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classadmi
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classadmi


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PostSubject: Book Reviews   Book Reviews Icon_minitimeMon Jul 02, 2007 2:51 am

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
Due to complaints on my last review I will take things on board and improve...

First I have to say it... Fucking brilliant... Now that that’s out of my system, lets get started.

The NSA for years has been snooping on all sorts of data transferred over the internet. When people became aware of this they were outraged and in disbelief that a government agency was reading their mail. With the discovery of this, 64bit encryption was invented. As far as people were aware this kept their mail safe from the NSA and other prying eyes. The NSA, realising that terrorists would have a field day, decided to take action. Their best computers took over a day to crack a 64 bit encryption code, so they made the TRANSLTR, a $2 Billion super computer of raw processing power...

It was on the day that it went active that a genius on their team Ensei Tankado was fired and disgraced. He had worked on the project with the pretense that the NSA would need a warrant to investigate suspicious e-mails. When he was told that the NSA would effectively govern themselves and snoop when and where they liked he was outraged and threatened to go public. To avoid a PR disaster he was discredited, and he later vanished into obscurity.

Fast forward 6 years and we have our story. Tankado has made an unhackable encryption which could spell the end for the NSA's $2 billion computer. To make things worse, he is selling the encryption source code to the highest bidder, and to top it all off, by page 2 he dies of a heart attack. The encryption is fed into TRANSLTR and for 18 hours it is number crunched... This is unheard of, considering the standard 64 bit encryption takes a measly 6-8 minutes. The head of the crypto department quickly calls in Susan Fletcher, the heroine of our tale. Meanwhile, in Spain, her fiancée David Becker is sent to collect Tankado belongings and recover the key, which unlocks the source code, before it falls into the wrong hands.

What you are left with is an edge of the seat thriller that storms along at an almost blinding speed. If you enjoyed the Da Vinci code you will love this. Gone are the random metaphors, and instead of a new revelations, which was what the Da Vinci code is about, 'Digital Fortress' is full of actions moving the story along.

The book is full of everything, from references to obscure programming languages to shoot outs involving a ruthless assassin. It is full of these wonderful moments where vivid images are placed into your head. One which stands out is where a man is being hunted relentlessly by an assassin through the thin streets in Spain. The violent hum of bullets flying past him and into stone walls. Shots smashing the mirror on his bike and hitting his number plate. The book is full of events like this, not all involving shooting, but most which could almost be copied and pasted straight onto a movie screen.

While I have seen this happen in other books, which sacrifice depth and believability as a result, Tom Clancys 'Power Plays' series is a good example of this. Dan Brown does fall into this trap, as the depth of the characters and the locations are brilliant throughout. This shines with the NSA crypto department. After reading the book you have the feeling that should the place ever exist, you would know exactly where you were going.

As with the Da Vinci code there are a few minor things wrong with the book, The first being the start. It's slow, and for the first 5-10 pages we find out how Susan and David met and how their love blossomed. The book needs this as it comes into play later on, but Dan Brown isn't great at writing about romance and it’s a bit slow to start a book with this. There is also a problem as to why David Becker would agree to go to Spain, him being a college professor and not an employee of NSA is dodgy. While Dan Brown does his best to make tangible reasons for it, you are still left questioning it. The final concern over the book is that Susan often doesn't live up to her 170 IQ; mainly her speech in places doesn't seem on par with someone of her supposed intelligence.

These are only minor quibbles in an otherwise excellent and enthralling book, the plot, while only following 2 story lines, is based on a great complexity that easily makes up for the lack of threads. To be blunt if you want a techno thriller that continually twists and turns while keeping you guessing as to what will happen next, then this is your book. For those who just want a good read, you need look no further, and kids, this book will keep you off your computer games for days. It is just one of those novels you can't put down.

Dan Brown here has created a truly entraining thriller. He has done his best to explore what amount of access the government should have in viewing data. Exploring through his characters the right's and wrongs of it and somehow making both sides of the argument seem perfectly legitimate and convincing. This is one for the people. Miss out at your peril.

4.7/5
Brilliant, the question of David Becker in Spain detracts little from what is an intelligent and thoroughly excellent novel.

(Comments and thoughts are most welcome)
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PostSubject: Re: Book Reviews   Book Reviews Icon_minitimeMon Jul 02, 2007 2:52 am

The Last Juror by John Grisham
The back of the book says...

"In 1970, one of Mississippi's more colorful weekly newspapers, The Ford County Times, went bankrupt. To the surprise and dismay of many, ownership was assumed by a 23 year-old college dropout, named Willie Traynor. The future of the paper looked grim until a young mother was brutally raped and murdered by a member of the notorious Padgitt family. Willie Traynor reported all the gruesome details, and his newspaper began to prosper.

