The Informant

Based on a true story, this book tells the story of Mark Whitcare, the executive who wore a wire for the FBI when they tried to bring down a corporate giant, Archer Daniels Midland, involved in one of the largest price-fixing cases in history. Kurt Eichenwald wrote this to tell the American public what really happened. He based it off of "eight hundred hours of interviews...as well as tens of thousands of confidential corporate and government records, including secret grand jury testimony. Much of the dialogue comes from publicly unavailable transcripts of secret recordings made by a cooperating witness with the FBI over more than two years." It is essentially a crime novel, but it just so happens to be true. I liked it, but didn't love it. I feel like Eichenwald dragged out some parts of the story and that was unnecessary. The story though, of the bipolar Mark Whitcare, was extremely interesting. I have not seen the movie version, which came out in 2009 starring Matt Damon as Mark Whitcare. If you like business-crime stories, then you should read this, but if you're not interested in stories like this, then this book isn't for you. Rating: ★★★

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Everybody knows about Sherlock Holmes, a lot of people have seen the movie (Sherlock Holmes) starring Robert Downey Jr., but has anyone read the book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, I just did and it was amazing. Holmes' powers of deduction are so amazing that you begin to want to be like him. He can tell where a person is from, what they are feeling, where they live, etc. just by looking at them and seeing a crease on their pants. It does take place in the 1800s, so it is a little old-fashioned, but it is a magnificent read. It isn't a book that you have to sit down and read in one sitting. It is narrated by Watson, Holmes' trusty sidekick and each chapter is a different case. So once you finish a chapter, you don't feel the urge to read more to find out what happens. For example, when Watson visits Holmes in the first chapter after not seeing him for a while, Holmes guesses that he has a clumsy servant girl and that he was recently outside in bad weather. Watson is surprised, so Holmes explains his deductions about him "'It is simplicity itself,' said he; 'my eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey." It is not gory or bloody like crime novels nowadays, it is a much more elegantly written crime novel. If you think you know Sherlock Holmes (The Guinness World Records has consistently listed Sherlock Holmes as the "most portrayed movie character" with 75 actors playing the part in over 211 films), think again and read this book! (It's also free on the kindle). Rating: ★★★★★

Millennium Trilogy

The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are all part of the Millennium Trilogy, were first published in 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively, and written by the late Steig Larsson. Larsson died before he saw any of these published, and they have become a huge success in Larsson's native country, Sweeden, and in Europe and America. The theme of the three books is sexual violence against women, and the main character is Lisbeth, a girl who has been affected by sexual violence. The other main character is Mikeal Blomkovist, a journalist working on a number of causes throughout the books. He falls in love with Lisbeth, who is antisocial but extremely intelligent. She is a hacker and researcher, specializing in investigating people and they first meet when Lisbeth was assigned to investigate Blomkovist. She has a photographic memory, and Blomkvist thinks she has Asperger's syndrome. She is very violent and has a hatred of "men who hate women". I recommend these books only for mature readers because of some very violent scenes related to sexual violence. But if you can stomach these scenes, I highly recommend the Millennium Trilogy. It was made into a movie, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and I think the other two are going to be as well. I have not seen the movie, but the books are always better than the movies! As for my preference among the three books, Dragon Tattoo (1) is the best, followed by Fire (3), with Hornet's Nest (2) in the last. Rating: ★★★★


The Poisonwood Bible

This novel by Barbara Kingsolver tells the story of Nathan Price through the eyes of his wife and four daughters. Price is an evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission of converting others to the Congo in 1959. They take with them what they think they will need - but proves to be unnecessary in Africa. "The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the twentieth century: the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy." The stories of the four daughters, Leah, Adah, Ruth May, and Rachel, are intertwined with the story of their mother, Orleanna. A family from Georgia, they are completely out of their element in the midst of the Congo. The name of the book comes from the natives' language.
"Tata Jesus is BANGALA!" declares the Reverend every Sunday...Bangala means something precious and dear. But the way her pronounces it, it means the poisonwood tree. Praise the Lord, hallelujah, my friends! for Jesus will make you itch like nobody's business.
I was completely enthralled by this book. It takes some time to get into, but once you get into it you really get into it. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good, long, read (its 543 pages in my copy). It seems as if it is about a missionary, but really, it is about a family and its relationship with the Congo. Rating: ★★★★★


