Saturday, November 16, 2019

Amal Unbound Book Review by: Raheem Ahmad

Amal Unbound Book Review by: Raheem Ahmad
Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound is about a girl named Amal who lives in pakistan and goes to school. Her mother, Mehnaz, is pregnant, her father owns land and grows sugarcane and her sisters, Seema, Safa, and Rabia go to school and are very young to be helping their mother. Amal stops going to school to help her sick mom and is tired of doing the work. She goes to a shop nearby and sees a pomegranate. She buys the pomegranate but another man says he wants it but she refuses to give it to her. She goes home and later realizes she talked back to the landlord, Jawad Sahib. She is now forced into indentured servitude and serves for Jawad Sahibs mother, Nasreen Baji. There are other people in the house like Nabila, Fatima, Ghalib, Mumtaz, Bilal, etc. that work for Jawad Sahib. Amal reads poetry books she steals from the library and also teaches Fatima how to read. An adult literacy center opened and Amal befriends the instructor Asif, by learning and teaching how to use a computer. She goes to her best friend's sister, Hafsa, her wedding and later finds out Jawad Sahib murdered a diplomat’s son. He is later arrested and Nasreen baji will go to her other sons in Islamabad and the rest of the members go back to their families. 
My Rating:

I LOVED this book and would give it a 10/10. There are a few reasons; I am Pakistani so I am able to relate. Aisha Saeed’s story is based on Malala Yousefzais story of young women/girls in Pakistan being raped. She also mentions the desserts, clothing, and bazaar items that you can find in Pakistan. Saeed also uses good examples of imagery, similes, metaphors, and other literary terms in her book which you can see as you read. I definitely recommend this book, you will love it; it has comedy, relatable scenes, etc. 

Review of Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien by Ananya Singh

Book : The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Fantasy novels are one of my personal favorites. Being able to escape from reality into a new, imaginative world is amazing. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien is an incredible novel that revolves around a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. He is approached by a wizard and a group of dwarves that persuade him to help reclaim their home from the great dragon Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo creates new friendships and learns a lot about himself.
In all honesty, there was very little for me to complain about. There were some decisions made by the characters that I disagreed with but I could look past them. Now, moving on to the good, there were many aspects of this novel that I loved. The description Tolkien uses to explain the characters and Smaug was astounding. It is very evident that he wanted his readers to experience the novel as if they were another character walking alongside Bilbo Baggins. His writing allows the audience to jump into the book. However, the style of writing is quite different than what we are used to reading today. The complex language may be hard to follow at times but it does not make the book unreadable. If you’re new to this writing style then you will get used to it as you read. The plot itself was captivating and unique. This concept is not something you can easily find in other fantasy novels. 
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The plot intrigued me even though I watched the movie. You can really see and understand how the characters develop as the story progresses. Fantasy novels are one of my favorite genres to read and Tolkien was able to create an extremely magical and unique experience. I give The Hobbit a 4.5 out of 5.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, review by Nina Soukhanovskii

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. 

A Quote to Consider:
“With a shiver of foreboding he saw his marriage becoming what most of the other marriages about him were: a dull association of material and social interests held together by ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.”
Meet the Main Characters:
Newland Archer: He is a young lawyer who marries May Welland. He tells herself that he is in love with her, but he ends up falling in love with the Countess Olenska instead. Throughout the novel, he is faced with the dilemma of staying faithful to wife or following his heart.
May Welland: She is a beautiful young girl who gets married to Newland Archer. In the novel, she is portrayed as innocent and clueless. She is what society wants her to be because she has been raised knowing that her sole purpose is to get married and then stay in her husband’s shadow. She has no personality of her own. 
Countess Ellen Olenska: She is May’s cousin, raised in Europe and married to a Polish count. She comes to America in hopes of escaping a life that she does not want to live. She is the complete opposite of May because she is portrayed as independent and lively. Like a free spirit, she turns a blind eye towards society and chooses her own path in life (seen when she leaves her husband behind).
In the beginning of the novel, when the readers meet Newland, he is engaged to May and is perfectly happy with the outcome of his life up until that point. He insists on the fact that he is in love with May and that she is everything that she should be. The readers see that he is very happy with his decision to marry May and that his life seems to be running smoothly. 
However, when Newland meets May’s cousin, Ellen, he begins to doubt whether he made the right choice. All of a sudden, he finds himself comparing May to Ellen as he realizes that he is, in fact, in love with Ellen for her personality and not May. 
May, however, is not as ignorant as she seems. She notices the tension, and questions whether or not there is another woman in Newland’s life. Although she does not directly ask about his relationship with Ellen, she definitely suspects something. Newland, his heart belonging to Ellen but his mind to May, presses May until she agrees to wed sooner. 
And so, Newland’s life is set. As much as he wishes he could just forget about Ellen, she seems to come up every now and then, making him desperately wish for the colorful marriage that could have been. Instead, his life with May is dull and boring. Although he does not despise her, whatever he once felt for May is gone. His marriage is just like all of the other marriages, loveless. 
But the novel is not over just yet. There is still more to figure out as Newland, May, and Ellen each explore their own opportunities to live their life to the fullest. Will Newland give up on his quest to keep both women in his life? Will Ellen return to Europe, back to the life she once ran away from? Will May step in between the two?
Read the novel to find out!
My Thoughts & Rating:
Overall, I would give this novel 4 out of 5 stars. The plot had a lot of intriguing turns that I didn’t expect, and the character were developed and described very well. The novel does have a few slow parts towards the middle because Newland has a lot of time to himself to think, but it picks up by the end. Don’t give up on this novel half-way, it’ll be worth it in the long run. I would recommend this book to all readers, though I think readers who enjoy the genre of classical literature would enjoy this book the most.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review of Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich, reviewed by Siddhi Patel

