Book Review

Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay

Publisher: Penguin Random House
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Pages: 335
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary

This novel follows best friends Jane and Marnie as they navigate adult life. The girls have been best friends since they were 12 and don’t know what a life without the other would look like. That is, until Marnie gets a boyfriend, Charles, whom Jane despises. When Marnie asks her if she likes him, Jane lies and says he is great. Jane’s one lie spirals into six more, each slightly worse than the last. Each one adds strain to a seemingly unbreakable friendship.
So when Charles dies, Jane is left wondering—if she didn’t tell that first lie, would he still be alive?

Thoughts

A lot can be said about the way in which a story is told, especially a retelling of events. Often, when we tell stories about ourselves, we subconsciously make ourselves seem better, or justified. Jane is the narrator of this story, meaning the recap of events we get is from her perspective. This allows the story to be extremely personal and unique, which I absolutely loved—it felt like sitting down with a friend and having them tell you a story. She wasn’t just telling the story, she was having a conversation with the reader. There were moments when she would directly address us to try and justify her actions. It made the story even more compelling and I found myself hanging on her every word. It forces the reader to look past the narrator and see her actions, good and bad, for what they are.

The story itself is extremely captivating. The narration style pulls you in, but the unfolding of events keeps you there. As each lie grows more intense, the reader is pulled further in until you are tearing through the pages to get to the end. While the things that take place seem impossible, they could happen to anyone; it makes us as readers contemplate the intentions behind our actions. We can often trick ourselves into thinking we are doing the right thing, but that doesn’t mean we’re fooling the people around us. Jane is the perfect character to remind us that even though we are the protagonist of our stories, that doesn’t make us perfect. It is often said that people will do anything for love, and Seven Lies reminds us that that includes platonic love, too.

Kay perfectly weaves suspense with heartfelt narration to create a novel that is sure to keep you on your toes. You never know what is around the corner and the end will leave you pondering this novel for days. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new book. It will be in stores June 16 and is available for pre-order from Changing Hands Bookstore here.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.


Book Review

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 284
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

The Flores family works hard to combat the poverty they face along with their fellow Hawaiians. The Big Island swarms with tourism and wealth, making it difficult for its residents to eke out a life amid high costs and few job opportunities. For Malia Flores and her husband, a miracle arrives when their youngest son, Nainoa, falls off a boat into shark-infested waters: the sharks swarm, but one of the largest takes Nainoa gently into its jaws and brings him safely back to the boat. The story spreads like wildfire across the island, especially when young Nainoa suddenly begins to show an uncanny ability to heal—a gift Malia attributes to mystical signs from the island preceding his birth.

Noa’s staus brings the family much-needed money, but, it also exacts a toll on the elder children. Dean excels at basketball, but has a penchant for trouble. Middle-child Kaui is fiercely intelligent, but nobody seems to notice. As the children become adults and the family drifts apart, Noa’s gift haunts each of them in different ways. Noa can’t content himself with the person he thinks he’s supposed to be, and his siblings blame him because their lives have been overshadowed by his gifts. When tragedy strikes, threatening to shatter the Flores family for good, the island begins to pull on each of them, leaving them to reconstruct their connection to their homeland and the magic of family bonds.

Thoughts

Sharks in the Time of Saviors is Washburn’s debut novel as well as a love letter to his native homeland. Hawaii is an irrefutable paradise, but sitting in the shadows of its jungle lies a people whose deep ancestral connection to their homeland is challenged by poverty and the relentless influx of Western culture. Washburn constructs this world carefully as both a place of struggle and of deep magic, characterizing Hawaii with a great beating heart. Aside from Noa’s miracle, the land itself weaves through each character with heavy roots, showing us how our homeland shapes us as much as our experiences.

Washburn does more than take us on a journey to his home, however. The characters Noa, Kaui, and Dean pulse with the frustration of trying to find themselves within the confines of Western culture, which has taken so much from them. Each sibling battles against the ancestral land that tethers them while they stake out their own identities. It’s a novel about both growing up and going home.

Beautifully written and sparkling with life, Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a stunning debut and a promising start to the career of a powerful new literary voice.


Guest post courtesy of Ryan Doskocil

Book Review

The New Girl by Harriet Walker

Publisher: Ballantine Books, May 19, 2020
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 293
Format: Paperback
My Rating: 4/5 stars

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Summary

As fashion editor for Haute magazine, Margot seems to have the glamorous, picture-perfect life of any girl’s dreams. Looking forward to deepening her relationship with her oldest friend Winnie through their shared experience of pregnancy, Margot prepares and looks to the future, even handpicking her maternity replacement, Maggie.

