Thursday, January 28, 2016

Born to Run: a hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher MacDougall

by Meg Peacher

Great book! I like to run but I am definitely not about to go run an ultramarathon but I still thought this book was really interesting, fun and easy to read. McDougall begins with his personal painful and pathetic running experiences, and how his frustration with his aching body leads to his search for running answers and secrets. He strikes specific interest with the elusive rumors of the Tarahumara Indians, said to be living deep in the Mexican Canyons. McDougall becomes determined to find out more about this infamous group of super-athletes which he had only read about in magazine articles, so he travels to Mexico. He tracks down an infamous man by the name of Caballo Blanco and hears his story about the "hidden tribe, superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen."

McDougall's personal exploration for better running technique and fewer aches and pains is interwoven with extraordinarily interesting facts, statistics, studies and tips about running and how humans have barely tapped into our physical potential. The book is truly inspiring and very cool, it is as quick read because it is difficult to put down. I personally have been known to not finish books and become bored within the first 50 pages of reading, but Born to Run truly kept me engaged. It has a wild way of making you want drive up to New Hampshire and run up a mountain with bare feet every time you pick it up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

by Vincent Dong

This book was a heartwarming novel about two cancer patients. It is a great read for people who enjoy romance, with bits of comedy here and there. I really enjoyed having the main character a girl. As a male reader, I usually understand how the guys think and their actions, and nearly all the books I have read so far had male protagonists. Having reading a novel with Hazel Grace Lancaster (female main character) was refreshing to me, and this experience was nothing like the other books I have read. 

This books tackles the difficulties of being a cancer patient. Hazel herself is diagnosed with cancer, along with other characters in the novel including Augustus Waters, a boy who Hazel has a crush on. Hazel has to live life in fear of her demise, but this is not the main cause of her stress. She is scared for the people around her like her parents, due to the amount of paint and suffering her parents would obtain if she passes away. She compares herself to a grenade, which can explode at any minute, hurting the people around it. Her ambiguous future is the cause for her reluctance to begin a love relationship with Augustus. 

This book is a definite read for romance lovers, who also enjoy comedy as well. It is very modernized, and the way Hazel and the other characters act is very similar to teenagers nowadays. If you want a lovely book that may make you laugh and cry, this is the perfect book for you.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

by Kelsey McGeough

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a novel from the point of view of a young girl named Francie Nolan. The story consists of Francie, her Mother, Father and younger brother as they struggle to survive in the slums of Brooklyn, NY. Their grandparents were first generation immigrants from Austria, and settling in the U.S has not been easy for them. They rely on each other and extended family in their daily struggle to put food on the table. The plot is based in the 1900's, and Smith is able to make statements about poverty, education, family, moral development and the role of women. We are able to watch Francie and her brother mature and grow faster than a normal kid because of the harsh reality they live in.

I thought the book was easily relatable and although there is not much suspense or action, Smith is able to keep you interested with the hardship of every day life. However, if you are someone who needs action to keep you interested, this book is not for you. In addition, if you are someone that simply wants an easy read, I would not recommend this book either, it does require some thinking and presents some difficult themes. The book is long, around 500 pages, but the language is easy to understand and read.

I did think the book was a bit slow at times, and I found myself skimming unnecessary dialogs or rants, but Smith picks it right back up with another conflict. Despite that I loved the way the story was written from a child's perspective and we see her grow and mature throughout the story. The themes were easily relatable and can be recognized in our own lives which I though was really cool. Overall, I loved this book and hope you enjoy it as well!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

by Catherine Upton

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is a captivating book. While it was a little uninteresting and hard to read for the first few chapters, after I got used to the writing style and got a few chapters in, it was hard to put down. The story follows the US Olympic rowing eight from the day they met to the day they competed in the Berlin Olympics. The book does a good job at character building, shedding light on a few characters' pasts in order to allow the reader to understand the characters choices, see their faults and their strengths. By allowing the reader to understand the characters, the author allows the reader to travel with the boys and feel their victories as well as all the emotions they feel throughout the season.

While the book follows the eight, it also shows scenes of Germany while it prepared for the Olympics. This back and forth allows the reader to see what is going on in the world around the boys in the eight. This creates a realistic atmosphere and allows the reader to further understand the situations and the depth that the boys get into. All of these different techniques of getting the reader to relate to the characters really pays off in a few places, namely, the races. Brown does a fantastic job in his race descriptions. He captures the urgency and calm of a race. He shows the reader what a race feels like, and, as a reader, I could feel every move that the boat made. In a few pages, I believe the Brown was able to make the reader know how it feels and the pain associated with a rowing race, without ever having to touch an oar. The suspense he weaves into his descriptions left me on the edge of my seat, wishing I could read faster so I could see what happened, but not wanting to miss a single word of it.

