Monthly Archives: January 2015

David Barber’s Book Review

red handed

A Cover-Up

By David Barber

At first glance, Red Handed, seems like a simple but long comic book. However, it quickly dives into a deep story. Matt Kindt’s main character is Detective Gould, whom is seen as America’s best detective. Detective Gould gets compared to England’s own Sherlock Holmes because of his crime-solving talents. The book is set in the town of Red Wheel Barrow. It is Detective Gould’s ten year anniversary of work on the police force. As all detectives, Gould works on the crimes after they have been committed. This has lead to a drastic decrease in unsolved-crime. However, the murder-rate in Red Wheel Barrow has not changed. Red Handed describes and follows Detective Gould as if he is a superhero. Nothing gets by him. Over the years he has honed his skills and upgraded his technologies to compliment his job in an outstanding manner. On this his 10 year anniversary, he solves a number of seemingly unrelated crimes. Some of these crimes include; The Jigsaw, The Ant, The Forgotten, The Repairman, The Performance Artist, The Escape Artist, The Fire Starter, The Detective, and finally The End. Detective Gould has solved every murder case he has taken. These cases are not an exception to his impeccable record. Each case has its own story. Yet, by solving each case, Detective Gould sets up a deadly final attack. Matt Kindt delivers this book in a dramatic fashion. His way of illustrating the action grabs the reader’s attention. Kindt uses a mixture of the Sunday newspaper comics, a typical novel setup, and his own interpretations of comic books today to spin an intricate story. The language in Red Handed is simple and professional. None of the characters speak in slang. Along with that, the colors Kindt decided to use draws a lot of attention to certain actions on each page. I believe Red Handed would be suitable for ages twelve and up. It is not very violent or gory but has some themes that would be too much for younger children.

Justin Nitirouth’s Book Review

game of thrones

A GAME OF THRONES

by Justin Nitirouth

Have you ever wanted to stray away from your boring, non magical world? Would you also like to read about dragons and the conquest for power to become the strongest person in the seven kingdoms? This is not your average fantasy story. In a world full of conniving families, and a seemingly neverending lore, A Game of Thrones is full of astounding detail and plot to keep you for hours at a time in one sitting.

A few main families are introduced to set the tone: House Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, and Targaryen. Each family has their own legacy, customs and traditions that they follow. Many of those families have had one of their members on the Iron Throne as the rightful king of the realm. Each time a new king is decided, the conquest for power grows among the factions. This may sound like a lot to handle, but this is only a glimpse of what George R.R Martin spews out in his book. Personally, I loved reading in depth descriptions about individual people from their own family. No single character is the perfect protagonist or antagonist; every character has their flaws. Like I said, A Game of Thrones is much more than mindless killing and sex and not just a mere fairy tale.

For the people who have neither seen the TV show nor read any of the stories by George R.R Martin, I would suggest reading the books first. As a reader, you can establish your own image of the characters instead of what a director sees in them. Based off of my own experience, the TV show has altered my perception of their appearances. Also, George R.R Martin can tell a bit too much information about things you may not want to read about if you are a mere Junior-Schooler. Without any context, here is an example:

After a while he began to touch her. Lightly at first, then harder. She could sense the fierce strength in his hands, but he never hurt her. He held her hand in his own and brushed her fingers, one by one. He ran a hand gently down her leg. He stroked her face, tracing the curve of her ears, gently running a finger gently around her mouth.

Do I have to continue? Seriously, read this book at your own risk if you are sensitive with any of the following: incest, rape, murder, sexism, graphic nudity, and possibly more. However, if you are willing to plow through the pages of sex and enjoy the everlasting lore about this fictional world with kings, queens, and the neverending realm of Westeros, please continue. George R.R Martin’s world of Westeros is so full of detail that it seems he has lived in it himself. I’m impressed with the way he keeps track of each little tidbit about many of the characters in the story, and I’m sure you will too. Sex and incest aside, I would highly recommend this book to those who were okay with reading what I listed with above. Once you take a glimpse at this book, you’ll have a hard time returning back to reality.

Zach Bloom’s Book Review

martian

Red Bliss

By Zachary Bloom

One part botanist and one part mechanical engineer, astronaut Mark Watney is ideally suited to attempt to survive in a climate utterly and remarkably unsuited to him. When he is mistakenly left for dead, alone, on Mars, Watney must use all of his intellect and perseverance with the extremely limited resources available to him in order to survive. His initial plan, to plant potatoes in the HAB (Martian Habitat), in order to survive until the next mission lands, four years later, gets many-a-time complicated. Such obstacles as creating a suitable climate for crops in a confined space, while providing them with the necessary nutrients for their survival threaten Watney along the way. His own fecal matter being one of the integral resources in this process, The Martian refuses to balk from the unglamorous.

