We Believe You by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino

We Believe You

We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out, is a collection of first-person narratives of sexual assault, survivorship, and activism. This is a difficult but essential book to read. As a reader and practitioner in the field I found myself wanting to reach into the page to offer support and consolation to the writers sharing their stories, to change what happened to them and to improve their experiences with campus administrators and law enforcement. The collection did a good job of capturing the breadth and variety of survivors’ experiences while identifying common themes and concerns. I found this book to be gripping and re-centering in a way — a reminder of what the world looks like through the eyes of someone who has experienced sexual violence and a reminder of the importance of simply believing someone who says that have been assaulted. This belief, the authors write, is an act of “radical everyday activism.”

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Must Read

Barkskins By Annie Proulx

Barkskins

In the late 1600s, two young men – René Sel and Charles Duquet – disembark as indentured servants in the wilderness of New France. Annie Proulx’s magnificent new novel, Barkskins, follows the adventures, triumphs, and hardships of Sel and Duquet’s descendants over the next three hundred years.

René Sel, an experienced woodsman, marries a Mi’Kmaq woman. His children and grandchildren eke out a living cutting trees as “barkskins” in the Canadian Maritimes and, later, across the continent. Even as the Sel family contributes to the destruction of their own forests, the Mi’Kmaq people face poverty, hunger, discrimination, and forced assimilation. Haunted by their work, later generations try to find solace in a subsistence lifestyle that is no longer possible.

Charles Duquet escapes his indenture and becomes a voyageur, trading for furs that he sells as far away as China. Duquet marries into a wealthy Dutch shipping family and adopts several sons to help him run his growing timber and fur business. Anglicizing the family name, Duke & Sons soon owns stands of timber across North America and as far afield as New Zealand. In the late nineteenth century, Charles’s great-great granddaughter becomes a formidable businesswoman, commanding a timber empire from the company’s headquarters in Chicago.

Although Proulx’s novel runs longer than 700 pages and includes hundreds of characters (don’t worry, there are family trees at the back of the book), the story was incredibly engaging. I found myself wishing that I could spend more time with some of Sel and Duquet’s colorful descendants. Readers, don’t worry if you don’t understand all of the French, German, Dutch, and Mi’Kmaq words – this fascinating novel will carry you along. Proulx also expertly interweaves famous historical events and inventions, without losing focus on her characters.

Proulx certainly has a moral to convey in Barkskins. She condemns the destruction of North America’s forests and constructs the novel as a conflict between those who believe that “forests are infinite” and those who understand that both forests and cultures cannot last to greed and rapacious appetites. Barkskins is not just an environmental novel, but also the story of how North America must reckon with its history of annihilation and exploitation.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Book published in 2016

Blood Orange by Susan Wittig Albert

Blood OrangeIt’s been a while since I’ve read one of this author’s books and I forgot how pleasant it is to read a murder mystery that is fresh, crisp, and intriguing without overt gore and mayhem! China Bayles solves local murder mysteries almost by accident, but she is a likeable main character who benefits from friendships with some unlikely friends. Without giving anything away, I can just say that this series is an enjoyable read with intelligent writing and plausible story lines.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko
Rating: Highly  Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2016

The Shop on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

The Shop on Blossom StreetThe first book in the Blossom Street series, The Shop on Blossom Street details how the lives of four women come together over a mostly newfound love of knitting. I crochet, rather than knit, but felt a connection to the characters nonetheless. Their individual story lines were captivating as it was, but having all four intertwine made it even harder to have to put down at times. I can see why so many people seem to love Debbie Macomber’s writing and I am excited to start on the next book in the series.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Breanna Thorne
Rating: Recommended

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I had never read Woolf before, and Mrs. Dalloway was nothing like what I expected. The book follows a day in the life of a well-off Londoner as she prepares for a party she’ll be hosting. The narrative meanders through the perspectives of many other people around town, though, pivoting so deftly in the points of view that I often went back to reread the transitions. Woolf’s prose has the same timeless, contemporary quality as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s — there was something about the 1920s, I guess, that allowed these writers to step out of their own circumstances and tap into something universal.

To be honest, I wished I had read this book in the context of a class. The plot hinged on characters’ recollections of the past and how those memories informed their present actions. World War I, and characters’ previous love affairs, cast a large shadow. For me, the prose was the most rewarding element of this book, and I think the other aspects would have come to life more had I read this book with a broader context than its introduction and a few notes in Wikipedia.

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

 

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief

Honestly, this book is a must for any and all Greek mythology nerds (or any mythology nerds in general really). I saw the movie years ago and thought that it was alright, but now I completely agree with their large Percy Jackson fandom (highly prevalent on social media platforms, such as Tumblr), that the movie did not do the book the justice that it deserves (shocking, I know). It is the perfect book, in my opinion, to get younger readers interested in history and mythology. For an art history student who attempted to write a novel for her SMP, this book was actually really inspiring and has given me quite a few ideas for my own writing. The writing was easy to follow despite the fast-paced story line and characters and plot were very enjoyable. Most importantly, though, the mythology references were wonderful.

Availability: COSMOS, & USMAI
Submitted by: Breanna Thorne
Rating: Highly Recommended

Split Second by Alex Kava

Split SecondI am so glad to be a mild-mannered nutrition educator and not driven by ambition like this book’s FBI Special Agent, who must prove so much to so many as she tracks a serial killer. Though fraught with violence and over-the-top criminal machinations, the book wasn’t quite as unpalatable as it could have been. Still, it’s not a pleasant read and not even a page-turner (well, except to get done with it) as time ticks and the criminal in question gets away with more or more…

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko
Rating:   Recommended with reservations