Tag Archives: TOB

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

book cover

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

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

Fever Dream cover Fever Dream/Distancia de rescate (Rescue Distance)

A vacation in the country that turns into an absolute nightmare, Fever Dream was a page turner that I could not stop listening to. Played out in what we are told is a rural medical clinic, we slowly piece together the narrative as Amanda recounts it for the mysterious kid, David, as she lies dying. Where exactly is she? Why is she dying and who is David really? All these details become clearer as young David guides Amanda through her memories of the past few days.

There’s not a lot I can say without spoiling something, but this story will hit home with anyone who understands the anxiety of allowing a child independence and space to explore the world, while simultaneously being available to step in, at a moment’s notice, to avert danger. While Fever Dream is a great title for the book, I would have preferred the direct translation of the original title, Distancia de rescate or Rescue Distance, as that is such a key concept for the narrative and one that really resonates with me as a parent. Amanda’s constant calculation of “the rescue distance” between her and her child adds to the insidious tension, especially since every caregiver knows that a child can never be completely protected from the world.

Availability: COSMOS
Submitted by: Emily Nelson Ringholm ’07
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Translated Book, Audiobook

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

book coverA Visit From the Goon Squad follows a dozen or so integrated story lines across generations centered around the music industry. Unfortunately, while I applaud the author for her impressive tying together of all these stories, I found this book incredibly difficult to follow. I need a map of how all the stories are connected to really know what happened in this book. Some of the chapters were funny, emotional, and jarring, while others I found completing uninteresting and almost painful to get through. This book might be better suited with more brain space to dedicate to reading than I had this summer.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI SMCM
Review Submitted by: Kristina Howansky
Rating: Recommended with Reservations

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Homegoing is the story of two half sisters, one who is sold into slavery and one who marries a British officer, and their descendants. Each character has one chapter, so the book almost reads as a collection of short stories where some characters have a cameo. Each chapter also doesn’t have the year listed, so it is interesting to estimate when in history the character is living. Although the time which each character is short, it was easy to grow attached to each of them.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Joanne Hoppe
Rating:  Highly Recommended

There, There by Tommy Orange

cover artThere, There by Tommy Orange is for all current history buffs. Featuring a variety of short stories at a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. For lovers of Native American culture and history, this book is sure to delight you.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Emily Murphy
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: TOB 2019

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

cover artThis crime thriller follows the complicated relationship between two sisters in Nigeria. The story is advertised as “darkly funny”, “sly”, and a “hand grenade of a novel”. I think advertising it this way is a mistake. The narrator may make a wry comment, but I do not think humor serves a large function in the story. Because it was advertised that way though, I found myself waiting and picking apart the first third of the book, trying to figure out what was supposed to be funny or not. As I moved past this and cursed myself for reading the advertising, I focused on the story and all that it was offering me.

This book has plenty to offer, and the frustrated narrator does add some sarcastic jokes in her intelligent narration. The struggle between her and her sister, the gravity of it all described in the narrator’s prose, gives the story a sort of parable or folk tale feeling – it has a certain quality of being very realistic, yet larger than life. The story would fit into the crime thriller genre, but the true focus is on the roles we are expected to fill or choose to in fill. The narrator grapples with all the roles she must fill, and all the ones she never gets to be. That is what really drives the story in this reviewer’s opinion.

While this story does not reinvent the genre, it doesn’t try to find a place in the familiar and well worn places either. It offers up (at least to the average crime thriller reader in America, I imagine) a fresh new narrator, and the writing is enjoyable.

While the audiobook was technically sound, I’d recommend reading this short novel. The narrator has a lovely voice, and her dialogue reading is very good. The narrator’s parts I found too neutral – sometimes dry humor can be too dry – I could hear a line that I would have read as a sardonic quip, but it is delivered so deadpan that you could easily miss the comedy. But the comedy is happenstance – the narrator’s thoughtful intelligence and her struggle with her relationships is what will keep you in it.

This Book is Good For:
1. People who like crime thrillers but want a different narrator and story than the well worn types.
2. People who aren’t crime thriller readers but would read a book that might bring them in more easily to the genre from other drama.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Nick Huber (Class of 2013)
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: Audiobook, Tournament  of Books 2019

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

Fever Dream coverFever Dream is a short and rewarding experience. The location of the story matters little; it is simply about a woman and a young boy, and focuses in on their conversation. Most of the details of the story unfold through this dialogue. The woman is laying in a bed–presumably a hospital or a clinic–and the young boy is by the bedside.

