Book Reviews

“The Lotus Eaters” by Tatjana Soli

For the past ten years, Helen Adams has devoted her life to covering the Vietnam War.

When she first arrived in Vietnam in 1965, Helen’s only encounter with war had been her father’s tales of the Korean War and her brother’s letters home, and her only experience with photography was a high school class. Against all odds—and under the mentorship of the famed Sam Darrow—Helen begins to make a name for herself as the war’s first female photojournalist.

“The Crying of Lot 49” by Thomas Pynchon

It’s bad enough when you find out your ex-boyfriend has died. It’s even worse when he names you the executrix of his estate. But for Oedipa Maas, things really start to get complicated when she discovers and begins to unravel an ancient worldwide conspiracy.

“Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes

Karl Marlantes was a decorated Marine officer in the Vietnam War and, in his time there, he earned two purple hearts and more than a dozen medals. Marlantes draws on this experience to put together this intensely personal (but nonetheless fictional) account of the Vietnam War. Carefully crafted over many years, the book was no doubt painful to write.

The Prince of Nothing Trilogy by R. Scott Bakker

R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing trilogy consists of The Darkness That Comes Before, The Warrior Prophet, and The Thousandfold Thought. These three epic fantasy books form a completed trilogy, although the series continues twenty years later with The Judging Eye (review coming soon).

“O Pioneers!” by Willa Cather

The Bergsons, Swedish immigrants who have settled in Nebraska at the turn of the twentieth century, are determined to survive the wild prairie. Even as many of their friends and neighbors, such as Alexandra’s only friend Carl Linstrum, give up and move away, the Bergsons have become too invested in the rugged land to give up now.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger

This book gorgeously illustrates love, loneliness, and loss. Niffenegger’s approach to time travel is unique. She uses it to explore the miscommunication and sense of distance that can occur in any relationship, while also discussing the larger issue of what it would be like to live life completely out of order.

“How to Read the Air” by Dinaw Mengestu

How to Read the Air is about failed relationships and imperfect people, and about the lasting effect of relationships on identities—for better or worse. Unfortunately, between the slow plot and the flat characterization, there was very little to draw me into this story, and even less to keep me hanging on. As a big fan of Mengestu’s first book, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, I was disappointed in this, his sophomore offering.

“Coraline” by Neil Gaiman

Coraline envelops you in the mystery and magic of a resourceful and imaginative child’s world. It is an excellent modern-day fairy tale that incorporates countless elements of folklore and fantasy.

“No Plot? No Problem!” novel-writing kit by Chris Baty

The kit’s contents are snarky and fun if you need a pick-me-up, but you shouldn’t expect any life-changing advice. Baty attempts to prepare you for a month-long writing endeavor with equal parts humor and advice, but the whole thing feels corny. Stick to November, or get a crowd of friends to write with you some other month, and leave this kit on the shelf.

“Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers

Zeitoun is an eye-opening account of the devastating effects of two very different disasters in the United States: As Hurricane Katrina wreaks havoc on neighborhoods and lives in New Orleans, religious intolerance toward Muslims becomes more pointed this post-9/11 world. The Zeitouns’ fascinating story of survival in the face of loss and discrimination makes both catastrophes undeniably real to the reader.