Brave New World

This Utopian (dystopian) novel is one of my favorite books. Written in 1932, It tells the story of a dystopian society that Huxley believed could occur. He wanted to scare people with a vision of the future that was unlike one that had been written before. The whole population is united under "The World State", where the population will remain stable, happy, and perfect. Humans are "genetically bred and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively serve the ruling order" There are no more families, babies are made in test-tubes, and pre-determined to be in one of the 5 castes. They all have jobs set out for them, and they are brought up to think like the World State wants them to think, because of something called hypnopædia, or sleep teaching. It focuses on two main characters: Bernard, an Alpha-plus who is beginning to doubt society, and John "The Savage", a so-called savage that lives on one of the few reservations of places the World State could not control. This book is so famous in the way that Aldous Huxley creates an entire world that could be plausible with the advances at the time in the Industrial Revolution and mass production. Once I started reading it, I could not stop. That, to me, is a true quality of a good book. I got engrossed into Huxley's Brave New World. When the savage sees the World State after leaving the reservation, he says, "'O brave new world, O brave new world...' In his mind the singing words seemed to change their tone. They had mocked him through his misery and remorse, mocked him with how hideous a note of cynical derision!"  To this day, the novel remains relevant as the world progresses towards a more science-centered future. I highly, highly recommend it. Rating: ★★★★★

Extremley Loud and Incredibly Close

Written in 2005, when New York and America was still reeling from the effects of the 9/11 attack, this Jonathan Safran Foer book is interesting and confusing. Narrated by Oskar Schell, a nine-year-old, who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks, and Oskar's father's parents. The three narrators are extremely confusing at first, because the reader cannot tell who is talking and what is going on. Towards the end, it becomes easier to understand and the story weaves together perfectly. The novel is mainly about Oskar's search for a locked box he believes his father left him, because he found a key in his closet. It sends him on a wild-goose-chase throughout New York City. Whilst Oskar is searching for this last link to his father, his paternal grandparents are sharing their stories. I cannot say anything about these- I don't want to ruin it for you! The writing in this book is confusing, at best. Safran Foer has an interesting style - he doesn't always use grammar, and he writes sentences that are sometimes a page long. He also includes pictures in his books, but not a lot. He also wrote Everything Is Illuminated, a fictional about WWII. The main character in that book is named Jonathan Safran Foer and he goes to the Ukraine in search of finding the woman who helped his grandfather escape from the Nazis. It also has three narrators - Jonathan, the guide/translator Jonathan hires in the Ukraine, Alex Perchov, and a third person narrator telling the reader the story of Trachimbod, the shetl that Jonathan's grandfather lived in. Alex's narration is in broken Russo-English, so that is confusing to understand. It was also made into a movie, Everything Is Illuminated. Both books have two story arcs. In Extremley Loud and Incredibly Close, it is the story of Oskar being told along with the story of his grandparents. I recommend both if you are looking for a challenging, but interesting, read. Rating: ★★★★


And the Pursuit of Happiness

Maria Kalman, who writes (or should I say draws) illustrated blogs for the New York Times (see this book in blog form here), published a book in 2010 of her 2009 "yearlong investigation of democracy." Each chapter is a different month. It begins in January with Obama's inauguration to December, which is about George Washington. The title is from America's Declaration of Independence, which states "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Kalman, in her year-long picture diary, talks about what it means to be an American. It is a wonderful adult's picture book, filled with philosophical tidbits about America. For example, on Abraham Lincoln: "The eloquent Lincoln authority told me that when Lincoln was a lad, he was KICKED in the head by  MULE . Some years later, he became a lawyer in Springfield, Ill." Her style of writing is simplistic but perfectly to the point. This book is a great read to get you up to date on the happenings of America in pictures and minimal words. If you like Maria Kalman, read Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) or The Principles of Uncertainty. She also writes children books, most famously What Pete Ate from A to Z. I want to thank my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Chad for getting me this book for my birthday (and getting it signed by Ms. Kalman herself!!). I love it and I hope you will too! Rating: ★★★★★


Little Bee

A story of survival, perseverance and hope, this book keeps you reading. It is narrated by two women, Little Bee from Nigeria and Sarah from England. They are interconnected, but if I told you how, it would give the book away. It is the story of an African girl entering the Western world, seeking refuge from Nigeria  hoping to be accepted in England. But what she encounters is hostility and racism, until Sarah comes in. Chris Cleave describes his characters as "I can have my characters explore some fairly dark humor...I am offering up a dark theme to the light [humor], so that it may be examined." Little Bee, when she is narrating, talks about how she would have to explain things in British culture to the "girls back home." This is her way of dealing with things that she encounters, explaining them fictionally to the "girls" in Nigeria. Cleave said this novel was based on a true story, the story of Manuel Bravo (read about him here, but keep in mind what happened to him did not happen to Little Bee in the book, Little Bee's story is simply based off elements of Bravo's). This novel makes you feel a torrent of different emotions, with each one pulling you in a different direction. It has the potential to become a celebrated work of literature. As the back of the book says, "Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds." Rating: ★★★★★


