BONUS BOOK: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

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“I wanted to see if something could be saved once the irreparable had been done. That is why I became a taxidermist: to bear witness.”

Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Henry, a writer, receives an envelope from a reader who says he needs his help. Curious, Henry visits the man. He turns out to be a skilled taxidermist and a struggling writer. As Henry is pulled closer into the world of this cold and calculating man, he becomes increasingly involved in the story of Beatrice and Virgil, a donkey and a howler monkey, and the epic, profoundly moving journey that brought them to Okapi Taxidermy. Along the way, Yann Martel poses enduring questions about art and life, truth and deception, responsibility and complicity. Beatrice and Virgil has the same original and brilliant reach that helped Life of Pi delight readers around the world and established Yann Martel as one of Canada’s most imaginative and surprising writers.”

Review: This book is disturbing. It’s one of those books that slowly sinks its teeth into you and then refuses to let go even days after the novel concludes. I think part of the reason I was so rattled by this book is because it was very, VERY different from what I expected. What I imagined to be a colorful, character-oriented piece was actually a dark and unexpected look into the Holocaust and its aftermath. I see Beatrice and Virgil as a book that is extremely hard to read but needs to be read nonetheless. I could almost see this book being included in high school reading lists, particularly when Holocaust discussions are underway. I don’t believe Martel fully accomplished what he set out to do, but this novel was impossible to put down. Martel’s entire argument, voiced through his narrator, seems to be that while war and other human atrocities are readily fictionalized, the Holocaust stands alone, untouched and untouchable by any form of creative fiction. I have never read anything quite like Beatrice and Virgil. It was uniquely suspenseful because I could tell early on that there was more to the taxidermist than met the eye, but it wasn’t until the final pages of the novel that the reader was able to fully grasp the full scope of the plot. Beatrice and Virgil didn’t quite reach the arguably high level set by Life of Pi, but I think it was an admirable book and gave me a better sense of Yann Martel as both an author and person.

Rating:

Three_Star

BONUS BOOK: 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School by Kevin D. Haggerty and Aaron Doyle

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“As such, they were embracing the old adage that it is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Genre: Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Don’t think about why you’re applying. Select a topic for entirely strategic reasons. Choose the coolest supervisor. Write only to deadlines. Expect people to hold your hand. Become “that” student. When it comes to a master’s or PhD program, most graduate students don’t deliberately set out to fail. Yet, of the nearly 500,000 people who start a graduate program each year, many will never complete their degree. Veteran graduate directors Kevin D. Haggerty and Aaron Doyle have set out to demystify the world of advanced education. Taking a wry, frank approach, they explain the common mistakes that can trip up a new graduate student and lay out practical advice about how to avoid the pitfalls. Along the way, they relate stories from their decades of mentorship and even share some slip-ups from their own grad experiences. The litany of foul-ups is organized by themes and covers the grad school experience from beginning to end: selecting the university and program, interacting with advisors and fellow students, balancing personal and scholarly lives, navigating a thesis, and creating a life after academia. Although the tone is engagingly tongue-in-cheek, the lessons are crucial to anyone attending or contemplating grad school. 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School allows you to learn from others’ mistakes rather than making them yourself.”

Review: My first ever research mentor sent me 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School soon after I decided to really tackle the grad school search head on. Part of me wishes that I had read the book as soon as he gave it to me, because it really does illustrate the entire graduate school process, from figuring out how and where to apply to actually graduating and moving into the workforce. Instead, I read 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School after already deciding where I would go for my Master’s and who I would work with. I was happy to see that the advice given in the early chapters (primarily on figuring out what degree to go for and where to apply) aligned closely with what my own intuition had told me during those early stages of the process. Nevertheless, this book could have been more useful had I chosen to utilize it as soon as I received it. I really enjoyed the overall format of the book, with short sections on each of the 57 most common ways graduate students can screw up. With plenty of anecdotes and real-life examples, this book ended up being a quick and enjoyable read. However, I did feel like it was heavily skewed towards PhD programs. While much of the advice given applies to both Master’s and PhD programs, I would have appreciated a little more tailoring towards Master’s programs. However, when I do begin the inevitable process of going for my PhD, I’ll definitely pull this book out again!

Rating:

Three_Star

 

BONUS BOOK: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

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“You cannot pick and choose what parts of her to love.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Celaena Sardothien has survived deadly contests and shattering heartbreak, but at an unspeakable cost. Now she must travel to a new land to confront her darkest truth… a truth about her heritage that could change her life – and her future – forever. Meanwhile, brutal and monstrous forces are gathering on the horizon, intent on enslaving her world. To defeat them, Celaena must find the strength not only to fight her inner demons but to battle the evil that is about to be unleashed. The king’s assassin takes on an even greater destiny and burns brighter than ever before in this third book in the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass Series.”