Weir boldly writes a book with a single character, told in small episodes of retrospective narrative, as Watney writes log entries detailing his struggles. This boldness is apparent from the first sentence.

I’m pretty much f*****. That’s my considered opinion. F*****.

There being a single character, the book sometimes feels claustrophobic, and Weir occasionally departs from Mars to Earth, providing us with some much-desired human interaction. Despite this occasional claustrophobia, The Martian is a success, finding true suspense through its log entry style, the very essence of a first person narrative. Weir is also unfalteringly hilarious, punctuating the grim and nearly insurmountable obstacles of Watney with a sharp wit.

There is a seldom-explored gap in science fiction writing, somewhere in-between the examination of foreign things function in our systems (think aliens coming to earth) and how we survive in foreign systems (think people exploring other planets). Weir fills that void perfectly, exploring the viability of our systems in foreign places. The Martian strikes a perfect balance, being based in hard science —Weir researched orbital mechanics and astronomy in order to make the book consistent with existing technology — while still being exciting and fantastical at heart. This book has enough science and thought provoking challenges to be enjoyed by hardcore science fiction fans, while still being unpretentious and funny enough to entertain

In Mark Watney, Weir gives us a character who matches his humorous wit with astounding competence. Again and again, The Martian has the brilliance of presenting seemingly insurmountable challenges to Watney, who, through blood and sweat, brilliantly devises sensible solutions. Hilarious, smart, resilient, and utterly human, Watney’s character is the cement of the novel. When a reader picks up The Martian, he makes a commitment to spend 369 pages trapped on Mars. Weir, mercifully, has given us the perfect companion.

Julian Markese’s Book Review

eleanor

Sweet Sorrow

Julian Markese

I was enticed by this book simply because of its unusual format. Its the first thing I noticed. The novel switches from character to character each chapter; a bold literary choice, but if not used the book would not have had the same effect. Eleanor and Park is a labeled as a “novel for young adults” but it proves to be much more than that. The reader is plopped on a bus with Park, an asian highschooler. Sitting with his headphones on he notices an overweight redheaded girl. Fearing her imminent fate of bullying for her, he invites her to sit next to him. Day by day the two sit in silence.When they eventually speak both are thrusted into a whole new world.

The relationship begins with Eleanor peeking over parks shoulder to read his comic book. The relationship moves on from there, the two exchange mixtapes, flirt subtly and eventually hold hands. A seemingly unimportant action to most but to the two star crossed lovers it was ever important. Rainbow Rowell’s word usage and writing style makes the love seem almost unreal, the quote that most captured me came from Park, and it perfectly illustrates the love they share. Park says “(Eleanor) never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” Its impossible to not feel the emotion the two feel each other. Its not long after the two begin their love that Eleanor’s issues at home become a factor. The reader soon learns that Eleanor’s step father is abusive. She spends the entire novel trying to escape him, finding refuge with Park. Eleanor eventually cannot handle living with her stepfather anymore, I won’t give away what happens next.

Eleanor and Park is labeled as a novel for “young adults” but it’s much more than that. Anyone above the age of 12 would enjoy the read.The books format, use of language, and the complexity for the relationship lead to a book that extracts a variety of emotions.

Alison Cofrancesco’s Book Review

lexicon

Sticks and Stones May Break You’re Bones and Apparently Words Can Also Hurt You

Alison Cofrancesco

“They recruited Emily Ruff from the streets. They said it was because she’s good with words. They’ll live to regret it,”

In an age filled with conspiracy theories and rumors of secret societies, Lexicon A Novel has certainly found its place. The story begins with Emily Ruff, a fifteen year old runaway, who survives through tricking tourists with table card games on the street. Noticed supposedly for her talent to persuade she is approached by a secret society, which she mainly agrees to join for a meal and a home. As we follow Emily’s story, we learn about a behind the scenes organization with members known as poets who are able to manipulate humans simply with their words. These poets learn methods of control based off of human personality types, and tailor their words to control each sect.

Intertwined with Emily’s story is that of Wil Parke, the only survivor of a mysterious natural disaster in a mining town called Broken Hill. He is apprehended by poets, who are particularly interested in his former home. Wil’s thread of the story mainly consists of action and escape, leaving the reader to figure out his significance to the poets and to Emily’s story.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the story is the imperfection of characters, as well as the development. Throughout the story Wil makes decisions completely based on instinct, many of which serve to make his situation worse. In contrast to how heroes are usually portrayed, he has poor natural instinct and reacts how the majority of normal people would, by panicking when put in terrifying situations. This makes it easy of the reader to connect with him.

