Friday, January 31, 2014

“Civilian Warriors” by Erik Prince – Trained Thugs or National Heroes?

Civilian Warriors by Erik Prince – Book cover
There are very few out there who haven’t heard of the private military company called Blackwater. It was founded by former U.S. Navy Seal Erik Prince, and its main purpose was to take on high-risk and intense security jobs around the world, with its members consisting of special force veterans… none but the elite may enter.

As is usual with such organizations, the contracts they undertook bound Blackwater’s members to secrecy, meaning that for many years we could only guess and approximate our knowledge about them. Throughout the years, they have been smeared in all kinds of paints and smudges, but for the first time now, Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, has decided to speak out on his creation.

To do so, he wrote a book, Civilian Warriors, in which he discusses everything about Blackwater, from its inception all the way to its recent sale, detailing how things actually worked, who the people really were, and what happened during some of their most controversial operations.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

“MaddAddam” by Margaret Atwood – The Conclusion with no End

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (Book cover)
Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood were very interesting starts and middles to the MaddAddam trilogy (as it was dubbed by the fans), and the final chapter in this body of work by Margaret Atwood is rather appropriately titled MaddAddam.

It takes off right where the last chapter ended, with the two villains being tied to trees and Toby and Ren having rescued Amanda from the Painballers. However, the plot starts to thicken as they return to the MaddAmite cob house, accompanied by the Crakers. Their prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is recovering from a grave illness, leaving Toby to fulfill his shoes and prepare the house for what will hopefully be the last fight against the Painballers. At the same time, we follow the story of Zeb, who is desperately searching for Adam One, the founder of God’s Gardeners. We follow these two story arches through Toby’s perspective, ultimately culminating in an ending where all loose are brought to a close, so to speak.

So what did I think of this third chapter in a rather unusual trilogy? First of all, the sense of wonder when traveling through Atwood’s world has reasonably diminished since we had time to get familiar with it, meaning it takes more effort in terms of emotional investment to get the same feeling out of the environments and descriptions as before. In addition to that, there is an extensive use of flashbacks which jump all over the place, and it can be a bit hard to follow at first… after some time though, you can get used to it and it will stop annoying you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

“An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” by Chris Hadfield – Thinking Like an Astronaut

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield – Book Cover
For those who aren’t familiar with him, Chris Hadfield is probably the most famous Canadian astronaut out there, having logged more than 4000 hours in outer space and being the first man of his nationality to set foot abroad Earth’s gravity. Those of us down here on the ground, staring like Lilliputs at those men who undertake perilous voyages into uncharted territories, often wonder how such trips affect a person, and what kind of mindset one actually needs to do what astronauts do.

Perhaps this was the main driving force being Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, in which he details how his training and experiences have affected him as a human being, how his travels into the vast beyond have influenced his outlook on and understanding of life.

So what exactly does he discuss in this book? Well, he starts off during his training, taking us very deep into his memories and detailing exactly how he was conditioned, not only physically but also, perhaps more importantly, mentally. He mixes in various stories from his years spent as an engineer and even as a pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Some of the stories are a bit comical in their nature, others are more grave and troublesome. Naturally, Hadfield doesn’t simply tell us stories; rather, he uses them as examples to illustrate the many truths he has come to learn about life, at least the ones pertaining to his reality.

Monday, January 27, 2014

“Andrew’s Brain” by E.L. Doctorow – The Infinity Within

Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow – The Infinity Within (Book Cover)
Virtually every story we have available to us is pushed forward through external influences on the character. In other words, characters make events happen, or in some cases they happen by themselves, and subsequently deal with the consequences which advance the story. There are very few authors out there who have tried to write an entire novel in the form of a monolog and succeeded, and I believe that E.L. Doctorow is one of them, having penned Andrew’s Brain.

In this book, we are basically taken into the mind of a rather self-absorbed man, Andrew, as he sits in a room and reflects upon his entire life in the form of a monolog in front of someone known only as “Doc”, though I strongly suspect he is a stand-in for the reader him/herself. As you can certainly guess, the action in this book is kept to a minimum, as everything we get comes from Andrew’s discourse. We get to learn about his life from the start to his current position, his opinions on himself, the people who surrounded him, as well as the events which took place in his life.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

“The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood – A New Perspective

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – Book Cover
Though The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood is the second book to be released in her trilogy, with the first one being Oryx and Crake, it isn’t exactly a sequel nor a prequel. Rather, it is a novel which covers the same time span as the first one, but this time focusing on different characters and storylines.

In other words, one can easily read this novel before the first one without being confused or anything of the sort; minor characters in the first novel become major ones here, and vice-versa. This time around, we are following Ren and Toby as they find themselves barricaded away in, respectively, a luxurious stripper club and a high-end spa. Barricaded from what, precisely? As it turns out, the waterless flood which humanity has been fearing so much has finally dawned on them… and what’s more, the greedy and power-hungry corporations which have dabbled far too much in genetic engineering aren’t making things any better.