This book was good, with all parts of it weaving together harmoniously to form an incredible description of an already impressive story. The reason I gave it four stars, instead of five, is the beginning. I feel that the book could do a better job at captivating it audience from the first chapter, as it took some willpower to get to the point where the book got interesting. While I feel that the information portrayed in the first few chapters is important to the story, I feel that it could have been written better so that it could be read easier. Other than that, this book was well written and weaved together suspense and emotion together to form a breathtaking telling of an impressive story.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

by Tina Ziobro

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is a story that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. This story is told from the point of view of Jacob Jankowski in his nineties, looking back on his life in comparison to his current life in a nursing home. As a young veterinarian, Jacob abandons his life after his parents suddenly pass away in an accident. He ends up working on the Benzini Borther’s Circus. The novel follows his time on the circus as he falls in love, sees murder and torture and discovers what it means to truly live.

I very much enjoyed this read and have very few negative comments about it. The amount of detail about the circus life in the 1930s creates another world to escape to. Gruen clearly did extensive research on the time. The story of the circus alone is riveting. On top of that, there is the relationship Jacob forms with the head animal trainer August, and his performer wife Marlena. Jacob falls in love with Marlena, and though their love story is a bit sappy, it triggers huge conflict between August and the others. August’s personality and Marlena and Jacob’s connection bring lots of intriguing surprises that make Water for Elephants a real page turner.

For anyone who is interested in stories with lots of twists, love stories but more specifically, an insight into the 1930s, I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

by Erin Sarocco

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier explores the story of a former soldier named Inman and his lover Ada, who are separated from each other as a result of the Civil War. The book begins with Inman in a recovery hospital and, after meeting a blind man, Inman is inspired to go get back what he has lost. Frazier then tells the story of Ada and a new friend Ruby as they take care of Ada's inherited farm. The majority of the story is Inman's journey as he encounters many women and people whose stories parallel his.

This historical fiction outlines an emotional and inspiring journey that is eye opening to someone who does not know a lot about the Civil War. For me this was very much the case and through this story I learned a lot about the war and the effects it had on families and relationships.

Although it was hard to relate to any of the characters through reading, I formed some emotional connections to them. Cold Mountain is one of the best books I have read yet and I really recommend making it your next read.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

by Rachel Fishman

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan explores the importance of cultural identity as it changes between the generations. The story follows the intertwining paths of eight women as they discover their values and identities. Four mothers attempt to come to terms with their daughters’ disregard of tradition as their stories of hardship and loss on their journeys from China to San Francisco are told. Their American-born daughters struggle to overcome generational differences to understand their mothers’ wishes and discover what it means to be Chinese-American.

By reading this book, I gained insight into both Chinese culture and a different perspective of America. As a white American, I was able to gain a new awareness for the identity conflicts that immigrants face. I loved reading a book that was set in a culture different than my own. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to connect with the characters they read. I was drawn in by the emotions of each personal narrative and fascinated by how the characters’ stories connected. The one drawback of this book was that I found it difficult to keep track of the narrators, as they switched each chapter.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

by Veronica Rigobon

This novella was a light and interesting read. It recalls the events of Allan Karlsson's life, a Swedish man with a talent at creating bombs and a hatred for politics. Although the novel is packed with intense stories and lots of detail, the author's language weaves it into an incredible tale. Born in 1907, Allan lives through the events of the 20th century, unwittingly playing a part in most of them. From making of the atomic bomb with Harry S. Truman to meeting Franco and Mao, Allan lives through random yet amazing events. Kidnapped and far away from his home for years, Allan is a cunning and friendly character who escapes death almost every other chapter.

I recommend this book to people who know a good amount of 20th century history, because it makes the novel funnier and allows you to understand the main character more thoroughly. Written in a realistic sense, Allan's absurd life seems normal while the reader is aware and amused of how implausible yet possible it could be. I find the contradiction amusing and different, adding to the novel as a whole. Also, people who enjoy a storytelling type novel, as the main themes are simple. 

Even though the book is not deep, the idea of openness, friendliness and lack of judgement is critical to the book. Throughout his adventures Allan survives because of his ability to make friends with everyone and disregard their negative actions. Although it could lead to moral issues, as the bad or criminal decisions a person makes shapes their character, the author portrays the happiness it can bring. Allan's ability to see everyone the same, regardless of who they are makes him enjoy life and adventure far.

