Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Your Face in Mine by Jess Row

by Alida Hanson

A unique, challenging novel about race identity. Kelly Thorndike is born white and lives in Baltimore as a teen. He studies Chinese in college, goes to China, marries a Chinese woman, and has a baby. He meets a black man on the street in Baltimore who turns out to be his old band mate from high school, Martin.

When Kelly and Martin played in the band together, Martin was white. He has undergone race reassignment surgery, a practice he has developed with a surgeon in Thailand, and is launching as an international company. He's trying to brand the process and introduce it to the world. He hires Kelly to write a think piece for a national publication about himself and his company.

Your Face in Mine has two sides to it. The first is a thoughtful exploration of race and race identity, and what make us who we are. The second is a fast paced, cerebral and science-fiction-y caper that I had trouble following. It reminded me sometimes of Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard, two of my all time favorite authors.

I'm glad I read it, and I think it's important. I suppose I would have to read it again to get all the nuances in the solipsistic conversations of the characters.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

by Alida Hanson

Terry Pratchett has written 40 famous novels set in the mythical kingdom of Discworld, and is one of the best loved English language writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. So, it was silly that I had never read anything of his. I chose <i>Small Gods</i> on the recommendation of Mr. Gacs. And I am so glad I did! It's a hilarious book, kind of Monty Python-esque, about what happens in religion and the competitive ordeal gods have to endure to achieve and keep worshippers.

We learn about this through a downtrodden turtle and a dimwitted monk-novice who turns out to be a prophet. If you want to read something that treats big ideas with a fantastic sense of humor coming from a truly happy place, look no further than <i>Small Gods</i>--and probably every other one of Pratchett's 40-odd novels!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

by Alida Hanson

The kingdom of Lumatere is destroyed by enemies and all inhabitants are exiled, hiding, or murdered. Finnikin, the son of the chief of the king's guard, roams with his mentor Sir Topher, trying to find friends, family, and royalty to restore their kingdom. At one point, a silent young nun joins their band.

I won't tell you much more except that Marchetta is a convincing world-builder, and Finnikin is a sympathetic, vital character whom I enjoyed getting to know. I'm not a huge fantasy reader, but I was compelled to finish this book in one sitting (granted, I was on a plane ;)). The book has some satisfying twists, and has a glorious Lord of the Rings feel to it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Persepolis II by Marjane Satrapi

by Nick Khavandgar

Persepolis II
, the sequel to Persepolis, a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, tells the tale of her childhood in revolutionary Iran and follows the beginning of her new life in Europe. The reader goes along with Marjane throughout her experiences and watches her change, grow and develop. From going to a shy and introverted girl to a crazy teenager, to eventually a wife, the reader feels as if they know Marjane personally by being there every step of the way. 

High school students in particular can get a lot out of this book because watching Marjane mature in age but not necessarily in terms of her attitude can serve as a lesson to kids who are starting to think about the life they want to live and who they want to be. Marjane makes some rash decisions for the sake of feeling self-sufficient, so the reader can learn from this before they make some of the same mistakes that she did. After all, she is just a kid going through life's journey, and in this sense the reader is easily able to identify with her.

Dr. Franklin's Island by Ann Halam

by Benton McCanne

The story takes place with 50 or so teenagers on a plane. They are there because each of them has won an environmental science award. The plane they are on crashes and there are only 3 survivors: Semi, Arnie, and Miranda. They seek safety on a nearby island. They think they are alone on the island, and don’t know what secrets it has. 

This story is a great for anyone who is looking for a quick, science fiction book. It is really easy to read, and really easy to follow. The book is 251 pages long, so it shouldn’t take too long to read. It was one of my favorite books that I have read in high school, I hope all of you get the chance to read it!

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

by Anna Rolde

Prayers for the Stolen
by Jennifer Clement was interesting. The book is relatively short and engaging all the way through. It touches on important issues that are, sadly, relevant today, and presents them realistically to readers in a poetic, melancholy way. The novel takes place in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico and covers societal dilemmas such as human and sex trafficking, poverty, immigration, religion, and gender issues and expectations. The subject matter in these pages are heavy and serious, but Clement delivers them to us in a natural, meaningful, and truthful way. 

