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Winter break book roundup and review

I have wanted to break out of the young adult genre for a while now. The stories have grown repetitive, and I cannot keep reading books about high school students. Over the past year, I have branched out into non-young adult genres with great success. However, it was over winter break 2022-2023 that I really hit my stride in discovering new books in a range of genres. Here are the books I read over winter break and my thoughts on them. I also provide recommendations on which majors would enjoy each book most based on the book’s subject, major themes and genre.

 

1) “Sirens and Muses” by Antonia Angress, 10/10

Art school and beyond in a bottle. “Sirens and Muses” tells the story of three art students and one art professor at the same university, exploring their pasts, how their different experiences impact their art and what they accomplish after university. The title is the thesis of the book, speaking to how some ideas are too good to be true (sirens) and lead us to uncertain futures and others are all-encompassing (muses) but can leave, fleetingly, in a moment’s notice. I really enjoyed the professor’s perspective, too. It was interesting to see how age and distance from university life provides a different angle on the issues gripping the art world.

Majors I would recommend this book to: Studio Art, Philosophy, Politics

 

2) “The Book of Gothel” by Mary McMyne, 6.5/10

Consider this a prequel to the story of “Rapunzel.” “The Book of Gothel” is the story of how Mother Gothel one day becomes the evil witch who steals Rupunzel away from her parents. “The Book of Gothel” stays true to its fairytale roots and successfully employs an underlying darkness and horror that persists throughout the book. However, something feels off. I am not quite sure whether it is due to the writing style or the plot. At some points, I really did have to plod on and swim through the pages to reach the end. It is a fantasy story trying its hardest to justify the fantasy part when justification is not necessary. Furthermore, so much information remains hidden for the protagonist for so long that I became irritated. By the time the information was finally given, I had already lost interest in rooting for the protagonist as much as I had initially. I would recommend “Gothel” to anyone interested in a more “gritty” or “realistic” fairytale.

Majors I would recommend this book to: Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies,

Creative Writing, European Cultural Studies

 

3) “Sourdough” by Robin Sloan, 10/10

Much like sourdough bread itself, “Sourdough” is a warm hug. Lois, a woman working for a tech company (with no knowledge of baking), is gifted a sourdough starter by two brothers just before they must leave the country. I cannot stress enough how fantastic of a read this book is. The sourdough starter is practically a protagonist, and I love how chapters are split up with emails from one of the brothers. Over winter break (as you will discover later in this list), I read two books by Sloan. She is a master at immersing you into a plot and writing fascinating characters who you cannot help but root for.

Majors I would recommend this book to: English, Computer Science, Anthropology,

International and Global Studies

 

4) “Magic for Liars” by Sarah Gailey, 10/10

Imagine the world, but if magic was real. (I know, you have heard this story before… but  wait!) Now, imagine a non-magical detective, whose magical sister teaches at a magic school. And finally, imagine if this detective was hired by the school’s headmaster to investigate a murder on the school’s campus. “Magic for Liars” is a murder mystery book first and a fantasy book second. As the protagonist does not understand magic and the book is from her perspective, this makes sense. Detective Ivy is focused on solving the case, and as she becomes more involved with faculty and students on campus, she becomes interested in more than just the case. Such a fantastic read, and an unexpected one for me, as I would not consider myself a huge mystery fan.

Majors I would recommend this book to: Film, Television and Interactive Media,

Linguistics, Psychology

 

5) “The Circle” by Dave Eggers, 4/10

Oh no! A fictional Facebook-like company wants to have all of your data and control

everything you see! Newly hired protagonist Mae Holland cannot find a fault in this. To

be frank, I am not quite convinced there is a single character within this book with depth

and who changes in any significant way within the plot. This is incredibly unfortunate as

I can see how the book’s premise has immense potential that is never fully explored. My main issue with “The Circle” is its inability to escape from overexplaining. There is a saying (not true, by the way), that if you put a frog in a pot of water, heating the water slowly, the frog will stay in the water, boiled by its inability to see what is happening around it. This is what “The Circle” thinks it is doing with its exposition. What it is actually doing is pouring a bucket of boiling water over your head and calling it a day. “The Circle” lacks the subtlety it believes it has. (I cannot believe this book was adapted into a movie.)

