Sturgis Reads (Spring 2012)

Back by popular demand, we return to the original vision of Sturgis Soundings: a compilation of book reviews created by Sturgis faculty, staff and students. When Gretchen Buntschuh and I issued our “Call for Reviews,” we always felt like we were on a grand fishing trip;  we never knew who would respond or what books we would catch.  For a good description of the thrill of fishing, take a look at Peter Richenburg’s review of Tiggie.

Our request for reviews is simple:  write a 1 – 2 paragraph review of a book you have found interesting. Books can be fiction or non-fiction, current or classic.  By casting our net, we have a chance to learn not only about great books but also about the interests and enthusiasms of the Sturgis community.  We hope you enjoy our latest catch of Sturgis Reads.

Landlubbers, please note nautical signal flags that distinguish ports from which our contributors hail:

   Sturgis East

  Sturgis West

“Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.”   ~ Charles Scribner, Jr.

  Travis Andrade, Latin          

The Swerve ~ Stephen Greenblatt

Have you ever wondered what event or events set off the Renaissance first in Italy then throughout the rest of Europe in the 15th and 16th Centuries? Have you ever wondered why the Classics are still the foundation of any great Liberal Arts education? Do you like a great adventure story?  Then this book is for you…Stephen Greenblatt tells the story of Poggio Bracciolini, a relatively obscure humanist from the 15th Century who made an unexpected and unlikely discovery without which everything that we have accomplished in the nearly 600 years since would likely not have been possible.  This book is not an ordinary history of a time long gone by.  It is an exciting tale fraught with intrigue, danger and humor where the fate of humanity as we know it hangs in the balance!  I was fortunate to be reading this book while visiting many of the places where it takes place, such as Florence and Rome, which really brought it to life.  While you may not have the same travel opportunities I did, I promise you that you will never be the same if you pick this book up. You will certainly never view the world around you in quite the same way either (and hopefully you will understand why we must preserve our shared Roman heritage)!

   Connor Antonellis, Class of 2014          

Inheritance ~ Christopher Paolini

For almost five years I have been anticipating the release of this novel and now it is finally out. Inheritance is the fourth and final book of the phenomenal Inheritance Cycle which includes Eragon, Eldest and Brisings. Christopher Paolini is a talented young writer who draws much of the inspiration for this incredible series from his hometown called Paradise Valley, Montana. It is there that some of the people in his life have the greatest influence and find their way onto the pages in his novels.

In this final installment of the series, Eragon, the protagonist, his dragon Saphira, and the freedom fighters known as Varden, are marching to the gates of Uru’baen to confront the evil King, Galbatorix.  With the inevitable showdown coming closer as each day passes, Eragon has the haunting feeling that he will be unable to defeat Galbatorix, for he has the power of hundreds of dragons at his command. Eragon has only one last hope, to get to the Rock of Kuthian on Vroengard before the Varden arrive at Uru’baen. There he will find a weapon that might help him defeat Galbatorix once and for all. Eragon needs to use every advantage he can get, for Galbatorix also has a secret weapon, one that will bring Eragon, along with all of Alagaesia, to their knees.

This is the epic conclusion of Inheritance Cycle. I highly suggest reading it. If you don’t, you will be missing one of the adventures of a lifetime. Happy reading! May your swords stay sharp!

   Lara Bone, Class of 2014           

The Return of the Dancing Master ~ Henning Mankell

 It would be safe to say that Henning Mankell is one of Sweden’s greatest living mystery writers and no other book better highlights his pure talent as a crime writer than The Return of the Dancing Master; a bone chilling mystery that spans over five decades and takes you on a riveting journey across Sweden. Mankell, who is best known for his Kurt Wallander mysteries, presents this gripping stand-alone novel with a complex plot and a twist on every page. Stefan Lindman, a young police officer is entangled in a baffling case involving one of his old colleagues. Herbert Molin, a retired police officer, is found brutally murdered on his remote estate in the deep forests of northern Sweden. The only trace of the killer is bloody footsteps on the floor in a pattern as if someone had been practicing the tango. Even stranger, what appears to be the remains of an abandoned tent is found bordering Molin’s home.  Could this be the work of a deranged man or a determined killer seeking revenge?

