Category Archives: book to film

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Sea of Monsters

Rick Riordan packs a lot of adventure and shrewd humor into this compelling sequel to The Lightning Thief. The sass and charisma with which the demigod protagonists confront time sensitive challenges and battle among themselves make the storyline very engaging. A lot of the identity issues facing Percy Jackson will resonate with teens and young adults alike as they too struggle to find their place and purpose in society. The fast-moving plot has many twists and turns which made it hard to put the book down (which may explain why I read both this book and its equally exhilarating prequel in less than four days). The thrills I got from following Percy’s heroic adventures will keep me in a sunny mood all summer, and so I highly recommend this series to you.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Xuejie Kimball
Rating: Highly Recommended


Villette by Charlotte Brontë

VilletteI’d gone too long without reading a big old English novel, and Villette fit the bill perfectly. I enjoyed this story of the narrator’s coming of age and her quest for a kind of independence and self-sufficiency working as a teacher in Belgium at a time when the necessity for a woman to earn her own living often met with scorn and/or pity (as initially shown even by her closest friend, Polly, when she realizes her position). We watch Lucy Snowe learn the ropes at Madame Beck’s school for girls and root her on as she shares her insights into human nature as derived from the behavior of her students, fellow faculty, and small group of friends. Lucy challenges herself academically and is an acute observer of character. At the same time, she is also passive/repressed in many frustrating ways, while we get a clear picture of the people around her striving for what they want in life, sometimes nobly but more often greedily. We see the self-interest of others displayed in an unflattering light but then have to take into account the narrator’s own failures to act on (and at times even to acknowledge) her own interests. The novel ends on a somewhat inconclusive note, though it’s clear that not all of Lucy’s dreams will come true.

The British versus Continental and Protestant versus Catholic conflicts throughout are interesting at first, though I eventually felt bogged down by them. Still, it might be helpful to trace some of them forward into the Brexit era. This felt like a relatively light read but with a lot of wisdom in its pages.

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

Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles

Sophocles !

Earlier this year I looked at one of those “100 best novels” lists, and I learned that Oedipus Rex was part of a trilogy. I wanted to see what other wackily tragic events could happen to Oedipus, so I read “Sophocles I” by Sophocles (translated by David Grene, Robert Fitzgerald, and Elizabeth Wyckoff). The book contained three plays: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. At times, I thought that I might as well be reading the play in ancient Greek for all that I understood the details, but luckily, I think I understood enough to follow the basic story.

Without giving anything away …. Oedipus the King had the most interesting (bizarre) story; although, the key activities took place before the play starts and the action in the play is discovery. Oedipus at Colonus seemed transitional vice tragic in that it: provided a little closure to Oedipus the King and introduced the curse (or maybe it was prophecy) that “set the stage” for Antigone. Antigone, named after one of Oedipus’ daughters, is about conflict between Antigone and Creon and the resulting tragic actions.

I can only recommend this if you: (1) wonder “what happened to Oedipus” after reading the first play in high school, (2) enjoy theater or Greek literature, or (3) enjoy thinking about symbolism/meaning.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Andy Ashenfelter
Rating: Recommended with Reservations
Challenge: A translated book

Whitefern by V.C. Andrews


It’s been decades since I’ve read anything by V.C. Andrews, but this book was a good read with plenty of twists and hidden agendas. It is a sequel to My Sweet Audrina and I certainly was catching up on how our main characters came to be in Whitefern’s situations. That did not, however, keep me from following the story. I’m not sure if having the featured character be clueless/obtuse is a required characteristic, but she certainly was in this book. Anyhow, it was worth a bit of eye strain to read it.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a color in the title

Six: Blood Brothers by Charles Sasser

Six: Blood Brothers

Charles Sasser has written many books, but this is his debut book for the History Channel Series SIX. Mr. Sasser has written military history books and is a former Green Beret. I have not watched the television series, to compare the two, but the book was well written. It was fast paced, some military terms were used, but minimally. Many other military action novels rely so heavily on military terms that they have a glossary that you must keep referring to, interrupting the story. It wasn’t necessary for this book. It is a work of fiction but is a good representation of how Special Forces units work and interact with each other. It does contain violence but probably average for the genre. One warning, if you like endings don’t get this one. The book leaves you hanging so you will have to read the second book in the series.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Shelley Clark
Rating: Recommended with Reservations
Challenge: A book with a number in the title


The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Richard Fagles


I was inspired to read The Odyssey for the first time since high school after encountering Daniel Mendohlson’s recent essay in The New Yorker ( Mendolsohn wrote about teaching an undergraduate course on the epic poem with his elderly father as one of the students, and his subsequent trip with his father on an Odyssey-themed cruise through the Mediterranean. The essay touched on themes of age, fatherhood, and heroism.

I had vague memories of enjoying the poem as a 9th grader, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the work now. The dynamic of the story is timeless (I though a lot about Odysseus’ journey home, where his loved ones feared he was dead, as I watched the final episodes of The Leftovers on HBO). Fagles’ translation brilliantly humanizes the characters, and he lavishes the reader with tactile language about how it felt to live in that world: the sound of ships scudding along the water, the feel of a leather sandal strap, the sting of smoke from a fire.

I enjoyed mulling over questions of loyalty, filial duty, and what heroism means if a human’s life is merely a pawn of the gods. Can a hero assume credit for his or her victories? Or is heroism nothing more than continuing on in the face of powers far beyond one’s control?

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

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun uses three different perspectives to tell the story of Nigeria’s civil war. Reading the book made my heart hurt, my head ache, and my body grateful–for nourishment and love and all the things I have; things that are given and taken away and given back to Adichie’s characters throughout the book. The characters experience starvation, loss, guilt, shame, and regret..but also satisfaction, happiness, thankfulness, and desire.

I haven’t been so moved by a novel since I read Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Similar to Foer’s novel, Half of a Yellow Sun follows multiple characters who have experienced both deplorable tragedy and deep, penetrating love. It is also, ultimately, a book about forgiveness. Like Everything is Illuminated, the book makes a judgment about what is forgivable and what isn’t, and what it takes for us to realize the difference.

At the end of my copy of the novel, there was an interview with Adichie in which she posits “emotional truth” as the most important aspect of a good work of fiction. If Half of a Yellow Sun has anything, it is emotional truth. If you are looking for a good post-colonial history lesson, a novel telling African stories from an African perspective, as well as a romantic tale of star-crossed lovers and family ties, be sure to read this incredible story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Helena Klassen
Rating:  Highly Recommended