But when Winnie’s baby dies, their friendship falls apart as Winnie rejects Margot’s attempts to reach her. Margot spirals into negative cycles of neuroses as she grapples with her repressed trauma from an accident years before, her fears of her own baby’s death, paranoia that Maggie is too good of a replacement in her job, and the intense pressure from a social media harasser that seems to know a little too well how to jab her where it hurts.

Though focused primarily on Margot’s anxieties and struggles, this engaging thriller also contains scenes from Maggie and Winnie’s perspectives, as the three women’s lives become more progressively, and darkly, intertwined.

Thoughts

I picked up this book one evening intending to read for fifteen minutes before starting my homework—only realizing that I had forgotten about my homework hours later when I actually gasped out loud at the unexpected ending. Walker’s writing pulled me in immediately, and the characters felt so real I forgot I was reading until the very last pages.

Besides being totally gripping and engrossing, The New Girl also provides insightful glimpses into female insecurity, motherhood and career, and the effects of cyberbullying, among other subjects. By dusting the veneer off of an outwardly perfect life, Walker reveals the gritty reality of the anxiety of comparison and compulsion for her vivid characters.

With consistent pacing and a surprising ending, this page-turning debut would be good fit for those who like thrilling surprises, complex relationships, high fashion, and/or unreliable narrators.


Thanks to the Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

Publisher: Pantheon, 2020
Genre: Urban Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Morningside Heights tells the story of Pru Steiner, a graduate student ready to take the world by storm. Set in New York circa 1976, Pru is ambitious, daring, and proud. Her plans quickly fall by the wayside, however, when she meets her charming young Shakespeare professor, Spence Robin. Spence is everything Pru didn’t know that she was looking for: dreamy, brilliant, and charismatic. The two quickly become involved, and Pru’s life is subsequently turned upside down. Pru’s relationship with Professor Robin complicates her academic career, forcing her to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about herself and her path in life. 

Thirty years later, Spence isn’t acting like his usual self. He is lethargic, is always cold, and has trouble concentrating on simple tasks. Pru is left to handle this new challenge on her own, as their daughter, Sarah, is away at medical school. In the midst of Spence and Pru’s adjustment to a new way of life from a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s is Arlo: Spence’s estranged son from his first marriage. Arlo randomly reappears in his father’s life, only now as a wealthy biotech entrepreneur and his father’s best hope for recovery. Pru, meanwhile, meets a man in the midst of her isolation and loneliness, and a potential romance begins to form. Morningside Heights is a story of love, loss, and the simutlaneous hateful and wonderful messiness that comes with being human.

Thoughts

Joshua Henkin’s works are highly lauded for their complex, dynamic characters, and Morningside Heights is no exception. Largely set in the titular neighborhood in Manhattan, this book pays homage to the varied lives of people living in New York. There are no sidekicks in this novel; every character is a completely fleshed out individual with their own thoughts, hopes, and fears. Everyone is highly unique: from Spence, who struggles with the deterioration of his once-great mind, to Ginny, his no-nonsense caretaker, every person in the story adds something special. As is the case in real life (and is often difficult to translate into fiction), no characters are created for the sole purpose of advancing the plot. The reader, as a result, feels seen through the triumphs and struggles of the characters: you will truly feel for them, to the point of being embarrassed, outraged, and devastated for them as the story unfolds.

This novel also cleverly utilizes a shifting timeline, which is at once engaging and (delightfully) disconcerting. It adds to the reader’s depth and understanding of the story to see certain events transpire, then to see their precursors in the past. The characters also find themselves at many points looking back on their lives, and wondering where their plans went awry. Morningside Heights tackles a wide variety of issues, from love (both romantic and familial), to changing expectations in the times when life takes a turn we could never have anticipated for ourselves.

Perhaps the most important thing this book has to offer is found in its versatility and the connection it creates between people of all walks of life. Suffering doesn’t discriminate; and we as humans are united in the fact that none of our lives are untouched by hardships. Morningside Heights is a book about how to react when things don’t go as planned, something we’ve all experienced for ourselves. Pru’s life is constantly in flux: from Spencer’s diagnosis to Arlo’s sporadic appearances, Pru is constantly adapting to a new way of life. The important thing to note, however, is that Pru doesn’t always handle these changes well. She makes mistakes. She gets angry. She wallows in the unfairness of life. Don’t we all? This story is powerful and resonant in that it sheds light on the fact that sometimes bad things happen, and that we aren’t supposed to handle everything perfectly. More so than this, it reminds us that beautiful, wonderful things can grow from the mistakes and hardships we endure.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in exchange
for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Crime/Suspense
Pages: 321
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Summary

This novel follows Arden Maynor, now Olivia Meyer, on the 20th anniversary of the day she was found in the small town of Widow Hills. When Arden was six years old, she was sleepwalking and went missing for three days until she was found clinging to the bars of a storm drain.