Majors I would recommend this book to: No one. Please do not read this book.

 

6) “When the Angels Left the Old Country” by Sacha Lamb, 9/10

A small shtetl angel and demon immigrate to the United States in the era of Ellis Island. This book really owns the historical fantasy genre. I loved the subversions of expectations between the angel and demon: how the demon occasionally helps those around him and how the angel acts quite selfishly at times. Ironically, it makes them feel human. But this book is about so much more about angels and demons—it is also about the many humans around them, how they get to the United States and what happens to them once they arrive.

Majors I would recommend this book to: American Studies, Near Eastern and Judaic

Studies, Sociology

 

7) “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan, 10/10

Another banger of a book by Robin Sloan. In this one, a newly hired bookstore clerk starts to realize how odd the bookstore is, and how the store attracts some… interesting clients. And the clerk cannot help but become curious about the nature of the books the clients check out. Sloan’s books have perfected the art of magical realism.

Majors I would recommend this book to: Education, Classical Studies, Business

 

8) “Light from Uncommon Stars” by Ryka Aoki, 8.5/10

“Space Girl” meets “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” meets a violin solo. I am fascinated by Aoki’s ability to write a book that not only includes demons but also interstellar space travel and aliens. It is an interesting mashup and leads to some plot developments wholly unique to the book. That being said, just because you can do something does not mean you should. Having demons and space travel feels like a bit much and lacks cohesion at times. Despite this, the work communicates themes that stand strong and come through clearly. An enjoyable read, for sure.

Majors I would recommend this book to: Music, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality

Studies, East Asian Studies, Physics, Mathematics

 

9) “The Night and Its Moon” by Piper CJ, 6/10

Your classic fantasy novel coupled with your standard “one protagonist is the light” and “one protagonist is the dark” trope. All I really have to say about this book is that it is just okay. Pretty standard. It does not stand out within its genre and instead sits itself comfortably on the shelf alongside the many other fantasy books before it. It is by no means a genre-defining book. The language within the book is a little funky at times as well, feeling as though the entire book was a rushed endeavor to complete.

Majors I would recommend this book to: Creative Writing (if only as a point of reference

for what not to do, perhaps)

 

10) “The Library of the Unwritten” by A.J. Hackwith, 8.5/10

Inside Hell, there exists a library that contains all of the incomplete and unwritten books from authors, both dead and still living. Head librarian Claire oversees the library and ensuring its safety, from Hell and Heaven alike. As with most books that include heaven, I was at first worried about the angelic characters—characters who must be seen as perfect do not have much depth and character development, typically. “The Library” does a fantastic job at avoiding this issue, featuring compelling characters from many realms (Hell, Heaven and Valhalla, to name a few). An enjoyable read with some interesting plot developments and mystery reveals along the way! Note: this is the first book in a trilogy.

Majors I would recommend this book to: Philosophy, English, History, Near Eastern and

Judaic Studies

 

11) “Barn 8” by Deb Olin Unferth, 8/10

A chicken heist. The concept seemed comical in the book’s description when I picked it up, but this book is so much more (and more serious) than the book jacket leads you to believe. After Janey moves back with her father (at first temporarily, and then permanently), she learns to still find joy and excitement in a life she never foresaw herself ever living. The book interweaves the story of fictional characters into the reality of factory farming (or CAFOs) and chicken farming. Additionally, the narrative uses an interesting way of storytelling that intersperses sentences of what will happen to the future of the characters before continuing on in the present.

Majors I would recommend this book to: Environmental Studies, Sociology, Biology,

Economics

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