Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tolog Review: Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
reviewed by Hailey Ramos

"Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories," edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, showcases an array of short stories from the steampunk genre, a subgenre of science fiction that often features steam- and clockwork-powered machines rather than more advanced technology. Set in places as diverse as Canada, Kentucky, and England during various periods in time, unique characters such as storytellers, detectives, scientists, and outlaws create new worlds, solve crimes, and bring back the dead.

A heaping handful of the stories demonstrated a large sense of feminism, with females being compelling and unique protagonists. "The Last Ride of the Glory Girls," by Libba Bray, exhibited a diverse and strong cast of women. Adelaide Jones, watchmaker and outlaw, found herself working for an agency called the Pinkerton Detectives in place of serving time in jail. The Pinkertons worked with mechanicals and weaponry, so Addie fit in perfectly as a watchmaker. She proved herself a whiz in the workshop and was chosen to go undercover for the Pinkertons when the Glory Girls, a wanted gang of girls who robbed trains and airships and left their victims to “find their jewels and lockboxes gone and the Glory Girls’ calling card left on a table all polite and proper-like (25),” came around. Gaining the trust of the Glory Girls, made up of Josephine Folkes, Fadwa Shadid, Colleen Feeney, and Amanda Harper, Addie repaired the Girls’ Enigma Apparatus, which assisted them in robbing trains by slowing down time. Addie had been having so much fun with the Glory Girls, leading to missed rendezvous with the chief of the Pinkertons, which would soon lead her to trouble.

Bray uses various imagery to describe fantastical objects like the Enigma Apparatus. Bray uses visual and auditory imagery in describing the Apparatus and a video device, describing it as a “blue light bubble [that] come over the train [stopping] it dead on the tracks. Then the picture crackled up like old Christmas paper, and there weren’t no more (26).” As mentioned before, a strong feminist theme is present in "Last Ride," along with a very racially diverse cast. Addie was part of an incredibly religious home and left to look for a life in technology. Josephine Folkes was a runaway slave handy around the house, Fadwa Shadid was part of a family that lived in a refugee camp, practicing her shooting skills “off the scorpions that roamed the cracked dirt outside the tents (34),” Amanda Harper, abused by her uncle, found ways to easily take trains and airships, and Colleen Feeney, whose father had tried to take down the Parliament, ran away from authority in search of his family.

I would recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys reading of lands of fantasy, whether they are familiar with the genre of steampunk or not. I was fairly familiar with the genre when I began reading this book, but after reading I found that it was as fantastical as a story genre could get.

Tolog Review: City of Thieves

City Of Thieves
by David Benioff
reviewed by Natalia Cruz

The rousing novel City Of Thieves by David Benioff is about two young men who never thought that their meeting will bring them into a strange, life changing adventure. The story is historical comedy, which means that the novel is told surrounding real historic events, with mentions of humor and wit from the characters or events that occur in the novel. The novel follows Lev and Kolya on their desperate journey as they try to find a carton of eggs for an NKVD general’s daughter. The novel is set during World War II, with struggles of the Nazi’s invading Russia and starvation in every man on the street.

Lev, a seventeen year old boy living in the Kirov, Russia, being half Russian and half Jew, has many self doubts about himself, and the reader can see every negative thought he developes. World War II has taken its toll on Russia and his own life, leaving him and a few of his fellow friends to watch the rooftops every night. One night, his life changes the moment a dead German parachuted down into his street. After being caught looting the dead German, Lev is brought to a cell, where he encounters Kolya, a confident, witty, and charming twenty year old Cossack soldier, brought in for abandoning his unit. After spending a night in a cell, the two are brought to a general who demands a dozen eggs to be delivered to him in five days in exchange for their freedom and food. With no better choice, the pair heads off with no information on eggs anywhere near, how to retrieve them, or how to survive the many risks of strolling the harsh streets of Soviet controlled Russia. 