Review: Heir of Fire was by far my least favorite novel in the Throne of Glass series. While the final third of the book convinced me that I should at least give the fourth book a try, I spent the majority of this novel being bored to tears. The plot moves at a crawl for most of the book, and the few redeeming qualities (namely, Manon’s storyline) don’t actually become all that redeeming until the end of the book. The relationship between Celaena and her grumpy overseer, Rowan, is tedious. Everything that is going on in the castle in Celaena’s absence is similarly boring. I was completely unable to invest myself in the Chaol/Dorian/Aedion drama and thought the trajectory of Dorian’s new love interest was laughable. As the book progressed, I found myself growing more and more interested in Manon’s storyline and less and less interested in everyone else’s. I think Manon is one of the first truly multifaceted characters Maas has introduced and I look forward to seeing how she develops over the course of the fourth novel. Altogether, Heir of Fire was a pretty slow and unenjoyable read.

Rating:

Two_Star

BONUS BOOK: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

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“HARRY: Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it, that’s very important. Best to do it at a run if you’re nervous.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “It was always difficult being Harry Potter, and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and a father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son, Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: Sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places. Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play by Jack Thorne. It is the eighth Harry Potter story and the first to be officially presented on stage. This special rehearsal edition of the script brings the continued journey of Harry Potter and his friends and family to readers everywhere immediately following the play’s world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.”

Review: I’ll preface this review by saying that almost nothing I have to say about Cursed Child is new; I’ve read several reviews of the book, as well as a handful of Buzzfeed articles, and it seems like the general Harry Potter fandom seems to agree with me on several key points. Overall, I did not enjoy Cursed Child. It was a fast and easy read and I definitely enjoyed returning to the Hogwarts world, but the story itself certainly did not feel authentic. Even in the middle of reading I kept saying to myself, “No, that wouldn’t happen.” Like countless other fans have pointed out, Cursed Child felt very, very, VERY much like some Potterhead’s fan fiction account of what happened after the events of Deathly Hallows; it certainly did not feel like authentic J.K. Rowling storytelling. There were some bright spots in the novel; namely, Scorpius Malfoy, Dumbledore’s painting, and Snape’s brief return. But there were many more things that left me shaking my head in disbelief. For example, am I really supposed to believe that VOLDEMORT and Bellatrix had a child?! Aside from the obvious complaints (Voldemort barely has a nose, let alone a working penis), Voldemort always came off as very asexual to me. Sleeping with Bellatrix seems beneath him. And given that Delphi (“What an appropriately intimidating name for Voldemort’s daughter” said no one, ever) was supposedly delivered before the Battle of Hogwarts, how was it that no one knew Bellatrix was pregnant? And how was she able to fight in the battle so shortly after giving birth? Sure, you can always answer those questions by simply saying “magic.” But that seems like the cheap, easy way out. I also found it hard to believe that Albus, Scorpius, and Delphi were able to so easily break into Hermione’s office and steal the Time Turner, and that it took so long for the adults to realize that it was missing. And am I supposed to believe that noble, beloved Cedric Diggory could ever become a DEATH EATER just because he was humiliated during the Triwizard Tournament? These are just a few of the many moments that left me incredulous while reading Cursed Child. This book has in no way ruined or even impacted how I feel about the Harry Potter series in general because it does not feel like a legitimate continuation of the series. I would still love to see the play but I was not impressed with the script book.

Rating:

Two_Star

 

BONUS BOOK: Stealing Rembrandts by Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg

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“As art collectors sometimes say of such unhappy images, ‘Great, yes, but it would be a tough painting to live with.'”

Genre: Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Today, art theft is one of the most profitable criminal enterprises in the world, exceeding $6 billion in losses to galleries and art collectors annually. And the masterpieces of Rembrandt van Rijn  are some of the most frequently targeted. In Stealing Rembrandts, art security expert Anthony M. Amore and award-winning investigative reporter Tom Mashberg reveal the actors behind the major Rembrandt heists in the last century. Through thefts around the world – from Stockholm to Boston, Worcester to Ohio – the authors track daring entries and escapes from the world’s most renowned museums. There are robbers who coolly walk off with multimillion dollar paintings; self-styled art experts who fall in love with the Dutch master and desire to own his art at all costs; and international criminal masterminds who don’t hesitate to resort to violence. They also show how museums are thwarted in their ability to pursue the thieves – even going so far as to conduct investigations of their own, far away from the maddening crowd of police intervention, sparing no expense to save the priceless masterpieces. Stealing Rembrandts is an exhilarating, one-of-a-kind look at the black market of art theft and how it compromises some of the greatest treasures the world has ever known.”