From the very first sentence I was drawn into this book. It begins with our main character and narrator, a young girl named Ladydi, being made to look like a boy by her mother to avoid being captured by human traffickers. This is a theme in the novel introduced immediately, and the reader is reminded of it almost constantly; almost infamously, there are no girls on this mountain. Everyone is a boy until they can no longer hide it. 

In terms of the writing style that Clement uses, it is a matter of opinion whether or not a reader will take to it. There are no quotation marks around the dialogue; sentences are interspersed throughout the paragraphs. This technique, although I am not often a huge fan of it, worked well. Because Ladydi is a child in this book, it seemed accurate in portraying her voice as a narrator. This way of speaking in a stream of thought and dialogue gave the writing personality and made the words flow poetically throughout. This style made it easy and enjoyable to read. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I would definitely recommend it to someone if they could deal with reading about dark, graphic issues. Prayers for the Stolen, although fiction, captures the very real experiences of people today, and brings awareness to them powerfully and elegantly.

Nothing by Janne Teller

by Shalini Sreedhar

Nothing, translated from Danish, is a very dark novel. The main characters are seventh graders who go through a disturbing path in trying to prove that life has meaning. Although the characters are young, it becomes clear within the first couple chapters that this is not a book meant for children because of the slightly morbid themes.

The novel is also philosophical, and requires you to consider different sides of arguments about meaning. It will definitely make you think about meaning in your own perspective and in your own life. In addition, the translation was very good, so it did not feel choppy. It’s a pretty short novel so it can be read in a matter of hours.

I would recommend this novel to someone looking for a thought provoking novel with a dark twist.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

by Laura Kee

This book tells the story of a courageous girl who stood up to the Taliban. Her determination to be strong in the face of danger speak volumes to her personality. I am Malala puts education (something that we all take for granted) in perspective. Most students in America wake up every morning and assume they will go to school and be safe. Half way around the world from us, girls are prohibited and threatened if they attend school. The Taliban have created a war-zone in Pakistan, and daily life has changed dramatically.

This eye-opening book speaks to the person that Malala truly is. Her mission is to help girls not just in her community, but in all countries. An assassination attempt has not (and will not) stop her from working to attain her goals. Malala Yousafzai is an incredibly well-spoken girl who is a symbol of peace and hope. Speaking at the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday is an example of how much of an impact she has on lives around the world. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who is eager to be inspired learn about a new culture, and rethink parts of our culture that we take for granted.

Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo

by Matt Beaudry

While Cereus Blooms at Night is most definitely an interesting read and well structured, I do not think it would appeal to a lot of people. The plot is engaging and has a good mystery element; an elderly woman everyone dismisses as crazy brutally murders her father and sets her house on fire. Instead of being committed to a prison, Mala Ramchandran is sent to a nursing home, with only Tyler, her male nurse looking out for here. Tyler and Mala are both outsiders in the community. Tyler is marginalized for his sexuality and his profession, while Mala is feared and misunderstood. It is through their isolation that the two begin to develop a relationship. Tyler shows support and understanding, and Mala returns it. The relationship that develops is heart-warming and well written, and as it forms Tyler learns more about Mala and slowly reveals her story and what drove her to murder her father.

One of the biggest strengths of Cereus Blooms at Night in my opinion, is the prose. Mootoo delicately weaves vivid description, believable vernacular, and stirring character voice. It reads quite well, never feeling too lofty or dense. The biggest turn-off would have to be the pacing. While the initial setup is intriguing, it takes a while for conflict and development to develop. This was most likely deliberate, as the beginning astutely establishes the culture and the characters. After page 70, though, the plot gets moving and becomes more engaging. Another aspect of the novel that could be a turn-off are its themes. The book deals heavily with sexuality and gender identity. The symbolism for the themes can seem esoteric, and such themes might evoke indifference. Overall, I definitely enjoyed the book, but it is a heavier read that requires analytic thinking and consideration of uncommon themes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

by Maurice Blake

The Kite Runner is a very well written novel that gives insight into the struggles faced by two boys. While addressing serious issues, the author is able to tap into the truths of human nature. After winning a kite running event, one of the boys is forced to give the trophy to a few bullies. After resisting this boy is penetrated by these bullies while the best friend of the boy watches. This presents two serious problems and the reactions that follow relate to real life situations.

