Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Great Gatsby (book review)

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a defining piece of literature for the Roaring '20's. Set near New York City, it tells the story of a young bond broker named Nick Caraway, who lives next to an enormous mansion owned by the mysterious and elusive Jay Gatsby. At a party one night, Nick has the opportunity to meet Gatsby, and they strike up a strange, curious friendship. Matters are complicated when Gatsby rediscovers his old lost lover, beautiful Daisy Buchanan, and they begin to fall back in love. But Daisy's husband is a jealous man, who will do anything to keep her to himself. And when a horrible tragedy occurs, it opens the perfect opportunity for Tom to get his revenge...

I thought this was a very good book. The characters themselves, as well as the interactions between them, were complex and many-sided. The plot was light and cheerful at points, but it had a distinctly dark undertone, adding to the suspense of the book. The ending was definitely a shock. The only problem I had with this book was that occasionally I found it confusing and hard to follow. But these moments were rare, and overall I greatly enjoyed it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (book review)

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, by Barry Lyga, is the story of two teenage outcasts. Fanboy, thin, studious, and a comic book geek, doesn't have it so good. He's bullied at school, has only one friend (a friend who would choose his jock buddies over Fanboy), and his mother and "the step-fascist", as Fanboy calls his stepfather, are eagerly awaiting a new baby who will become Fanboy's little sibling. But Fanboy does have one thing going for him: the graphic novel he's writing. He knows it will be his ticket out of this town, and into a good college.

Then he meets Kyra, aka Goth Girl. She's sarcastic, witty, and intelligent, shares his love of comics and his hatred of the popular kids, and seems to take an interest in him. Soon they have a strong, if bumpy, friendship, and Fanboy feels as if perhaps his life is finally beginning to look up. But he doesn't know that Kyra has secrets of her own, secrets that could put her life...and perhaps even great danger.

I truly loved this book. The plot was full of twists, the main characters clever and witty. Often I found it hard to put this book down; I just wanted to keep reading! Comic fans will enjoy the various references made to comic book artists in the book, and others will love the curious and sarcastic relationship between Fanboy and Kyra. I absolutely can't wait to read the sequel!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cry Bloody Murder (book review)

Cry Bloody Murder, by Elaine DePrince, is a true story about love, loss, and the effect AIDS can have on a community. Elaine DePrince, her husband, and her five sons (two biological, three adopted) are a family of hemophiliacs. Their three adopted sons, Cubby, Mike, and Teddy, had hemophilia A. DePrince and her biological sons, Adam and Erik, have a less well-known, yet similar, condition known as von Willebrand's disease. Hemophilia and von Willebrand's disease are conditions in which one's blood cannot clot. In order to prevent them from bleeding to death, DePrince needed to give her sons clotting factor, which would help their blood to clot when they experienced bleeding. However, DePrince was unaware that the clotting factor she gave her children contained the virus HIV--she only found this out after Cubby, Mike, and Teddy had all been affected. The clotting factor, and other blood products--could have been virally inactivated, killing HIV and other viruses in them--but the multi-million dollar corporations making the blood products didn't bother to do this. And as a result, thousands of hemophiliacs and others died, including Cubby and Mike. Cubby was only eleven. Mike was only fifteen. And what makes Elaine DePrince angriest is that their deaths could have easily been prevented, if only an industry cared more about the lives of its consumers than about its profits.
Teddy is still living, thanks to the new drugs available, but DePrince knows that, if not for the drugs, he could have died as well.

Thousands of hemophiliacs have suffered in this way, thousands have lost loved ones. But they cannot get compensation. In many states, so-called "blood-shield laws" have been passed, protecting the product responsible for all these deaths from strict product liability, a legal term allowing a consumer injured by a product to file suit against the manufacturer or seller of the product. As a result, the corporations and the blood banks don't have to pay for what they have done, and the hemophiliacs must suffer on with the ghosts of their siblings, parents, friends, spouses, and children.

This was a wonderful book, but it was also very sad. I would recommend it to anyone interested in AIDS or in hemophilia. The stories pictured in this book, Cubby's and Mike's, as well as those of others with the virus, will inspire you and at the same time, fill you with sorrow, that such wonderful lives had to be lost.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Where the Wild Things Were (book review)

Where the Wild Things Were, by  William Stolzenberg, is a moving account of how species are coping in a world of vanishing top predators. Stolzenberg takes us deep into the Venezuelan rainforest, to the rivers of Yellowstone, and almost everywhere in between. He's trying to say that evidence of disappearing predators is everywhere--most often caused by humans. Where cougars, grizzlies, and wolves once roamed now only coyotes and house-cats hunt. But why does this matter? This is the question Stolzenberg is trying to address. And we will see it in a variety of ways and places, from overpopulation of herbivores to extinctions of whole ecosystems.

This was a great book. It wasn't hard to read at all, and it was very interesting. Stolzenberg had a nice, easy style that grabbed you in at the same time. If you're interested in conservation biology, ecology, or even just in animals, I would recommend this book to you as a great addition to your collection.

Monday, November 09, 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front (book review)

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, is the moving story of Paul Baumer, a fictional German soldier who enlists in World War I. Young, only twenty years old, already his life is filled with death. He must face it everyday, and somehow manages to elude it even while his comrades and friends fall around him. The book relates various escapades, travels, as well as horrors that this young man and his friends face during their years on the front. As the years go by, Paul realizes that the only difference between him and his enemies, the ones he kills every day, is their uniform, and he decides to do everything he can to help the world avoid future wars--if only he can make it out of this one.

This was a wonderful book, but very sad. Paul, only twenty, was already much wiser about the world than much older men were. He was used to the sight of men without arms, faces, or legs. But he and his friends still found time for amusement. I thought it was very interesting to hear from his point of view, and to learn about what it felt like to actually be there.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Abstract Expressionists (book review)

Abstract Expressionists, by Rachel Barnes, is a collection of short, generally two or three-page biographies of some of the major contributors to the abstract expressionist art movement. Included in this book are men and women such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Helen Frankenthaler. Since it included many different artists, the book couldn't go very in-depth about any of them, but it still gave a good biography of each of them,  along with examples of their work. I would definitely recommend this to people interested in getting a general overview of the famous names we now associate with this movement. It was a quick and easy book to read, and if you sit down and read it it shouldn't take you very long, while still giving you quite a good introduction.