Book Reviews

1000 Splendid Suns

By Khaled Housseini

Khaled Housseini was born in Kabul, Afganistan, in 1965.  His family moved to Paris for business, and while they were gone, the Soviets invaded.  They were granted asylum in the United States.  There Housseini went to high school, college and medical school.  While he was an intern, he wrote the New York Times number one best seller, The Kite Runner.

His most recent book A Thousand Splendid Suns is a fictional story taking place in Kabul, Afghanistan, starting in the 1960’s to the present time.  It begins with the youth of a bastard child-Mariam.  Her father slept with her mother, who was his servant.  When his wives find out they ask Mariam and her mother to leave the house.  Her father visits her once a week along with a religious teacher, mullah Faizullah.  The mullah teaches her the Koran, which she becomes strongly fond of.

The other main character is Laila.  She is a beautiful blonde haired, green eyed young Afghan girl.  Unlike Mariam, she is educated and has friends.  She has two brothers who are in the army and her father is an educated man, a teacher.

Laila and Mariam become friends and go through their tribulations together.  They stick up for each other in a time when women are maltreated.  They help each other and share their secrets and lives with each other.  A bond of sisterhood and friendship is born in adversity that nothing can break.  These two are meant to be together, to support one another and to love one another.

The characters are believable.  They went through a lot of suffering during the changes in Afghanistan.  Mariam was my favorite character.  She has been through a lot of struggling to make it to become a strong woman who can make decisions for herself, stick up for herself, and take responsibility for her life.  She is a victorious woman in a troubled society.

The story goes through the time the Soviets take over, to when the US frees the people from the grip of the Taliban.  Many changes happen to Laila and Mariam.  Love gained and lost.  Children enter the picture and bring joy to Mariam and Laila.  Their quest for love and a good, honorable life in Afghanistan is a constant struggle.

When the Taliban take over; women are not allowed to work, travel alone, or be outside alone. There are times when the cruelty of the dominant male becomes outrageous.

This story was very touching.  At many times, it was sad.  It’s a tragedy to hear what happened to Afghanistan and the people living there; the lives that were destroyed, women’s rights being taken away, poverty and death.  The book was interesting with all its twists and turns.  My favorite part of the book was its honesty.  It honestly portrayed the lives and attitudes in Afghanistan.  What I liked least was how tragic the story was.  Even though this book was fictional, I could see it really taking place.  I read both books written by the author and I would read another.  The fact that it takes place in the Middle East attracts me since I am Middle Eastern.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a real story, a fictional tragedy.  It is a quick read and very moving.  It makes me appreciate what I have, before it is taken away.  I would give this book a 9.5 rating on a one to ten scale.  There is still fighting and male dominance in the Middle East, and many women’s lives are still in danger.

Robert Etemadi
Eng 180

 

 

Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini

book cover kite runnerAn epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes the reader from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.  

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is an unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father's servant. This beautifully crafted novel is set in Afghanistan, a country that is in the process of being radically changed. The story reflects “the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption. It is also about the power of fathers over sons - their love, their sacrifices, their lies.”

The first Afghan novel to be written in English, The Kite Runner tells a poignant story against a backdrop of history that has not been told in fiction before. “But just as it is old-fashioned in its narration, it is contemporary in its subject - the devastating history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years.” Emotionally gripping as it is tender, The Kite Runner definitely grabs the reader’s attention so much so that one almost forgets this is a novel and not a memoir. The author manages to provide an educational and eye-opening account of a country's political turmoil, while also developing characters whose heartbreaking struggles and emotional triumphs resonate with readers long after the last page has been turned.

Cheryl Altman
Faculty

 

 

The Glass Castle

By Jeannette Walls

In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls delivers an incredible true story of her childhood in the care of herbook cover glass castle nomadic, non-conforming parents.  Rex and Rose Mary Walls are brilliant individuals and their four children inherit many of their good virtues.  But her father is the victim of an abusive childhood and finds solace in alcohol.  The mother has an artistic gift, but admits to being an “excitement addict”.  She suffers from bouts of depression and shuns the responsibility of providing for her family.  The author’s earliest memory is cooking hot dogs on the stove at the age of three.