I gave this book a 4 star rating because the novel is amusing but it lacks depth and meaning that many people desire when reading. The novel is interesting and unique from any other book I have ever read.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

by Lizzie Racklin

Coming from an experienced perspective, Ned Vizzini captures 15-year-old Craig's struggles with mental health in a funny and realistic tone. After some stressful and traumatic experiences, Craig checks himself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital, where he is made to stay in the adult wing. As he spends a few days there, he addresses the problems in his life and tries to change his situation while interacting with interesting characters and waiting for a "shift" in his mind.

Vizzini manages to make Craig's intense situation relatively lighthearted and universally relatable. As this is one of my favorite books, I would recommend it to most teenagers and adults. Even those who don't directly connect to Craig's story will relate to certain sentiments that the book conveys. Vizzini wrote this book shortly after spending time in a psychiatric hospital and harnesses his experience to tell an important story. This book tells Craig's story not of sadness and trauma, but of finding his individual path to recovery while keeping a sense of humor.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

by Isabella Laufer

All The Light We Can Not See is intriguing and exciting historical fiction that takes place during the Holocaust. It follows the story of a young French girl named Marie Laure. At the same time a different story unfolds from the point of view of a German orphan named Werner,  and we trace each of their very different but similar journeys through the war. The point of view switches from chapter to chapter making you think about each one and the comparisons that can be found. The book has a unique tone due to the constant switching of narration from the perspective of these two main characters in addition to other important characters. This makes for an interesting story because the reader is immersed in the points of view of both sides of the war. The novel is intertwined with love, heartbreak, joy, catastrophe, and many twists and turns. Regardless of what aspect of the war they are on, you can relate to each main character, feeling what they feel at every moment.

I recommend this to anyone who likes a suspenseful novel that has a touching story and a historical aspect to it as well. The book itself has gotten rave reviews and has won multiple awards and it deserves every one! I flew through the book even though it was long. I think that this book is perfectly relevant and acceptable for any age. Teenagers and adults alike can appreciate this book regardless of a background knowledge of the war and what went on. While reading, I actually learned things about the war and Holocaust in a way that was exciting and in no way dry or boring. Although it was fiction, the story seemed real. Even though the main characters are in extreme situations, certain parts of their lives and feelings are still interesting and relatable. I would suggest this book to anyone as a great read and it very much lives up the the reputation!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

He's Gone by Deb Caletti

by Kayla Lucas

He's Gone by Deb Caletti follows a couple weeks in the life of Dani Keller as she tries to solve the mystery of where her second husband, Ian, has vanished. Waking up one normal Sunday morning to find him not in the house, Dani goes through her day doing small, mundane tasks to pass the time until he comes home. When he never does, however, she contacts the police and the search for her missing husband takes full swing. Throughout the next ten days, Dani picks apart and analyzes the entirety of her relationship with Ian: from it's scandalous beginning to the passions of their romance to the difficulties of forever.

He's Gone is a must read for anyone interested in an emotional, thought provoking storyline. It's easy for the reader to relate to the various up and down emotions felt by Dani, and the unsolved enigma of where her husband is creates suspense to keep reading throughout the whole book. Comparable to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, this story is one of adultery, abuse, family, courage, uncertainty and love.

Monday, January 18, 2016

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

by Crystal Zhou

This book takes you on a time-reversing journey that works its way back from the 1990's to the 1960s. Alvarez uses her storytelling skills to portray the immigration experience from the Dominican Republic to America. It details the point of views of all four daughters mainly, along with their parents, because each individual had a different experience.

There is really no plot to speak of, but rather the chapters are connected by characters in them. These vignettes were always entertaining and held my attention, but sometimes I struggled to see the relationship between certain chapters.

I would recommend this book to people who don't really care for reading chapters in order, and those who want to read on a topic of immigration and cultural assimilation.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

by Caroline Donahue

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult is an amazing realistic fiction, mystery, thriller, and exciting read. The book does not only take place in the present, but also has constant flashbacks to the past, giving the reader a chance to piece the puzzle together. One of the main characters, Josie Cormier, is a high school student at Sterling High. As a child, her best friend is Peter Houghton. However as the two grow up Josie begins to realize that Peter is not a part of the popular kids at school. Josie starts ditching Peter and even joins in on making fun of him during the school day. Peter is pushed over the edge once he reaches high school and one day shows up to school ready to give major payback to his bullies.

