The Ice Master The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk by Jennifer Niven

The Ice MasterA one line review from Glamour on the cover of the book says, “Into Thin Air meets Titanic in this truly chilling adventure.” I couldn’t have summed it up better than that! I’m very glad that I was reading this book during the heat of the summer because it would be brutal to read in the winter when you would feel the described Arctic cold in your very bones. Written using actual diary and journal entries, plus newspaper accounts, this story tells itself without interpretation by the author. The hardships endured by the passengers on board the exploration ship Karluk are hard to read, but the well-written story draws you along every bitterly cold minute of their misadventures. I truly couldn’t put the book down.

Availability:  COSMOS and USMAI
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko
Rating: Must Read

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24 Hours by Greg Iles

24 HoursAn older book (copyright 2000), this is an ugly story of kidnapping and revenge. Unlikable characters, lots of sexually explicit action, and far-fetched storylines make it a distasteful and unpleasant read. I can’t recall now whether this is typical of Greg Iles or not, but I won’t be seeking his books out in the future.

 

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko
Rating: Not Recommended

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Burn by Nevada Barr

BurnContinuing my binge reading of Nevada Barr, I was dismayed to find the main character still in the throes of emotional recovery (odd that she’s had similar experiences in the past without so much as a twinge of conscience…), but at least her sense of humor is in full force. Burn was a good read by an intelligent author who writes for a higher level of readership than your usual murder mystery writer. I do look forward, frankly, to the main character’s return to the great outdoors and leaving the more sordid escapades of humans behind…

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko
Rating: Highly Recommended

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Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

Stories I Only Tell My FriendsIn this autobiography of a simple Midwestern boy, actor Rob Lowe tells the tales of his journey to award-winning fame, his story beginning very early in his life with his family struggles and problems fitting in at school. After becoming a child star, Lowe’s fame rockets after starring in The Outsiders and St. Elmo’s Fire and becoming a member of the infamous media-spawned Brat Pack, a group of young stars in the 80s recognized for partying and debauchery. Lowe tells of his career successes and failures and his struggles with alcoholism, romance, and discovering himself as an actor, culminating in his experience of what he describes as one of the best roles of his lifetime: starring as Sam Seaborn in the critically acclaimed TV series The West Wing.

This autobiography is different from what I expected it to be, but I have nothing but positive things to say about it. It is amazing to read about all the people Rob Lowe met that would go on to become just as famous (Charlie Sheen and Janet Jackson are only two of many examples). I also delighted in reading about all the hard times Lowe has been through in his life; I had no idea everything that he had been through just from watching his film and TV work. Stories I Only Tell My Friends is a triumph of nonfiction that is just as captivating as any fictional novel, and I recommend it to any fan of Rob Lowe or anyone who enjoys a great coming-of-age story.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Brianna Glase
Rating: Highly Recommended

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The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer

The ConservationistToday (7/13/14) I was saddened to learn that Nadine Gordimer passed away at the age of 90. It has been nearly a year since I have read one of her many novels, but I thought I’d share my favorite Gordimer with the SMC family in hopes that more people will get to know her writing better.

The Conservationist won the Man Booker Prize. The book tells the story of a conservative, white, South African “developmentalist” business-tycoon named Mehring who decides to buy a large ranch/farm outside of Johannesburg. At the beginning of the novel Mehring justifies his purchase as a matter of keeping up a certain level of conspicuous consumption and creating a remote place to seduce married women. While he continuously tries to imagine and live the farm as a kind of edenic nature retreat, his fantasies continuously run afoul of the realities of an apartheid-era farm. He is unable to see past his arrogant delusions of romantic nature without people, even though his farm is created and maintained through the labor of a large number of (black African) people who live and work on the land for a pittance. Mehring appears only on weekends and holidays, but this does not stop him from ordering his farm manager, Jacobus, to do all sorts of bizarre, misinformed, or detrimental work on the farm (which Jacobus quietly resists). The bounds of Mehring’s narrow, small imagination are pushed at through his illusions of his liberal ex-lover, who taunts his judgements and opinions at every turn, yet fails to pierce his studied obstructionism and willfully blind privilege. Mehring’s obliviousness is challenged most acutely by the existence of an unnamed, unmarked dead black man on the farm, who was found dead on his property. The police, having little concern for the victim because of his race, force Jacobus and the other farm hands to bury the man. The man serves as a powerful symbol of the histories Merhing’s colonial farm attempts to shove out of sight and out of mind, only to reemerge.

In what ways is Mehring “a conservationist”? What does he “conserve?” Turn to this powerful meditation on the ideologies of development, capitalism, and apartheid to find out.

Rating: I’ve veld many good books in my hands, but seldom velt so good reading one as when reading about the farm in Gordimer’s The Conservationist.

Availability: SMCM Library, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating: Highly Recommended

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Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

Travels with CharleyIn 1960, the author John Steinbeck drove across the United States in a camper truck called Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse). Accompanied only by a 10-year-old French poodle named Charley, Steinbeck travels from Long Island north to Maine and across the upper Midwest to Seattle, down to his native Salinas Valley in California, across to Texas, and through the South. Steinbeck’s travelogue chronicles an America losing its regional distinctiveness in favor of putting “cleanliness first at the expense of taste.” He deftly explores issues of racism, rural-urban migration, and poverty throughout this journey.

In his introduction to the 50th anniversary edition, Jay Parini writes “it would be a mistake to take this travelogue too literally, as Steinbeck was at heart a novelist, and he added countless touches – changing the sequence of events, elaborating on scenes, inventing dialogue – that one associates more with fiction than nonfiction.” Regardless of its authenticity, Travels with Charley is an excellent example of Steinbeck’s excellent dialogue and warm prose. A perfect companion for a summer road trip!

Availability:  USMAI and SMCM Library
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Highly Recommended

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Moon Shell Beach by Nancy Thayer

Moon Shell BeachThis was a quick and enjoyable “beach read”. Taking place in Nantucket, it follows the ups and downs of lifetime best friends with some interesting twists. A short but enjoyable read.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Tammy Cannon
Rating: Recommended

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