The family bounces around the Southwest in the 1960’s.  At one point Rex makes a sharp turn in their dilapidated car, the back door swings open, and Jeanette finds herself accidentally thrown from the back seat of the car.  With dust and pebbles stuck on her face she waits for her parents to realize they have lost a passenger.  The twenty minute wait is interminable for a toddler.

At the age of 10 the author’s family has settled in Rex’s West Virginia hometown.  The uncouth hillbilly relatives make Rex look like the success story of the clan.  Eventually while still in their teens with the support from siblings, the three oldest children move to New York City to escape their parents’ insanity and to start their own successful lives.

This book is touching for many reasons.  Jeanette Walls overcame extreme odds to achieve her present day status as a contributor to MSNBC.  But she always tries to present her parents with affection and generosity.  She survives poverty, fires and near starvation to find her place in the world.  Her parents instill in her an amazing ability to overcome adversity.

Additionally, the story is thought provoking about the plight of the “homeless”.  Because of their mental state the parents frequently find themselves on the street or living out of their car.  Even with their children established with successful careers, the parents still elect to live on the streets rather than accept assistance from their children.

The Glass Castle is a fast paced book that offers a new perspective on a rarely explored fringe of society.

Denise Green
Associate Faculty

 

 

MERCY

By Lara Santoro

How We Become Blind

Some of us remember this: We are children, lying in the grass, staring at the sky, and wondering when our futures will begin. We had time. It spread out before us like that sky or the grass that held our lounging bodies. Time. We had our fill of it, its vast limitlessness. We saw infinity there, but it was not enough. We longed for our older days not knowing that our time there, in our longed-for futures, would become eclipsed by The List of a Countless Things to Do.

And what, then, would become of this sky into which we had pointed at stars, or found fantastic shapes among the clouds, and wondered about the possibility of a rainbow’s pot of gold? The sky would continue to become what it had always been, a vehicle for weather and birds and dreams. It would remain there, always, as it is right now. But for us, the some of us children who had lain in the grass, speeding toward our tomorrows, the sky would narrow itself into that one more thing we just learn to accept, or, better, forget, on our journey of trying to remember the day we became blind.

In her first novel, Lara Santoro has set about the task of restoring our sight. No small feat. Santoro has chosen Africa, of course, a continent where we cannot forget the sky, and she pushes us out of our comfort zone and onto the path of remembrance and forgiveness. On this continent where 700 people a day die from HIV/AIDS--and often simply because they do not have access to what have become ubiquitous retro-viral drugs in the developed world--we come to terms with life as the many characters we meet have come to live it. Here, even the living are dying, or, as Yeats might proclaim, slouching toward their particular resurrections. For what is our human fall from grace without its promise of redemption?

Father Anselmo, as perhaps the conscience of this novel—and of our sense of Mercy/mercy—exhorts us all through his conversations with Anna, the journalist of our tale, we have only to open our eyes to see. Easier said than done, n’est-ce pas? As are our attempts at understanding the human trilogy of faith, hope and love. We are witness to character after character in this novel making, and often failing, in her attempts at grappling with just such an understanding. Santoro reminds us that love hurts (haven’t you heard) and sometimes it really is not all that pretty. But, like a casino in Las Vegas for some, for those of us who wake up to discover we are not so blind there comes a reckoning that it is the only game in town worthy of our perpetual, if flawed, service.