After that, her life was never the same. Growing tired of the cameras in her face and the news constantly circling around her, she moved hundreds of miles away and changed her name to Oliva Meyer, hoping to start over. Which worked, for a while, until the 20th anniversary of the incident comes up, and everything Arden tried to bury comes bubbling to the surface.

Thoughts

This novel surprised me in many ways. I am a big fan of suspense/crime novels and because of that, I can be a bit critical of them. That being said, this novel delivered in every department necessary to make a good one. It had murder, mystery, a splash of romance, and a plot twist I never saw coming. Everything you think you know at the beginning of the novel is upended by the end, and I think I actually gasped at one point. The story truly whisks you away into the drama that seems to follow Arden everywhere.

Arden is a great example of an unreliable narrator, but somehow that made me trust her more. Being close to her as the reader brings the story closer—it allowed every twist and turn to be even more shocking as we found out things as they were revealed to her. The best stories are the ones that suck you in and make you a character, and this is one of those.

The only critique I have is that it starts a bit slow. The real action doesn’t occur until about a third of the way in. That being said, the characters are so interesting and mysterious that I was able to latch onto them immediately, and so, this didn’t prove to be too much of an issue.

If you’re in the market for a good suspense novel, The Girl from Widow Hills is sure to keep you on your toes. It will be in stores on June 23, 2020 and is available for pre-order from Changing Hands Bookstore here.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5

Summary

The Overstory is a vast novel with a dynamic cast of characters; at its core, it is the question of humanity’s compatibility with other forms of life. It is a novel that turns around the idea of man versus nature, where man is the protagonist and nature the antagonist, and makes it nature versus man, with nature as the protagonist and man as the antagonist. This is a story about trees, but it is not told from the perspective of trees, but rather those who have lived their lives alongside trees—and knowingly or not, formed a relationship with the objects that at some point they might have believed to be nearly inanimate. It explores complex crevices of our relationship to nature and shows that, like relationships between people, there is a give and a take. And also, just like relationships between people, imbalance in that give and take can be disastrous.

Thoughts

What was most striking to me about this novel was the way its form mirrors that of a tree. It starts with the seeds that would one day grow into the characters that it focuses on. Patiently, it nurtures those seeds until they pop up from beneath the soil and begin to intertwine around one another as they grow upward. As the characters form a trunk together, they continue to grow, and just as a trunk they begin to diverge from one another. Branches grow out in other directions, some fall off, but like a fallen tree in a forest, they cultivate a plethora of life, even after the life that they have known has transformed into something different. This carefully crafted novel feels groundbreaking in the way that it grows, and is breathtaking in the overall image that it is able to craft. 

On several levels this novel is epic in proportion—in its vast and dynamic cast of characters and in its actual length, but there is something else too. Reading it felt like a fantasy novel set in the modern world, particularly during the middle portion. There is a natural magic at play in this book, the whispering of trees, but also a sense of good and evil that goes beyond such a simple binary. This was another aspect of this novel that stood out as interesting to me. While I would certainly categorize it as a literary work, I think that it successfully borrows from tropes present in a lot of genre writing and manages to subvert and disguise them in a way that makes the story exciting while still feeling like a work of art.

I have always appreciated and admired trees while knowing relatively little about them. This novel changed that, not only because it is dripping with interesting facts about trees and the ecosystems they build, but because it made me curious to go out and learn more on my own. If you have ever felt even a slight connection to nature, this novel is likely to foster that connection and awaken something inside of you that you didn’t know was there. That is not to say that it stands on its stumps and pontificates about the preservation of the natural world though. Instead, it examines various relationships to trees and to nature from an empathetic viewpoint that reeled me in and kept me wanting more until the very last page.

I have nothing but praise for this novel, and I cannot recommend it enough. I think that it is a beautiful work of art that would enrich any reader’s life. With that said, I do have to make a note about how it took me over a month to finish it. When I said it was epic in proportion, I meant it. This was not an easy novel to consume, but it was well worth it.

