The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Princess Kelsea Glynn has been hidden away since infancy, waiting for the day she will begin her reign as Queen of the Tearling. Meanwhile, her uncle serves as Regent. When he’s not sacrificing the kingdom and its people to the neighboring state of Mortmense and it’s evil Red Queen, he’s sending assassins to hunt Kelsea down. Now that she’s 19, the Queen’s Guard, all of whom swore loyalty to her dead mother (though none seem to have liked her very much) have come to escort her her castle and begin her rule.

I’m generally positive about this one. Kelsea is ridiculously naive, though it’s explained by the fact that growing up, her guardians refused to tell her anything important about her kingdom or her parents. They’ve taught her what they think a ruler needs to know, but left out key parts that will help her rule *this* kingdom. The reasons why are eventually explained, but to a certain degree it felt like the real reason was “because this will make the story more interesting.”

The one quirky bit is the setting. At first it seems like standard medieval-ish fantasy novel, but there are occasional references to the Americans and the British as the settlers of these worlds, and a “Great Crossing,” and you eventually learn that this is set in some distant future when people fled those countries for a “New World.” Where this world is isn’t clear – the map at the front looks like the Iberian peninsula, but obviously, that’s not new. There are references to terrible seas where boats were lost during the Crossing (conveniently containing all the doctors and technology) so maybe it’s a global warming/rising seas thing? Maybe it will be explained in the sequel? It’s not particularly relevant to the story, but it’s interesting in passing. It also doesn’t explain the magic – oh, did I mention the magic stones, and the Red Queen’s visions, and the fact that she stays miraculously young for hundreds of years?

This review sounds like I didn’t like the book, but I did – it’s basically everything I liked about Game of Thrones-type fantasy with dramatically less violence and rape. There’s still lots of that, but not to the Game of Thrones level, where I’m starting to worry about any pets George R. R. Martin has.

Ms Schoen

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Sweet, by Emmy Laybourne

SweetSweet by Emmy Laybourne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. That was…not what I expected. How to describe it? Frothy teen romance meets The Walking Dead?

Former child star Tom Forelli has booked a gig hosting a celebrity cruise to launch a new sweetener, Solu. Fort Lauderdale teenager Laurel has snagged a ticket on the cruise to accompany her friend Viv. The two have a meet cute (he falls on her while showing off break dance moves) and between that and reality TV stars, discussions of teenaage angst and weight issues, the book seems to be shaping up as your standard light-hearted YA romance. Then things take a *very* different turn.

(Warning – some spoilers!)

Solu, it turns out, isn’t just a sugar substitute. It can also help you lose weight. Lots of weight. Turn obese people into famine victims amounts of weight. And that’s not the only effect it has on your body. The end of the book is a (literal) bloodbath, but mixed right in with doses of teen dreams (seriously – on the run from drug-crazed zombies, the two leads take time to snuggle). But while the plot doesn’t hold up to any serious scrutiny, and most of the characters are just stock figures, it’s an enjoyable, breezy read.

Ms Schoen

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Student Review: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand (Reviewed by Rachel N.)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book Unbroken, is about an Olympic athlete named Louis Zamperini who overcomes the obstacles of his childhood life and war time. He didn’t fit in with the town he lived in because he was Italian and a thief. But his brother Pete convinced him that he wasn’t just merely nothing in the world like Louis thought he was.

Zamperini joined the track team in high school. He became the youngest athlete to beat the national record, and ended up competing in the Berlin Olympics, meeting Adolf Hitler himself. Zamperini joined the military after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and survived 46 days at sea after crashing.

The next two years after being rescued, he endured pain and suffering in Japanese POW (Prisoner of War) camps. Zamperini was frequently beaten by a Japanese man named, Watanabe, but known infamously as “the bird.” He even had the opportunity to talk on a Japanese radio talk show to inform the United States that he was indeed alive.

He managed to stay optimistic in the worst of conditions throughout WWII, and finally returned home after the war ended. He never competed in running again but held the torch and ran in the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan at the age of 80. Although he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he was able to stop having bad dreams after committing himself to god. Zamperini got married and had two children. He died at the age of 97 even after all the things he has been through including malnourishment and his drinking problem.

The author, Laura Hillenbrand, described Zamperini’s life so vividly it was like you were along side him the whole entire way through the 408 page book (which has pictures, wow! A chapter book with pictures, how exciting!). If you don’t like long books and aren’t interested in reading about someone who fought in the war, I do not recommend this book to you. Then again, you can always watch the movie adaptation directed by Angelina Jolie. This book was definitely a good read nonetheless even though non-fiction is not a genre I like, this book was a page-turner (literally I read it in 3 days). I also watched the movie and it was definitely bringing the book to life, but was did not live up to my expectations.~Student Rachel N.

