The Giver by Lois Lowry

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The Giver is interesting to think about in relation to our own rules and free will. What would humanity give up to receive peace? While their fictional society gained control, they lost many things that make a community special. In their community, no one felt separate or different, but the people were robbed of choice. The Giver was easy to read, a bit distressing (which kept me engaged), and the message was clear.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Julia Carter
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book to film

Nine Lives to Die by Rita Mae Brown

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I’ve been reading this series for many years and do enjoy them, though they aren’t as well-written as those by other authors; they are a bit simple or clumsy in bringing everything to an end. So, enjoy them as the “cozy” murder mysteries they are.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book with a number in the title

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren

book coverSynopsis: Lily is the daughter of notorious treasure hunter Duke Wilder, and after he dies, she scrapes by leading tourists on fake treasure hunts through the Utah desert. But she dreams of buying back her family’s ranch and is still haunted by the man she loved who walked out on her 10 years ago. Then one day, that very man, Leo, shows up with a group of friends on her tour. When the trip goes “horribly and hilariously wrong,” they wonder if the legend of the treasure might just be real.

I thought this was a very fast read and I mostly enjoyed it, though it definitely took some light thriller turns that I was not expecting for a romcom-type book. A few were a little cheesy but overall I thought they added some much-needed excitement to the book, and I enjoyed the treasure-hunting plot line. However, I do wish there was a little more backstory to Lily and Leo. We only get one chapter at the very beginning where they are together and happy before it jumps 10 years into the future and we are supposed to buy that they are each other’s true loves, the one that got away, etc. Overall I thought this was a fun summer read with a great desert setting, just be prepared to roll your eyes a few times.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaylie Jasinski ’14
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: A book published in 2022

The Witch Elm by Tana French

book coverThere is so much and yet so little I can say about this book. I rate it a must read and I really don’t want to spoil anything or change the way someone goes into it because it’s a story that needs to unfold without a lot of preconceptions. Just go find this book and read it! Highly recommend reading as an audio book as Paul Nugent does a fantastic job giving French’s amazing characters a voice and who doesn’t love an Irish accent?

If you need more motivation this book has: complex, dynamic characters; unexpected depth, I thought it was “just” a murder mystery and realized it was so much more; a perspective of toxic masculinity that I hadn’t read before and so much more that I can’t say for risk of saying too much. This book sits with you long after you’re finished and is a great one to discuss with friends. It kept me guessing until the end and I’m still discovering new layers now after I’ve finished. I will definitely be looking forward to reading more of French’s work

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Emily Nelson Ringholm, ’07
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Audiobook

 

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I just read The God of Small Things. At first I found the book a little hard to get into and couldn’t see where it was going. Then I realized the whole book circles around and ultimately brings you to this one day that changes all the family members’ lives forever and I thought it was brilliant. Recommended.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kae Decker
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book to film

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

book coverA Rule Against Murder is the 4th book in Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache book series. This book takes Armand and the reader away from the usual Three Pines location for a change of scenery. Armand Gamache,  head of the murder unit of Quebec, is staying at a remote lodging resort with his wife, celebrating their anniversary. The manoir, run by a widowed manager and her reliable long appointed Maître d and chef, serves as both a peaceful getaway to guests and a valuable training place for a rotating group of English speaking Canadians needing work experience and French lessons. The story kicks off when Gamache and his wife Reine Marie are surprised by three things: That the rest of the resort is being occupied during their visit by a wealthy family to place a statue of the former patriarch on the grounds, that the family belongs to one of their friends from Three Pines, and that someone will be found murdered beneath this new statue following a terrible storm. Gamache and his trusted detective Beauvoir and Lacoste quickly get to work to uncover what may have happened.

This is Penny’s take on a closed room mystery – due to the remote area and the storm, only someone working or staying at the Manoir could be the murderer. How a statue could kill someone is unexplainable. Somehow, Gamache must get it all to fit. I enjoyed the change of scenery to see how Gamache (who is the Chief Inspector of all of Quebec, after all) would fit in another locale away from the usual cast of characters. We have a few of the usual characters to keep it from being a totally unfamiliar cast, but it felt refreshing, much the way the manoir should serve as a break for people from the routine of their own lives. This was one of my favorites of the books in this series so far, though not for the reason I suspected. A large portion of this book is not really about the murder at all: it is mostly a family drama about the snobbish, cruel family staying at the manoir during the crime. The murder serves as a reason to get Gamache and his thoughtful mind involved, to create stakes, and to keep the story moving, but really I think Penny is more interested in exploring the dynamics of a family weighed down by decades of dysfunction more than the Agatha Christie like case she has built around it.

I have to agree that I too found that the most compelling part as well, and once again Penny’s characters were the highlight for me. We get a look deeper into Gamache’s own family past, as well as two of Penny’s other Three Pine’s residents. I am always impressed with how Louise Penny can play so many sides of our human nature, and how Gamache can continue to show us that what we think and how we act do not always have to match. We can choose to be kinder, more understanding, and more resilient even in the face of other’s cruelty. Gamache’s 2nd in command Inspector Beauvoir and Mr. Finney – the step father and current family patriarch – in particular shine in this one for me, both in their comedic sub plots and character insight. Some of the mystery bits stretch a little for me, but it is certainly creative and tied together in the end. I came for the mystery, but stayed for the drama, as Louise Penny shows she can have her cake in eat it too by finding a way to use her main hero and branch out from her usual setting and genre without sacrificing either.