The murderer, Danny Padgitt, was tried before a packed courthouse in Clanton, Mississippi. The trial came to a startling and dramatic end when the defendant threatened revenge against the jurors if they convicted him. Nevertheless, they found him guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

But in Mississippi in 1970, "life" didn't necessarily mean "life," and nine years later Danny Padgitt managed to get himself paroled. He returned to Ford County, and the retribution began."

I got this book thinking that it would be a tense thriller, the last part of the above statement seems to describe the book as this but I will tell you now it isn't. Instead, the book is the story of a town told through the eye's of an eager, fresh-out-of-college journalist.

The Story
The story is about 9 years in the idyllic southern town of Clanton. It begins with a college drop out (Willie Traynor). He was funded by his rich grand mother throughout college, but it became evident that he wasn't going to pass, so the funding stopped, and so did he. A friend there told him about a weekly paper down south. "Its like printing money" he is told, so straight from college he moves down south to work for a little newspaper in a town called Clanton. The newspaper is in a downhill spiral and he soon purchases is for $50,000 in borrowed money. This is where the story begins.

Soon after the launch, a woman is raped and murdered. This is witnessed by her children, and was committed by a man called Danny Padgitt. He and his family live on 'Padgitt Island', a stronghold of criminal activity. Our hero, Wille Traynor, pursues the story with vigour, covering every brutal detail and including copious amounts of speculation. The result is booming sales and his little paper is finally in the green.

The story pursues the events, trial and story of Danny Padgitt, you also meet the Rubin family, and especially Cassie, the mother of 9 college Professors. You are also introduced to the drunk baggie and all sorts of interesting and unique characters.
______________________________

Thoughts

The book is certainly not what i thought it was. My initial disappointment though was quickly outgrown by the love of Clanton. The story brings an entire town to life. There are so many well crafted and thoroughly described characters, and the town is easily envisioned, as though it were taken from a text book.

It also goes some way to explore the black and white integration that was occurring throughout the south. This includes ending segregated schools and giving blacks the vote. This is openly talked about, and a mini struggle occurs with Willie trying to drag the town out of the past.

Willie Traynor also develops into a man throughout the book. Starting out as a college boy, he is immature and lacks direction. He also isn't accepted in a town where strangers are mistrusted and carry an air of suspicion. Throughout the book he gathers some direction, however, and he knows where he is going and even sports a suit and bow tie.

Conclusion
While I feel the book is very much misadvertised, once you start reading you find a great gem in itself. It's told in the first person as a narrative, and you feel as though you are almost standing next to Willie all through the book. What makes it even better is its steady speed. The book is well thought out and masterfully written. It keeps a fluid pace which refuses to slow. Its just a wonderful story that, in the end, made me want to move and settle into a small town.

Rating: 4.5/5

I loved it, but the misadvertising distracts greatly from the book at the start.
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classadmi
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PostSubject: Re: Book Reviews   Book Reviews Icon_minitimeMon Jul 02, 2007 2:54 am

Book Review :: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The following is an essay that I wrote about Ken Kesey’s novel One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I'm looking for a little feedback. I would prefer constructive criticism over praise or scorn. It was written in high school just a few months ago, but I have no idea whether my writing is "college level"

Stephen Kenny
Mrs. N. Mathias
ENG-LIT
8 March 2004
The illustration of society’s conformity as portrayed in Ken Kesey’s One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a tale of struggle against society and its unflinching laws. Nurse Ratched’s control over the ward, strengthened by her cast as a woman, represents this grip of conformity of society’s unwilling participants.

Kesey lived in a time of social upheaval. He was in fact one of the leaders in a movement that challenged the social, political, and legal systems of his youth, and was known at the time as a youth’s revolution. “McMurphy’s antics may also be seen as an allegory for the time in which the novel was written.” exhibiting the rebellious and challenging nature of the youth in their resistance to the conformity of society. (Moss and Wilson, 292)

“The combine” is a phrase coined by the ‘mute’ Chief Bromden that lends a malicious intent to the invisible pressure of society that to him is physically crushing people into submission. In this night he knows that they come and install machinery in people’s heads that controls them, making them conform. Those people then move on and install the same machinery in the heads of their neighbors, and the combine’s influence spreads. This is his realization that no matter how strong an individual may be, slowly everyone will be conformed; the press of society cannot be escaped. Nowhere is this more apparent that in the backwaters of society where the resilient non-conformists remain; in the mental institutions, the domain of Nurse Ratched.