Alarmed by the disease that is slowly killing him, Lindman is determined to uncover the reasons behind the two deaths. What he didn’t expect, is that his findings would soon expose a subversive Neo-Nazi network that runs further than he or anyone could have expected. As his investigation slowly uncovers the truth behind Molin’s past, Lindman himself becomes endangered as the killer is still lurking in the bleak darkness of Sweden watching his every move. The Return of the Dancing Master is chilling and spellbinding. Every page is rich and compelling. The constantly changing plot is never predictable yet always suspenseful. He is a master at creating a top-notch thriller with intricate characters.  Mankell is an additive writer who is able to balance the gruesome and unique details that make up a praiseworthy crime thriller.

   Cameron Caldwell, Class of 2012

“Why Women Aren’t Funny” ~ Christopher Hitchen

Christopher Hitchens was one of the most prolific and insightful essayists in the English language. He dealt with topics ranging from the fall of Adolf Hitler to the reason for anti-American sentiments around the world and it is amongst these mammoth topics that Hitchens’s essay on the comic nature of women stands out. With his characteristically sharp sense of wit, Mr. Hitchens lays out a sound argument for why it is that women tend to be on the receiving end of humor rather than as its perpetrators. The argument is based on the author’s observations of the interactions between males and females and his resulting conclusion that women inherently hold the upper hand. It is from this imbalance of social power that the male need for humor arises as it is well known that the earliest recorded attempts at humor were intended as jests or satire of figures in power. Here we can see the male propensity for humor as a means of elevating their station in comparison to women. Another perspective form which Hitchens approaches the idea is that males use humor as a tool in their struggle for sexual selection. This approach suggests that humor is used by men in order to make themselves unique to women, who almost always carry the responsibility of selecting a mate. From these two arguments Hitchens then makes the jest that the only funny female comedians are “either lesbians or Jewish”, the lesbians because of their tendency for masculineness and the Jewish because of the self-depreciating nature of their humor. Overall, Hitchens essay brings forth important points to be considered regarding the roles of men and women in social-sexual interactions and the role that humor has to play in men’s world of constant struggle.

   Quinn Coughlin, Class of 2014           

Catch–22 ~ Joseph Heller

Over the course of the past fifty years, Joseph Heller’s Catch–22 has remained a bestseller. Considered to be one of the greatest American works of the 20th century, Catch–22 is the story of an unconventional air force officer named Yossarian, whose only goal through World War II is to get out of it.  Read Catch–22 for its outrageously good humor as it recounts Yossarian’s struggle to escape the Italian island of Pianosa, as he pushes every chance he can get of avoiding combat. His friends each have their own comical personality and show how normal people fought in the Second World War. There’s Hungry Joe, the bomber pilot who incessantly screams in his sleep, and Orr, the navigator who was beaten unconscious by a prostitute wielding a high-heeled shoe. Heller illustrates an atmosphere of World War II that seems to be lost in history, one in which there are regular young men risking their lives every day for the sake of a country many don’t yet understand. Heller, though comical, maintains a mood of austerity through revealing the darker side of the American Dream: the fact that it is the product of war. No matter how many missions Yossarian is forced to fly, he still must deal with a greater adversary than the Germans: his own duty.

   Ellie Davis, Class of 2014

Bossypants ~ Tina Fey

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Tina Fey’s autobiography, Bossypants. Tina Fey has always been a role model for me, and this read did not disappoint. Her humor and wit was incorporated into every memory she included; it is obviously difficult for a writer to write about writing, but Fey has mastered it.
Fey begins her story with a description of her interestingly strange, yet loving parents- complete with pictures of long-outdated hair styles and outfits. Reading about her early years helped me to understand who she is as a person today, and how the self-respect she has always carried with her started in her home. The most intriguing part of her childhood (in my own opinion) is how a horrible experience led to her life-long way of learning about others. When she was grabbed and slashed across the cheek by a stranger in her own backyard, it left Fey with a permanent scar. She mentions how whenever someone asks about the scar within a week of meeting her, she finds they turn out to be arrogant and self-absorbed.
She continues by describing her awkward stages and her involvement in the summer theater that inspired her to join Second City in Chicago. Following her step by step was fascinating and although she ends up famous after a stint on Saturday Night Live, her core values are unchanged by the pressure of her job. She raises her children, balances a healthy marriage and prosperous career and still deals with the hackles of city living and arrogant actor personalities she writes for. I picked up this book because of Fey’s charming quirkiness on her hit show 30 Rock, and I recommend you do the same!

