Campus Novels

Ella Durran is a fancy political consultant, but she can't say no the opportunity the offer of a Rhodes Scholarship. But then she's offered her dream position with a presidential campaign she believes in, and she can't say no to that either. To add to the chaos, she develops a massive crush on her English professor, who—of course—turns out to be keeping a few secrets from her. Chaos ensues. This is a fast-moving romantic comedy-of-sorts, with an incredible setting, and characters that feel like the friends you might have actually had (or wanted) at university.
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Greer Kadetsky meets the charasmatic Faith Frank, pillar of the womens' liberation movement, in the bathroom after a rally her best friend persuades her to come along for during their freshman year of college. Faith gives Greer a business card and then proceeds to mentor her, changing Greer's life and career in the process. We follow Greer from university parties to her first job, and into her trajectory with Faith's influential foundation. Along the way, Greer is torn between friendship and ambition, knowing when to compromise and when to draw a line in the sand. Like a meatier <em>The Devil Wears Prada</em> (although pairs of killer suede boots still play a role), this is a story about power and loyalty. Part satire, part feminist primer.
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In the second of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, which can be read in any order, detective Cassie Maddux is pulled off her current beat and sent to investigate a murder. When she arrives at the scene, she finds the victim looks just like her, and—even more creepy—she was using an alias that Cassie used in a previous case. The victim was a student, and her boss talks her into trying to crack the case by impersonating her, explaining to her friends that she survived the attempted murder. The victim lived with four other students in a strangely intimate, isolated setting, and as Cassie gets to know them, liking them almost in spite of herself, her boundaries—and loyalties—begin to blur. A taut psychological thriller that keeps you guessing till the end.
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You all keep saying this fresh update on Jean Webster's 1899 classic Daddy-Long-Legs is your favorite Katherine Reay novel; I think it might be mine as well. Samantha Moore spent her childhood struggling in the foster care system, relying on her favorite literary characters to survive. She even expresses herself using their words when she can't find her own. Samantha's big break comes when a "Mr. Knightley" offers her a full scholarship at the prestigious journalism school at Northwestern University. The only requirement is that Sam write her benefactor regularly to tell him about her progress. Through their correspondence, Sam begins to find her voice ... but then things get complicated.
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Pen, Will, and Cat met ("met cute," in fact) during their first week of college and were inseparable during their years on campus. After graduation, they hated the thought of their amazing friendship slowly fading, so they decided to end it. Years go by with no contact, until Pen receives a strange email from Cat begging her to meet her at their college reunion. She can't help but say yes, and that's when their journey begins.
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The story begins with a murder, and the lonely, introspective narrator devotes the rest of the novel to telling the reader about his role in it, and how he seemingly got away with it. The setting is a small Vermont college, the characters members of an isolated, eccentric circle of classics majors, who murder one of their own. Strongly reminiscent of The Likeness in setting, Crime and Punishment in plot, and Brideshead Revisited in tone. I finally read this recently, and now I understand why opinions differ widely on Tartt's debut novel: it's a compelling—and chilling—tale, but there's not a single likable character.
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I've been meaning to read this 2006 novel for ages: it's been highly recommended by my local booksellers and a few friends with good taste. But whoa, it was NOT what I was expecting! I was expecting a Very Serious Literary Book, and instead it *almost* read like YA. The narrator is Blue van Meer, a teenager who has been moving from town to town with her father ever since her mother died, accompanying him to each of his short-term professorial stints at tiny liberal arts colleges across the country. Her senior year of high school, her father declares they will spend the whole year in one place, and Blue falls in with an enigmatic teacher and a hand-picked group of students she's gathered around her. The whole book is strongly reminiscent of The Secret History, yet despite this I still didn't see that big left turn coming. Smart, snappy, and interesting.
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Zadie Smith says about her novel: "My largest structural debt should be obvious to any E.M. Forster fan; suffice it to say he gave me a classy old frame, which I covered with new material as best I could." This won the Orange Prize for fiction, having hit bestseller lists along with her other novels White Teeth and Swing Time, this "wise, hilarious novel reminds us why Zadie Smith has rocketed to literary stardom." From the publisher: "On Beauty is the story of an interracial family living in a university town, whose misadventures in the culture wars-on both sides of the Atlantic-serve to skewer everything from family life to political correctness to the combustive collision between the personal and the political. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith's reputation as a major literary talent."
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This novel asks, "How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?" The answer: just like this. Stegner weaves a compelling story out of four ordinary lives and their extraordinary, life-changing friendship as it spans across forty years, tackling themes of love and marriage, calling and duty. One of the best explorations of friendship in literature. This gorgeous, graceful novel will appeal to fans of Wendell Berry and Marilynne Robinson. Finish the book and go right back to the beginning—so much becomes clear on a re-read. With a deliberately paced, steady feel. in good hands.
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