Just like in the first novel, we are taken into a post-apocalyptic setting where humans and quasi-humans (genetically-spliced beings… quasi-humans is not their actual name though) are struggling to survive from one day to the next, all while corporations have taken all of the power into their hands and have started playing God with genetic engineering.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

“One Summer” by Bill Bryson – Taking a Giant Step Forward

One Summer by Bill Bryson (book cover)
When we look back on the events which took place over the course of the last century it feels as if there are only a few major events that really stood out. However, the closer we start to look at the happenings of each year, the more it becomes apparent that so many different things happened that it is simply impossible to remember them all.

Bill Bryson more than likely had this perception, or at least something resembling it, when he decided to pen One Summer. It takes place during the summer of 1927 in the United States, and at first glance, the choice seems rather random and dubious. However, as it turns out, a whole lot of things happened during that year, such as Charles Lindbergh’s first non-stop flight across the Atlantic ever, the beginning of Babe Ruth’s great record, and the man-made disaster of Mississippi basin.

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 39

Hello to all you readers, and welcome back for what is the thirty-ninth edition of our glorious series, Gliding Over the World of Literature. As we’ve started doing a bit more in the past, today’s article will be centered around a theme, and I think the best of way describing would be as follows: reality inspired by literature.

Just to clarify things up, we are going to begin by looking at fourteen hotels which were inspired by books. Following that, there will be a list of ten buildings taken straight out of famous books. Finally, we will finish things off by taking a small tour into the world of art works inspired by Beat literature.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

“The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick – Alternative Nightmares

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick - Front cover
Though we know beyond all doubt that the Allies were victorious during the Second World War, I believe there are only a few of us who can honestly admit to never having imagined what it would be like had the Axis won. Well, Philip K. Dick surely asked himself the same question, or at least that’s his novel, The Man in the High Castle, leads me to believe.

As you can guess, the book takes place in a reality alternate from ours, one where Nazi Germany and Japan have won World War II and have come to occupy the United States. The book itself, which by the way received a Hugo Award, follows four separate storylines which sometimes criss-cross and meet with each other. On the whole though, the book tries to show what kind of life we would have had to expect had we lost the war.

Monday, January 20, 2014

This Changes Everything, Volume I, The Spanners Series, by Sally Ember, Ed.D. – The End of Humankind’s Loneliness

This Changes Everything, Volume I, The Spanners Series, by Sally Ember, Ed.D. – Book Cover
Most of the novels which we come to read and review are found through critics, other reviewing websites, online stores and their customer reviews…etc…etc… Recently though, for the first time ever, an author has requested that we write a review for her book. That author is Sally Ember, and the work in question is This Changes Everything.

Before getting on with the actual thing, I need to make this absolutely clear; this review was written with total and complete honesty, no punches pulled or special treatments given. This is not merely a promotional stunt; it is just an honest review of a book that was recommended to us… it just so happens that said recommendation was provided by the other. In any case, on with the show!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

“My Promised Land” by Ari Shavit – Understanding Israel

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit – Book cover
In the short time during which the country of Israel has existed on this planet it has made the headlines all over the world a surprising amount of times, with there always being some type of tension or crisis to discuss. Though it certainly isn’t very long, Israel’s history happens to be very complex, and in order to be completely understood every detail needs to be examined.

That is what Ari Shavit does in My Promised Land, a book in which he weaved an extensive narrative telling the story of Israel from the very beginning to this very day. Drawing his findings from historical documents, interviews, letters, private diaries and orally-communicated stories, Shavit not only explains to us what happened in Israel, but provides personal (as well as researched and well-argued) theories in regards to why Israel came to exist, how it was founded, has it been beneficial for its inhabitants and the rest of the world… and perhaps more importantly, if it can survive in the long run.

“Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood – Answers from the Apocalypse

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – book cover
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is the first part of a three-book trilogy, taking place in a world that has been defiled and destroyed by an unimaginably powerful plague. Though much is unknown about the whole incident, one thing is certain: once corporations took over genetic engineering, nothing was the same anymore, and humanity took a turn on doom road.

As far as Snowman (formerly known as Jimmy) is concerned, with the loss of best friend Crake and the elusive Oryx, he is the last man left on Earth… though it does not mean he has no allies. Before his demise, Crake had engineered a new species of beings which resemble humans: the Crakers. They stick by Snowman’s side as he decides to embark on a perilous journey through the desolated world in search of answers to questions he doesn’t even know about.