“There are no simple explanations, they don’t exist: the minutest crumb of human experience is an aggregate of at least a half a dozen elements,” Anna tells us, her readers; and like her, we know that we have stumbled upon this thing called humility, something the Africans have learned well how to serve. It may be difficult for citizens of a democracy to understand that somewhere else, like under the vast African sky, for example, pharmaceuticals belong to the privileged. In the case of such rampant HIV/AIDS infection, it means that life belongs to the privileged as well. In Mercy, both the novel and the African character for whom the novel is named, we learn about bravery in the face of such privilege. Time after time--the essence akin to God according to Father Anselmo—we witness our “privileged” characters come back from the dead. Thanks to Santoro, one or two of them return with her eyes wide open to remind the rest of us there is this task called seeing to attend.

Sarah Vogel
Associate Faculty

 

 

Mother Father Deaf

By Paul Preston

Paul Preston, the author, is the son of a deaf couple.  He wanted to write a book that opened the world to the truth about growing up with deaf parents.  He now manages the newly created National Research and Training Center for Families of Adults with Disabilities.  This is a nonprofit organization located in Berkeley, California called Through the Looking Glass.  He is also a research associate in medical anthropology at the University of California, San Francisco.  He has not written any other books.

book cover mother father   This book is non-fiction. It is a research book designed to take the reader into the deaf and hearing cultures, where families embody the conflicts and resolutions of the two often opposing world views.  He interviewed one hundred fifty hearing children of deaf parents.  He had to limit his research to one hundred fifty since several hundred people volunteered their experiences.  This is a rich analysis that is remarkable for its insights into a family normally closed to outsiders.  These stories challenge many of mainstream society’s common myths and beliefs about hearing and deafness and illustrate the drama of belonging.

The study was done during the mid 90’s and it was carried out throughout the United States.  The main character is Paul himself but the interviews he conducts are very interesting.  I found what Martin, an interviewed subject, said about his father very sad.  His dad was a carpenter for several years and never got a supervisory position or went beyond an hourly wage.  He stayed with the same company because to get hired as a deaf person was very difficult, as a result he traveled with that company wherever it went and rarely ever saw or spent time with his family.  This was all because he was deaf.  This is just one of the many discriminating experiences that many of the deaf put up with.  It’s better now but it still exist even if it is within the deaf person themselves.

This book was interesting because it broadened my view of a different culture.  I liked most learning about how children of deaf parents still learn how to talk with the similar ability of a child with hearing parents only no one fully understands why or how this happens, but it does.  What I liked least about the book was the language; I am not one for foul language so I did not appreciate reading it.  I would like to read another book by this author because he does unique work that is based on factual experiences and he holds no punches even when he disagrees with the material.  He is a fair writer and I hope he can write another book maybe on the subject of mainstreaming.  I would only recommend this book to people that are interested in the deaf community or work with the deaf.  It is a little dry for leisure reading but if you have a goal of learning then I would recommend it.  I would give this book an 8.5 on a scale from 1 to 10 because it is a research book and because of the language.

Deborah Huckaby
English 180

 

 

Are You Afraid of the Dark

By Sidney Sheldon

Sidney Sheldon is one of the world’s best selling authors with eighteen novels that have all hit the New York Times’ bestsellers list.  He is the only author to have won an Oscar, a Tony and an Edgar award and he held the Guinness Book of Records in 2004 for being the most translated author in the world.

In addition to his writing, Sidney Sheldon has created several TV shows including “I Dream ofbook cover afraid of the dark Jeanie”, “Hart to Hart”, and “The Patty Duke Show.”  He has also won two Academy Awards as well as two Screenwriters Guild Awards for Best Musicals - “Easter Parade” and “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Sidney Sheldon unfortunately passed away in January, 2007 due to complications from pneumonia.

Are You Afraid of the Dark begins with several mysterious deaths occurring in Colorado, New York, Berlin, and Paris.  None of the deaths appear to be related and there is no reason to assume that there was any connection between them.  Eventually, the police discover that each of the victims was connected to Kingsley International Group (KIG), the largest think tank in the world.

Tanner Kingsley, the head of KIG, requests to meet with two of the victim’s widows in New York.  Although he assures them that he is doing everything that he can to locate their husband’s killers the story unravels with chilling suspense as the women attempt to stay alive.  Through several curious events, they become paranoid and untrusting of everyone, including each other.  In the end, the women discover who the killer is.

