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

Pre-order the book locally.

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 Club: Long and Short of It

Are you hoping to meet more bookworms in your area? Changing Hands has answered your wishes with its latest book club: Long and Short of It. This new bimonthly club explores one book and one story collection that share a common theme in each interactive meeting.

The upcoming discussion features Chanelle Benz’s The Gone Dead and The Man Who Shot My Eye Out is Dead. Be sure to stop by Changing Hands before the meeting to pick up copies of the books. Then, meet fellow local book lovers at Changing Hands’ First Draft Book Bar to talk about your reads.


The Gone Dead – Chanelle Benz. Thirty years after her father dies unexpectedly in their Mississippi shack, Billie returns to her childhood home where she meets the McGees, a family who’s history has overlapped with her own family’s history in the days of slavery. As she reunites with this old home, she hears a disturbing rumor that motivates her to track down forgotten memories.


The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead – Chanelle Benz. The characters in this short story collection are each wildly different, but they all share a hunger for adventure that lands them in tricky situations, causing them to rethink morality, confront identity, and experience love. Some of the stories feature an outlaw, a 16th century monk, and a young Philadelphia boy’s incarcerated father.


Read more about the event here.

Location: Changing Hands, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

Date: Tuesday, August 20th

Time: 7 p.m.

Desert Sleuths Panel: Getting that Novel on the Page

All readers are just one step away from being writers. If you’ve ever thought about being a writer but you aren’t sure how to make your dream into a reality—or even where to start—a panel of newly-published writers are coming to Changing Hands to explain how they went from dreamers to achievers!

Being the Phoenix chapter of the national women’s writing organization, Sisters in Crime, the Desert Sleuths panel is made up of local, published authors ready to support you in your writing dreams.

Find more information on Changing Hands’ website here!

Location: Changing Hands Phoenix, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

Date: Sunday, July 14

Time: 3 p.m.

Price: Free!

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.

Author Event: Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls

Get ready Eat, Pray, Love fans: Changing Hands bookstore is hosting an author event with Elizabeth Gilbert, the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and her most recent release, City of Girls.

Gilbert’s latest novel, City of Girls, is a fictional love story set in New York City. In the book, 89-year-old Vivian Morris recounts her experience dropping out of Vassar College and moving to live with her Aunt Peg who owned a crumbling theater house in Manhattan. It’s here that Vivian met a very outgoing stage crew that helped shape the course of her life.

Read more information here.

Location: Mesa Arts Center, Ikeda Theater, 1 E Main Street, Mesa

Date: Saturday, June 8, 2019

Time: 2 p.m.

Price: $35.27+ fees, includes admission and a signed copy of Gilbert’s latest novel


Book Review

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2018
Genre: historical fiction
Pages: 254
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
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.