Book Review

Universe of Two by Stephen P. Kiernan

Publisher: HarperCollins 
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Pages: 429 
Format: Paperback 
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Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summary

Stephen P. Kiernan’s Universe of Two is a time machine back to the year 1943. The story takes place in the United States as the country is at war with the allied forces in World War II. Unlike many World War II novels, Universe of Two doesn’t follow the story of a soldier or officer fighting in the war. Instead, it focuses on the connection between two civilians who play just as significant a part in the war efforts as any man in battle.

Brenda Dubie is a spoiled nineteen-year-old girl who spends her time working at her family’s music shop and dating every soldier she can find who is home on leave. Her life changes when she meets a young mathematician named Charlie Fish who is at work doing calculations for the US government. As the pair build a romantic connection, Charlie is pulled deeper into the war efforts, eventually finding himself in New Mexico working as a vital piece of the Manhattan Project. His role in the project to create the atomic bomb riddles Charlie with guilt. Brenda, who pushes him so hard to pursue his work, shares the heavy moral burden Charlie faces when she finally realizes the consequences of his work. The pair are faced with the difficult task of trying to love each other while making up for the horrible destruction they helped to create.

Thoughts

What impressed me most about Universe of Two was the way it didn’t try to romanticize either war or love. Although it is a historical romance, the novel was utterly realistic about the moral challenges faced by its characters. The chapters alternate between Brenda’s narration and a omniscient narrator reporting on Charlie’s top-secret work. As a reader, I felt a deep frustration at how naïve Brenda was to the severity of Charlie’s situation. Kiernan was able to play with my emotions, drawing me into the story as if it were a train wreck that I could not look away from. Universe of Two is anything but the stereotypical romance novel—it is an honest look at the ways a relationship can be tested and morals overlooked in pursuit of victory. I would recommend Kiernan’s novel to anyone who relishes in the feeling of a bittersweet ending.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

This novel follows three generations of an American-Jewish family in 1934 Atlantic City. Florence, the youngest daughter, is intent on swimming the English Channel but tragically drowns while training. Her mother, Esther, decides to hide her death to help protect her other daughter’s dangerous pregnancy. Their situation is complicated even further when Joseph, the father, helps a young Jewish woman emigrate from Germany for seemingly no reason. 

The web of secrets ultimately untangles, in the process both harming and freeing members of the family. Florence Adler Swims Forever provides a nuanced account of a family broken on many levels trying to endure, despite the racism, the effects of the Great Depression and the looming threat of Nazi Germany. 

Thoughts

There is no one who loves family secrets and dysfunction more than I do, and this book definitely delivers! It takes a softer approach than these types of books normally do, though. It was wonderfully intimate and heart-breaking, since we got to hear how Florence’s death impacted each member of the family. It was also very well written and was so enthralling that it kept me up well after 2:00 a.m. to finish it. Their lives are messy and the way their stories tangle together kept me wanting more.

It was fascinating to read about how the American-Jewish were reacting to Nazi Germany, as well. Normally, historical fiction set during WWII takes place in Europe, much closer to the action. Reading about the Nazi’s rise to power from a distance both minimizes the threat as well as making it more relatable to the audience, since that is how those of us today learn about the Holocaust. In a world still facing many of the same issues, seeing how such a large threat can seem somewhat small from far away—as well as the true scale of the threat from the perspective of a German Jewish woman—helps contextualize the issue and can help us better understand similar issues that still affect us. 

My only critique is that I wish we had gotten to hear more from some of the characters’ perspectives, because the point of view switched so frequently. Thus, some of the storylines were not as complete as they could have been. The storyline that left me wanting more was how Esther and Joseph’s tense relationship unraveled and came back together. 

Overall, though, this book is definitely worth the read and I recommend this book to lovers of fiction and family secrets. It will keep you reading until the last page!


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer

Publisher: The Penguin Group 
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Pages: 249 
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summary

What do aggressive facial hair, childbirth, an unhealthy obsession with the year 1993, and troll dolls have in common? Una Lamarche. Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer is a hilarious collection of diary entries, observations, and convoluted graphics, some of which involve the correct way to use a public restroom.

Lamarche’s memoir tackles the most cringeworthy challenges of growing up female. Leapfrogging from one side splitting topic to another, and in no particular order, she takes the reader on a ride through the pitfalls of childhood, puberty, and even adulthood.

Lamarche recalls, with appalling and humorous clarity, her first-time experiences with drinking, sex, jobs-from-hell, and learning how to drive. As the book cover indicates this is “the book June Cleaver would have written if she had spent more time drinking and less time vacuuming.”