Kelly Harris and Diane Stevens are the main characters.  They are the widows of two of the murder victims.  Kelly is a beautiful model who is at the height of her career and Diane is a successful artist.  They are extremely believable because the incidents are described in such realistic detail and the actions of the characters are consistent throughout.  Nothing seemed over exaggerated or unrealistic.  I actually found both of the main characters to be equally interesting.  They each had unique qualities and played an equally important part in the book.

Unfortunately this was the last book that Sidney Sheldon wrote but it was one of his best.  It was his same suspense filled, sitting on the edge of the chair type of book.  It was a murder mystery with an unbelievable twist…as all his books are.  I loved it.

I am always enthralled with his captivating, suspense filled plots that end with an unusual twist.  His books always end with the killer revealed and it is never the person that you expect it to be.  All of his novels have very realistic settings that could be placed into a real life scenario.  There wasn’t anything that I didn’t like about the book but if I had to pick something I would  have to say that his style is often difficult to follow if you don’t read the book all the way through in a short amount of time.  The chapters bounce back and forth between incidents and often I would forget what had transpired in the previous chapter if I let a couple of days go by.

I have read all eighteen books by Sidney Sheldon.  This was the final book.  All of them were excellent and I have recommended them to several people including my god kids.  They helped me to love reading.  Now I am faced with searching for an author with a similar quality and style and I know that it will be a tough act to follow.  This book is definitely a 10.

Kerrie Mays
English 180

 

 

Robinson Crusoe

By Daniel Defoe

We’ve all grown up to love those adventure-filled fantasy stories that our parents indulged us with before bedtime - the ones with happy endings and happily-ever-afters.  Well, my novel selection, book cover robinson carusoRobinson Crusoe, I would say is similar to that, but for more advanced readers.  The main plot of the story is basically about a 17th century English merchant seaman, Robinson Crusoe, who was shipwrecked on a remote, deserted island, and eventually befriended a barbaric cannibal who he named Friday.  After surviving years on the island, he was rescued by a ship, and took Friday with him--back to civilization.  After reading the novel a second time, I picked up more details than I did before, as if I watching a movie over.  I highly recommend this book for passionate readers who are looking for excitement, adventure, and even some violence in their books.  I personally like the book not just because I read it, but for the author’s clever way of portraying the underlying themes, such as imperialistic assimilation, friendship, and man’s courage and instinct to survive when put in a precarious predicament.  It is also about man’s will to survive if put in a desperate  situation and that all human beings can communicate with each other no matter what language they speak.

As for the author, Daniel Defoe was born in 1660 in London, England to a well-off family - his father, James Defoe, a Presbyterian butcher, and his mother Alice.  Throughout the course of his life and career, Defoe was known to be the author of about 370 publications, according to some sources I’ve come across.  Back in his time period, there were rumors that he did write two more sequels to the original Robinson Crusoe, which had become an instant hit.  The two subsequent books were titled The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and The serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe (1729).  Due to the lack of recognition and publicity, over times these works have become a mere rumor in literary history credited to this author.

The only aspect about the book I did not like was the author’s style of writing, as it was written in Old English, so I had to slow down my reading a bit.  Overall, I would give this book a nine out of ten score, because it is a great book, and I highly recommend it for pleasure reading.  I would read Defoe’s other books if I come across them in the future.  In conclusion, I would recommend this novel to all ages and I’m sure people will come to love the exciting themes and plots the story itself has to offer, even if you are just a casual reader.

Michael Doan
English 180

 

 

Mythago Wood

By Robert Holdstock

Robert Holdstock was born in Kent, south-east of London, England, in 1948.  He spent his young years in and around the dense woods of Kent, close to where he was born.  After nine years of studying in the field of medical Zoology, Holdstock became a full-time writer in 1975, writing mostly science fiction and fantasy. He now lives in London, but escapes as often as he can to the woods he grew up around.  His love for the woods is reflected in the settings of many of his books.  In addition, many of Holdstock’s books feature ancient settings, often with primitive cultures.  Holdstock is best known for the Mythago Wood book series, but is also recognized for The Merlin Codex book series, The Dark Wheel, and The Emeraldbook cover mythago wood Forest.

