Book Review

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Publisher: Vintage, 2013
Genre: Literature
Pages: 176
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

When David’s girlfriend Hella flees the country without answering his marriage proposal, his life is plunged into emotional and financial turmoil. Left alone in Paris in the 1950s, he must find a way to support himself while his father denies him money in hopes of pressuring him into returning to the United States. For a season, David finds refuge in the apartment of a handsome Italian bartender named Giovanni. The two men begin a romantic relationship that plunges David into a moral crisis, dredging up an identity he had been running from. Ultimately, their affair is full of discovery, dependency, and loathing—coming to an inevitably tragic end.

Thoughts

What I most enjoyed about this book is how it fearlessly grapples with the topics of sexuality and masculinity. David and Giovanni’s relationship is enshrouded in a secret—David’s would-be-fiancé Hella—from the beginning, predestining it for a short lifespan. Further complicating their affair, societal pressure weighs the men down and warps their perception of one another. Simultaneous to this relationship playing out, Baldwin presents a secondary character who questions the reader’s view of masculinity: the always sharply dressed Guillaume, a man wealthy enough to force the young men who work for him—like Giovanni—into doing whatever he wants at risk of losing their jobs and having their reputations ruined. While Guillaume is not a particularly appealing character, there is no doubt that he has agency, a revolutionary concept—especially in 1956–for a homosexual male character who is not masculine presenting.

Baldwin furthers the work’s modern sensibilities, and my delight, by perfectly illustrating the “it’s complicated” relationship status on Facebook. Though this is not David’s first same-sex encounter, he finds himself blaming Giovanni as if he has been taken advantage of. This blame leads him to a personal affirmation that their affection for one another is unnatural, driving a wedge between the two men and highlighting the damage that shame and guilt can cause if woven into the emotional tapestry of a relationship; a theme that is universal beyond same-sex relationships, making this novel more accessible to a wider audience.   

What resonates most with me about this book, however, is how it examines the cost of living life authentically. David knows that he desires Giovanni more than anything else, and yet, for a chance at normalcy, he must deny his authentic self; Giovanni is a working-class immigrant who is running from normalcy in hopes of finding his authentic self; and Hella wishes to be an independent woman, but also feels that she cannot take full advantage of life without living in a traditionally domesticated way. These internal struggles showcase the damage that denying our authentic self can cause—not only internally, but to those nearest to us as well. 

Full of beautiful language and rich emotional landscapes, Giovanni’s Room is an incredibly accessible read and comes in at less than two hundred pages—making it a perfect addition to your pride month reading list. 


Guest blog post courtesy of Edward Dolehanty.

How to Navigate Bookstagram Lingo: A Glossary

Whether you simply enjoy interacting with bookish Instagram accounts or you’re an emerging Bookstagrammer yourself, you may have come across some unfamiliar terms or abbreviations. With social media, these acronyms are always evolving, so don’t feel embarrassed if you find yourself confused reading Bookstagram captions! We’ve prepared a mini glossary to help you navigate the niche lingo of the Bookstagram world.


Book Hangover:

If you love reading, you’re probably already familiar with this feeling. A book hangover describes the sadness or emotional distress you feel after you’ve finished a great book. Usually, you have a hard time transitioning back into reality after enjoying the fictional world of your last read. You might even have a hard time starting a new book when you’re in the middle of a book hangover. This term is often used jokingly in Bookstagram stories.

Bookstagram:

So, what is Bookstagram, anyway? Bookstagram is a category of Instagram accounts that cover bookish material, just like us! Bookstagrammers can be book bloggers, book critics, or people who just love to post about the books they’re reading. It’s a great online platform to discuss, review, and discover new books.

Book Title Acronyms:

Bookstagrammers commonly use acronyms to discuss books they are reading. This shortens the book title, but—of course—this can be very confusing for beginners! We’ve gathered a sampling of acronyms we’ve commonly seen on Instagram.

