Tag Archives: book reviews

2016 Summer Reading Blurbs – Writing Semester, Ms. Davis

Ms. Davis asked her Writing Semester students to pick one summer reading book and write a short blurb in the style of Stephen King, Charlotte Bronte, or themselves. Please read their contributions, and enjoy their writing “masks”!

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A Blurb on Melancholy Play, by Sarah Ruhl

Written by Andrew Roberge in the Style of Stephen King

Melancholy Play by Sarah Ruhl was uniquely beautiful, intensively introspective, and unlike any piece that I had ever read. My reading experience was entirely cerebral, provoked countless life-altering thoughts, and left me with a mix of satisfaction, and a general feeling only expressible by the word “…What?” Melancholy Play follows Tilly, a bank teller; Frank, a tailor; Joan, a nurse; Lorenzo, a shrink; Frances, a hairdresser; and Julian, a talented cellist. The general plot of this play, similar to the waning effects of an acid trip, leaves the reader starstruck as it details the turmoil caused by the divinely attractive melancholy Tilly who suddenly becomes “violently” and “monstrously” happy. Every character in the play falls in love with the melancholy Tilly, and watches their life fall apart as “the result of her great happiness.” Playwright Sarah Ruhl alluringly shows the reader or audience the power and potentially great effects of unbridled emotion, examples of endlessly devoted friendship and lust, the effects of sudden dramatic change, and the powerful symbolism of the solitary almond. You’ll just have to read it to figure that last bit out. Trust me, this modern day theatrical masterpiece is worth a look.

A Blurb On Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose

Written by Gyan Maria in the Style of Stephen King

In this play, Rose lets the story do what I think all authors should do: let the story write itself and the characters do what they want. At the beginning of the play, each of the jurors takes on his own prejudices, his own decision for a verdict, his own life, and his own interest in the whether or not there is a reasonable doubt in the case. Then throughout the play, he lets the jurors influence each other through their personalities, until the original vote of eleven to one in favor of guilty had become twelve to none in favor of not guilty. Most of the influencing happens in two places: the bathroom or at a table in the main room. At the table, the jurors used mostly logic and evidence from the case to convince each other. The table is also where the reader could see the progression of change in vote. But in the bathroom, the jurors used much more personal means to convince each other. They would talk about their own and each other’s lives at home and at work as a way to connect, hoping to sway the verdict to what that juror thought was right.

 

 

 

 

A Blurb On If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

Written by Marion Conklin in the style of Stephen King

I find movies to be unintellectual forms of books. Directors of movies have an idea in their head of what they want you to feel when you watch a certain scene in a film play out on screen. For authors of books, it should be different. I do not expect or want all of the readers of my writing to have the same response from a passage as I do. People should have to think on their own, and ride the wave of uncertainty that is known as fiction, until they have finished the book. Throughout the entire novel they should be constantly thinking about the words that they just read, or about the story that is still to come. This is not the case in If I Stay, however, because the foreshadowing is overdone, and the suspense (or lack thereof) does not require thinking. In fact, just by the title the reader can figure out that Mia, who was in a terrible car accident, was going to survive.

 

 

 

 

A Blurb on Collected Poems, by T.S. Eliot

Written by Clay Wackerman in the Style of Clay Wackerman

Although I’m not quite cultured enough to fully understand all of Eliot’s poems, I sure can enjoy them. Even if I have no clue what he’s trying to get across, just the sound of the words was enough to make me feel something. He has a way with syllables and consonants that makes everything very pleasing to read aloud. His works are brimming with literary devices and historical references, but what really gets me is the imagery. In my head, I create these tiny realms, little spaces for my mind to wander. Each poem inspires a whole different world I can walk around in. Every poem evokes something beautiful, but the feelings were more abstract than simple love and darkness. Eliot combines emotions that are not often put together; some poems are whimsically fearful, and others pensively joyful, or fulfillingly broken. All these things arouse a sort of happy confusion inside the heart.