In the deep corners of Ryhope woods exist a place that is barely explored by man, let alone shown on maps.  There lives a primitive magic, which makes ancient myths and legends come to life.  George Huxley had devoted his life to the exploration of the Ryhope woods and its mythological creatures.  Little by little, his obsession drove him away from his wife and two young sons.  His extensive research of Ryhope guided him to a part of the woods that was full of animals, but also inhabited by monsters and ancient mythological creatures -- Mythagos.  George’s research on the Mythagos leads him to fall in love with a Mythago Amazon, Guiwenneth, who was the daughter of an exile warrior named Peredur.  Guiwenneth’s aunt was a vile and heinous woman, who was unable to conceive a child.  Because of her greed and desire to fulfill her social status, the aunt kidnapped Guiwenneth.  Peredur and his band of warriors, transformed to owls by the magic of the woods, freed Guiwenneth.  However, in doing so, Peredur died.  For this reason, Guiwenneth was cared for by the owls from that point on.

After George’s death, the  youngest son, Christian, fell in love with his own Guiwenneth Mythago.  Christian and this Guiwenneth joined each other in marriage.  However, since Guiwenneth was a Mythago, who needed the magic of the woods to survive, trying to live as a mortal deprived her of her life.  Obsessed like his father, Christian tried to restore life to his wife through the magic in the woods.

Christian’s brother, Steve, returned from France shortly after his father’s passing and found his brother tremendously changed.  Christian had started to venture into the woods more frequently and the time spent in there had increased.  Determined to find out what mysteries seemed to haunt his family, Steve journeyed into the woods and discovered a world much stranger than he ever could have imagined.

While in the woods, Steve created his own version of Guiwenneth, and the two of them fell in love.  That drove Christian to madness, who turned into an evil and merciless brute--bearing more resemblance to a savage animal than a man.  Christian became possessed by his desire to have Guiwenneth back.  When Steve tried to save Christian from what he had become, Steve faced unimaginable challenges.  It turned out that Christian and Steve were reliving an ancient myth in which one of the brothers must die.

Behind this story you find a dramatic family conflict and an overwhelming story of impossible love.  I found Guiwenneth to be the most interesting character of the book.  I thought it was interesting how Guiwenneth’s character was a function of the imagination of the person who she was in contact with.  This is the very nature of Mythagos--just as folklore has as many interpretations as it has listeners, a Mythago has as many guises as it has peers.

Mythago Wood is a book full of adventure and ideas that encourage a wild imagination.  The book was captivating and it kept my interest throughout the story.  What I like most about the book was the way Holdstock writes.  He describes characters and settings in a way that they almost feel real.  However, one thing that I don’t like about the book is the extensive use of unusual names.  It tends to be a bit confusing at times.

As I really enjoyed this book, I plan on reading several other books by the same author.  I enjoy the setting that the author uses and the way in which he presents it.  Although the main characters do not remain the same in other books, the stories of Mythago Wood and some other of Holdstock’s books are intertwined.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy, especially someone who likes ancient mythology.  My rating of this book is 9 out of 10.

Niclas Helbro
English 180

 

 

Left Behind

By Jerry B. Jenkins & Dr. Tim LaHaye

Left Behind is the first book of the Left Behind series written by Jerry B. Jenkins and Dr. Tim LaHaye.  Jenkins is a skilled and prominent writer.  His writings can be found in Time, Reader’s Digest, Parade and Guidepost among numerous other publications.  The second author of the Left Behind series is Dr. Tim LaHaye.  LaHaye is an expert on Bible prophecies and has written the New York Times best sellers book cover left behindBabylon Rising and The Secret on Ararat. 