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Student Review: Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, by Steve Almond (Reviewed by Midori I.)

Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of AmericaCandyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You may think having candy/ chocolate is normal and that it isn’t that deep of a meaning, but the people who have made it in tiny industries are suffering. The author uses so much descriptive words to describe how each delicious chocolate/ candy is like in the tiny factories many people don’t know of.

I think that his point in his book is to say that bigger industries of making chocolate has taken over family run ones, and that fact is a depressing information to hear. Most of the family-owned factories are suffering from the war over making their chocolate taste different than other ones. But the more bigger industries push, it ruins their companies.

I liked how the author uses descriptive and quotes from other people, and sometimes funny jokes to make the nonfiction book seem more interesting than other ones. However, when listening to the audio, sometimes he doesn’t mention which part he will start from in a new CD. I think that he should make his CD’s have 1-2 chapters in each CD.

Overall, I think that the flow of the book is very nice, and “delicious” to read. You can visualize his candy that he is describing and it makes me feel hungry and want to try it.~Student: Midori I.

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Student Review: Night, by Elie Wiesel (Reviewed by Jessica S.)

Night (The Night Trilogy, #1)Night by Elie Wiesel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taken from their homes, their nice life, family, and friends, Elie and Moshe were stripped of all the goodness in their lives and put into a concentration camp in Germany, where they lived their lives in fear.

They were separated from the rest of their family, Elie’s sister, and mother. While living in the camp, they did not know what would come next, they did not know how much longer they would have to live, and they did not know if they would ever see the rest of their family, they did not know anything. While in the camp, Elie witnessed many horrifying and tragic things. People being beaten in front of their eyes, people killed in an instance, and people crying and praying for their life around him.

Elie Wiesel does a very nice job or portraying and persuading people to believe and feel that while they are reading this book, they are in a concentration camp, fell how the people felt, or at least feel bad for the people who suffered during this time period. By using key facts and information about life in a concentration camp, this book is a great one to read. I would definitely recommend it for people who really want to get a good understanding of the Holocaust and the effects of life in a concentrations camp. Again, it clearly covers the life in the camps and how scary it was to wake up every morning not knowing what is going to happen.~Student: Jessica S.

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Student Review: Being Peace, by Thích Nhất Hạnh (Reviewed by Molly W.)

Being PeaceBeing Peace by Thích Nhất Hạnh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyday life is at times filled with stress, confusion, worrying and even suffering. People tend to live their lives in a rush; going for one place to another without ever truly noticing or appreciating the world around them. Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “Being Peace” is all about the importance of being in synch with the wonders of the world, living in the moment, and most of all the effect of being happy and at peace with oneself and how this affects the lives of the people around us.

Thich Nhat Hanh is Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master, poet, teacher, and peace activist. In the book, Hanh uses the philosophy behind Buddhism in order to explore the ideas behind living in happiness and how to achieve true peace. The book includes stories from the background of Buddhism and how the religion, and way of life, came about. He uses the history of the practice to further explain his theories and outlook on the world. Hanh also focuses a lot on personal stories and things that he has himself experienced with the world and what he has taken away from it.

The way that the story is told, the use of experiences and personal belief, causes the reader to feel one with the author rather than being a outside listener. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in the book, “In order to understand something, you have to be one with that something” (p. 38). Although the book is about the religion, it was mostly focused on helping the reader understand what “being peace” truly signifies for themselves and the people around them. It stresses the importance of allowing happiness to be present in your life, and how to truly be present and not let moments slip away.

I am not Buddhist, but for me it was still very interesting to learn about the peaceful way of life in the eyes of a Zen master, and what the religion means for him and other Buddhist people. Reading the book opened my eyes to the importance of truly living, and it gave me a perspective of the world in a way that I have never thought about before. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about the philosophies behind Buddhism, or just simply the idea of the state of being at peace.~Student: Molly W.

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Student Review: In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote (Reviewed by Beatrice B.)

In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood by Truman Capote

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read “In Cold Blood,” by Truman Capote. Overall it was a great book. It follows the murder of a family and the after-math that occurs in both the small farm town where the murder occurs and the journey of the killers. It has a lot of suspence and definitely keeps you wanting to read on.

The book alternates between the investigator, the people in the town and the killers, Dick and Perry. Strangely enough, the writer is able to draw out more emotions than just resentment and hate towards the killers. The most developed character is Perry and especially towards the end of the book, I could feel sympathy towards the character. When writing the book, Truman Capote interveiwed the killers and he described feeling closer to them than he had with anyone else.