The author is able to fully portray the difficulties of dealing with the problems that occur in this book. After the incident turmoil reigns in the lives of the boys. The fact that they are dealing with this at a young age also plays a big role into the chaos that ensues. The immaturity mixed with the seriousness of this problems allows things to fall apart quickly. The author fully portrays human nature in a bad situation.

I recommend this book to others because it is very interesting. I didn't give it a 5 because it's not the best book I've ever read, but it's still something to look forward to. I hope others enjoy this book as much as I did.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

by Olivia Meikle

In Carrier of the Mark, readers follow Megan as she transitions to a new life in Kinsale Ireland; the good, the bad and the even better. Megan's move was effortless, as she immediately makes friends with Caitlyn and Jennifer and is intrigued by a boy named Adam DeRis. She lives with her father, with whom she has a very close relationship ever since her mother passed away in a car crash when she was six. 

Adam is immediately drawn to Megan and Megan is doesn't understand why. She comes to realize that he is interested in her when he confesses that she is "the carrier of the mark." The carrier of the mark is one of the four “elements” that take human form in each generation (Air, Water, Fire, Earth). Adam is another element so that is why he is so attracted to her. Fionn, the DeRises' guardian, says that they must participate in a ceremony that would in turn create peace for the world. 

This back and forth between romance and mystical world create a good story and one that is engaging for all audiences. There is a fluidity between the pages and the characters. All the characters are very interesting and complex. I really liked this book because for me, I love cheesy love movies and stories and this was somewhat similar but also had a plot that was different and out of the ordinary. 

I recommend this book to anyone who shares my fondness for romantic stories as well as people who enjoy mysteries and science fiction!

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

by Caitlyn Tellier

In The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, Paula Spencer is a young Irish woman who recounts her memories of when she was younger. The novel begins when she receives news from police officers of her husband’s death. 

Miss Spencer then begins to recall her childhood as well as her teenage years. She describes the harassment she endured during her childhood along with the lack of expectations people held for her. Although Paula does not seem think that her past has affected her, it certainly foreshadows her future. Miss Spencer not only struggles with an abusive husband, but she turns to alcohol when trying to deal with her problems. 

Doyle does a great job keeping the reader emotionally involved in the book. The book contained some very intense issues, which one would not often experience. Doyle managed to add certain lines and a few scenes in the text to lighten the mood. Although some readers will not be able to relate to a lot of the issues in the book, most will be able to relate to many of the underlying messages.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

by James Sacco

Atonement takes place during World War II in England and France and is told through the point of view of 13 year old Briony Tallis. The novel follows its story by switching time periods throughout the book, which is one of the things that made it so interesting. The narrator and the main character take the reader on a journey through all of the mistakes she made and the interesting life she lived. The book was full of twists and turns. There were also multiple disturbing instances shown through the eyes of Briony.

Briony's choices following these acts cause conflict between herself, her family, and as she grows older, her conscience. These conflicts are what makes the book so page-turning and exciting. World War II provides the drama and tragedy of war. 

The concept of changing time periods throughout the novel gives the reader the illusion that you are living the entire lives of the characters, up until death. Reading through the eyes of a naive girl in the beginning of the book made it much more interesting than if it had been told from the perspective of her mother, for example. The author's choice to use Briony as a narrator allows more exaggeration, and her mistakes make a more interesting story.

I recommend this to those who are interested in reading about the life and hardships of World War II, as well as anyone who likes reading about stories that put life in perspective and make you cherish the good things in life. 

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

by Michaela O'Laughlin

This is a great and easy read. It sheds light on cultural diversity and how challenging it can be to experience a new culture.

Lucy is a young adult, almost 20 years old, with a dream to leave her little Caribbean home. Her dream is quickly achieved as she goes to America in search of an education. She becomes a nanny during the day for a wealthy family and attends school at night. She learns very quickly how different America is from her home and it turns out to be not what she expected.

Soon after her arrival to the States she feels extremely unwelcome and gets very homesick. She experiences culture shock and yearns for all the things at home she misses. Her character begins to show through this and it becomes evident that she is not materialistic at all and prefers simplicity and kind people to an elaborate and unhappy life. 

