Summer Reading 2014 has ended.

Bag of library swagEverybody wins!

Thanks to all the readers who participated in St. Mary’s Summer Reading. We had a really great mix of reviews and lots of dedicated readers including 5, yes I wrote 5, people who contributed 10 reviews or more and won a bag of library swag.

On campus and local readers can pick up their prizes in the library while alumni should contact Pamela Mann via the comment form.

Posted in Summer Reading | Leave a comment

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The InterestingsThe Interestings, a story of six friends who meet at summer camp and become lifelong friends, does indeed live up to its name; though the narration spans nearly half a century and the novel clocks in at almost 500 pages, Wolitzer’s non-chronological storytelling kept me engaged and always wondering what would happen next. The story begins at Spirit-in-the-Woods, a summer camp for the arts where six talented young people form a bond that, for some of them, last their entire lives. The novel focuses on Jules Jacobsen, an ordinary girl who feels more at home at camp than anywhere else; Ash Wolf, a beautiful young girl from a privileged family; her brother Goodman Wolf, a troublemaker much less motivated than his sister; Jonah Bay, son of folk music sensation Susannah Bay; Ethan Figman, a boy from a troubled home with a talent for animation; and Cathy Kiplinger, an aspiring dancer. As the characters grow, some of them find that their early artistic talents serve them well throughout their lives, while some learn that the world of fine arts is not where they belong. After camp ends for all the characters, they all find in some way that when reality sets in, life is no longer the utopia it was at Spirit-in-the-Woods.

Though The Interestings is indeed a lengthy read, I never felt that the novel dragged on unnecessarily; Meg Wolitzer clearly has a talent for moving the plot along and keeping readers captivated. In the beginning, due to the non-chronological telling of the story, it took a while for the various anecdotes to find their path; however, Wolitzer’s clever foreshadowing proved to be a way to show where the novel was going to lead, though not revealing too much about the characters’ journey from adolescence to adulthood. I would recommend this story to anyone who enjoys a coming-of-age story or a novel about relationships between unique characters.

Availability:  St. Mary’s Library, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Brianna Glase
Rating: Highly Recommended

Posted in reviews, Summer Reading | Leave a comment

Burn by Nevada Barr

BurnThis Nevada Barr murder mystery, in the continuing Anna Pigeon series, delves into a subculture that I pray doesn’t really exist but due to the sick nature of the human species, probably does. It’s child pornography taken to a lower level. I recommend it with reservations because of this. That aside, Nevada Barr provides yet another well written mystery and if you are a fan, you will want to read it. With this book, I’m almost caught up on the series but, sadly, won’t finish in time for the conclusion of the summer reading program. Hopefully people reading reviews of Nevada Barr’s excellent books will read the whole series!

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Tyler Bell
Rating: Recommended with Reservations

Posted in beach reads, mystery, reviews, Summer Reading | Leave a comment

The Rope by Nevada Barr

The RopeFor unto us was born a Pigeon, who came to us fully formed as a law enforcement ranger in the national park service. How Anna came to be the person we love in the series is largely spelled out in this flash-back to Anna’s first season as a seasonal NPS worker. A fascinating read for anyone who is a fan (or for someone who hasn’t yet met Anna but deserves to), this book explains a lot of the main character’s past and shows us how her personality is shaped. I loved reading about a younger Anna!

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

Posted in beach reads, mystery, reviews, Summer Reading | Leave a comment

California by Edan Lepucki

CaliforniaEdan Lepucki’s first novel, California, has made headlines this summer as a bizarre “collateral victory” in the Amazon vs. Hachette wars. Heavily promoted by Stephan Colbert and Sherman Alexie, Lepucki’s novel debuted at #3 on the New York Times Bestsellers List earlier this summer. Like everything else I seem to be reading this summer, California is a novel about two people (Cal and Frida) struggling to survive in a dystopic near future West, ravaged by crashing economies, growing wealth disparities, and climactic disturbance.

What kind of future-present does California give its readers to inhabit? As for describing the wrathful demons that bring about the apocalypse, California is a bit blase. Climate change. Neoliberal economics. Growing income disparities. In this sense the book is a pretty conventional post 1980 dystopia. The landscape is characterized by broken streets, cities, and homicidal or desperate humans… like many other dystopias. Its lurid descriptions are heavy-handed and derivative.

But if the landscape and the causes of dystopia are conventional to the extreme, the focus of the social concern, if you’re reading for it, is more interesting. Running throughout the novel, and central to its plot, is the interesting development in the relations between men and women, masculinity and femininity, that play out between the various characters who have fled the ruins of civilization to start a new town on “the Land.”