   Kelly Depin, Librarian and Coordinator of the Sturgis Faculty Book Group

The Book Thief ~ Markus Zusak; The Elegance of the Hedgehog ~ Muriel Barbery; Rashomon, A Collection ~ Ryunosuke Akutagawa; The Heart and the Fist: the making of a humanitarian ~ Eric Greitens; War ~ Sebastian Junger

Somewhere, no matter the time, there are groups of people meeting with the expressed purposed of discussing books. Which books are discussed doesn’t matter so much – what matters are the people, coming together and creating community over the shared experience of reading a common book.  With an unprecedented number of new faculty hired to staff the Sturgis expansion, creating a book group was one way to get new and old faculty mingling in a social setting that allowed for sharing opinions and conversation.

Eric Hieser often states that the heart of a school is the library.  In honor of that sentiment, the first book our group read was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The novel describes a young German girl during World War II and her fierce thirst to read. This desire consumes her to the point where she steals books, the first being a guide to grave digging found during the rapid fire burial of her only brother.  Death, one of the narrators, intrigued by her behavior, describes other thefts, including the theft of a book pulled out of a smoldering pile during a public book burning. The book describes how the pursuit of knowledge ennobles us and that families are born of love – not blood.

The Foreign language department was celebrated in the English translation of the French bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. A precocious pre-teen and an inconspicuous concierge become unlikely companions of the wise Mr. Ozu who sees through their defenses and creates a personal salon where ideas and authentic selves are exchanged.

A series of short stories that have been read by many of our IB students represented the English department. Rashomon, A Collection by Japanese author Ryunosuke Akutagawa inspired discussions on the travails and responsibilities of the reader in reading translations. Trying to decipher many inscrutables led readers scrambling for reference materials to appreciate not just the author, but also the period of Japan during which these stories were written.

CAS, short for Creativity, Action and Service, is a vital component of the I.B. Diploma program and allowed for a rare choice of two books, both of which also reflected current events. The Heart and the Fist: the Making of a Humanitarian by Eric Greitens shows the evolution of a young man who becomes a Rhodes Scholar, traveling extensively to evaluate the effectiveness of humanitarian aid.  He becomes a hands-on participant, working alongside such luminaries as Sister Theresa and her Sisters of Mercy. However, haunted by ravages of warfare on the innocent and unprotected, he elects to enlist in the Navy as an officer and then trains as an elite Navy Seal.  Post Navy, Greitens becomes the founder of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit which places disabled vets into leadership positions within the community, enriching both the community and the veteran.

The last volume, War by Sebastian Junger also has a Sturgis connection.  Sturgis West Technology Coordinator, Kathy Lynch is well acquainted with Cape resident Junger because her son was part of the unit deployed to Kandahar that was followed by Junger. The Kandahar Valley is one of the most remote, and has seen some of the worst fighting. Junger shows the effects of war are not only felt in Afghanistan, but also follow young veterans home after their deployment.

   Kate Dunigan-AtLee, Librarian

Blindspot: A Novel by a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise ~ Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore

Audiobook narrated by John Lee and Cassandra Campbell

This book is unique and very hard to put a label on. Blindspot is an unusual love story. It’s an historical romantic comedy, but it is also a mystery. Picture Boston, 1764.  It’s just before the revolution and there’s a lot of political tension between the separatists and the loyalists.  There is also a great deal of angst and debate about slavery going on.  Amidst the political and social intrigue we find two characters who are both present to, and yet separate from, the happenings around them. Stewart Jameson, a Scottish portrait painter has fled his home and come to Boston to escape his debts.  Fanny Easton, daughter of a wealthy Bostonian judge, is disowned by her father after having an affair with her brother’s tutor. Jameson and Fanny meet when Fanny disguises herself as a boy (called Francis Weston) and becomes Jamie’s apprentice.