Those in the asylum are those that the combine could not assimilate as easily – those that refused to conform to the rules laid form by the civil, judicial, and sociological systems of, as Jim Kamp put it in his Reference Guide to American Literature, “…[their] conformist postwar American society shaped by materialistic consumer values.”1 This non-conformity is displayed most logically in a series of memories that Bromden relates, in particular his father’s refusal to sell his tribe’s land to business men because he valued the beauty of the waterfalls and the simplicity of his life. These values were foreign to the ‘white man’, who could not comprehend his reason. This is Bromden’s introduction to the bizarre expectations of society, and it is also an insight for the reader into the way that Kesey perceived society to work.

Sternest of all these business people was a woman. Not just the leader of the trio, but in also the most powerful, deceitful, and manipulative, a type of woman encountered often in the novel. She is full of commercial versions of smothering maternal instincts, which sees to be Kesey’s favorite way of portraying the creping but powerful effect of the combine. When this book was written (1961-62) women in powerful corporate positions was not unheard of, but was certainly uncommon. Therefore Kesey’s choice to make this businessperson female is very telling. The book’s antagonist, Nurse Ratched, shares all of the same characteristics as this woman, adding further weight to the suggestion that Kesey’s gender choices were not accidental. Both of them represent models of efficiency in their clean and ordered work ethic and appearance.

At that time, women were also home makers. Feminism was only beginning to take root, and certainly wasn’t in full swing for a few more years. Their efficiency around the house, working with mechanical precision developed from years of practice and repetition, was perfect for his representation of the combine working with mechanical precision to conform the inmates. Understandably, as Kamp2 noted, “[the character of Nurse Ratched provoked] negative comment from feminist critics twenty years later.” because it laid down a judgment on women as a whole, and even if this judgment was not the one that they commonly fought, they resented the implication that women were cold and calculating just as much as they were offended by others saying that a women role was in the home.

Not only are these women very proficient in their jobs, but they also appear to be paragons of society in the rest of their life. Nurse Ratched in particular does her best to conceal her well endowed chest, because it was a symbol of her sexual development, somewhat of a taboo topic in the mainstream society in which Kesey found himself. From the point of view of the patients, “… sex is the cure for nurse Ratched”, a testament to her self-denial in the name of society. McMurphy’s attack on her results in him exposing her breast, which was a very weakening blow as it revealed to everyone her weak humanity. (Smith and Verma)

One has to wonder what gave Kesey this unconventional view of women as

The staff of the ward, like the rest of the world, is lost to the combine, but Bromden knows that he is not, because he can appreciate the subtle pleasures that nature has to offer. A waterfall that he sees in a painting – he doubts that the men in suits can even hear the water or smell the fresh breeze anymore. (Kesey, 111)

The long term strength of the combine is first and most powerfully revealed to us in the form of the fate of Bromden’s father. After rejecting the offer on his land, and rebelling against society, he faced social rejection. The combine turned against him, and the daily force of the world against him broke even this strongest of men, leaving his destitute and reliant on alcohol.

As the ending approaches, a new theme emerges from the text, that society ifs too strong for any person to fight alone. For years McMurphy, the inspirational rebel, lived outside the confines of society, unfortunately he also lived outside the law, and this eventually caught up to him, landing him in jail. Even someone as strong al McMurphy could not escape the combine, because in his attempt to lead a ‘revolution’ he loses his own life. And it is only by McMurphy’s sacrifice that the others gain the ability to see clearly and to throw off their chains and escape from society. If anyone could have escaped on their own it was the powerful charismatic figure of Randle Patrick McMurphy. “… he is a free spirit unwilling to adapt to the rules and orders set forth by others”3 and as such he epitomizes the rebellious attitude that opposes the combine, but his failure lies in the fact that “[McMurphy] is a forceful character living a generation too late.”4. After WWII came an unprecedented economic boom, and with that a new age of commercialism that left no room for independents like McMurphy; the combine was fueled to crush him and his following.

McMurphy’s death, while tragic, was a martyr’s death. His followers took from it great inspiration and through it managed to attain their freedom. “Although McMurphy dies for his cause, his disciples leave the hospital to live according to his teachings.”5 much like Jesus and his disciples. Laurie Harris (Characters in 20th Century Literature) also points out that Kesey uses “…allusion ranging fro the Bible to comic books, which provide the novel with a serio-comic, mythic dimension.”6. In particular, his use of religion is most interesting. He uses it in both his arguments for and against the individualist. His Biblical insinuations always tend to portray McMurphy as a Messiah-like figure leading his people to freedom, while his more direct references condemn McMurphy for his life of sin. This is just one of the startling contrasts present in the novel.

Perhaps this disparity stems from two of Kesey’s separate aims. At once he needed to make McMurphy a hero (of which the religious aspect is only a part) and to condemn society for its religious intolerance. By building McMurphy into an invincible soldier of independence, and presenting him as being unwaveringly true to himself, Kesey is able to make the church’s condemnation of his behavior look like their inadequacies rather their own. If McMurphy can do nothing wrong, then all who contradict him are automatically cast in the unfavorable light of slaves to the combine. This technique is used by Kesey to attack all manner of social restrictions from the church to the law, and even the holy sacrament of marriage. Each of these things is in turn shown to contradict the hero’s sense of independence, and is therefore itself shattered and cast aside as another manipulative tool of the combine.