  • HP = Harry Potter
  • THT = The Handmaid’s Tale
  • ACOTAR = A Court of Thorns and Roses
  • ACOMAF = A Court of Mist and Fury
  • ACOWAR = A Court of Wings and Ruin

CR:

CR stands for current read. Many bloggers will use this abbreviation on their bio descriptions so you can see the book they are currently reading. So, if someone’s bio reads “CR: THT,” that means they are reading The Handmaid’s Tale at the moment. (And probably preparing to watch Hulu’s dramatic spinoff series!)

DNF:

DNF’s are the books that readers did not finish. Bookstagrammers usually use this term in their stories to explain that the book wasn’t captivating enough for them to finish. If a reader posts, “this book was a DNF unfortunately,” that means you won’t be hearing the bookstagrammer’s review anytime soon—they’ve abandoned the book for something that fits their reading preferences better.

MC:

MC’s are the main characters of the books you are reading. Careful! This is not to be confused with emcees (also spelled MC’s), who are masters of ceremonies in the rap and hip hop world.

OTP:

OTP’s, or “One True Pairings,” are fictional couples that you love and root for. On the other hand, NOTP’s (pronounced No-TP’s) are the fictional couples that you wish would just steer clear of each other. You don’t approve of NOTP relationships.

POV:

You might recognize this term from your junior high school years. POV stands for point of view, or the perspective from which the story is told.

RTC:

When a bookstagrammer marks a title as RTC, this means that there’s a review-to-come. Once the reader has finished the book, they will share their thoughts with you so you can decide if you want to research the title further.

Shelfie:

A shelfie combines the words “shelf” and “selfie.” Yup, you guessed it! Shelfie posts are photos of readers’ bookshelves. Shelfies can range from very simple bookshelves to highly decorated and curated shelves. #sheflie is a fun hashtag to follow if you’re looking for some design inspiration for your reading room.

TBR:

Do you know that pile of books you’ve always meant to read but haven’t had a chance to start yet? That’s called your TBR list (or to-be-read list). If you’re like us, this list grows longer every single day!

WIP:

If you follow a bookstagrammer who is also an author, you might notice them talking about their WIP. This is the story they are currently writing, also known as their work-in-progress.


We hope this glossary helps you navigate the unique lingo of Bookstagram the next time you open up Instagram! In the meantime, be sure to finish up your CR so you can tackle that ever-growing TBR list!

Book Review

The Now Dark Sky, Setting Us All on Fire by Robert Krut

Publisher: Codhill Press, 2019
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 56
Format: Paperback
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Krut’s collection contains three sections: the first two with fourteen poems each and the last one with thirteen. The poems do not necessarily tell a single unified narrative, though they do flow and have a definitively similar tone.

However, it is worth noting that these poems must be read in order to gain a true sense of the collection.

While I cannot claim a perfect understanding of this collection, I can say that the title gives a good indication of the themes, subjects, and images that repeat throughout the collection. The sky is dark “now”, encompasses the immediate value and poignancy of these poems, as well as the action they contain. The striking images of a dark sky setting us on fire illuminates how the natural world has this effect on “us all”, a reminder of a unifying inability to control our own mortality.

Thoughts

When you read a poem, you get a tiny glimpse into the author’s perspective on the poem’s subject filtered through the perception of the poem’s speaker. But when you read a collection of poems, you really get a sense for who the author is, what they feel, and what is on their mind. This poetry collection reveals the mind of a man who has a sharp eye for observation and keen insight into the common experience of human emotions, filtered through startlingly unique and moving imagery.

Krut’s collection surprised me with its portrayals of the world that felt both aptly universal and intensely personal, capturing the essence of the human journey with its yearnings and fears. The most repeated setting, or at least the one that left the deepest impression on me, was the graffitied streets of a city bustling with cabs that was still somehow hollow inside. Krut’s distinctive voice characterized cities and their residents with unique associations that relayed powerful truths.