Read this book to discover Lucy's journey and the sacrifices she is willing to make in order to get an American education.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

by Kamina Nixon-Townsend

I truly enjoyed reading this book not only because it's one of my favorite genre, historical fiction, but because of how likable Gregory makes the protagonists, sisters Mary and Anne Boleyn. Although the story is set in the Tudor reign of England, I felt as if the story could have taken place in modern times. This is due to its themes of sibling rivalry, obeying your parents' wishes, and falling in love with someone of different social standing. I think these common experiences help make the book relatable and enjoyable to read.

I really like how Gregory took the time to give each of her characters a genuine voice and an authentic personality while maintaining a realistic historical perspective. I was able to form a connection with all the characters, even the ones who were undeserving of affection, like ambition-crazed Anne and ruthless King Henry. 

I recommend this book to someone who likes reading historical fiction and doesn't mind reading from a female perspective. I give it a five star rating for its entertaining plot story and unique twist on a major historical event. However, while it is a good read, sometimes it is too romanticized. Other than that, the amazing character development, exciting imagery and compelling story make this a definite page turner!

Brida by Paulo Coelho

by Jen Howard

I found Brida by Paulo Coelho to be a little slow moving, but engaging. The book explores the unseen things in the world and the reasons for them. It also explores the different parts of being a human: feelings, faith, and family.

I was able to relate to the book through some of the questions that Brida raises while exploring the world of magic. The questions Brida raises are many of the same questions that young adults are exploring themselves whether they are playing with magic or not. 

Some of the questions that Brida explores are: how do I know who my soulmate is? Are people reincarnated from other people? What happens after death? What does being human mean? What is religion? Which religion do I believe? I liked how the author leaves the reader lots of room to interpret the answers to these questions. 

The lessons that the readers learn are told in a very creative way, most often through a memory Brida has from her childhood. It is more engaging for the reader to learn about lessons through a story from a character instead of being told in a straight forward fashion. However, I did find the flipping back and fourth between Brida and her visions to be a little confusing and abrupt. I found the events that occurred in Brida’s visions to be mostly unrelated to the rest of the book and what Brida was doing. 

I also thought that the book was a little to centered around God, but that is part of the Irish culture. The book does not give a lot of context about the culture in Ireland during the time when the book is taking place. This makes finding your bearings in the beginning of the book challenging.

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

by Aaron Gacs

Gardens of the Moon is the first of a ten-book series known collectively as the Malazan Book of the Fallen. The novel introduces a vast array of characters and locations in the world of the Malazan Empire, a place of powerful magic, rich history, and complex cultures. Although the genre is undoubtedly fantasy, similarities to other great works of popular fantasy (such as Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings) are limited. There are no heroes or villains, no noble quests, and no simple morals to be drawn from this story. The plots are complex and varied, the characters are often morally gray, and the world itself feels like a living, breathing character with deep historical roots.

Reading Gardens of the Moon is not for the faint of heart. The writing is beautiful and rich, but also occasionally difficult to follow, and it can be hard to keep track of the many characters as their stories intersect and meander through the various times and places the novel visits.
But making a commitment to this book and the other nine in the series is incredibly rewarding. In reading them, I have often laughed out loud at the characters' conversations, and I have just as often been brought close to tears by the poignancy of their suffering. If you like fantasy but wish it were more like serious literature, this book is for you. If you like being drawn into an epic work so deeply that you wish it would never end, this book is for you!

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

by Gina Chaimanis

Set during the Boxer Rebellion in 1890s China, Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang is composed in a two volume graphic novel boxed set and is a jarring experience in duality. Boxers follows the point of view of Little Bao, a young man entranced by the noble allure of combatant rebels, and Saints is told from the viewpoint of Four-Girl, an outcast who finds comfort in the company of Christian missionaries. Though their life choices seem vastly different, both Little Bao and Four-Girl share many common experiences that take the reader off guard. The development of each character further surprises the reader as one is persuaded to feel sympathy for seemingly unforgivable acts.

As he did so well in American Born Chinese, Yang validates the coming of age experience by craftily revealing how the challenges and joys of growing up are a microcosm of the world these young characters live in. In both graphic novels, this is an emotional tale of the difficulty that universally ensues when young people grow up. Yet it is also a stark political commentary of how violent change can break down family, culture and identity.

While composed in a highly symbolic style similar to American Born Chinese, the plot also reminds one of dystopian YA literature popular today, such as The Hunger Games. I recommend this book for anyone who can stomach a bit of violence and has patience decoding unfamiliar symbols.