Max Barry uses his story as a tool to evaluate the way that we use modern language for our own purposes. Throughout the novel, poets use their power of words over people to influence their decisions. This power corrupts the majority of them, even causing some conflict in Emily’s morality. If nothing else, Lexicon serves to evaluate everyday use of power present in our words. The “poets” are not magical or super evolved people. They are just particularly persuasive, a quality found in all people to varying degrees. Even the characters themselves often recognize that the rest of the world uses their methods, however unwittingly. By highlighting the use of words throughout the story, Barry is identifying the words we use as a very powerful tool, even though they are often overlooked as the main cause of manipulation or even corruption.

Along with interesting assertions about morality, this book is generally a fun read. I wouldn’t choose it for someone looking for heavy reading, but it is a really good read when you’re looking to de-stress and dare I say procrastinate during the school year.

Kaitlyn Modzelewski’s Book Review

officer

Vive le Scandale!

By Kaitlyn Modzelewski

The Dreyfus Affair is likely an event you vaguely recall from your high school history class, and other than being another term on your study sheet, it probably meant little to you. In fact, it is one of the greatest and most sinister follies in European history–one that nearly got swept under the bureaucratic rug, had it not been for the interjections of one Colonel Georges Picquart.

The newly-appointed head of the French Secret Service, Picquart starts his new career with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. Spy work is dirty business; sifting through and reassembling private letters from the German embassy, writing weekly reports, and resealing confiscated letters are a few of his daily responsibilities. Those, and monitoring the progress and communications from Dreyfus’s solitary confinement on a small, French-owned island–a detail that sends Colonel Picquart down a dark, complex path of the sordid, underhanded work of the government. It begins as a minor investigation into a potentially traitorous letter from a lowly French Major Esterhazy to the German military; but as he wades deeper into the investigation, Picquart finds himself discovering the details of a government conspiracy to wrongfully accuse a man of treason–one Alfred Dreyfus. Picquart seizes the opportunity to bring the truth to light, but suffers the consequences of his conniving military higher-ups.

Robert Harris brings his highly qualified research skills to the art of historical fiction, and exacerbates the drama and disturbing tendencies of the French military in the late 19th century. The battle to clear an innocent Jewish man of his false charges, and uncover the greater conspiracy of the French Secret Service, unfolds masterfully in an engaging, and fast-paced manner. The lengths the French government will go to stifle justice is wrought upon the heads of Colonel Picquart and his counterpart, Alfred Dreyfus, as they are united under the injustice of their government. In the words of the Colonel himself: “There are occasions when losing is a victory, so long as there is a fight.”

Thomas Rosiello’s Book Review

american nations

The United States of Afghanistan?

By Thomas Rosiello

The recent War in Afghanistan was the longest war in U.S. history when it ended in December 2014. The treacherous and deadly conflict showed that what the world calls “Afghanistan” is not a nation with a shared culture and language, but is in fact a large and varied geographic area in which many different groups of people live, each group with its own culture and language. Many who had never heard the words before learned about the Pashtun, Uzbek, Turkmen, and other groups. Colin Woodward believes that the U.S. is similar to Afghanistan.  In his new book, American Nations, Woodward argues that there are 11 cultural regions that made and make up the United States, including Yankeedom, the Midlands, and the Far West.  Each is a distinct region with distinct ideas about religion, economics, and government. Historically, each of these regions lived peacefully and independently until governments looked to bring them together, and forced them to live with one another in a united government. Woodward explores how the conflicts between these regions shaped the United States and continue to do so today. He writes in his introduction, “our divisions stem from this fact: the United States is a federation composed of the whole or part of 11 regional nations, some of which truly do not see eye to eye with one another.”

Woodward traces threads in the history around the American Revolution, the Civil War, and other geographical divides and explains that these political conflicts all stem from the rivalry created between different cultures. He goes on to argue that without these wars, the different cultures would not have worked together and become the country that is the U.S., and that these cultures explain and shape the political landscape of the United States today.

Woodward has an intriguing point, and proves his point well with facts and logical explanations. By the end of the book you are convinced he is right, and that his hypothesis is also right that the current Mexico-United States border will change significantly by the year 2100. The book is consistently interesting but not as consistently engaging for the reader. What is an excellent historical argument lacks the writing style or other approach to make the book fun to read. This is a good book about political science, the formation of the United States, and generally about how cultures live together. For fellow Hopkins students who have taken Atlantic Communities 1 & 2, you find a very interesting perspective on the information we learned during those classes. But do not expect a page-turner; it is an interesting read, but not a gripping one.

Charlie Blair’s Book Review

sharp

Keep Your Demons on a Leash

By Charlie Blair

It’s common in today’s thrillers and mysteries that protagonists must “confront their demons” to reach their goals, but in Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects, her character is forced to utilize them. In Sharp Objects, a journalist tries to uncover the truth of two serial murders, but in order to do so she must fully face her own past for the first time. This produces a gripping page-turner of a novel that offers two points of suspense: piecing together the truth in the present, and discovering the unknown that took place decades before.