Though many of the images in Krut’s collection were unsettling, this felt intentional rather than jarring. Each poem had its beauty, albeit an evocative and haunting appeal. My personal favorite, “The Tuning Fork and the Listeners,” was the one that seemed to most aptly characterize the echoing that resounds throughout our world, masterfully applied through the metaphor of song and a tuning fork. Krut’s skill in conveying ideas in a few lines is evident on each page in the collection; the short length is a gift that allows readers to return and glean more insight from the poetry.

Despite the intensity of the imagery and sophisticated writing, I believe high school students and above should be able to understand Krut’s message, or at least, appreciate his thematic and stylistic construction.


Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

5 Best Jane Austen Spin-Offs

Whether you’re a long-time literary lover or a new addition to the bookworm family, there is no debating: Jane Austen’s works are a must read in your repertoire. But what are you to do when you finish devouring every single novel? Well, reread them (obviously!) and, of course, explore some marvelous spin-offs. While they aren’t the classics themselves, we’ve compiled our top 5 that let you explore just a little bit more of Jane Austen’s wonderful world.


Austenland – Shannon Hale. Mr. Darcy has ruined Jane Hayes’ life. As a New Yorker living in the 21st century, she cannot seem to find a man who measures up to him. Luckily for her, she finds herself staying in a manor in England for vacation—complete with a team of actors who look and act the part of Mr. Darcy’s Regency-era charm. But as she begins to flirt with the characters at the manor, she can’t help but wonder, is it the characters she finds alluring or the men playing them? Join Jane Hayes as she explores the depths of her Darcy-obsession and see where she ends.


Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister – C. Allyn Pierson. Have you ever wondered about Miss Georgiana Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s charming, but elusive, sister? She is quite literally the catalyst in Pride and Prejudice—the reason Elizabeth begins to see the goodness in Darcy’s heart. But what do we really know about Georgiana? C. Allyn Pierson explores this question in the compelling novel, Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister. Complete with an explanation about Georgiana’s colorful past with Mr. Wickham, Pierson fills in the gaps beautifully while leading readers on an exciting journey to see just what Georgiana’s future holds in store.


Darcy’s Passions – Regina Jeffers. Ah, Mr. Darcy. The most sought after, contemplated, mysterious, and bewitching character in all of literature. What would it be like to see the story of Pride and Prejudice unfold through his eyes? Regina Jeffers wondered that as well, which is why we have been graced with her addicting novel, Darcy’s Passions. This novel is absolute perfection for any P&P junkie, exploring corners of the legendary story you never thought to look around, and leaving readers loving Mr. Darcy even more. We know, we didn’t think it was possible either.


Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor – Stephanie Barron. The first in Barron’s Jane Austen mystery series, Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor takes readers on an adventure with Ms. Austen herself. While visiting her newly-wed friend, Isobel, at her new home of Scargrave Manor, her husband, the Earl of Scargrave is murdered—and Isobel has been accused. Follow Jane as she begins to unravel the mystery of the Earl’s untimely and unseemly death. Amidst the mystery and suspense, she learns one thing very quickly: no one at Scargrave is safe until they uncover the truth, especially not her.


The Jane Austen Project: A Novel – Kathleen A. Flynn. What is a Jane Austen spin-off without a little sci-fi? For you Austenites who love a little (or a lot) of Stranger Things in your life, The Jane Austen Project: A Novel is your saving grace. Join Rachel and Liam, two time-travelers from the future, as they go back in time for one purpose alone: to find a supposed unpublished work of Jane Austen and bring it back with them. The only question is, how do you steal from one of earth’s most legendary authors?

Book Review

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 544
Format: Hardcover
Buy Local
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

This book is about horse races, first loves, and storytelling—but it’s also about guilt, loss, grief, and family: brothers, fathers, and a many-named mother.

The novel tells the coming-of-age story of five Dunbar brothers whose father disappears after losing their Chopin-playing, Homer-loving mother to cancer. Later, their father returns into their lives asking for help to build a bridge. All of the brothers refuse to help, except for Clay.

The book peers into the lives of not only Clay, but all the family members and those whose stories intertwine with the Dunbars.