Endnotes

1 Jim Kamp. “Reference Guide to American Literature”. Detroit; St. James Press. 1994. page 489

2 Kamp 489

3 Joyce Moss and George Wilson. “Literature and its Times”. Volume 4. New York: Gale Publishing, 1997 pages 288-294

4 Peggy Whitley and Susan Goodwin. <http://kclibrary.nhccd.edu/kesey.html>. Updated June 25, 2003

5 Nick Smith and Olivia Verma “Grade Saver” <http://www.gradesaver.com/ClisicNotes/Titles/cuckoosnest/fullsumm.html>. Grade Saver. ©1999-2003

6 Laurie Lanzen Harris. “Characters in 20th Century Literature” Detroit; Gale Research Inc. 1990 pages 217-218
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classadmi
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PostSubject: Re: Book Reviews   Book Reviews Icon_minitimeMon Jul 02, 2007 2:55 am

The Da Vinci code - Dan Brown
On the back of the book it says

While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. While working to solve the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci -- clues visible for all to see -- yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.

Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion -- an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci, among others.

In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who seems to anticipate their every move. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory's ancient secret -- and an explosive historical truth -- will be lost forever.

The story

The Louvre curator by the name of Jaques Santiere is found murdered on the floor in a Louvre gallery. The odd thing about the murder is what Santiere does to himself in the last few minutes of his life, leaving a cryptic message by his body and leaving himself to resemble a famous piece of art. We soon find out that Robert Langdon, a symbologist is implemented for the murder, meeting up with Sophie Neveu, the grand daughter of Jaques Santiere they begin a frantic race against time to locate the holy grail. The journey takes them into the arms of an eccentric rich grail hunter and a rather agitated French police chief. The story then flips from England to France.

I want to say more but everything leads onto something else and well everything is a spoiler in some way.

Thoughts

The book is built on puzzles, at one point i was questioning the book simply because the first code was adapted to so many meanings. But overall it is sound. The codes are clever and while you will be as baffled as the characters the level of description and the way they are solved makes them as clear as day and you will wonder why you was unable to solve them yourself.

The book also raises a wonderful question of what the grail is. Using many references in both art and literature it fully embraces the legend of the grail and creates a rather controversial back story. It does it's best to implicate the church as the bad guy, it explores the origins of the bible and the links between christianity and the Pagan culture. All this is incorporated into a fast moving mystery.

On the topic of the history, you will need to be open minded and be ready to accept it to read this book. There are a few sections where Robert Langdon is filling in Sophie and the readers about various points in history. These while long winded are well thoughout and written in a very clear way. But still the book is filled with myths, legend's and religion, as a result there is inevitably a lot of explanation.

From the start you know you are holding a good book, the pace is incredibly fast and quite well written.

The chapters are short, most are only 5 pages long, these cover points and events. The short chapters make the book incredibly accessible. They also make the book painfully hard to put down. Each one contains a slightly annoying yet incredibly intriguing final sentence. Something like, "but his luck was about to change", "a smile came across his face as he discovered the code" etc. This means that you cannot put it down until you find the answer to the end of the chapter. By leaving these little cliff hangers at the end of each chapter Dan Brown has created an incredibly fast paced book.

Conclusion

I have only 2 quarrels with this book. The first are the few painful bits of writing that litter some of the chapters. The book is fast paced and has a distinctive writing style which makes it easy to pick up and read but Dan Brown randomly drops in some complex metaphors for description. Its simply not needed and detracts from the book. When you have a book full of well described places and works of art why do you need to have a completely random sentances which are so heavily metaphorical that you just laugh at them.

Fortunately these are few and far between, they litter a few chapters opening and are easily recognisable.

My other quarrel is the opening code, when reading the book you will understand what i mean, it stretches so far it is almost silly, it is deciphered in so many ways it is just unbelievable, even though it is explained and you think that it might be possible you still question it. Now this opening code holds the first half of the book together, you just have to take it and ignore its believability.

While all this may make the book sound bad it honestly isn't, it just has its moments where you stop reading and think "is this possible?" The story itself though and the back story are nothing short of brilliant and the message of the opening code only hits you when you finish the book and think about it. It is a clever book, written by an obviously gifted author.

Rating
4/5
If you ignore the few badly written areas and the believability of the opening code you will find an incredibly enjoyable mystery, the story of Paganism, Christianity and the holy grail are nothing short of astounding. Its truly a worth while read.
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