson does an amazing job using repetition of subtle details to quickly make the reader comfortable with the laws that govern the reality in which the novel is set. You are so often reminded of the ash falling from the sky, the red sun, and the ominous mists that they quickly fade to the background just like they must to the protagonists.

Sanderson’s character development is also some of the best I have ever read. The main character, Vin, seems so real as she struggles with trust and identity. Having grown up on the streets, Vin has become accustomed to distrust and timid avoidance, but she is very quickly put into a situation that requires great trust, leaving her fighting against her very nature.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel are the combat scenes. Allomancy requires maximum finesse. To portray this, Sanderson explains each combative motion with acute detail, making for extremely exhilarating sequences.

Sanderson’s “Mistborn” trilogy was so well received that it was followed by a spin-off trilogy, and two short stories, I highly recommend this novel, and all of Brandon Sanderson’s works to anyone who loves to read the fantasy genre.

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