Thoughts

Let me start off by writing that Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is one of my absolute favorite books. I first read it in elementary school, but the characters still stand vividly in my mind. That being said, I was a bit anxious to read Zusak’s latest novel, Bridge of Clay. He hadn’t published in over ten years, and—even though I had waited excitedly for the new book—I was afraid to start reading Bridge of Clay. I was hesitant because I wanted to enjoy the characters in the new book as much as I love Rudy Steiner and Hans Hubermann from The Book Thief.

When I finally worked up enough courage and time to give his new novel a fair reading, I must admit I was shocked by the first 100 pages or so. The novel isn’t at all what I was expecting. Though published and marketed to a young readers audience, I think that this novel better fits an adult audience. I worry that a younger audience might pass up this book as insignificant or boring, when I feel the novel is anything but that.

This book contains carefully crafted, beautiful, lyrical prose with a clear influence from famous Ancient Greek writing. A classics lover at heart, I appreciated all of the subtle (and many not-so-subtle) references to the great Homeric works—from the epithets to the home address to the pet names to Penelope’s reading preferences.

You’ll notice a few lines towards the end of the novel borrowed from earlier in the book. I believe it’s this repetition that closes the work so gorgeously. This stylistic choice is Zusak at his finest.

As much as I adore the sophisticated writing and mother character who feels very real to me, I also recognize that Zusak took some big risks when crafting this novel. With a highly detailed and incredibly emotional family history, temporarily withheld information (sometimes for hundreds of pages), artistically vague description, and switchbacks in both time and storylines, the book can be difficult to follow. It demands a patient audience. It begs for your emotions and your empathy. And this sort of book might not appeal to a large audience, particularly not a young readers audience.

It’s a beautiful book, but Zusak makes you work for it.

And I’m glad he did.

8 Sweet Summer Series

We all love a good summer book, but why stop there? A summer series means less getting up and more time with characters we grow to love—sounds perfect to me! Each of these eight sweet summer series follows a girl, or groups of girls, in enchanting settings throughout their summers, loves, and heartaches—all to discover their real selves and learn something about the world along the way.


First on the list is Jenny Han’s summer trilogy, The Summer I Turned Pretty, perfect for anyone wanting a story about the complications of summer love. Belly lives for the months of June through August, where she leaves her boring life behind for a summer at a beach house with her closest family friends. But now that they’re older, Cousins Beach isn’t just a simple place of friends and good times. Throughout the three books about successive summers, Belly has to discover what (and who) is in her heart and decide whether she will be true to herself.


This next trilogy from Jenny Han is less specifically focused on summer, but it’s still a perfect read for this season. The first book in this trilogy, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is now a famous movie, but it’s also a beautiful summer romance! For everyone who loved the story of Lara Jean confronting her past crushes, this summer is the perfect chance to pick up all three books and take the journey with her as she discovers what love really means.


The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is the quintessential summer series: full of vacations, camps, drama, and adventure. Four best friends pass around a pair of pants in their very different lives, with a sisterhood that endures through successive summers. Starting midway through high school and continuing past college, each of the four main books covers one summer, along with a fifth book showing the friends a decade later. You won’t want to miss Ann Brashares’ famous series this summer!


For readers who enjoy seeing a group of four close girl friends grow up together, Heather Vogel Frederick’s Mother-Daughter Book Club series is a wonderful choice. This beloved series follows the girls from junior high into college, accompanied by their great (and often classic) reads from the book club. Experience the New-England Concord life of Megan, Cassidy, Emma, and Jess, along with their mothers (and others) as they navigate through the crazy, wonderful, messy years of young adulthood.


Sophie Kinsella’s hilarious protagonist Becky Bloomwood has a huge presence, a gigantic shopping addiction, and an even bigger heart. For anyone looking to enjoy a little more time to read (and shop) this summer, Confessions of a Shopaholic and its sequels are the perfect companions for your outings! Fans of the first book (and/or movie) may be unaware that there are eight more Shopaholics books. Each of Becky’s stories are fast-paced with hilarious escapades paired with heart-warming relationships and important life lessons, all told in Kinsella’s trademark fun and compelling voice.


Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Peaches series, often described as The Breakfast Club meets The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, is the perfect Southern summer set in a special peach orchard in Georgia. Three best friends—Leeda, Murphy, and Birdie—experience a roller coaster of ups and downs throughout this trilogy of summer love and experience. Bursting with charm and humor, but also with poignant insights into love and friendship, the Peaches books are enduring summer classics to come back to over and over.


In Leah Rae Miller’s quick and fun The Summer I Became a Nerd, cheerleader Maddie tries to hide her secret comic book obsession; but, that doesn’t hold up when she starts to fall for a guy who isn’t afraid to be who he really is. As someone who kept re-reading Ready Player One, I really enjoyed this more romantic summer series that still had video game and comic book action! The second book, Romancing the Nerd, continues this fun combination but with new characters, telling the story from the guy’s perspective.


And last but not least…a series now becoming vintage but still beloved, at least by me: Ann M. Martin’s Babysitters’ Club! I reread this series every summer for years, going from Kristy’s Big Idea all the way to Super Special # 12. With literally hundreds of quick, fun reads about this group of friends in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, you’ll never run out of summer reading material again!


Author Event: Heidi Ganahl of SheFactor

Calling all ladies! Or guys, because, honestly, Heidi Ganahl inspires everyone. Join Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix on Friday, June 21 for a book signing and Q&A with author Heidi Ganahl as she celebrates the release of her book, SheFactor.

SheFactor is a book for any woman, younger or older, who is looking to achieve her goals and get the most out of life. Not only that, but Ganahl teaches women how to balance the ever-teetering scales of work and life, helping you to lead the best, most fulfilled version of your life.

Read more information here.

Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, Phoenix 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85013

Date: Friday June 21, 2019

Time: 7 p.m.

Price of Book: $14.99

8 Mysterious and Fantastical Island Novels

Are you stuck indoors avoiding the summer heat? Praying that your air conditioning survives the next couple of months? If you’re like us in the Valley of the Sun, you are ready to escape the desert sun trapping you inside the house. Join us as we let our imaginations carry us far from the Sonoran Desert, over wavy ocean waters, and into some mysterious and fantastical islands with excitement and danger lurking around every corner.


And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie. Back in the late 1930s, a mysterious writer lures eight strangers to his island by sending personal letters making tempting offers like a job interview or a summer vacation. When the guests arrive, a butler and housekeeper explain that their hosts, married couple Mr. and Mrs. Owens, have left a set of instructions for each stranger to complete before their arrival. The next morning, the guests begin to disappear one at a time—and the murder accusations begin flying.


The Magus – John Fowles. Bored by his teaching position in England, young Oxford graduate Nicholas Urfe decides to teach on a remote Greek island. Here, he meets local millionaire Maurice Conchis. What first looks like a promising friendship quickly devolves into a dangerous game that leaves Nicholas questioning the difference between reality and deception.


Snake Ropes – Jess Richards. On an island off the coast of Scotland, a mysterious building stands called Thrashing House. The novel is narrated by two girls, Mary and Morgan, who both come from broken families. After the young boys on the island start to disappear unexpectedly, Mary and Morgan must track down a lost three-year-old son with the help of magic. At the heart of the story, the girls confront trauma and healing in a fantastical manner.


Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane. Shutter Island is home to the secluded Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. When one of the high-security patients, murderess Rachel Solando, escapes from her cell, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Aule, are called in to crack a code and solve the mystery of the missing patient. This psychological thriller is sure to keep you at the edge of your seat, but be careful—not everything is as it seems.


From the Mouth of the Whale – Sjón. It’s 1635 and Icelandic Jónas Pálmason has been banished to an island for blasphemy. Stuck in exile, Jónas recalls an exorcism, local massacre of innocent whalers, and mythical marvels—like bezoar, a magical stone with healing powers. This lyrical text blends science and magic to form a strange sort of beauty.


The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells. Once cast aside for its terrifying depiction of scientific possibilities, this 1896 science fiction novel has since inspired several movies and is now a successful classic English novel. Between the shipwreck, abandonment, humanoid creatures, and jungle chase, this creepy novel is sure to feed your need for adventure and the grotesque.