Siddhi Patel

Book Review: Bringing Down The House (by Ben Mezrich)

The book Bringing Down The House by: Ben Mezrich appears to be a novel at first
glance, but is actually a true story all the way through. This nonfiction New York Times
Bestseller is truly one of a kind, and I have never read a book that even compares to the action
filled “plot” of this one. Bringing Down The House is the story of how six M.I.T. students made
millions of dollars off Las Vegas. These students, originally part of a local blackjack club,
mastered the art of playing blackjack. Blackjack is a card game that can be played to an
individual’s benefit through the use of mathematics and probability. Card counting is a method
used to keep track of the types of cards in a deck (high or low). There are multiple ways to count
cards, but the students at M.I.T. formed a rather simple one, where cards 2-6 are +1, and cards
10-Ace are -1. By keeping track of the count, they knew it was time to bet higher when the card
count was positive. This fairly simple system was accompanied by words that signaled the card
count. For example 1 = tree, 2 = switch, glove = 5, sweet = 16 and so on. These may seem
random at first, but they were mnemonics.
The six students formed their own team and traveled to Las Vegas every weekend to
play in the casinos. They set up a system, with different identities and personas to blend into the
casino’s atmosphere, in addition to a simple coded language, only understood by them,
accompanied by various body signals to communicate. To start off, the 3 main roles assigned in
every shift of playing were the “spotters”, “gorillas”, and “big players”. “Spotters” would keep
track of the card count and then signal a “gorilla” or “big player” to come to that particular table
when the count was good. “Gorillas” would blindly trust the “spotters” from earlier, usually acting
extremely drunk, and place high bets every round. The “big players”, aka “BP”, would count
cards while betting correctly as to not raise suspicion, but earn the largest sum of money. At the
same time, they would also be playing a different persona and interacting with the other players
to blend in.
Personally, I found this book extremely fascinating. This book demonstrated that nothing
is impossible in the real world. While reading this, I could hardly believe that this had actually
happened not that long ago in the 1980s-1990s. I am sure that technology has improved and
casinos have caught onto what happens at blackjack tables by now. However, that just makes it
more fascinating as to how six students used their brains to make millions rapidly. I would give
this book a 10 out of 10, as it is truly one of a kind. This book is not filled with unnecessary fluff,
but has the perfect balance of action. I would recommend this non-fiction book to anyone who is
looking to read something new for a change.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Museum of Us by Tara Wilson Redd; a review by Isha Sajid

The Museum of Us by Tara Wilson Redd is a novel that deals with mental disorders. Sadie, the protagonist of the book has everything anyone would ever want. However, she has a disorder and she daydreams the love of her life, who does not really exist. The author makes the characters very relatable, even though her circumstance is rare. There were some moments throughout the book where it was hard to catch up with Saide's thoughts. You would not be able to understand the book because of the way the book was written. There should have been some better language to make it more interesting. Another thing that made this book not the best was the fact that they kept switching timelines. It was hard to catch up with that and you could not recognize which time frame you were reading. Other than that, the book was amazing and the characters really made a connection with you. We could see ourselves in her situation and she handles them in a realistic matter. I would rate this book a 4/5 and definitely recommend it. 