The technical details of the writing are important to understand right away, though comprehension comes more easily as you continue to read. The boy’s dialogue is in italics, and feel like an interruption or story guide. The woman’s text is not, and feels and acts as the story itself.

This is a horrifying story about two mother’s attempts to save their small children from their environment.

The details in this story are sparse, everything unnecessary is omitted. The details that are there bloom in the reader’s imagination. Every sentence has a purpose. Every sentence is clear, relevant, and pushes a sense of horror onto the audience.

At 192 pages, this novel packs a powerful punch.

Availability: USMAI, SMCM, COSMOS
Submitted by: Sage Burch
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Translated Book, Tournament of Books

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the BardoI had heard a lot about Lincoln in the Bardo recently. Mostly raving reviews, but the negative ones were really negative. The writing is beautiful. It sucked me into the book quickly. Especially the scenes with Lincoln while he is grieving from the loss of his son. Like many, I felt a little lost while starting this book. The style of writing is very different and was hard for me to get used to. When I did, I loved it. The style added so much in terms of the characters (ghosts) fragmented realities. Almost like they weren’t communicating like they would in life, but by being in one another’s minds. The various ghosts that are introduced seem random, but it is within those interactions that you learn more about the three main characters and their situation. The historical accounts that are included help the reader remember the setting and put the ghost’s personalities into context. I understand that the style could get in the way of some people’s enjoyment. However, I highly suggest pushing thorough and trying to see the value in it and why Saunders made that choice.

Availability:  SMCM, COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Erin Crawford
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Tournament of Books

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

The Animators coverThe Animators, by Kyla Rae Whitaker, which is part of the 2018 Tournament of Books, is a compelling tale about two female animators who become close friends in college. The book is very relatable to college students, since Whitaker describes both the work and play that occurs on a college campus. The book makes references to many obscure (and well known) cartoons, ranging from 1980s independent animations to modern day Disney cartoons. If you are an animation fan and like stories about female relationships, then The Animators is the book for you. Highly recommended for individuality and uniqueness of the plot.

Availability:  SMCM, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Kara Thompson
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge:TOB 2018

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian

Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian (2015) is as unsettling as it is alluring. Originally published in South Korea in 2007, it was translated into English by Deborah Smith, and won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. It tells the story of a woman named Yeong-hye who, after a series of disturbingly violent dreams, chooses to stop eating meat. This choice brings strong reactions from her family members, and sets off a series of intense and increasingly irrevocable events.

The novel is set in three parts, and each is narrated from the perspective of someone close to Yeong-hye–her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister. The result is that Yeong-hye’s experience is constantly mediated for the reader through the lens of those outside of herself. While the novel dwells on intensely personal issues regarding self-hood and bodily autonomy, we are actually denied insight into Yeong-hye’s own point of view. The book explores themes of power, desire, and the forces of human violence and empathy; its conclusions are open and ambivalent. Some have characterized the book as an allegory, especially about issues of gender and political power in contemporary South Korea. However, I think it reads richly on multiple levels. At the end, the book caused me to contemplate the shifting ground of how humans perceive themselves and others, and the precarious structures of our social communities.

Availability:  SMCM, COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Emily Casey
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: A translated book.

Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong

Goodbye, Vitamin coverWhen Ruth’s father begins to show signs of Alzheimer’s her mothers asks her to move in and help out around the house for a year. Once she visits her father and sees what state he is in, she agrees. The style of writing in this book is different than any other that I have read, and it took some getting used to. Its chapters are broken into months and written almost like diary entries. Khong draws parallels between Ruth’s father remembering his daughter as a curious little girl and Ruth taking care of her father now who, during times of a disoriented memory, can act like a child. They are bittersweet and immerses you into the intricacies of taking care of a parent you’ve always relied on. Her father’s health has brought the family together and forced them to deal with difficulties from their past while they also prepare for a difficult future when his symptoms may get worse. There are a few other story lines in this novel, but the relationship between Ruth and her father was what kept me engaged.

Availability:  SMCM, COSMOS, and USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Erin Crawford
Rating:  Recommended
Challenge: 2018 Tournament of Books

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho book cover
A descriptive, sensory book about a family living in the country. The book features original metaphors and descriptions of people and spaces for living. It’s also told from a variety of perspectives, such as June and May, the daughters, and Jenny and Wade, the mother and father. Idaho is evocative of country life, has a gripping plotline and is an engaging summer read.

Availability: SMCM, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Kara Thompson
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book with a one world title; Tournament of Books