Thoughts

I am not sure which I did more of while reading Unabrow: laugh out loud or grimace. Anyone who has ever endured childhood, high school, or parenting will appreciate all the cringey and hilarious moments of this memoir. Lamarche is unapologetic, honest, and brash which makes for some entertaining stories.

Who wouldn’t identify with her obsession with the show Friends and the proclamation that she is the “Chandler” of her roommates? Or an apartment cleaning routine to the Led Zeppelin tune “Stairway to Heaven?” Then of course, there is the titular situation where Lamarche discusses her eyebrows, which, from birth, had joined to form a furry, face caterpillar. Her facial hair pact with her sister is one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments, and deserving of being the introduction to the book.

Despite my being slightly older than the millennial Lamarche, her stories are ones that any girl who’s ever memorized lyrics to an entire album, or has been dumped by their sixth grade friends can relate to. The random and chaotic format of the book just adds to its charm, and it was as if I was taking a peek inside Lamarche’s brain. As as a result there were some things, like the restroom graphics, that I can never unsee or forget!

Book Review

The Cheapest Nights: A Collection of Short Stories by Yusuf Idris, Translated by Wadida Wassef

Publisher: Penguin Classics
Genre: Short stories, satire
Pages: 181
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars





Published in Egypt in 1954, this collection of short stories captures glimpses of the lives of the Egyptian lower class, most of them based in Cairo. This compilation, which is to be published on June 9, includes a few stories from Idris’s other collections as well. Here, I’ve shared my thoughts on the three stories I found the most remarkable.

Summaries

The Dregs of the City —It all begins when Judge Abdallah loses his wristwatch. Being a textbook introvert and a man of routine, this minor inconvenience sends him into an introspective spiral where he contemplates his social awkwardness and general lack of success with women. But, he must find a wife before he is thirty-five (few aspects of his life are left unscheduled), so he doesn’t give up.

The narrative describes Abdallah’s misadventures with women in a jesting, almost O Henry-esque tone until it takes a sudden turn and we meet the dark side of the man that polite society knows as Judge Abdallah—a morally bankrupt person with no shortage of enthusiasm in judging others for faults in character, especially women. The story depicts in unapologetic detail the carnal urge to abuse one’s power that lurks in the best of us, and the pain of living with oneself after it’s been done.


Did You Have to Turn on the Light, Li-Li? —A priest forgets to end the morning prayer and leaves rows of men bowed in prostration for a long time. This is eventually written off as a joke and added to the annals of the neighborhood. But the narrative reveals the real reason behind the Imam’s lapse.

It goes back to when a young Sheikh Abdel Al is appointed as the Imam of the mosque in Al Batiniyya, where the people are generally intoxicated on opium and hashish throughout the day and go to bed at dawn, when he calls for prayer. But his real test appears in the form of temptation: a woman. When we covet something that we have no right to, we tend to blame ourselves less than we blame the thing itself. The story stealthily underlines that.

Having remained chaste and above impulses all his life, he sees her as the devil incarnate, even as he is drawn to her. Suddenly, he is very aware of his mortal flesh with all its weaknesses. He prays for divine intervention so that he may remain worthy of his position. His deliverance comes in a wave of poetic irony.


The Errand —In his youth, El Shabrawi traversed the length and breadth of Cairo as a city cop. But in recent years, he has been stationed out of town and he would give his life—his words—to go back to the city, if only for an hour. As luck would have it, a woman of unstable mental disposition is brought into the police station one day by her relatives and the need arises for a chaperone to take her to the asylum in Cairo. Predictably, El Shabrawi volunteers and, as no one else does, is given the responsibility of Zebeida.

But, it turns out that it is a little difficult to enjoy all the city has to offer with a woman in tow who is screaming and struggling to get away at every step. El Shabrawi is pushed to his limits as his patience is tested and as he dashes from one government building to another, caught in a web of bureaucracy. His release comes in an unexpected way. When it does, he is taken aback by his own feelings and subsequent actions. It is a story of human compassion written at a time when the subject of mental illness was treated with little sensitivity.


Thoughts

A writer who lived in a time and society of strict moral codes, Idris’s writing is bold yet eloquent. He doesn’t hold back in his dressing-down of the entitled, privileged man, or the underprivileged man, for that matter, and shines a clear light on the oppression of the women they lord over. His stories signify that he acknowledged and despised the hypocrisy of a society that held different standards, always, for men and women, for the powerful and the subjugated.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.