To start things off, I have to say that in comparison to some of other works by Atwood, this one falls a bit short of her full potential in terms of language manipulation; technically speaking, while it remains a very solid work it is not her most successful effort. Nevertheless, the flow of the language, the depth at which she delves into her characters, the narrative structure, the overall style and form used fit the story told here very well, succeeding at conveying many feelings and sensations hard to capture properly, such as internal emptiness, the void, hope, curiosity…etc…etc… It also has for effect of making this text lighter and easier to follow, something I believe to be beneficial when heavy themes are explored.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 38

Good day ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back for what is officially the thirty-eighth issue of Gliding Over the World of Literature. We have decided to write today’s issue while focusing on one single theme: ancient manuscripts. As it turns out, the world of books has more than enough material to keep us satiated.

We will start by looking at the Voynich manuscript and why many believe it holds an actual message. Following that, we are going to check out a bit of news in regards to the purchase of a Gospel manuscript by Cambridge University. Finally, we will cap things off by taking a brief moment to explore some of the most ancient manuscripts found on this Earth.

Friday, January 17, 2014

“Longbourn” by Jo Baker – Looking at the Other Side of the Fence

Longbourn by Jo Baker – Book Cover
There are many out there who like to refer to Jo Baker’s Longbourn as being something of a reply to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and I wouldn’t say that the statement is completely wrong. The story takes place in the same British society, and we follow the events which take place in a large household: the Bennets. The difference here, however, is that the focus is turned away from the high-class people in favor of the often-forgettable and yet mysterious servants which populate the house.

More specifically, the focus is brought upon Sarah, an orphaned housemaid who does her best to navigate the complex world she was born into and trying to instil some kind of order in all of the chaos around her. Just as she has things figured out though, the arrival of a new footman threatens what she built, promising to turn many things in the household upside down.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

“Command Authority” by Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney – The Essence of Power

Command Authority by Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney – (Book cover
Sadly, not too long ago worldwide-beloved author Tom Clancy left a giant void in both our world and that of literature, but it seems he did not depart before giving us one last tour de force in Command Authority, a Jack Ryan novel co-authored by the renowned Mark Greaney.

Now, before moving on to the book, some things should be made clear; Greaney truly did the bulk of the work on this one (as have most co-authors with Tom Clancy), and the writing is pretty much all of his. In other words, Greaney is basically writing his novel in accordance with the style, rules and characteristics established in Tom Clancy’s world (his part in all of this should not be underplayed either).

With that being said, the story follows Jack Ryan as he becomes the catalyst at the center of a plan to unravel a rather mysterious man in Russia (the current Chief of State) whose recent skyrocketing to power turned many heads in concern. That’s mostly because he wants to return the country to the way things were before the Iron Curtain fell. Little do people know though, the powerful man’s recent success can be credited to a secret buried long ago, one only Jack Ryan has the ability to elucidate.

Monday, January 13, 2014

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman – A Melting Pot of Worlds

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – book cover
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman tells a rather unusual story surrounding a boy named Nobody Owens(also known as Bod). As you can guess, Nobody is his adopted name; as a young toddler, he was spared the fate the rest of his family suffered at the hands of an indomitable assassin, and somehow found himself living in a graveyard, protected by an assortment of spirits and ghosts from different periods in time.

While he remains in the graveyard, Bod is safe from Jack (the assassin), and so he grows unlike any child before him, with virtually all of his experiences being provoked, and to a certain extent, controlled by the ghosts. Eventually, Nobody plans to face the monstrous killer who claimed all he had, but becoming powerful enough for that may cost the boy much more than he is ready to pay.

Once again, Neil Gaiman brings to us an unusual story that bombards the reader with humor, surrealism, alternate realities, horror, and of course, thoughts on the human nature itself. The book follows Nobody as a he grows from a small child to a young man, with each chapter telling a story in its own right. In other words, each chapter focuses on a specific event or series of related events experienced by Bod, aiming to teach about the character and perhaps deliver some kind of commentary on the human nature.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

“Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang” by Chelsea Handler – Life Through Laughter

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler – Book cover
Most of you know Chelsea Handler for her work as a comedian, but she is quite an active writer with Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang being the third of her six books. As in her previous ones, there is no real sense of direction, nor is there an ultimate goal here; what we get is Handler describing her thoughts and feelings on various events and situations encountered during the course of her lifetime. She tries very hard to look at each and every one of them in a humorous way, finding the silver lining and the joke no matter how bad the situation may be. For that fact alone I believe that the book should be commendable in its own right.

Moving on to the less pleasant part, it felt that in light of the two books which preceded this one, the whole approach started to wear a bit thin, with the jokes being very hit and miss, at least for me. It feels as if the whole work is over-saturated with a rather vivid and aggressive (for lack of better words) type of humor, making numerous passages feel forced, cringe-worthy and simply unappreciable.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 37

Good day to all our readers, and welcome back for the thirty-seventh issue of Gliding Over the World of Literature. Today we are going to start off our journey into the world of books with a look at how various adjectives used in stories actually reflect the economic state of a country.