This book is good for:
1. Those who enjoy character driven family dramas (Succession is the first thing that comes to mind in connection with this family).

2. Those who favor a locked room mystery with a large suspect list and an unconventional murder.

3. A detective who complexity is built around good character work, background, and personality rather than flashy but shallow traits or melodrama.

Highly recommend however, the mystery gets broken up a lot by the character drama,
so mystery readers looking for a focused procedural be aware.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Nick Huber
Rating: Highly Recommended

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

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If you haven’t read any of this series by Louise Penny based on my previous reviews, please start, just not with this particular book in the series. Though beautifully written (as always), there was something unsettling about it and the usual happy feelings just didn’t come over me, even at the very end of the book. I will continue to binge read the rest of these books and will hope this was just an “oopsie”, hence Highly Recommended and not Must Read

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

Cost of Living by Emily Maloney

book coverThe author presents a unique perspective on the US medical system, having seen it from multiple sides: patient, staff member treating patients, staff member working in admin and billing, working with clinical staff as a pharmaceutical company staffer, point-of-care non-clinical graduate student- to name a few.

This book of essays combines literature and medicine and weaves them together in a way that makes both very accessible and I really enjoyed reading about the medical field this way. There was some graphic content, mentions of addiction, and the essays were born out of the author’s experience of attempted suicide and the medical debt that resulted- so the book may be triggering for some. The essays don’t flow one into the other, so you can pick it up and put it down at your leisure and read at your own pace. It’s worth a read.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Binwi Jallah
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2022

XOXO by Axie Oh

book coverXOXO is a cute romance that takes place in a Korean school for the arts. Jenny is an accomplished cellist whose life starts to become one of the K-dramas that her grandmother watches: Girl meets boy, boy is an international superstar. The only downside is Jenny and her new boyfriend Jaewoo need to keep their relationship a secret from everyone except for their closest friends.

The characters are complex and loveable, especially Jenny’s roommate Sori. I love how Jenny doesn’t compromise her aspirations for Jaewoo. The way the characters’ relationships develop throughout the book made it an even greater read.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Julia Carter
Rating: Highly Recommended

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

book cover“So, you’re like 13 Going on 30, but it’s 40 Going on 16 Going on 40?”

Synopsis: At 40, Alice is happy “enough” but something is missing, and worst of all, her father is dying. When she wakes up the morning after her 40th birthday, she finds she has traveled back in time to 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. The best part is seeing her dad young and vibrant and healthy and she can’t help but wonder what would happen if they had more time.

I loved this book! At times it made me laugh out loud, while also dealing with some pretty deep subject matter – love, loss, and finding happiness and fulfillment in life. I didn’t really connect with Alice as a character until she goes back in time but then I really found myself empathizing with her whirlwind of emotions. For one, she talks about how as a teenager she always saw herself as average – average looks, average brain, average body… and she often let those feelings of inadequacy keep her from going after things she wanted. But when she sees herself in the mirror after waking up at 16 she realizes how wrong she was. She describes how first she burst into tears, and then:

“Alice’s face looked like a Renaissance painting. Her skin was creamy and smooth, her eyes were bright and big. The apples of her cheeks were comically pink. ‘I look like a fucking cherub angel baby, Alice whispered to herself… Her chin was sharp as knife. Why had Alice never written poems about her chin, taken photos of her chin, painted portraits of her chin?”

This book does such a good job at making you laugh one minute and then sober you up the next without being jarring. I loved the 90s nostalgia, the wholesome father/daughter relationship, and nostalgia for the teenage years. What really stuck with me is Alice’s relationship with her dad and having to come to grips with the fact that he is dying. Of imagining a life without him, wondering if she can change the future by going back in time, and finally realizing that: “It’s not about time. It’s about how you spend it.”

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kaylie Jasinski ’14
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: A book published in 2022

Southampton Row by Anne Perry

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I thought I had read all of the Anne Perry books, but this one seems to have slipped by me. It was great to get back into the lives of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt and struggle with them to solve murders in Victorian times. Plan on a lot of slow development and reliance on body language and eye movement–after all, autopsies are fairly new, so forget about other detecting techniques that we use now! But the insights are still interesting and the writing is lovely.

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

The City and The City by China Miéville

book coverThe City & the City is a surrealist detective novel by China Miéville. It for the most part follows many of the conventions of a hard boiled crime novel, which only makes the nonchalant way the strange aspect of the story is described all the stranger– a murder case in two cities that exist in the same place, overlapping, but are legally distinct and citizens of each are forbidden from acknowledging the other, lest they bring down the mysterious forces of “Breach” down upon them. The City and the City is a unique look at genre fiction that served as heavy inspiration for the writing of the game Disco Elysium.

The novel is from the perspective of a detective from the city of Beszel, and it does an excellent job of telling this story from the point of view of someone to which the contradictory existence of the cities is just a part of life. Both cities are given a distinct culture and feel, and as the reader gets to know Beszel and Ul Qoma through the eyes of Inspector Tyador Borlú, they begin to seem almost like normal cities. China Miévile does an efficient job of emulating a standard detective story that you begin to accept the absurd concept of the book. Rather than losing the appeal of its original conceit, this is instead a testament to the tone setting and world building of the novel.

Recommended for fans of detective genre fiction, and of magical realism and surrealism.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Kae Decker
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book to TV