Like in The Walking Dead, where the post-zombie-apocalypse leaders are all infallibly white men with thick (if faked) Southern accents, the apocalypse in California has further consolidated power in the hands of strongmen. The end of civilization may have wiped out cities, nations, and ecosystems, but antiquated, masculinist ideologies are thriving. The women may gather, may clean, may cook, but its the men who hunt, defend, and build. It’s the men with the guns, the outside information, and the power to call the shots.

Survivalist narratives often unconsciously venerate traditionally defined masculine traits (fierceness, physical strength, rationality) to celebrate life’s tenacity in the face of adversity. But Lepucki’s novel questions the value of these ideas through the mysterious working of “the Land” and its band of Good ol’ Boy leaders. Two of the leaders, Micah and Cal, attended an all male alternative college where the ideas of self-sufficiency, physical strength, and intellectual curiosity were drilled into them via Thoreau, Kant, and other “Famous Words by Famous Dead (white) Men.”

In a hard world, Cal and Micah seem to say, its hard men and those who will follow them that survive and thrive. And the Land does seem the safest place in California, guarded by a wall of spikes and resourceful people. But it has its secrets, that newcomers Cal and Frida are anxious to find out. Why is the Land left to flourish on its own? Why are there no children nor elders on the Land?

The character development of Cal, Frida, and Micah is superb, even if each character only progresses in minute steps throughout the story (much to a reader’s frustration). The description of the Land is intriguing and keeps the reader’s attention.

In the land of the post-apocalypse, I wish they all could be California books.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Recommended

Posted in dystopias, reviews, Summer Reading | Leave a comment

Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese

Coal: A Human HistoryBarbara Freese, an environmental attorney, describes coal first as an aspect of the earth’s “solar income.” Coal is fossilized plant life that has captured the sun’s energy and has stored the light of the sun under the earth for millions of years. Unlocking this long-shadowed sunlight has unleashed a modern genie lurking under the surface of the earth. This genie has fueled dreams of speed and motion, of unprecedented industrial power. But like most genie wishes, these boons have come at a steep and often insidious cost. This book is a history of those wishes and those costs.

Coal: A Human History traces the technological, economical, social, and environmental history of coal in England, the US, and China; three nations who have risen to industrial prominence through the power of this potent and abundant fossil fuel. Freese traces how coal contributed to lung disease and the immiseration of workers in England as early as the 1500s, and continues to cause thousands of deaths both in the mines and cities of China and the US today, all while contributing the highest levels of harmful greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Yet Freese is careful to show coal in all its complexity; she speculates that the horrific pollution in London may have deterred populations of bubonic plague-ridden fleas in the same sentence as she muses that the Londoners’ inhibited immune systems may have contributed to the plagues’ virulence. This style of inspecting the substantial “pros” and “cons” of coal (it polluted the air and water while saving forests across the globe from the axe, it unified labor to stand up to monopolies while consolidating corporate and military power) is a powerful vein throughout Freese’s writing.

While this book is a sweeping, multidisciplinary history, it is written in a very accessible and engaging manner (granted, I’ve been trapped on a plane or car for most of my read, but I still devoured it). Her references are hard to follow, as they do not appear in text but only in hard-to-follow notes at the end of the book (this, at least, is how the e-copy of the book works). That’s a major bummer. But I recommend this particularly to environmental studies students and anyone interested in learning about the invisible power that has shaped, and continues to mold, our human and more than human world.

Grating Rating: What a coal book! Like the fossil fuel itself, this book is more than it seams. Freese NOx it out of the park; It’s out of (Anthra)cite! I know those puns were a bit-toomus-uch, but this may be the last book I burn through during the summer Reading (RR) blog, and so I felt I had to train my attention and mine my brain for some final word pollution. I’m not the choked out reviewer I seam. Seriously, this is a book you’ll want to collier friends about to pick over after you;re finished. In the words of The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon, “Beijing-a.”

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

Posted in non-fiction, reviews, Summer Reading | Leave a comment

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

The Murder at the VicarageThough I’ve read Agatha Christie books since I was a teenager, I hadn’t ever read them in any particular order, nor had I ever read this book, the first case for Miss Marple. Written in 1930, the book still showcases typical motives (adulterous relationships, greed, jealousy) and moves along nicely. Fans of murder mysteries owe it to themselves to take this step back and read how one of this genre’s best-known authors spins a tale of “who done it”.

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

Posted in beach reads, mystery, reviews, Summer Reading | Leave a comment