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

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Literary Fiction/ Historical Fiction
Pages: 224
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

In this novel, Whitehead examines the potential of youth and shows how corruption and injustice can so easily crush that potential. By all accounts, Elwood Curtis is a formidable young man—smart, curious, hardworking, and determined—he is even enrolled in college courses while he is still in high school. When Elwood is sent to the Nickel Academy for stealing a car to get to those classes, he finds that he will have to adapt to a harsh new reality if he wants to survive. Elwood discovers the strength to do so through his dedication to the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which has engrained a deep sense of moral justice within him. At Nickel, however, injustice is bred into the very fabric of the institution.

Thoughts

What most entranced me with this book is the way in which Whitehead masterfully intertwines personal history with the history of an institution. Many chapters of this novel start like the slow panning of a camera until it zooms in on the narrative focal point. No words are wasted, though at times it can feel to the reader as if they are far from the places that the book has previously taken them. Many times I did not think that what I was reading could have anything to do with the Nickel Academy, and then the book would whisper in my ear “trust me.”

I did not feel the full weight of this book’s emotional impact until the epilogue. When I closed the book’s final chapter I was ready to give it a four star rating because I felt somewhat confused and dissatisfied. I could not have felt more different when I turned the final page of the novel. Hold on, this is an emotional and tumultuous ride worth seeing through to the very end.

Book Review

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

Publisher: Ecco, 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

In this coming-of-age story, we see a young girl named Katherine grow up to become a well-respected mathematician with a fascination for all things numbers and a special interest in the famous Riemann hypothesis.

As she pursues a career in mathematics, she is forced to question and evaluate her identity. Growing up in the 1950s, she studies in a male-dominated field where she feels she must learn how to fit in when she can’t help but stand out. Hoping to find her biological parents for answers about who she really is, she uncovers a complicated, tangled family history that seems to raise more questions than answers.

Katherine learns to rethink her identity as she discovers beautiful mathematics as well as chilling stories of the women who came before her.

Thoughts

Before I begin, I do have a confession: I am a bit of a math nerd. Going against the stereotype that English majors fear and despise numbers, I actually enjoy learning theorems and even took a few college mathematics courses despite my academic advisor’s confusion and explanation that the classes wouldn’t help me graduate.

Because of my love for numbers and logic, I really adored Catherine Chung’s well-researched novel about a young mathematician. The book contains quite a few hidden math gems such as a variation of the Gauss addition story, the Königsberg bridge problem, and several references to historical mathematicians and scientists. That being said, you don’t have to love math to appreciate Chung’s beautiful novel that explores identity, family history, and legacy.

Since the theorems and math references are written about in more of a metaphorical way than a technical manner, the book makes imagining the experience of a young woman trying to find her place in the world of mathematics accessible to a wider reading audience.

The main character, Katherine, grows up with the understanding that she is the daughter of a Chinese immigrant and World War II American veteran. However, she soon learns that her family history is much more complicated than her parents once claimed. This, in addition to the realization that some people questioned her place in mathematics, forces her to redefine her identity and learn to make a contribution to mathematics—for herself, and by herself.

It’s a beautiful novel that examines what it means to truly know yourself and act independently of societal expectations, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of historical or bildungsroman fiction.


If you are, in fact, a math nerd like me, you can learn more about the Riemann hypothesis, which Katherine attempts to tackle in the book, in the video below.


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

Book Review

The Accomplice by Joseph Kanon

Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Pages: 324
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
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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.

Book Review

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2018
Genre: historical fiction
Pages: 254
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Morris takes us through the experience of Lale Sokolov, based on Ludwig ‘Lali’ Eisenburg, the Jewish man who becomes the Tattooist of Auschwitz. Lale survives the horrors of his surroundings in the concentration camp by reaching out to others whenever he can. Of all the individuals he helps, he feels the strongest connection to a woman named Gita. Lale and Gita meet whenever possible and dream about a future together after being freed from the camp. Enduring through countless struggles, the couple eventually has their dream fulfilled. Their lives are not perfect, but they remain grateful for even the simplest of things, especially their ability to stay together. Lale and Gita’s experience proves the redemption of human nature through the worst circumstances imaginable.

Thoughts

I was expecting great things from this novel and it mostly delivered. I finished the book in a few hours, and I felt like it provided a good sense of the horrors and hope of Lale and Gita’s experience.

The purposefully simple prose, probably a remnant of its original form as a screenplay, is engaging. The present tense format makes the narrative easy to read even while grappling with a difficult subject and complicated themes. Morris’s synthesis of the information does her credit.

Overall, The Tattooist of Auschwitz delivers on the “powerful true story of love and survival” it promised on the cover. There have been disputes concerning the accuracy of the historical details it describes, which are valid. But for me, it goes against the message of the novel to minutely dissect the intricacies of the writing because ultimately the larger truth speaks for itself. Lale’s story, thanks to Morris’s telling, teaches his mantra: “if you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.”

Based on the subject matter and the content, I would suggest that this book is best only for an audience of high school students or above. That being said, anyone who is able should read this book to recognize that no matter where you are or what has been taken from you, no one can take away your ability to choose kindness and love over selfishness and hate.