Published in 1961, after World War II had ended, this book is the story of Yossarian, a bombardier stationed on the island of Pianosa (off the coast of Italy, fictionally enlarged by Heller in the novel to fit all the action that takes place) during World War II. This satire is about Yossarian being stuck on the island because of Catch-22, "There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind." Colonel Cathcart keeps raising the number of missions Yossarian and the other bombardiers must fly in order to complete thier service. If Yossarian makes any attempt to get out of flying missions, he is trapped by Catch-22. The entire novel flows through the past and present, and through stories of different characters, such as Major Major Major Major. Each chapter is entitled a different character, and each chapter connects to Yossarian and the flow of the story, but each chapter could be viewed a short story. This novel is hard to get through at first, but once you get into it, you get really into it. It gets very confusing at times, which is why I only recommend it if you can deal with books like this. There is a sequel, Closing Time, but I have not had the chance to read it. It wraps up a lot of the different character's stories. Catch-22 is a amazing work of literature and is often ranked among the best 100 English novels of all time. If you do read it, it is extremely interesting and raises a lot of questions about the absurdity of military bureaucracy and the crazy things people will do in wartime. Rating: ★★★★

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Narrated by a cynical roommate, this book is the life of Oscar Wao, “a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd…who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkein”. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it is set in America and the Dominican Republic, and is an interesting take on Trujillo’s dictatorship. Trujillo, for those of you who are unfamiliar with him, was a dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961. Linked to Trujillo is the Dominican idea of a curse, or fukú, being upon the world: “it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fukú on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since.” This is how the book begins, as a history of fukú and its opposite, zafa. Yunior, the narrator, says he is writing about Oscar Wao because "This book...a zafa of sorts. My very own counterspell." While this book is mainly about Oscar Wao, it focuses on his sister, Lola, his mother and her family in the Dominican Republic. It is a very revealing novel about the oppressive nature of the Trujillo dictatorship and the family troubles that come with a move to a different country. Junot Díaz, the author, is from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic but raised in New Jersey. Díaz could possibly be channeling his experiences into Yunior, Oscar, and Lola. If you enjoy Díaz's writing, I also recommend Julia Alvarez, another Dominican-American author. She wrote In the Time of the Butterflies, inspired by the true story of the Mirabal sisters who rose up against Trujillo and narrated by the surviving sister (three of the sisters were murdered for defying Trujillo) and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, a young adult book about sisters adjusting to life in America after fleeing the Dominican Republic. I hope you choose to read it, again and again and again! Rating: ★★★★★


The Power of One

This novel by Bryce Courtenay was written in 1989, just before apartheid ended in South Africa. This novel tells the story of a young boy and the power he has to inspire others. He is sent away to boarding school in the beginning of the book, where a group of boys name him "pisskop" because he wets his bed. For this reason he is sent home, and on the train he meets a wrestling champion, Hoppie, who teaches him how to box and tells him "First with the head and then with the heart, that's how a man stays ahead from the start."  Pisskop then becomes Peekay. He repeats the mantra in his head throughout the rest of his life, and Hoppie remains an influental figure, although Peekay never sees Hoppie again. As Peekay says, "He had given me the power of one---one idea, one heart, one mind, one determination."  It is truly astonishing that one idea could truly transform a little boy - but it does. This book is so inspiring and one of my favorites of all time. It is a story of perseverance against all odds.   There is a sequel, Tandia, which is the continued story of Peekay, but I have not had the chance to read it yet. The book was also made into a movie, called The Power of One, in 1993, starring Stephen Dorff, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Morgan Freeman. The movie was based majorly on the book, but as with all book-to-movie interpretations, there were a few changes.
Overall, I highly recommend this novel to everyone. If you do choose to read it, I hope you are inspired by Peekay and enjoy his story. Rating: ★★★★★



Hi I'm Emily and I love to read.
In a way, this blog is my "note-to-self"... a reminder of the books I've read and if I loved them or hated them. I am a fast reader, and I hope to be posting (I'm kinda new to all this) regularly, but as we all know that is doubtful. Welcome!