The two men discover more and more about each other as their journey to find the eggs evolve. Lev was intimidated by Kolya because he had so much more experience in life and women. Lev was always too afraid to charge into situations, while Kolya stayed calm and collected. We see into Levs thoughts, “I was seventeen and stupid and believed him” (Benioff 99). Lev ended up seeing Kolya as a role model, although ignoring much of the daring words Kolya speaks. The pair find each other in many difficult and run-ins with life threatening situations, until they eventually get caught in the middle of a prisoner chain, led by Germans, unsure of how they will retrieved their eggs in time without being shot and killed. 

The book was intriguing to read, making me wanting to read page after page. The author described thoroughly what it would have been like to live during World War II, with no clue when your next meal or bite of food would be, what it would be like to freeze in the harsh snowy weather, and to be surrounded by Germans speaking in a foreign language, possibly discussing your death sentence. Lev tells us through his thoughts, “My boot sank deep into a mound of soft snow and I nearly turned my ankle” (Benioff 159). By seeing Lev’s perspective, we can visually imagine, using the adjectives from the novel, what it was like trudging along, tired and cold. Benioff used many German words and common Russian phrases, giving the reader a full experience as they really see what life was like in Russia in the 1940’s. The novel was both comedic and touching. The bond between the two men would last forever, and the fact that two men were brought together and kept each other strong during the darkest of times kept the novel heartwarming and authentic. I enjoyed every second of reading the novel. It kept me entertained and filled with excitement as I followed the story along. I would definitely recommend this novel to someone if they are interested in World War II based stories. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Tolog Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
reviewed by Katrina Manaloto 

A novel that captures the gritty reality of being an African-American girl during a time of segregation, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is an autobiography that follows her journey of coping with discrimination and finding her path in life despite her troubled circumstances. Originally named Marguerite Anne Johnson, Angelou experiences repercussions early in her life due to the divorce of her parents and sexual abuse. She goes through life feeling like she is worth less than her female counterparts both black and white because of these events. Marguerite’s main obstacle becomes getting over the negative perspective she sees herself in and accepting who she is, even if society may not.

Angelou uses figurative language to describe the occurrences throughout her life up to the end of her adolescence. When questioned about rape, Marguerite expresses her fear when she thinks, “Just my breath, carrying my words out, might poison people and they'd curl up and die like the black fat slugs that only pretended. I had to stop talking” (Angelou 87). Marguerite is frightened by sharing details about the incident because the rapist threatens to kill her brother if she tells. A simile compares a confession of the incident to poison, highlighting the toxicity of this event in her life to the reader. Angelou also uses strong people of color as role models to symbolize empowerment and fortitude. One of Marguerite’s first mentors is Mrs. Bertha Flowers because she leads Marguerite out of her silence from rape and introduces her to literature, saying, “ ‘Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning’ ” (Angelou 98). The presence of another strong, black woman fortifies female and race empowerment and also represents the admirable trait of making the best out of bad situations.

Maya Angelou’s autobiography is a page-turner for anyone who loves a story of self-discovery. I also recommend this novel to anyone who has ever felt excluded or forgotten because it is easy to sympathize with a character who faces these obstacles constantly. Personally, I loved hearing the story from Angelou’s point of view because her ardent and almost musical tone stood out to me. This novel deserves 5 out of 5 stars because of the hard-hitting words of Maya Angelou and the inspiring story of how she came to be. 

Tolog Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
reviewed by Margaret Kalaw

The Pulitzer Prize winning, fictional novel To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, focuses on the story of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch and her older brother, Jeremy “Jem” Finch, as they grow up and become more aware of the inequity in their world. Being set in a small county in Alabama during the 1930s, young Scout and Jem are surrounded by discrimination toward African Americans – only they have yet to fully realize this. Fortunately, as they grow older throughout the novel, their loving father, along with other sincere adults, shape the children to be honest, unbiased, and compassionate, while simultaneously portraying the importance of these qualities to the reader. 