A Blurb on The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson

Written by Lucas Henderson in My Own Style

I loved reading The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson. In fact it was one of my favorite books of all time. I thoroughly enjoyed how the characters developed, and how gritty and (somewhat) realistic the story was. On top of that, I felt that all the characters were believable and essential to the story, including the supporting cast. One example of this is Lisbeth Salander’s caretaker/ guardian, Nils Bjurman. In the first book, he played an abusive and overpowering character, but in this second installment, Bjurman is finally submissive, for reasons I won’t ruin. How Salander deals with Bjurman’s new position in her life was realistic and it really struck me. Finally, the storytelling in this book is something I can only aspire to in my writing. I could not put this book down with all of the cliffhangers and exciting sequences. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone.

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A Blurb on Transfer of Power, by Vince Flynn

Written by Nikhil Etikela in the style of Stephen King

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my dad about hypothetical situations on a car ride to school. One thing that popped up was the idea of the White House and President being taken hostage by terrorists. As we were talking, my dad noticed and mentioned an interesting point – we weren’t considering this scenario from a terrorist’s eyes. Vince Flynn’s Transfer of Power entertains the bad-guy perspective while still showing us the rational thinking behind each move that our country made without the president (who was locked up in a vault at the time and couldn’t communicate with the outside world due to a frequency jammer). Seeing the action play out from the terrorist Rafique Aziz’s point of view is very interesting; there is a thirst to get something done that most of us have never even considered, let alone felt. But behind all that drive and motivation is a very powerful mind, which planned to create and maintain a two-step advantage at all times. Everything was planned out so well, that when HRT and SEALs began flooding the White House, our terrorist escaped. It’s very intriguing to see Flynn create an insightful character out of someone who we would all brand an enemy.

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A Blurb On The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Written by Annie Banks in the style of Stephen King

Charlie. An interesting boy, stuck in the dark tunnel that adolescence is. But, I would bet my left hand and then some that if he somehow found a way to skip these years, his situation would be a whole lot worse. Back when I was in the midst of my teenage years, damn I was lost and confused. With all the babysitters outgrown, and no one to screw around with, David and I had nothing to do. All the fun was gone, but I must admit, by the end of this flat out awkward time, I did find the light. Charlie is a great kid. Despite his occasional usage of adverbs, I found myself to grow quite fond of him. In the end, he did gain perspective, but I gotta say, my teenage years were a breeze compared to his. He just about went through hell from witnessing Ponytail Derek physically abusing his older sister to experiencing the suicide of his only friend. The stuff he saw sure as hell messed with the kid; however, they did lead him to realize his aunt, Helen, raped him back when he was a youngster and this realization drove him to get help. If you ask me, his parents should have kept a closer eye on him. It would have saved him a boat load of trouble, but who gives a damn about what I think. All that said and done, Charlie’s therapy did help him, and now that he is feeling better, I think I could make a hell of a writer outta him. Between his letters and his essays for Bill, he must write close to 1000 words a day. That’s the first and most important step. With a little help from my memoir and the obliteration of adverbs, the kid has potential to go places.

 

 

 

 

A Blurb on Room, by Emma Donoghue

Written by Galen Smith in My Own Style

Over the summer I read the novel Room, by Emma Donoghue. What stood out to me among the many themes was the relationship between Joyce and her son,  Jack. The hardships that they endure are beyond what most people could imagine, yet their bond is only strengthened. As most mothers do, Joyce shields Jack from the real world, convincing him that the room they live in is all there is, therefore creating the fantasy that besides their kidnapper,  Jack and Joyce are the only humans living on earth. Instead of questioning this reality, Jack embraces it and uses it as an excuse to grow closer to his mother, finding comfort in their solidarity.  Jack, unlike other children his age, lacks interaction with anyone but his mother. She serves as his playmate, his cook, his doctor, his teacher, and everything in between. She is the only person that Jack has in this world, which forms a bond almost too strong for Joyce to handle. When they finally escape and are thrust back into reality, Jack yearns for the closeness to his mother that he had in ‘room’.  Joyce, however, does not look back and tries to introduce Jack to the other wonders the world has to offer besides her love. At first, Jack doesn’t understand and resents their escape and the independence that ensues, but eventually he accepts his role in the real world and the fact that he can love his mother while also living his own life.

