Category Archives: science fiction

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

cover art

Nothing to Envy is an inside look at life in North Korea which is revealing, fascinating & a compelling read. Only wish it were updated for this decade.

Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Catherine Pell
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

Bonus comment on The Handmaid’s Tale,

A must read – especially if one is intrigued by the subsequent television series, this book is well worth the time to read.

Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Catherine Pell
Rating: Must Read
Challenge:  Book to TV

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

I’d been meaning to read the Handmaid’s Tale for a long time, and once the TV show came out I knew I needed to figure out what all the hype was about. The Handmaid’s Tale is terrifying. An absolutely epic portrait of how messed up the world can get in terms of women’s reproductive rights, The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a world in which women’s rights are basically non-existent and everyone is plagued by intense oppression. The scary thing is that, for some people, this is a world that makes sense and is fair, even today. This is a book that will send shivers down your spine if you understand how possible it is, and how well it mirrors some people’s lives.


Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Izzy Lott
Rating: Must Read
Challenge:  Book to TV

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

Despite it being a seminal intro to SciFi prose Fahrenheit 451 has a distinct poetic quality to it. The descriptive nature of Montag’s inner turmoil and his stream of consciousness as he sheds his role as book burner to become a book preserver, slowly revealed his metamorphosis. This glimpse into the dystopic future left me with many ideas to mull over.

Availability: SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Denise Brace nee Lerch (’82)
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book to film

Staff Picks: Summer Reading 2019 Edition

Summer reading is here, which means some tough decisions about prioritizing those books in your TBR (to be read) pile.  Don’t worry about that–let us recommend some reads for you this summer! It’s time for Staff Picks: Summer Reading Edition!


Title:  On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthonypale horse

Where to find:  SMCM print collection

What it’s about:  Death came for Zane, but instead Zane became Death – by accident. Assuming the mantle of the grim reaper in a world where science and magic co-exist, Zane must work with the other incarnations of immortality (Time, Fate, War, and Nature) to save the woman he loves and defeat the earthy machinations of Satan.

Why to read:  This classic sci-fi/fantasy series (8 books total) is one I re-read every few years, finding something new every time. Anthony creates a fascinating world, and weaves an intricate plotline over the entire course of books, with characters and situations referring to each other back and forth, telling the tale from different perspectives and giving the reader new insights. A great summer read!

firemanAmanda VerMeulen

Title:  The Fireman by Joe Hill

Where to find:  USMAI, Lexington Park Library or Southern MD Regional Libraries

What it’s about:  It’s the end of the world as we know it thanks to a mysterious disease causing people to spontaneously combust and it’s up to a fireman, a pregnant nurse, and a kid to work together to stay alive and solve the mystery.

Why to read:  Post-apocalyptic lit with a surprising science connection from horror author and son of Stephen King, Joe Hill.

Justin Foreman

Title:  In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murchblink of an eye

Where to find:  SMCM print collection

What it’s about:  This is a non-fiction book on the art and craft of film editing authored by Walter Murch, a three-time Oscar winning editor and sound designer.

Why to read:  Interested in learning why the “cut” in film works? Walter Murch eloquently discusses fundamental ideas behind film editing in a very accessible way. He also provides an interesting history of editing innovations, from Steenbeck machines to today’s non-linear editing systems, and stories from films he’s worked on (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, to name a few). This is a great read if you’re a film-buff/student, or love “behind-the-scenes” documentaries about your favorite films.


hungerTitle:  Hunger by Roxane Gay

Where to find:  SMCM Overdrive Collection (eAudiobook), USMAI, Lexington Park Library or Southern MD Regional Libraries

What it’s about:  Roxane Gay, known as a writer, academic, and expert Twitter user, is a successful person by virtually any standard.  However, as a woman of color who has been overweight for most of her life, she has heard relentlessly negative messages about her appearance and place in the world.  Gay’s memoir reflects on broad and specific acts of body shaming from others and the greater society, analyzing the forces that have shaped her life.

Why to read:  Gay’s writing is excellent, and she’s a very insightful memoirist, connecting her unique experiences to the intersections of identity as an overweight, bisexual woman of color and child of Haitian-American parents.  Her honesty makes for both a relief and an incredibly heartbreaking read as Gay identifies the ways society has punished her and the ways she has punished herself.

Bonus pick!

Title:  Lake Success by Gary Shteyngartlake-success

Where to find:  USMAI, Lexington Park Library or Southern MD Regional Libraries

What it’s about:  After leaving New York under ambiguous circumstances, hedge fund manager Barry decides it’s the perfect time for a road trip. Under the pretense of finding his long-lost college love, Barry journeys across the States, encountering the citizens of “real” America and condescendingly trying to make their lives better. Meanwhile, he manages to dodge any responsibility for his shortcomings as a professional and as a father.

Why to read:  A fun and satirical road trip novel, this is a good read for a few laughs in the summer. Readers may appreciate the highly relevant commentary on Wall Street delusion and the insightful reflections on family that balance out the book’s sharp humor. A solid choice for those who prefer their humor slightly bitter.

Need more suggestions?  Keep following the summer reading blog to see what books are keeping other participants busy!

Low Chicago ed. by George R. R. Martin

low chicago cover

Low Chicago edited by George R.R. Martin is a collection of short stories tied together in an overall plot – I don’t think they can really be enjoyed individually. This is not the first wild card book In the series, but it is the first that I have read; I’m not sure if someone more familiar with the series would have been less overwhelmed in the beginning. Low Chicago is a type of poker, and the book starts out with a poker game and turns into a time travel adventure (much more interesting than poker).

I did enjoy the book, and I plan to try the first book in the series. I liked “Meathooks on Ice” the best … and I now know how the great Chicago fire started (the cow was innocent). There was a surprising amount of politics in the stories.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Andy Ashenfelter
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2018

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

From the Dust ReturnedRay Bradbury is a man of many gifts. If you like sci-fi or horror fiction with a dash of fantasy, chances are Bradbury has something for you. From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury is one of his later books, and collects a few stories published elsewhere throughout Bradbury’s career, as well as some new ones. Everything is tied up around one family of sorts in Illinois that is made up of all sorts of strange creatures, from a kindly uncle with wings to a sleeping Egyptian princess whose mind explores the world and minds around her. The main conflict that is explored throughout the book is the threat of an increasingly unfazed and secular world against creatures who rely on their fear to thrive and exist.

If you read one story in this book and find it isn’t for you, there’s a good chance that you will find some character and story to hold close to your heart. There’s mortal Timothy’s preparations for the family Homecoming and his inner conflict over whether or not to join his mysterious family in immortality. There’s Cecy and her journey to experience mortal love. There’s Uncle Einer’s adventures into the world, and the life he finds out there. Uncle Einer’s marriage is particularly touching to me, but it may be different for you depending on what you like. I wouldn’t call this my favorite Bradbury book, but it’s still well worth a read.

Availability: USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kimberly Boenig
Rating: Highly Recommended