4-4.5 stars

“Camp Nine” by Vivienne R. Schiffer

Cecilia Morton—“Chess,” as everyone calls her—is an average, gangly girl growing up in the 1940s Arkansas Delta. When her father died a few years ago, she became heir to his land and the massive holdings of his father as well. But her grandfather is not ready to relinquish control yet, and when he sells off some of Chess’s father’s land to the US government to build a Japanese American detainment camp, he sets in motion events that no one in their small town could have fathomed.

“Maman’s Homesick Pie” by Donia Bijan

In the wake of a tragic accident that claims the life of her mother, Donia Bijan finds herself lost in memories of her family’s history—from pleasant memories of growing up on the second floor of her parents’ hospital in Tehran to fearfully fleeing Iran for their lives.

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

People have described Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as one of the true new classics of fantasy. I generally scoff at such claims, since it is virtually impossible to tell which works will stand the test of time; many books and movies are widely heralded upon their release, only to be quickly forgotten. But the description is actually quite fitting for American Gods. The book has a patient, almost meandering approach that echoes the slower pace of classical movies like “Citizen Kane” or “The Maltese Falcon.”

“The Rules of the Tunnel” by Ned Zeman

What is madness? How does one distinguish between a behavioral disorder and a really bad day?

Ned Zeman, a journalist who has written for Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Spy, GQ, Outside, and Sports Illustrated, turns his eye to the one subject that has constantly eluded him: himself. His zany memoir of madness and memory loss reads like one long feature piece—a profile of himself.

Guest Review! “Russian Winter” by Daphne Kalotay

“It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in love; but she no longer believed in it for herself.” This simple proclamation, uttered by Drew Brooks, a character in Daphne Kalotay’s first novel, reveals an ingrained belief that haunts all three protagonists of Russian Winter. Kalotay, whose short fiction is gathered in Calamity and Other Stories, illustrates how the lives of three seemingly disconnected people become intertwined amidst a jewelry collection that the central protagonist, Nina Revskaya, has put up for auction.

“My Year with Eleanor” by Noelle Hancock

Noelle Hancock was on vacation in Aruba when she received the phone call that changed her life. Her coworker at the website where Hancock pulled nearly six figures as an entertainment blogger was on the other line, and bursting with bad news: The website was being shut down and Hancock was laid off.

“Reservation Road” by John Burnham Schwartz

In the wake of a horrific accident that claims the life of ten-year-old Josh, the lives of two families begin to disintegrate. Josh’s parents, Ethan and Grace Learner, and his sister, Emma, become wrapped in impenetrable clouds of grief and guilt. Dwight Arno, the man who hit Josh with his car and sped away, deals with his own intense guilt and sadness at how his life has turned out, while his son, Sam, gradually unravels the truth about what really happened that day.

“Push” by Sapphire

Precious Jones is an illiterate young black woman who has never left her native Harlem. She is pregnant with her second child, a product of rape. For her entire life, she’s been abused: her parents have both used her sexually and violently; the school system has failed her; and she’s never had a friend, much less a boyfriend. Now, she’s been suspended from her middle school, and the only option her mother suggests is getting on welfare.

“Next to Love” by Ellen Feldman

Babe, Millie, and Grace have been friends for as long as they can remember. They have their differences—pugnacious Babe grew up in the poor section of town and never met with approval from Grace’s upper-class mother, while sweet Millie dealt with the loss of her parents at a young age. But now, as World War II summons their husbands and boyfriends, the women must come to terms with the reality of an America at war, where romance and joy are replaced with grief and loss and then with strength and wisdom.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the wake of World War I, the U.S. economy boomed, and bootleggers amassed fortunes during the Prohibition of the raucous Roaring Twenties. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic portrayal of the Jazz Age (as it was also called), encapsulates the optimism and prosperity of this technologically advancing generation.

“Great House” by Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss’s Great House is intricately crafted, beautifully written, poignantly populated, and kind of plotless.

Great House presents the idea that your furniture—the enduring collection of things with which you surround yourself—defines you. The characters’ furniture even serves as parts of their identities and personalities. Each of the lonely, troubled narrators externalize and objectify the conflicts within and between themselves, placing parts of their souls in their belongings in order to transcend their humanity, like Voldemort and his horcruxes.

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn picks up where The Adventures of Tom Sawyer left off. The Widow Douglas adopts Huck, and he goes to live with her and her sister, Miss Watson. But Huck isn’t taking to his new life too well; though he wants to please the Widow, he finds himself making mistakes in his new life everywhere he turns.

“War” by Sebastian Junger

Sebastian Junger’s War follows its famous author as he spends nearly a year in Afghanistan as a writer for Vanity Fair. He also captured his experience on on a small handheld camcorder, which was used to create 2010 documentary Restrepo with Tim Hetherington.