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford; review by Isha Sajid

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible
 by Ross Welford is about a girl who tries to cure her acne, but turns out to turn invisible. The writing style of the book is quite simple, so it would be interesting to younger readers. The story was written realistically, even though this would never happen to us. One of the problems of this book was pacing. They would stretch one simple event for chapters and chapters and it would not be as interesting. Another thing was that the book was very predictable. You could easily tell what was about to happen and there weren't any major twists  The author uses a lot of figurative languages for us to see what is happening in our minds which made it interesting. The book has a good storyline and it grabs our attention. I would rate this a 3.5/5, but younger people would enjoy this book. 

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl Review by Priyanka Sarkhel (11th grade)

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl is a psychological suspense novel made for young-adults.
The story follows Beatrice Hartley, narrating from her point-of-view, and her four best friends:
Kipling, Whitney, Cannon, and Martha. Following the mysterious death of Jim, Beatrice’s boyfriend,
these five friends reunite at Wincroft estate a year after graduation to recount the memories and
good times had when they all attended Darrow-Harker School.  
Beatrice, despite having drifted from her friends since leaving high school and dealing with the
grief of her boyfriend’s death, decides to revisit Wincroft in order to finally uncover the truth
behind what happened to Jim. Aware of the fact that her friends may know more than they are
letting on, Beatrice steps out of the comfort of her safe, Rhode Island home to pursue the mystery
that has haunted her for so long.
In a night of drunken hazes, the five friends leave a punk-rock concert in the pouring rain late
at night. When they return home, a strange man knocks at the door, calling himself The Keeper.
He tells them that time has paused, and the only way to press play is for them to make a daunting
This book was equal parts gripping as it was boring and repetitive. Pessl does a great job of
setting up the world the characters are in, but the basis of the story itself follows a Groundhog
Day pattern, in which the same day repeats itself over and over again. There are elements of sci-fi
and time travel that are thrown into this world, making it a bit more complex for the reader to
understand, but the way Pessl attempts to explain it was relatively decent, at least, for me it was.
However, to really understand what was going on, I had to re-read these explanations several
times, something that is really unappealing to me in terms of sci-fi.
I want to be able to easily understand how the world works the first time rather than having to
do extra work to really get it.
In terms of writing style, I felt that Pessl overused similes way too much. It’s one thing to mix in
some nice comparisons every now and then, but it’s another to compare unrelated things near
constantly that provide no deeper understanding whatsoever, but rather are there just because
they are. She wrote in a very romantic, poetic way that turned up empty and meaningless in the
long run.
The characters were stereotypical and unlikeable. Kipling, who is the gay character in this book,
is written in a very stereotypical and one-dimensional manner. The other characters all took the
place of high school cliches: nerd, rich brat, genius comedian. They too were boring characters,
lacking depth and dialogue. Even the protagonist herself, Beatrice, is almost just as stagnant and
flat. Overall, none of the characters in this book had an arc or a purpose. Basically, you end up
rooting for none of them.
In terms of pacing, this book is slow. You get nowhere very fast. While this is supposed to be a
thriller, mystery, suspense novel of sorts, there was very little thrill and very little suspense. I
lost the direction of the plot several times while reading this book, finding that I did not really
care about what was happening as much as I wanted to get to the end. I forgot about the mystery
Beatrice was trying to solve in regards to Jim’s death because in some parts, it felt as if that entire
plot point was shoved to the side. Then, all of a sudden, it was stuffed right back in our faces
towards the end of the book.
Amidst all of that mess, characters kept coming and going, leaving Beatrice alone most of the time.
It was hard to keep track of and was, frankly, annoying.
The climax felt anticlimactic, almost as if the entire story and uncovering all of the secrets the main
characters did were pointless because the truth isn’t really that intense at all. It was disappointing
to read, really.
While the book had potential, I did not enjoy it one bit. On a scale of 1-5, Neverworld Wake is a 2.

Catwoman: Soulsteaker by Sarah J. Maas, review by Vanshika Agrawal

Catwoman: Soulstealer written by the author, Sarah J. Maas focuses on a character named Selina Kyle. It shows her struggles financially and physically throughout the novel at various events and also demonstrates of how she overcomes those obstacles. At the beginning, she is a fighter who is trying to earn money for her sister's operation. She has bruises all over her body and limps but still risks her life for her only family member's happiness. Her will makes her win everytime and she pursues this illegal way of income because of her sister's disease's operation. As the book progresses, a lot of interesting twists and turns take place. She meets the character Luke Fox who accompanies her on her adventures. She fights Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn with Luke to free Gotham City from horrible leaders when Batman was away.
This book was good but wasn't an attention grabber right at the beginning. It was slow to the plot but when it got there, it became interesting. I was lost a few times during the novel but the characters acted certain ways because of their helplessness which can be related to society. I have not watched any Batman series but this book was informative enough and I felt like I knew everything already. It was an exciting adventure to be a part of and how things unravel the way they do in this book.