A Blurb on Bringing Down the House, by Ben Mezrich

Written by Jimmy D’Amato in My Own Style

One of the books I read this summer was Bringing Down the house, by Ben Mezrich. This book is about a group of men and women who are able to cheat the Vegas casinos for millions. These individuals are a group of M.I.T. students, supersmart “nerds,” who excel in mathematics. The game in which they “cracked the code” for is blackjack, one of the more simple casino card games. While the profit was huge, and these college students instantly became millionaires with, essentially, all the money they could ever need, the risk was high. Cheating the game is illegal, and if caught the consequences are huge. The students did not only figure out how to cheat the game, but also devised a whole system in which they would act as a team in the casinos. There would be designated “players” who played in the casinos and won all the money, while others had jobs including one to lookout for security and others to indicate certain things to do in game. I found the book very entertaining, and very exciting.

A Blurb on The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant

Written by Olivia Conway in the style of Olivia Conway

The Red Tent follows Dinah, a character from the bible who’s story is often glossed over as a small part in the larger, more important portion about her father, Jacob, and her brothers. In the bible the story is that her brothers protected her honor after she was defiled by the prince of Shechem. What actually happened, in Diamant’s version of the story at least, was that they wanted to protect their family’s honor when they felt that the prince did not treat their sister the way they thought she should have been treated, even though he actually had feelings for Dinah and her own for him. This results in the deaths of the prince and all the members of family and staff being murdered in the night by the brothers. From here Dinah leaves home and makes a name for herself as a midwife in Egypt, using the practices taught to her by her mother and aunts from birth within the female sanctuary of the red tent. She eventually finds love again and rebuilds her relationship with her brother Joseph. When returning to her homeland with Joseph she realizes that while the men of Jacob’s tribe had forgotten all about her, her mother and the women of the tribe kept her story alive along with the vibrant practices that took place within the red tent.

A Blurb on Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

Written by Helena Lyng-Olsen in the style of Charlotte Brontë

One can at times find lengthy books of knowledge to be rather dry, which is understandable when considering how passion can induce a writer to flood the reader with details piquant to the former but irrelevant to the latter. Nevertheless, in an exception to prior experiences, I came upon a factual book that sparked the mind and enlightened the conscience. I had purchased it a few months before when contemplating the contents of a shelf in back of a dimly lit bookstore; the voice and subject matter of the opening pages had spoken deeply to the events that have taken place in my life thus far. In the volume, the author eloquently weaves together a tale noting the societal preference for a dominant extrovert, an inclination evident in various spheres of professional and even adolescent life. Having thus described the circumstances in which her research, and our lives, takes place, she then explores various qualities, many to be lauded, that introverts possess; she alludes with care to the poignancy of the discrepancy between their role in society and their inherent ability. With the word count I am held to, along with the lengthy nature of my sentences, I am no longer able to continue; I shall now conclude this piece of writing, the scrap of my mind that it is.

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A Blurb on War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

Written by Ana Sotelo-Emery in My Own Style

Leo Tolstoy pays great attention to detail in his character’s emotions, physical actions, facial expressions, language, and character development. He describes a character’s complicated emotions in a way in which you can understand their inner turmoil or thought process, and their transition from one emotion to another. He has a clear understanding of their character, and he makes it obvious to you through their thought process, even if their physical actions contradict those thoughts. He can describe the emotion of a character simply in the way they lift their lip, or in which language they speak to others. Through his detailed analysis of his characters’s thoughts and actions, you feel as if you know them, and through whatever hardship they endure and every happy moment they experience, you can see them evolving on the page, growing in character and in spirit.

Who is Sarah Dessen?

Sarah Dessen is an author who kicks some serious teen-lit tookus. She has been around since the early 2000’s and she has written a lot of stories – eleven, to be exact. The Calarco Library has six Sarah Dessen books on Kindle, and three are reviewed below.

