The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls

Emma Cline’s highly-acclaimed debut novel, The Girls, is a coming-of-age story centered on a fictionalized Charles Manson and the notorious Tate-LaBianca murders. Cline’s fictional narrator, Evie Boyd, is adrift in middle age. In 1969, as a 14-year-old, she becomes fixated on an older girl named Suzanne, who is a devotee of a mesmerizing cult leader. Evie follows Suzanne to a ranch outside of LA, where her childlike obsession blossoms as she is drawn into the inner circle of the group’s leader, Russell. Russell is a master manipulator and though he eventually convinces his “girls” to kill for him, he does not engage in some of Charles Manson’s worst atrocities.

Although Cline’s novel is well-written and compelling, I had trouble connecting with either iteration of Evie. As a lonely adolescent, Evie is sympathetic but not blameless. As an adult, Evie seems almost emotionless, as though the only spark in her life was her summer with Suzanne in 1969. In all, I think that Cline’s book is a fine debut that doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby-Hall
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: A book written by someone under 30. Book published in 2016

The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle

The Harder they Come

The Harder They Come is a modern family drama, set in small-town Mendocino County, California. Eccentric Adam Stenson tries to live “off the grid” after his parents, Sten and Carolee, sell his long-time residence that once belonged to his grandmother. As a modern self-styled “mountain man,” Adam sporadically accepts (or demands) the well-intentioned help of his free-thinking girlfriend, Sarah Hovarty Jennings.

Author T.C. Boyle’s typical rich tapestry of events and characters will not disappoint his fans. Amid enthusiastic reviews by a few hundred reviewers, one on-line criticism of this book was that some of his characters were shallow. This may be somewhat justified, but Boyle usually displays an economy of narrative and he seems to delve deeper when needed. I read this book after attending a lecture where the author talked about researching this novel, which incorporates murder, serious mental illness and the western legend of 19th Century “mountain man” John Colter, a courageous soul who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition early in his career. If you like this novel, you might want to try one of Boyle’s short story collections, or World’s End, his 1988 Pen/Faulkner award-winning historical novel of the Hudson River valley.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Mike Luginbill
Rating:  Highly Recommended

Persepolis by Marjane Santrapi

Persepolis

Persepolis is the most compelling graphic novel I’ve read since Maus. It follows the life of the young Marjane (the author), a spunky and independent six year old who is living in Tehran during the start of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The revolution unfolds before Marjane and her parents, who are committed Marxists and initially thrilled about the deposition of the western-backed shah, who tortured his dissenters in his secret prisons and got put in power through a western-funded coup. Marjane soon learns that life is much different under the new regime. She is forced to wear a veil at school, which she rips off at recess because it’s hot and oppressive. She is forced to beat her hand against her chest and chant funeral hymns for the “martyrs” of the revolution who are killed in the war against Iraq. She is forced to knit hats for the male “martyrs”- boys as young as 13 who get sent to the front lines of the battlefields in Iraq. She watches communist relatives and family friends disappear in Iran’s secret prisons, only to never emerge again. Throughout the horrors of the regime, Marjane never loses her fighting spirit. She stands up to her religion teachers, idolizes Western fashion, and hangs ACDC posters on her wall in defiance against the regime’s anti-Western rules. You can’t help rooting for her to escape the clutches of the regime and the terrifying police who snatch up dissenters in the night.

This book is written for young adults and is an easy read. I recommend if for anyone who wants to understand the history of the U.S.-Iranian conflict, and for anyone who likes reading about girls with chutzpah.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Andrea Gesumaria
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a one word title

Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles

Love In Lowercase

This book follows a lonely man who searches for a past love after seeing a glimpse of her on the crowded streets of Barcelona, where he lives and works as a linguistics lecturer.

While this book was cute and an easy read, it was very existential. He got into many conversations about life and the moon and how to find what he is searching for, and while conversations like these have their place the book may have had too many. But romantics tend to be existential.

The book flowed well and had a good mix of surprises. The chapters were short which made it easy to pick up and put back down-a good summer read.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Jessie Vislay
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: A book published in 2016

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

The Notebook

I brought this book with me to the beach to read in about a day. It’s a very short, easy read and I loved the movie, so I decided to give the book a try.

Nicholas Sparks books aren’t typically my go-to, but compared to The Last Song (the only other Sparks book I’ve read), this book was rather simple, and I believe the plot could have been a little bit more complex. However, the character development is very clear.

This book also had slight differences from the movie. This made it more interesting for me, as it wasn’t 100% predictable from what I saw in the film.

All in all, I would only recommend this if you are an avid romance reader and want a quick book to get through. I was not as emotionally invested as I thought I would be, but it was interesting and well-written nonetheless.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Reilly Cook
Rating:  Recommended with Reservations

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk

This is one of the most unique books I’ve read in a long time. It is the memoir of a woman wrestling with grief over her father’s death. It’s the story of the same woman, a falconer — more precisely, an austringer — who immerses herself in the training of her goshawk, Mabel, to channel her pain. It’s also a portrait of T.H. White, author of the The Sword in the Stone, who turned to falconry to wrestle with his own demons and whose life is presented as a tragic counterpoint. Finally, it’s a reflection on the tenuous divide between civilization and the wild, between solitude and loneliness, between death and life.

The author’s prose is poetic and evocative, offering the reader vivid images of Mabel at rest and on the hunt. Macdonald is amazingly effective at making the reader feel that they too are beside her in the English fields, damp, sweaty and exhilarated. More than once I completely lost myself in this book, which is all I can ask for.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Highly Recommended

Girl at War By Sara Nović

Girl at War

Sara Nović’s Girl at War is a debut coming-of-age novel about a girl growing up in the shadow of conflict. In 1991, Ana Juric is a carefree 10-year-old living with her parents in Zagreb, Croatia. When civil war breaks out, Ana’s daily life is altered by food rations, air raids, and ethnic tensions.

In 2001, Ana is a college student in New York. Although she has tried to move on from the events of her childhood, she is still haunted by her memories of war. Ana decides to return to Croatia to come to terms with her homeland.

Moving back and forth in time, Ana slowly unspools the story of how the Yugoslav War divides her household and destroys her idyllic childhood. As a young guerilla, Ana soon learns that even a child is not immune from war’s atrocities.

Girl at War is a dark, but moving, debut from Sara Nović. Only 29, Nović escaped Croatia with her family during the Yugoslav War. The author’s troubled history with her home country enriches this powerful novel.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby- Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book written by someone under 30.