Category Archives: challenge

Normal People by Sally Rooney

book coverBased on the hype around this novel, I had fairly high expectations. However, I don’t feel that those expectations were met. I was unprepared for the heaviness of the novel, with topics of toxic relationships, abuse, and mental health; and felt that the novel took an unhealthy side of these topics, rather than creating beneficial conversation around them. Personally, this book was not my cup of tea and I would recommend reading a few reviews before diving into it.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Sarah Gleason
Rating:  Recommended with reservations
Challenge: Book made into TV show

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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A fantasy novel, Six of Crows follows a crew of seven characters who decide to take on a dangerous heist. Set in the city of Ketterdam, the novel switches between the perspectives of the characters as it goes through the heist as well as their own backstories and interactions. It has a really good found family aspect with well written and diverse characters and relationships, and all of the heist and action scenes are incredibly interesting as well.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Esther Markov
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Book to TV

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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I absolutely loved this book. I was hooked from the first page! The author tells a beautiful and emotional story while educating readers on difficult topics of racism, specifically within and between minority groups.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Sarah Gleason
Rating:  Highly Recommend
Challenge: Tournament of Books

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

book coverI wasn’t ever going to read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes on the assumption that, like many books written as late additions to an already stellar series, it wouldn’t hold up. I decided to give it a try and this book is a wayyyy better end than Mockingjay. I 100% recommend this book to anyone who liked the Hunger Games, since previous knowledge gives you more of those “omg I get what’s happening!” moments, but honestly you could read this as a solo book as well. Totally gripping and creepy.

Availability: USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Izzy Lott
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: YA with diverse cast of characters

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

book coverIf you’re a fan of old Hollywood glamour, you would probably enjoy this fun, beach read. On the surface I took it to be just that, a beach read, but as you move through the story, you’ll find that the main theme runs a bit deeper. Evelyn Hugo is an Elizabeth Taylor-esque Hollywood icon, and now finds herself to be a bit of a recluse in her old age. One day she seeks out a relatively unknown writer and offers to give her a tell-all book about her amazing and scandalous life. To accomplish what she did, Evelyn was willing to do anything, including marrying seven different men over the course of her life. But at the heart of the book is discovering what really matters to each of us at the end of the day. There were definitely a few surprises I wasn’t expecting, regarding Evelyn’s loves and why she chose Monique for the assignment. After reading “Malibu Rising” earlier this summer, also by Taylor Jenkins Reid, I would have to say that while I enjoyed it more, this one has many of the same elements/themes I enjoyed in that book.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kaylie Jasinski ’14
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: A book with a number in the title

City of Thieves , David Benioff

book coverThis amazing novel is set in Russia during WW II. Given the choice between being executed or completing an impossible task, Lev and Kolya understandably try to achieve the impossible. Thrown together facing harrowing challenges, the two young men go from strangers to close friends during the course of just a few days. This developing friendship is a big part of the story but so is seeing the atrocities that war creates, depicting how normal people are driven to do extraordinarily horrible or heroic things.

I really enjoyed this novel. It laid bare how ignorant I am of what the war looked like from the Russian front, which was interesting to read about. Mostly however I loved the characters Kolya and Lev, they are such an odd couple and yet suit each other so well. I laughed, cried and tensely listened as the smooth voice of Ron Perlman read this wonderful book. I can highly recommend it as well as the audiobook.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Emily Nelson Ringholm ’07
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Audiobook

Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín

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Young Irish Eilis can’t find suitable work in her small town, so her vivacious sister and a priest friend arrange her travel to Brooklyn, work there in a department store, and lodging in a boarding house. As she slowly finds her way, Eilis must make many difficult and life changing decisions. I watched the movie, then ironically found the book two days later in a mini free library while biking on Kent Island. The movie is nice, but the book was a delightful beach read.

Availability: COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Maggie D. Brace ’82
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book to film

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

book coverMeeting your partner’s parents for the first time can be a bit tense, especially if you’re contemplating ending the relationship. That’s the premise for this amazing story, which on the outside seems relatively simple but is actually a very interesting and compelling dive into the mind of someone suffering from depression and grappling with the meaning of one’s life, among other things.

After seeing the movie adapted from this book on Netflix, I was really curious to see what differences it would have in book form. Without spoiling things I will say the movie is perhaps a little more surreal at times, but otherwise it was a very close representation of the novel. The audiobook narrator even sounded very much like Jessie Buckley, the actress playing the (nameless à la Rebecca) main character.

This is a novel that surprises, keeps you thinking and gives me goosebumps thinking about it as I write this, highly recommend!

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Emily Nelson Ringholm ’07
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book to film and audiobook

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder

book coverA truly eye opening book about how the United States has failed a generation, and how older Americans have been forced to survive without stability. The resilience shown by the people in this book is inspiring, as is their reclamation of what it means to be “houseless.” Yet, amid people’s expressions of joy at the communities they have developed and their shirking of capitalism, this book made me deeply sad about how much the U.S. has failed its citizens and continues to do so, and how quickly we are turning into a manipulative corporatocracy. My only reservations in regards to this book would be its lack of discussion (about 3 pages in all), of the lack of Black nomads, and why that is.

Availability: USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Izzy Lott
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: book to film, book with a one word title

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

book coverIn The Night Swim, true-crime podcaster Rachel Krall travels to the small, seaside town of Neapolis to cover a rape trial for the second season of her hit podcast. While she’s there, she begins receiving notes from Hannah Stills begging Rachel to look into her sister’s case. Hannah claims that her sister was murdered in Neapolis 25 years earlier even though her death was ruled an accidental drowning. As Rachel takes a look at both of these cases, she finds some disturbing connections.

This book is mainly told through Rachel’s point of view, though a few chapters are narrated by Hannah and some others are snippets of Rachel’s podcast. I listened to this book as an audiobook because I think it lends itself particularly well to that format due to the podcast element in the story. Theme music was added at the beginning and ends of the podcast chapters to differentiate them from normal chapters and the narrator would speak in her serious, podcast voice as opposed to her natural voice. I normally prefer to read physical copies instead of audiobooks but, for this particular book, I found the audiobook version added to the overall reading experience because of that podcast vibe that can’t be translated the same way into a written format.

The Night Swim explores some heavy topics, but I think they were all handled really well. Though it can be tough and heart-breaking at times, the conversations that this book brings around the topics it confronts are really important. I found the ending to be a little dramatic and over-the-top. However, I still thought it was an enjoyable read.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jamie Ourand
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Audiobook

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

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This book is a memoir about Doughty’s beginnings working in a crematory in Oakland, California, fresh out of college and full of morbid curiosity. The author does an excellent job of demystifying the death industry and what happens when we die in today’s society. The book is funny, candid and occasionally does not pull back on the details so it may not be for people who are more squeamish. In the audiobook version, Doughty herself narrates which makes the book feel more personal.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jo Hoppe
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge:
Audiobook

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

book coverThe Black Flamingo is a coming-of-age novel written in verse centered around a mixed-race, gay teen exploring his identity and finding his place in the world of drag.

This was such a refreshing and sweet read. I share little in common with the main character, but I found that he was still very relatable. I felt like I was rooting for a friend and sharing in their joy and their journey of discovery throughout the book. It was an uplifting and wholesome read. Since the book is written in verse, it was also super quick to get through. Even though this is a young adult book, I recommend this to readers of all ages.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jamie Ourand
Rating: Recommended
Challenges: YA book with diverse characters, book with a color in the title