Left Behind takes place in the future in Chicago and New York and allows the reader to walk through the “beginning of the end” according to the prophecies recorded in the Bible.  In order to be able to cover the world wide political happenings as well as personal controversies during this period, the authors cleverly chose two main characters, world-renowned journalist Buck Williams and airline pilot Rayford Steele.

These two men who are strangers to each other are on the same flight when Christ returns to rapture His church, and millions of people around the world disappear leaving behind everything material and a very frightened population.  Buck and Rayford’s paths continue to cross throughout the story as they search for answers.  When Rayford visits a local church and meets Pastor Bruce Barnes, he discovers the truth behind the vanishings, finds faith in Christ, and shares his findings with his daughter Chloe and Buck.  Under the teaching of Pastor Barnes, they begin studying the Bible prophecies about the end times and watch as the pages of history unfold before their eyes in exact accordance with the ancient text.

While the world is in an uproar, Nicolae Carpathia, a relatively unknown leader in Romania, quickly rises to power declaring that the world must come together in peace during this time of crisis.  Most of the world sees Carpathia as a hero, but Rayford and Buck quickly realize his true identity, the Antichrist, who is prophesied in the Bible.  The new Christians are the only ones who are able to see past his schemes and avoid his brainwashing and manipulative powers.  The next and final seven years of human history are called the Tribulation Years and will be like nothing humanly imaginable.  They realize that they must share the truth about Carpathia with as many people as possible before time runs out and trust God to protect them from his power.

Because it takes place when the world is broken and chaotic, Left Behind is filled with unexpected action and suspense.  Bombings, burglaries, military attacks, and supernatural acts of both God and the Antichrist made the book extremely interesting and kept me on the edge of my seat.

The characters were all incredibly believable and easy to relate to.  They each had their own faults and areas that they struggled with.  Rayford’s daughter, in particular, caught my attention as being someone who seemed to accurately portray many college-age students.  She listened to her father’s new convictions and beliefs but was skeptical about making any decisions of her own.  She had to hear of his new faith in an indirect way before the importance of his discovery finally hit her.

During the disappearances, both Rayford and Buck lost close loved ones.  Rayford’s wife and son disappeared, and Buck’s sister-in-law, niece, nephew, and nephew vanished.  Both men felt deep sorrow, pain, and emptiness at having lost people that they were so close to.  After having also lost relatives over the past few years, I felt that this part of the book was definitely something that I could relate to.  I understood the pain and emptiness that they experienced as they went through the healing process.

One of the things that I liked most about this book was the way in which the authors weaved and intertwined the lives of Rayford Steele and Buck Williams.  The authors switched back and forth between the characters every scene.  Although they did not even meet each other until about three quarters of the way through the book, they had similar friends and acquaintances who often spoke of them.  This technique kept the book at a fast pace and allowed me to see two different perspectives in a very creative and ingenious way.

One of the scenes that I disliked the most about the book occurred close to the end.  Buck is in a meeting with the chief political leaders of the world when Carpathia commits two murders.  Everyone in the room except Buck was brainwashed by Carpathia and claimed to have witnessed a suicide.  In addition to this, they all claimed that they never saw Buck at the meeting.  Although this scene demonstrated the manipulative abilities of the Antichrist and was a major contributing factor to the book’s ending, it seemed rather confusing and difficult to follow.

I found Left Behind to be extremely engaging, inspirational, and motivating.  For these reasons I would jump at the opportunity to read other books by the same authors and would definitely recommend this book to others, as well. On a scale of one to ten, I would give Left Behind a solid ten.  Whether you are interested in end time Biblical prophecies or just ready for the adventure of a life time, this book would be a fantastic and rewarding read.  As it covers the trials and difficulties of a shattered world, this book demonstrates the power of love, faith, and perseverance.  Left Behind is an incredible story that shows that even in the most trying and frightening of circumstances, there is hope.

Danielle Pelletier
English 180