Review: I first heard of this book while reading The Lady in Gold. Stealing Rembrandts was referenced in a chapter that focused on the unforeseen shock waves that impact many people when great art is stolen. While The Lady in Gold focused exclusively on artwork taken by the Nazis before, during, and after World War II, Stealing Rembrandts opted to omit Nazi theft from its narrative and instead focused on high profile art thefts, particularly those that involved artwork by the great Rembrandt van Rijn. I really enjoyed the overall formatting of this book, with each chapter detailing different heists while also providing solid background on the stolen pieces. Stealing Rembrandts is an extremely informative look into the world of art theft, and there is certainly a colorful and eventful history to be found when one delves deeper into this world. What becomes abundantly clear from reading this book is that the majority of high profile art thefts are conducted by common, everyday criminals who seize an opportunity to make a sizable chunk of change. All of these criminals, however, soon find that stealing a Rembrandt is only half of the battle; the second half comes in trying to figure out how to turn a profit and sell a painting that has likely been posted all over Interpol as stolen property. In most cases, the paintings either end up being squirreled away for years, or even decades, until a new generation of buyers comes onto the market, or is returned to the museum/owner in exchange for sentencing leniency. Amore and Ashberg definitely succeeded in drawing me into their narrative and had me wondering where in the world the many missing Rembrandts are (such as those taken from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in 1990). I think my next art history-related book will be The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft!

Rating:

Four_Star

BONUS BOOK: Ruined by Amy Tintera

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“But kind, reasonable, thoughtful couldn’t be brushed off. They wriggled in and made themselves at home and breathed air in between the ache in his chest.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war. She lacks the powers of her fellow Ruined. Worst of all, she witnessed her parents’ brutal murders and watched helplessly as her sister, Olivia, was kidnapped. But because Em has nothing, she has nothing to lose. Driven by blind desire for revenge, Em sets off on a dangerous journey to the enemy kingdom of Lera. Somewhere within Lera’s borders, Em hopes to find Olivia. But in order to find her, Em must infiltrate the royal family. In a brilliant, elaborate plan of deception and murder, Em marries Prince Casimir, next in line to take Lera’s throne. If anyone in Lera discovers Em is not Casimir’s true betrothed, Em will be executed on the spot. But it’s the only way to salvage Em’s kingdom and what is left of her family. Em is determined to succeed, but the closer she gets to the prince, the more she questions her mission. Em’s rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life – and her family – on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake.”

Review: THIS IS NOTHING I HAVEN’T READ BEFORE. Geez. Props to Ruined for being a relatively fast read and for actually involving characters who aren’t afraid to kill people (somewhat of a rare find in the YA fantasy/adventure genre). But that’s where the good things end. Firstly, so many aspects of the Ruined plot rely inexplicably on the characters being idiots. Am I really supposed to believe that no one in the entire kingdom of Lera has ever seen the real Princess Mary before, thereby making it easy for Em to murder her and steal her identity? Is Cas, the HEIR to the Leran throne, really that unrecognizable that he can be put into a wagon of castle staff by enemy guards and not be recognized?  I also felt like Tintera didn’t spend enough time world-building. The reader is provided with a very minute picture of the Ruined world, with little to no backstory on how the Ruined people gained their mythical powers or why the four different nations are fighting a costly war. Em does a pretty terrible job of actually pretending to be Mary and her almost instalove with Cas was laughable. He pretty much forgives her for engineering the murder of his father within three days. I can understand why Ruined has drawn some comparisons to the Red Queen series but, in my opinion, it has none of the humanity, intrigue, and depth of Red Queen and Glass Sword.

Rating:

Two_Star

BONUS BOOK: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

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“The learning curve of a highly motivated seagull goes on steeply off the top of any graph, and now and then there were students who overcame limits so perfectly that they disappeared, as Jonathan had, from the face of an earth too limited to contain them.”

Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “This book is a song for spirits who have lived so long and so quietly by themselves. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a story for readers who know that somewhere there’s a higher way of living than scuffling the tracks of others; a story for someone who yearns to fly. It’s a reminder, this little fable, that the path for us to follow is already written within. Others may watch, they may admire our resolution or despise it, but our one freedom is to love and to choose to live every day of our lives as we wish.”

Review: I, like many others, first read Jonathan Livingston Seagull as an assignment in a high school literature class. I remember liking it for three reasons: 1) It was short, 2) It had pictures, and 3) There were some really nice quotes and passages.

“Because number is a limit, and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.”

Many years later, I still appreciate Jonathan Livingston Seagull for those three reasons. I think the mode of storytelling is unique and the incorporation of images of seagulls keeps the reader engaged. I actually enjoyed this reading more than my first one because Richard Bach published a fourth part of  Jonathan Livingston Seagull in the spring of 2013. The fourth part is now my favorite , as it takes an interesting look at how religion and ritual can diminish our own true sense of freedom and enlightenment.

“They were honored, and worse – revered, but they were no longer heard, and the birds who practiced flying were fewer and fewer.”

Jonathan Livingston Seagull can definitely get preachy at times, and the metaphor of a seagull who really wants to fly repeatedly punches you in the face. But I understand why this book is a classic and I especially like the story now that Bach has published the fourth and final part.

“So, why didn’t I burn it? Don’t know. I put it away, the last part of the book believed in itself when I didn’t. It knew what I refused: the forces of rulers and ritual slowly, slowly will kill our freedom to live as we choose.”

Rating:

Three_Star