The People in the Trees – Hanya Yanagihara. Anthropologist Paul Tallent and doctor Norton Perina travel to a remote Micronesian island to find “The Dreamers,” a tribe of islanders who enjoy mysteriously longer lives than those in the outside world. Perina believes their power stems from a rare turtle living on the tribe’s land, and, tempted by the promise of longevity, steals a turtle for research. When he proves the turtle’s magical properties to the scientific community, Perina believes he has finally found success. But he quickly learns otherwise.


Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton. Scientists have discovered a method for cloning dinosaur DNA. This gives billionaire John Hammond the perfect opportunity to open Jurassic Park, an island dinosaur amusement park. When paleontologist Alan Grant and paleobotanist student Ellie Sattler are invited to a weekend visit to the island, they are met with a technological difficulty and biological nightmare. After you’re done reading the book, you can blast the A.C. while you stream the famous blockbuster film!


Author Event: Elizabeth Segal’s Social Empathy

book cover

If you want to understand others, read on: Changing Hands Bookstore is hosting an author event with Elizabeth A. Segal, a professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, with her latest release, Social Empathy.

In this essential guide for anyone navigating a multicultural world, Segal’s explanation cuts through misconceptions to provide an illuminated picture into understanding across social groups, covering both the necessity of the skill of empathy and also how to achieve it. Founded on cognitive neuroscience, sociology, and psychology, Social Empathy provides a guide to overcoming barriers of fear, skepticism, and power structures to broaden perspectives, allowing individuals to move out of their narrow groups and become advocates for justice.

Read more information here.


Location: Changing Hands Tempe 6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe

Date: Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Time: 7 p.m.

Price of the book: $35

Book Review

The Accomplice by Joseph Kanon

Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Pages: 324
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Buy Local
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

It’s 17 years after the end of World War II in Germany, and the hunt for Nazis is nowhere near finished—at least, not for Auschwitz survivor Max Weill. But on the brink of his biggest catch—Otto Schramm, a doctor at Auschwitz believed to be dead—Max passes away, leaving the rest of the hunt to his nephew, Aaron Wiley. As Aaron reluctantly takes over the reigns of his uncle’s lifetime work, he finds himself thrust into a jungle as dangerous as it is alluring. Finding Otto Schramm is one thing, but capturing him is another. Chasing Schramm to Argentina, Aaron uncovers a helpful accomplice: Schramm’s beautiful daughter, Hannah. However, as the hunt becomes more complicated and Hannah remains unaware of Aaron’s true intentions, it becomes clear to him that Hannah may be the perfect accomplice—but to whom?

Thoughts

In my opinion, books dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath are very risky. It is so easy to make these texts two-dimensional with characters that fall flat into one of two categories: the monster or the victim. However, I think Kanon toed the line between these two brilliantly, capturing the human condition in a surprising way.

The readers meet Otto, the Nazi doctor, nearly two decades after the war ends. However, Kanon does not let us forget the atrocities he committed and the behavior he was complicit in. I found this to be very important, because the horrendous tragedies of World War II must never be forgotten. I believe it is this two-decade time gap that allows Kanon to bring another interesting layer into the story.

I found Schramm to be a very complex villain because we are able to see him 17 years later, as an old man, and, moreover, because we learn so much about him through the eyes of his daughter. This tactic allows for a glimmer of humanity to weave in and out of the tapestry of Schramm’s character, adding depth to his being without erasing the monstrosities of his past.

My only qualm with the book was merely technical and purely personal: a lack of dialogue tags. While there are some, I found it difficult to follow some very fast-paced scenes in the story without a substantial amount of dialogue tags.

Overall, Kanon brought the perfect combination of action, mystery, and humanity to the pages of The Accomplice. I would definitely suggest this book for high school level readers or above as there are some delicate subjects and scenes within the book.


Thank you to the publisher and Changing Hands for my ARC in 
exchange for an honest and unbiased review.