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[This was the first book I read by Dessen. During the winter, I go to a bookstore or the library to hog a chair and read on a weekend afternoon. I wanted something fast and NOT representative of the freezing cold, so I chose Along for the Ride]. High achieving, insomniac Auden would (grudgingly) rather spend her senior summer with her Dad and his new family than help her feminist mother host parties for her multitude of graduate students. Auden’s days are filled with a distracted novelist-father, an overwhelmed step-mom, a job at a clothing boutique her own mother openly mocks, and an always crying baby sister. Then Auden meets Eli, a fellow insomniac, and she discovers the carefree life she always avoided. But Eli has his own secrets and his own reasons he never sleeps.

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[This was the last book I read by Dessen. I was on a roll by this point]. Annabel Greene has a secret. It is the reason her friends dropped her and she has to eat lunch alone, sitting against a wall with the other students who have no one to eat lunch with. Annabel can’t imagine talking to her family, not when her mom is grieving her own mother and her older sister has an eating disorder. She certainly can’t imagine telling anyone that she wants to quit modeling. The last person she expects to share anything with is Owen – the music-obsessed, truth-telling guy who is well known for violence and sitting alone against the wall during lunch. Can his policy of “Don’t judge, just listen” help Annabel face what happened to make her another loner sitting against the wall?

dessen 3The Truth About Forever

Macy witnessed her father’s unexpected death – something she is forced to face every time one of his peculiar packages arrives at the doorstep. If she’s learned one thing, it is better to be safe than sorry. She is a high achiever, but her higher achieving boyfriend, Jason, is away at “Brain Camp”. The summer is shaping up to be lonely and boring – one filled with SAT prep and working at the library.* Macy even has to keep helping out at her mom’s open house events, which couldn’t get any worse…until she ends up helping the Wish Catering Crew and getting a job. Besides happy chaos and new friends, Wish also brings Wes, an artist who followed an unconventional path. Will new friendships and the ongoing game of “Truth” she plays with Wes help Macy face her grief and choose her own path?

The Final Verdict

Although Sarah Dessen’s books feature a love story of some kind, they never ignore other important relationships and life obstacles. All of Dessen’s books deal with family, friendships, academics, communication, and honesty without ever feeling like an after school special. The stories move quickly, and it is easy to care about the characters. The books can feel formulaic and a bit predictable after a while, but it actually adds a level of comfort to the stories. Bonus: they usually take place in a beach/seaside town, so they are fun to read when it is cold and miserable outside.

Read if you like: summer, realistic fiction, honesty, and smart girls

Avoid if you dislike: predictable endings, love stories, and teen-lit

-Signing off, Ms. Barrows (who is definitely going to read Goblin Emperor after reading Mr. Gette’s review)

 

*Libraries aren’t boring or lonely! There are books! (she shouts while shaking her fist)

Book Review: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Ready_Player_One_coverYou may remember Ready Player One from when I mentioned it in my Summer Reading Preview, and again in the “What I didn’t read” section of my Summer Reading Recap. You may also notice that it is March, and rather closer to Summer ’14 than Summer ’13.

It gets worse. When I opened my copy last week, I found that the place where I’d left off was marked with  plane ticket. From October 2012.

Dear past self: What were you waiting for?

I read Ready Player One in 2 nights: one to reread the first third, which I obviously needed a refresher on, and one to finish it.  I raced through it like Indiana Jones through a lost temple. It is, at its heart, a treasure hunt. An incredibly rich game developer has died, leaving his fortune  and company to the first person who can solve his clues and find the prize hidden in a giant, immersive video game. The man was obsessed with 80’s pop culture, and to solve his puzzles you need an encyclopedic knowledge of movies, music, tv shows, and – most of all – video games. Ready Player One pits one teenager and his friends against a huge corporation with less than altruistic motives and zero scruples. But this is also a story about escapism: if your real life sucks, and a tangible fantasy world was only a keyboard and monitor away, where would you spend most of your time?

Video games, 80’s references, taking on The Man – what’s not to love?

Wil Wheaton reads the audiobook. I’ll be picking that up, too.

If you like Ready Player one, you might like:

Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

Halting State, by Charles Stross

For the Win, by Cory Doctorow

– Signing off, Mr Gette (who is walking on sunshine).