During the build up to Peter’s payback, the novel gives insight into Peter’s life as a child. It follows his parents, Lacy and Lewis Houghton. The couple seems loving and normal to the reader. It is because the family of Peter seems to normal and relatable, that it comes as such a shock that he is capable of committing such terrible acts. However, this causes the reader to think more carefully about their loved ones and those around them. Are the people around you secretly planning a terrible thing? It’s a question one constantly asks themselves after reading this book. Similarly, a major theme of how one treats those around themselves is prevalent. Peter faces severe bullying throughout the novel that is horrible to read about. It is this bullying that causes his anger and leads to his actions. Are you unknowingly or knowingly hurting those around you?

It is Peter's bullying stories that cause the reader to feel for Peter, even after what he does. Also, the reader feels for the parents of Peter. Normally when tragedy strikes and it is someone’s fault, one judges them and their upbringing harshly. However, in this novel one sees the other side and gains insight from it. Because the reader knows what awful things Peter endures, and how nice his parents are, the reader can sympathize with the family. Being able to sympathize with someone who has committed a horrible act is hard to do, but through Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes one finds his or herself doing it. This novel gives the other side of the story, while incorporating mystery, thriller and sadness all into one.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

by Hayden Hadley

This book is for readers who like relatable yet unusual plots that captivate the reader and get them invested into the novel’s characters. The book takes place in Seattle and Antarctica, taking you through the life of a middle-aged woman, Bernadette, and her family as they plan a trip that the daughter, Bee, was promised in return for good grades. 

The story is in the form of emails and messages back and forth between all of the characters along with interjected comments from Bee’s perspective. In the chaos of planning, Bernadette becomes overwhelmed in her life and disappears. Bee is on a mission to find her while her dad is busy at his life consuming work on the incredible Samantha 2 Microsoft project. The novel dissects the pressures and expectations that people have in the modern and the emotions that come along with this anxiety. The riveting writing of Semple allows the reader to relate to and feel the emotions of the characters.

There are a wide range of events, from scandalous encounters to intense arguments, to childlike encounters (their dog’s name is Ice Cream). This book was incredibly entertaining as Bernadette and the “gnats,” or other mothers of Bee’s class, get into petty fights that all relate to the demise of Bernadette. By making this book a story communicated through many messages, there is a vast array of perspectives, causing the reader to see the situation from all angles. The plot is over the top sometimes and not always realistic, but its extravagance is part of the fun of reading it. Enjoy!

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

by Sarah Yi

If you're sitting around at home thinking of a good book to read, this is the one to go! This book introduces a new concept which revolves around the ideas of parenting and the importance of education. Through Chua's method of exploring the differences between Western culture and "not so western" culture, she draws you into the book by recounting experiences that bring about a new perspective on education versus finding your true identity. 

Because Chua enforces harsh techniques on her two children, Lulu and Sophia, there is conflict within the family. Chua does not accept anything less than an A, believes in nonstop practicing on their highly competitive instruments, and believes there is not a second to waste. Grateful to her older daughter for her cooperation and self discipline, Chua emphasizes what she has learned through her younger daughter Lulu, as she is more rebellious about the situation at hand. This clash of cultures leads the reader to re-assess the difference between "reaching" one's potential and "maximizing" it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

by Camille Tulloss

I very much enjoyed reading Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. It covers a broad range of topics and incorporates ideas from interesting and important themes. While many of the stories explore darker subject matter, elements of humor keep the book enjoyable overall. 

Salinger has an extremely specific writing style, incorporating many sensory details and lots of dialogue. These two elements make his works intriguing and captivating. Although Salinger’s style can sometimes end up feeling somewhat forced, I felt that the short story medium lent itself to his style very well. However, if you didn’t enjoy Catcher in the Rye, this might not be the book for you, as it has a similar feel. 

I generally enjoy short stories, finding them to be entertaining, while also often connecting to important and relatable themes. After reading and enjoying The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, I noticed some similar themes and stylistic elements. However, Salinger’s writing is less literal, and requires a closer look into the imagery and symbolism in order to uncover meaning. 

Many of the short stories in the collection explore interesting relationships between characters. I found these relationships, and the various power struggles that went along with them, to be the most interesting. My favorite story was the first one, A Perfect Day for Bananafish. This story was a perfect introduction to Salinger’s style for newer readers, and was highly effective in hooking me into the book with the hope of reading similarly enthralling material. My least favorite story was one of the last: De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period. I disliked it partially because Salinger’s style was getting old by the end, but also because I felt that it dragged on for too long. In addition, it included multiple letters, which were somewhat boring, and seemed to simply fill the space. 

I would recommend this book to almost anyone I know, because it is interesting, accessible and relatable to many. In particular, it I would recommend it to my peers, as it was very refreshing after reading many romantic and older texts in school.