To Kill a Mockingbird begins when Scout and Jem meet Dill Harris, a quirky boy who sojourns in Maycomb county during the summer. Dill, Jem, and Scout quickly become friends, and they embark on a mission to see Boo Radley, a fellow neighbor who has not been seen outside his house in decades. After their major scheme fails and summer ends, Scout and Jem learn about their father’s new assignment. Atticus Finch, both father and respected lawyer of the county, is given a difficult case, in which he has to defend Tom Robinson, an African American man. As the story continues, Scout and Jem face the gibes of their classmates and adult acquaintances, as well as the cruel after effects of the trial, including a fatal attempt at revenge on the Finch family.

In her novel, Lee writes using young Scout’s perspective, providing the reader with an authentic view of everything happening. The choice to use a first-person point of view proves to be effective by the time of Tom Robinson’s trial, in which Scout relates the events and her opinions with the compelling sincerity and innocence of a child. Additionally, the author alludes to the expectations of a young lady in the 1930s by having many characters comment on Scout’s unladylike behavior. This is evident when she narrates, “I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing things that required pants” (Lee 108). However, by an interesting turn of events, Scout learns that in times of crisis, keeping one’s composure is truly ladylike, and she strives to become capable of this. 

Additionally, the title Lee gives her book serves as a metaphor with a powerful message. She uses her characters to explain it when Atticus says to his children, “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (Lee 119). Scout later finds out that mockingbirds are sweet creatures that never pester humans. Thus, because of Lee’s adroit comparison to a bird, both Scout and the reader are able to understand the gravity of harming someone innocent.  

Tolog Review: Bream Gives Me Hiccups

Bream Gives Me Hiccups
by Jesse Eisenberg 
reviewed by Jocelle Lauron

Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg is a compilation of satiric short stories that uses comedy to shine a light on current problems we have today. The first section, named “Bream Gives Me Hiccups” is narrated by a nine-year-old boy living in New York with his mother, focuses on verbal child abuse, neglect, and love. He turns to critiquing the restaurants he is forced to eat as a coping mechanism, and learns about his mother through it. In early reviews, he speaks of his mother being toxic and cruel, stating, “Mom elbowed me in the neck, which is what she does when I say things too loud or too quiet or if I laugh”. (7) Later, he learns of the pain his mother has gone through and sees that “Mom took me around because she needed me. Because going through a hard life with someone else is better than going through an easy life alone.” (59) The second section, “Family” follows families and their differing dynamics. The stories under this collection contain dialogue between siblings and conversations around the dinner table. In the third section, “History”, the narrator takes a playful approach to explaining important events such as the burning of Pompeii and the invention of phone calls. In the fourth section, “My Room-Mate Stole My Ramen: Letters from a Frustrated Freshman” features letters from Harper Jablowski, a college freshman with depression, to Miss Rita, her former counselor. Harper, after a couple months at college contracts depression, feeling lonely and useless, decides to get back in touch with Miss Rita. Miss Rita helps her with her sickness and her prejudice against her roommate Slotnick. In the fifth section, “Dating” Eisenberg showcases the lack of respect towards women when it comes to dating, with men not taking a ‘no’ for an answer and much more. In the sixth chapter, “Sports” multiple characters struggle to fit in, attempting to gain popularity by embellishing stories and pushing themselves to be more athletic. In the seventh section, “Self-Help” the reader is pulled into the stream of consciousness of those with mental disorders, from bipolar disorder to obsessive compulsive disorder. In the last section, “Language” emphasizes the possibilities of interaction if we were all linguistically gifted.

This book was captivating to read and with its fresh takes on common issues, I could not stop reading. Throughout the novel, Jesse Eisenberg uses multiple points of view, depending on the story. This allows the reader to gain their own opinion on the situation because of the ability to see the validity of another character’s thoughts. The book’s layout was interesting, too. It was divided into eight sections. Their titles such as “Family” or “Self-Help” served as a guide for what was to come in the stories included. I felt that this collection of stories was hilarious yet serious at the same time. I thought this made the book very relatable because life is not one mood or tone throughout, but a complex medley of emotions.