I would give this book a 4/5 because of it's slow way through the plot. The novel did a fantastic job of introducing the characters as well as the setting. I would recommend this book to a person who loves action, suspense and a hint of the romance genre.

Vanshika Agrawal
Grade 9

Wizard's Dog Fetches the Grail by Eric Kahn Gale, review by Aditri Chauhan

The Wizard’s Dog Fetches The Grail by Eric Kahn Gale is a cute, entertaining, fantasy book
revolving around the theme of friendship and family. The Wizard’s Dog, Nosewise, travels with
his master, Merlin, his girl Morgana, and his boy, Arthur. Their greatest enemy, Oberon, is the
king of the Fae people, and his magical worms seem to have killed one of the greatest ladies
from the Fae court, Lady Nivian. She is Nosewise’s pack’s most trusted and powerful friend.
Seeing her stony body causes them a lot of devastation, until Oberon himself shows up,
offering them a way to bring her back. The Holy Grail, a magic cup that resides in the Camelot,
a kingdom in the Otherworld, has life powers strong enough to revive Nivian. The travel through
a portal into the Otherworld, where they are faced with many challenges, including greedy
queens, extreme weather, and numerous manipulative dreams.

Being a YA book reader, I didn’t have a lot to compare this more elementary level book to. It was cute,
but the emotions didn’t really hit me deeply like a lot of other books I read do.
It was more of a light read. The characters were lovable, though. They had interesting personalities
that a reader would be able to relate to. Also, since the book was written from the point of view of a dog,
it made it extremely funny because he was innocent and naive.
On the other hand, I wasn’t so fond of the plot. It went very slowly, and was slightly repetitive in places.
It did pick up near the end, but at that point, I was kind of dragging myself to finish.
Overall, I enjoyed reading about the characters, but in my opinion, the story was generally very slow.

On a scale of 1-5, I would probably give this book a 3, meaning it was alright.
For people who read majority YA books will find this book quite a bit under their usual expectations.
But younger audiences may enjoy this a lot because this is probably the kind of story they are used
to seeing. My 8 year old sister read some of it and thoroughly enjoyed that much,
so The Wizard’s Dog Fetches the Grail is most likely best for that age group.

Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, review by Aditri Chauhan

The gender bent retelling of Beowulf, The Boneless Mercies is a story by April Genevieve Tucholke that follows Frey, Ovie, Juniper, Runa, and Trigve, five young people looking for glory. Boneless Mercies are bands of women forced to kill people by their wish in order to make a living, and unfortunately, the former four girls do just that. Trigve is a man they found, dying, in a village completely destroyed by “The Winter Sickness”. Together they travel, tirelessly doing what they were born to do, or so they were told. The main character, Frey, is an insecure girl, who silently wishes for glory. When she hears of an undefeatable beast that is ruining the lands of Blue Vee on the other side of her country, Vorseland, she considers it an opportunity to gain fame. When she presents the idea to her companions, she is pleasantly surprised, and they set out to kill the beast. Their journey brings them many surprises, but they are all determined to escape the death trade and make a life for themselves. It is a story of self-empowerment and the power of womanhood, and is extremely difficult to put down.
This book was on par with some of the greatest bestsellers in the world, such as the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. I did not pick up the story with high expectations, but I was shocked on so many levels. Deeper into the plot, I found myself actively laughing, crying, and living with the characters. They were so relatable, and each one was very special to the actual story. Since the plot was not completely original, it may be seen as not good enough, but I personally thought is was absolutely perfect. There were very few coincidences driving the story and the plot was relatively realistic, especially the ending. Finally, the writing style was passionate and emotional, obviously showing the love the author had for the characters and setting. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the story was, and no matter how many words I use to describe it, they will always fall short of expressing my feelings for this book.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I would rate this book a solid 4.75, which means I think it’s a really fantastic book! I seriously suggest that people who love fantasy or dystopian books, like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, read this book. It is a bit apart from the norm, but that is what makes it special. Even going into this novel with high hopes, you can’t be disappointed. The story is almost life-changing, and reminded me that, in my mind, “I am woman, wanderer, warrior.”  