Following that, we will venture into news territory, focusing on the ancient Muslim and Christian texts torched by the Islamist radicals in Lebanon.

Finally, we will close things up by exploring the topic of the digitalization of books, and how ancient works of writing may give us a reason not to jump to the modernist bandwagon so quickly and easily.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

“Vanished” by Wil S. Hylton – A Mystery for the Ages

Vanished by Wil S. Hylton – A Mystery for the Ages (Book Cover)
We will never know of all the events which transpired during the Second World War… there were simply too many of them, and too few witnesses left to tell us about them. Nevertheless, we already have our hands full trying to solve the mysteries from that time that we know actually know about, and perhaps one of the more intriguing ones is the crash of the American bomber in the Palau islands. The plane in question was a rather huge bomber, and the crew consisted of eleven men. Based on witness reports, the crew parachuted out of the plane into safety, and the steel bird crashed in shallow water.

Despite that, neither the crew nor the plane were ever found. And so began a search that spanned decades upon decades, with countless scientists, military men, scuba divers and others trying to reconstruct the events of that tragic day. Vanished by Wil S. Hylton chronicles the event itself and its aftermath, being an attempt to provide us with the most complete picture of the fates which awaited those men.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

“The Tell” by Matthew Hertenstein – The Untapped Power of Instinct

The Tell by Matthew Hertenstein (Book cover)
Even though people tend to remind each other to trust their gut/instincts and just make the choice that first springs to mind, decisions are seldom truly undertaken in this manner. Most of us simply dismiss our predictions due to a lack of concrete evidence, preferring to analyze things logically and making a decision based on the known information.

However, as Matthew Hertenstein explains it in The Tell, our instinct is far more powerful than we believe, being capable of subconsciously drawing information from small clues that our conscious mind misses. Just to make things clear, Hertenstein, the author, has earned a PhD in psychology from the University of California in Berkeley, so his thoughts on the subject aren’t pulled from thin air, but rather from years of education and research.

The book dives into the topic of the subconscious instinct for a rather large chunk of it, explaining its workings and how they manifest themselves during our conscious life. That part is a true pleasure to read and is really a gold mine of knowledge so far as understanding the human mind goes. However, the next part is where things start to get really interesting as Hertenstein explores the idea of harnessing the observational powers of your subconscious and implement them in your daily life, this time while being perfectly conscious.

Monday, January 06, 2014

“The Napoleon of Crime” by Ben Macintyre – The Original Victorian Gangster

The Napoleon of Crime by Ben Macintyre – book cover
Though we tend to frown upon crime in society, there is no doubt that we nevertheless glamorize many aspects of the criminal world, with some people even developing an ever-growing fascination with them. Just to support the point, in recent years we have seen countless books and movies where the protagonists are criminals in one capacity or another, from small-time crooks and thieves all the way to megalomaniacal assassins and cold-blooded avatars of destruction.

This isn’t really a recent phenomenon though, for as Ben Macintyre tells us in his book The Napoleon of Crime, Victorian society had its own criminal to idolize, a certain master thief by the name of Adam Worth.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

“A Life of Barbara Stanwyck” by Victoria Wilson – Immortalizing a Legend

A Life of Barbara Stanwyck by Victoria Wilson – Book cover
It feels like it has been around forever, but in the grand scheme of things, the industry of audiovisual entertainment (movies) is still in its infancy, having only existed for a bit more than a hundred years at this point. Nevertheless, we have already seen a fair share of people gain respect and popularity like none else before them, and one of the most notable silver screen stars to have ever existed is arguably named Barbara Stanwyck.

Starting her movie career with the beginning of sound films, she sent shockwaves across Hollywood for decades before moving on to television movies. Many described her as perhaps the most natural actress on camera, making everything look smooth and legitimate without being forced. As it happens, she had a very interesting life, one which we cannot allow to become lost in time like so many other stories. And so, Victoria Wilson set out to write a biography on the actress, and she recently published it under the title A Life of Barbara Stanwyck.

So what exactly are you going to learn about Stanwyck from this biography? Well, just about everything there is to. The information was compiled from over two hundred interviews with people in the showbiz, with many of them being related to Stanwyck in one way or the other. In addition, Wilson also conducted her fair share of research, drawing information from letters, journals, private documents and more.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 36

Happy New Year to everyone, and welcome back for what is the very first issue of Gliding Over the World of Literature to be published this year. Because this is a bit of special occasion after all, we decided to explore one topic through three articles, something we may perhaps do again in the future… for now though, that topic is book censorship. Each of the three articles below explores a certain aspect of it, whether it’s the state of censorship in modern schools or its place in North American history.