Camille Preaker has her demons, and she knows it. On her return from a stay at a psychiatric hospital, she resumes her job as a struggling journalist for the Chicago Daily Post. Her boss assigns her to cover what he believes could be a big break for the second-rate paper: a case down south concerning the murders of two preteen girls. However, this mourning town is Wind Gap, Missouri, which so happens to be Camille’s hometown; and, to be frank, she is not excited for the visit home.

Her arrival in Wind Gap gives Camille more than she signed up for, and she’s thrust into the stress of revisiting her strained family relationships, tensions with the detectives on the case, and the emotional burden that the case itself presents. As the case goes on and her time in Wind Gap lengthens, Camille finds herself torn between inhibitions and instincts. She knows about her issues that put her in the hospital, but she begins to feel that there’s more that she has repressed  seemingly beyond the point of retrieval. In order to uncover the truth about the two girls, she must recognize what she has so deeply buried in her own past.

In Sharp Objects, Flynn displays an incredible sense of control over a plotline. She knows what she wants to say – and she knows how she wants to say it. This book was increasingly difficult to put down as I went along. Flynn had moments of beautiful language, such as when she chose to describe Camille’s character while still retaining a weighty relevance to the story: “I could feel my thoughts blowing back on themselves, dirtied with old prejudices and too much insider knowledge.” Camille struggles with herself just as much as she does with the case at hand, playing a mental match of tug-of-war throughout the story between following her instincts and the limitations of her own inhibitions. This book is full of suspense as you try to solve, not one, but two mysteries, and it demands attention; for a debut novel, Flynn deserves it. She performs not only as an author but also as a master manipulator as she takes the reader for the ride of her design.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves a good psychological thriller or a slightly twisted protagonist, or who enjoyed Gone Girl. This probably isn’t suited for a squeamish audience, as it can be graphic or just plain uncomfortable at times… but then you’re probably not a psychological thriller fan, so take your pick: to read, or not to read Sharp Objects.

Katie Sargent’s Book Review

suspended

Clouded Judgment

By Katie Sargent

A suspended sentence is defined as a judge’s delaying the sentence of a person found guilty in order to allow said defendant to spend a period of time on probation. In this situation, the evidence has been gathered, the verdict decreed, and yet something holds the judge back from definitely convicting the guilty man. Something restrains him from that final measure: perhaps the lack of a clear image within his own mind – as if the case is an unfocused photograph. In his writing in Suspended Sentences, originally published in French, Patrick Modiano exudes the feeling of a judge not entirely convinced on his own judging. An autobiographical-esque collection of hazy memories and fragmented ideas, Suspended Sentences is like a dream.

It is a novel with moments of sparkling clarity; moments when the sun seems to pierce through Modiano’s foggy subconscious and render his mind open to his readers. Yet the majority of the piece, a series of three short stories, gives the reader the idea that although Modiano recalls his young life in Paris, he has not yet decided how he feels about it. In the first of the short stories, Afterimage, Modiano spends several months cataloging the entire inventory of an ornery aging photographer, simply because the man once took a picture of him and his girlfriend in a café. In the second story, Suspended Sentences, he tells the story of his unusual childhood raised by four women. The third features a disconcerting stranger Modiano meets on the street.

It is perhaps the sense of mystery in Modiano’s work that most intrigued me. I never seemed to learn quite enough about him or the people in his life from the memories he provided in his stories. Ideas were half-formed, convictions seldom made, and the narrator barely included dialogue in which he shared his thoughts. At one point, as he describes a television show in which an old friend appears, he states, “nothing remained except the fading echoes in my memory”: no inner reflection, no outward response. At times it was frustrating, but ‘suspended sentences’ was certainly an apt title for this book. Because while I am certain Modiano identifies with his memories (to include them in a memoir, how could he not?), I commend him on his ability to remove all emotion from the telling of them. He does not condemn those that were cruel to him in his young life, or portray them as villains to be dragged in the dirt for tainting his childhood memories.

No, with Suspended Sentences, Modiano provides the characters of his young life with a probation period. Likely he has passed judgment, but he does not force the judgment on his readers, readers who have no doubt come across similar experiences. This was a cleansing read: it reminded me of the ability of every human not to reserve initial judgment – being only human, after all – but to reserve oneself: to retain emotions until ideas are fully formed, and not as the fog in Modiano’s Paris.

Read if you like: descriptions of rainy French cities, photography, a breather

Don’t read if you don’t like: sad smiles, (initially) unfulfilling endings