Squirm by Carl Hiassen, review by Vivek Manthri

The Squirm by Carl Hiassen is a very well written adventurous tale filled with twists and turns. The main character Billy Dickens moves all around the country, but this time he spends his summer in Florida. He finds out that he has a relationship with the Crow Nation which is all the way up in Montana. He decides to fly up there, but shortly after he finds out that there is something going on which is a much bigger issue than he has ever faced. He starts his journey. Join Billy this summer in his super amazing twisted tale which involves Grizzly Bears, spy drones and deadly snakes. I would rate this book a 4.5/5 because it totally deserves it. All of this action put together in the Squirm by the Newberry Honor winner Carl Hiassen.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Review of A Sorrow Fierce and Falling by Jessica Cluess; review by Srinidhi Gopalan

I enjoyed reading A Sorrow Fierce and Falling by Jessica Cluess. I found myself feeling and connecting
with Henrietta, the main character, in the novel. I felt her emotions of nerves as she awaits her marriage
and felt frustrated for Henrietta when she endured the various problems and her relationship with
Blackwood. However, I felt as if the plot was all over the place.
At times, it was hard to follow along with the storyline. Certain times, the setting would switch abruptly
or certain parts of the story would seem repetitive or redundant, making me lose my interest in reading
at times. I felt as if Henrietta’s, personality was prominent, and the whole idea of her quest to chose
her love and the power she has on the fate of kingdom are interesting issues throughout the novel,
which then led to a conclusion I thought was unexpected.
However, Henrietta did not really change at the end of the novel too, and as a reader, I often enjoy
reading about more dynamic characters, so I would’ve loved for her to progress as a character too.
It was a good book, but definitely not an award-winning novel due to some confusion in the plot,
and how it could easily get boring in the middle. Finally, Henrietta could have been developed a
little more. I would rate this book a 3.5 on a scale of 5 based on some flaws but some good aspects
of this novel. Despite these flaws, it was an interesting and fun read.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Ananya Singh, 11th Grade Book Review of Embassy Row by Quinn Fawcett

Ananya Singh, 11th Grade
Book Review of Embassy Row by Quinn Fawcett

Everyone is familiar with the amazing duo of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Together they face the world and solve crimes. However, not many are familiar with his older brother Mycroft Holmes. He is rarely mentioned in the original series by Arthur Conan Doyle and many readers, including me, have wondered what more there is to the mysterious Mycroft Holmes. Well, you're in luck! This series by a pair of authors under the pen name Quinn Fawcett do just that. The first book Embassy Row follows the journey of Mycroft as he embarks on a secret mission for the British government. This book was written in the perspective of Guthrie who is his assistant. They share the same relationship that Sherlock and John have. This book was quite a treat. Since I am a huge fan of the original series I decided to give this one a chance. Even though this series is not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the style of writing is very similar. The plot was quite interesting. However, there were some parts that I was not a fan of such as the little character build up. I wish the authors revealed more things about the characters themselves instead of only focusing on the plot. All in all, this book was a pleasurable read and I will be sure to read the next two books. If you are a die hard fan of anything Sherlock Holmes then make sure to give Embassy Row a read!
Final Rating: 4/5

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Ananya Singh, 11th Grade Book Review of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Ananya Singh, 11th Grade
Book Review of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This unique tale follows the journey of a young yet ambitious girl named Zelie. She is a maji and therefore possess’ magic. One of her most recognizable traits is her long silver hair, a signature trait of all maji. She lives in the Kingdom of Orisha. Unfortunately, the king of Orisha has snatched magic from all the maji in an incident called the Raid. In the process, Zelie lost her mom and has never been the same. Since the Raid, Zelie has been living under the radar, secretly practicing magic with a group of individuals that want to bring magic back. Throughout her life, all the maji have been treated poorly and Zelie finally decided that enough was enough. She embarks on a trip to retrieve 3 sacred objects in order to bring back magic. Along the way, she faces countless battles and is forced to work with people she never thought she would meet. Does she succeed? Read the book to find out. Coming from someone who is not an avid reader, this book was different. It was engaging which encouraged me to read it to the very end. The exciting plot and the development of the characters make this book a definite read. I was able to connect with Zelie despite not facing the same things she faced.If you’re a fan of fantasy books or just have some free time be sure to pick up Children of Blood and Bone.
Final Rating : 4.5 out of 5

Amal Unbound Book Review by: Raheem Ahmad

Amal Unbound Book Review by: Raheem Ahmad Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound is about a girl named Amal who lives in pakistan and goes to school...