The book half way through turns from being a mystery to a man hunt, though the last few chapters focus on the trial. Capote makes you question insanity and shows you his opposition to the death penalty. This book was written very well. The language is rich and intellectual and the structure of the book is complex. I would definitely recommend this book.~Student: Beatrice B.

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Student Review: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, by Susannah Cahalan (Reviewed by Sara F.)

Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The novel “Brain on Fire; My Month of Madness” explains the tragic and true story of author Susannah Cahalan and her time of insanity. Susannah Cahalan a New York Post journalist tells her story on what it was like to go insane and how she and her family around her conquered her illness.

There were many things I liked in the book. To begin, I am not usually a huge fan of non-fiction books. I really enjoyed the fact that this book was not like most non-fiction books in the sense that it did not just state facts, it told a story. I also found this book to be very interesting because you were able to look into the life of a mentally insane person, something I have actually been curious about in the past. In addition, this book taught me a lot about the human brain. I have never been extremely interested in medical things, except for the occasional Grey’s Anatomy. But, this book actually made me more interested in learning about the human brain as well as just making me more knowledgeable on the topic.

Lastly, this book was a quick and easy read. Only containing 250 pages, it is a great read for when you don’t want to consume too much of your time. Though there were many things I enjoyed there were also some negatives to the book. First off, at times the book seemed to drag on. There was a lot of repetition in this book, so at times I was bored or needed to take a break. Also, even though I found it very interesting, the overall outcome of her disease (what you find out was the problem) was a bit of a let down. There was too much build up in my opinion.

Overall, the positives outweighed the negatives. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is in their teens and/or adult years. In the end, “Brain on Fire; My Month of Madness by Susannah Callahan” is a great read for any type of reader.~Student: Sara F.

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Student Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach (Reviewed by Carol Z.)

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Stiff” by Mary Roach is about the “curious lives of human cadavers”, and the many ways in which dead people can contribute to our society. Roach’s admirable research and compelling study of history gives readers perspective on a different lifestyle; specifically the lifestyle of the dead.

Practicing surgery on the dead, body snatching, human decay, medicinal cannibalism and head transplants are only a small fraction of what Roach covers in her book. She writes about how the human body decays in different ways depending on the atmosphere, the details and imagery appeals to the reader’s pathos, making death seem like an extremely terrible and gruesome thing. But on the other hand, she talks about how cadavers help auto-makers design safety features which saves thousands of lives. These types of facts help convinces the reader to donate to science, but at the same time seem like too much information than you needed to know.

For example, one chapter is dedicated specifically to the “crimes of anatomy” committed in history. People used to dig up hundreds of graves and sell the cadavers to anatomists and doctors, and make money by doing so. What the anatomists did with these bodies were so horrifically detailed, it inspired both awe and disgust (i.e sewing a monkey’s head onto another monkey’s decapitated body). These bizarre incidents in history that the author describes lets the reader have a better handle on the meaning of death and tells us that death can also be meaningful.

Roach surprisingly makes dead bodies seem like a fascinating thing. Using humorous anecdotes and examples, Roach is able to offer insight on life, death and the medical profession. “Stiff” makes you appreciate the wonder that the human body really is.~ Student: Carol Z.

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Student Review: Parasite Rex (with a New Epilogue): Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures, by Carl Zimmer (Reviewed by Isaac E.)

Parasite Rex (with a New Epilogue): Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous CreaturesParasite Rex (with a New Epilogue): Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures by Carl Zimmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although parasites acquired a negative connotation throughout history, in his book “Parasite Rex,” Carl Zimmer shows an undying appreciation for this belittled class of animals. Zimmer plays with previously completed research to expand on theories revolutionizing ideas on evolution – specifically how parasites can influence evolutionary paths. Straying from the typically monotonous account of biological discovery, throughout his book, Zimmer constantly introduces information supporting countless theories, all with the common goal to prove that parasites have taken part in determining the cellular structure of all living beings.

Zimmer wrote a spectacular book, admirable in the sense that it appeals to all, regardless of the extent to the reader’s knowledge. Zimmer prefaces each theory with a thorough, yet concise explanation of each class of parasites relevant to upcoming theories. By dividing the book, devoting specific sections to specific parasites and theories relating to them, Zimmer also creates a map – sophisticated enough for an expert on the subject to remain interested and simple enough for a dilettante to follow.

After completing Zimmer’s compelling read, I only became more interested in the study of parasites, intrigued by how an animal thought to bring nothing but harm can be responsible for several ostensibly natural and beneficial parts of our lives: the location of our hearts, and sexual reproduction among characteristics we as a species have attained because of parasites.~Student: Isaac E.

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