Thursday, June 8, 2017

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub (review by Prameela K. '19)

Still Star-CrossedStill Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading Romeo and Juliet, I couldn't help but wonder: "What happens now?"

Melinda Taub's novel aims to answer that question, and many of the other ones that readers may ask after finishing Romeo and Juliet. Unsurprisingly, the Montagues and Capulets–who entered a dubious truce in the aftermath of their children's deaths–are still feuding, unable to suppress the animosity rooted in their bloodline. Intending to quell the dissension that is plaguing his city, Prince Escalus of Verona devises a plan in which he arranges for a member of the house of Montague–Benvolio, Romeo's cousin– to marry a member of the house of Capulet–Rosaline, Juliet's cousin and Romeo's first love (before he meets Juliet). Neither Benvolio nor Rosaline are thrilled about the prospect of an arranged marriage with one another, and they form an initially unenthusiastic alliance in order to put an end to their engagement.

Rosaline is independent and strong-willed, and she develops as a character. While Benvolio also undergoes a significant amount of moral growth, his personality is rather muted, but his chemistry with Rosaline makes up for his blandness. While their relationship is the main highlight of the novel,
another surprisingly appealing element is mystery. There are clues, red herrings, buildup, and an ultimate reveal that is well-executed though somewhat predictable. It's no Agatha Christie mystery, but it's interesting enough.

One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the dialogue. All characters speak Shakespearean English, complete with "thees" and "thous". The setting is undoubtedly Shakespearean, and the re-imagining of supporting characters from Romeo and Juliet makes Taub's continuation of the tragedy vivid and creative. Yet one of the weakest points of the novel (and one of the main reasons why I rate this book three stars and not four) is the inclusion of a love triangle–one with a predictable outcome–that distracts from the mystery at the core of the plot and slows the story progression.

Overall, Still Star-Crossed is a good book with an enjoyable plot and a compelling protagonist, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Shondaland's new show will provide its own take on the novel!

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (review by Amelia H. '19)

Binti (Binti, #1)Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Binti is a teenage girl traveling to a university called Oomza Uni on another planet, the first in history of the Himba people to be admitted. On the way there, her ship is attacked by the Meduse, an alien race with a vendetta against humans. Binti is short, but it packs in the same complex world-building and characters as a SciFi novel three or four times its length. The book is a little slow in introducing the main conflict, considering that the story is only ninety pages, but that is made up for by the excellence of the writing. Okorafor’s prose is eloquent and yet concise, immersing the reader in the story. A quick read that will inspire thought long after the last page is turned.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Heartless by Marissa Meyer (review by Prameela K. '19)

HeartlessHeartless by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a fan of Marissa Meyer and her science fiction fantasy Lunar Chronicles series, I was eager to read her standalone debut. Once I learned that Heartless was a fairy tale origin story with a Victorian setting, my anticipation only heightened. A fantasy period novel based on Alice in Wonderland? Count me in.

Heartless draws upon many aspects of Lewis Carroll's whimsical world in Meyer's re-imagination of the Kingdom of Hearts, where Wonderlandesque oddities and the social constructs of Victorian-era England intermingle to create a setting equally strange and captivating.

At the center is Catherine, a teenage girl with big dreams and an even bigger heart. Unlike many young adult protagonists, she is not overbearing or infuriating, and her kindness is admirable. She is a lover of all things sweet, and her aspiration in life is to open up a bakery–but her parents have different plans for her and aim to consolidate her marriage to the foolish, and incredibly annoying, King of Hearts.

Oh, but of course, there is a love interest: Jest, the roguish and devilishly handsome court jester. He has a mysteriously magical past and the obscurity of his identity may be frustrating at times, but he makes up for it with his humor and charm. He and Cath have instant chemistry and their interactions are chock-full of witty repartee. Oh, and do not forget Jest's equally mysterious raven, who is reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem and only speaks in, well, poetry. Jest is also a friend of the famed Hatter, who was really quite a hunk back in the day -- before he went mad and all.

Because Cath starts out as a well-rounded character with a strong sense of right and wrong, there is little room for moral development. Instead, Meyer focuses on her progression from being an aspiring young baker to being the Queen of Hearts. The plot is filled with twists and turns as Catherine embarks on a journey to fulfill her goals and discover who she truly is. While the novel has its fair share of romance, the action is what truly captivated me–Cath's bravery shines through when it matters the most.

At points, the plot progresses slowly, but as the page count dwindled I found myself more and more enthralled in the characters’ fates. Whopping revelations, nail-biting action sequences, and heart-wrenching plot twists combine to form a stress-inducing final 100 pages that culminate in an ending that is, at first, shocking. But after a few days of deep thinking, I realized that the plot had really been going in that direction all along, and one of the main reasons why Heartless made such a strong impression.


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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder (review by Simar B. '20)

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the WorldMountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is a thrilling biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, treats millions of patients from Haiti to Siberia with his charity Partners in Health. Dr. Farmer epitomizes the founding tenets of medicine, devoting himself to curing patients of their ailments regardless of their socio-economic status. He commits himself to serving the poor and the needy, trying to treat poverty and one of its symptom: sickness. The book is absolutely riveting and inspiring, putting you in the eyes of Dr. Farmer. This is a man who does not take “no” for an answer and will see everything to the end. He truly does change the world one patient at a time. Among other good works, the book describes how Dr. Farmer is able to reduce the cost of second-line drugs for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis by ninety-five percent and establishes a free clinic in Cange, a desolate region in Haiti. Overall, I loved how Kidder portrays Farmer and allows you to understand the motivation that pushes this man to give up everything for a cause. It reminds you that there are people in this world who will “fight the long defeat,” as Kidder puts it, to do the right thing and help the impoverished of the world (257).


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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dawnthief: Chronicle of the Raven by James Barclay (review by Amelia H. '19)

Dawnthief: Chronicles of the Raven: Book OneDawnthief: Chronicles of the Raven: Book One by James Barclay
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Dawnthief is a fantasy novel centered around a group of warriors called the Raven, who are tasked with helping a mage save the kingdom from evil creatures called the Wytch Lords, who are assisting barbaric tribes in invading the kingdom. The characters on the whole seem to be motivated solely by what will drive the plot forward. The Raven is joined along the way by a notable cast of characters including numerous people who turn evil for no discernible reason, feuding barons whose conflicts are given more paragraphs than they deserve, and women whose importance to the plot depends on their relationships with men. Indeed, the only woman particularly central to the plot is relegated to being a healer even though she has the same warrior capabilities as the men in the Raven, and it is vaguely mentioned that she will have amazingly powerful children, which is why she is important. There are elves, indistinguishable from humans except for being able to see in the dark and being referred to as elves. Additionally, the prose is clunky, with awkward phrasing that disrupts the flow of the writing, inconsistent dialogue, and inaccurate wording. Dawnthief is an interesting concept, carried out very poorly.

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