Fanny (as Weston) soon falls in love with her master and Jamie is equally besotted by Weston.  They spend their days painting together the portraits of  colonial political figures and their love remains hidden, to themselves if not the reader.  Into this love affair that isn’t (yet) steps Dr. Ignatius Alexander.  Dr. Alexander is an escaped slave and friend of Jamie’s.  His arrival takes place just before the murder of Samuel Bradstreet, the most important political figure of the day (and an abolitionist).  When two of Bradstreet’s slaves are convicted of his murder, Jamie, Weston, and Dr. Alexander decide to investigate the murder in hopes of exonerating them.

The story is told in the voices of Fanny and Jamie and the two narrators, John Lee and Cassandra Campbell, capture them beautifully.  Lee does credit to Jamie’s sarcastic Scottish brogue and Campbell portrays both the silly romantic yet determined Fanny Easton and the witty sly self-aware Francis Weston equally well.

I enjoyed this book very much.  It is one of those books for which the audio really enriches the experience of the novel.  One complaint: it’s longer than it needs to be and the story slows to a crawl towards the end.  Just when I thought it should be wrapping up nicely (the murderer revealed, Alexander freed, and Fanny and Jamie living happily ever after) I looked at the play list and saw there were 3 HOURS left to listen to.  That being said, the fact that I did listen to the end means that I enjoyed the book enough to not give up on it.  Very much recommended.

Check out Kate’s reviews of other audio books in her blog: Off the Page Audio []

   Jonathan Earle, Class of 2012

Never Cry Wolf ~ Farley Mowat

I recently read Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. It is a fascinating (somewhat) true story about the author’s experiences studying wolves in the Canadian Arctic. In the early 1950’s Mowat was assigned by the Canadian Government to study wolves interactions with caribou (the wolves were being blamed for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of them). Mowat started his study believing wolves are mindless killers, indiscriminately killing caribou and even humans. However, over the course of his 2 winters and 1 summer studying a family of wolves (and even living in their territory), he became acquainted with each wolf’s unique idiosyncrasies, personality, and at times surprising behavior.

Although the book is heavily criticized by naturalists (for not strictly sticking to the facts), and it is considered to be at least partially fictional, the effect has been the same: more people view wolves as the beautiful, but dangerous predators they are, and the vital role they play in ecosystems.

Whether or not Never Cry Wolf is completely factually correct or not, I still recommend it for anyone interested in the natural world or a good ol’ fashioned adventure story.

   Hazel Fargher, Class of 2012

Watership Down ~ Richard Adams

Over the break I fell in love with Richard Adams’ Watership Down. This 500-page adult fiction was surprisingly popular despite the fact that its main characters are rabbits. When the author first tried to publish his book, no editor would take the risk, for exactly this reason. However, in my opinion, the fact that the book is set in a world which would seem to belong better in a short children’s story, does not detract from the tale, but enhances it.

The book starts with eleven rabbits fleeing their warren when one of them has a premonition of something terrible and incomprehensible happening to the warren. Thus begins the journey of this band of rabbits, trying to find a new home. I have heard that the journey has been compared to the Odyssey and while this part of the book is admittedly slow reading, this is where the author develops his characters and draws his readers into a different world, with even its own language and legends. As the rabbits face obstacles, rivals, and dissension, the reader grows an attachment to the distinct personalities of each of the characters.

After the rabbits find a new home in Watership Down (a real place in southern England), their adventures are far from over. The pace of the book picks up as the rabbits find themselves in dangerous situations, where they have to use cunning and speed to survive. At the climax of the novel, the fate of the new warren rests upon an elaborate scheme designed to outwit a fearful opponent.

In an interview, Richard Adams insists that the novel is nothing more than a story he used to tell to his children and was not meant to be a commentary on either religion or politics. However, it is interesting to see the recurring theme of the dangers of an inadequate government as the rabbits struggle to bring structure to their new warren and life.

   Matthew Fetzer, History           

Moby Dick~Herman Melville

I return again and again to this novel for several reasons.  It is vast. Its topic is as vast as the imagination of its author. As such, I always find escape in it.  It is a journey onto a deep, wide ocean and a deep, wide soul as well.  Perhaps the inner world of man is as vast as the outer world of nature.  Perhaps Ahab’s journey at sea reflects this truth. Perhaps it is Ishmael’s.

At its most basic level, it is a story of a whale-Captain maimed by a “great white whale” on a prior hunt.  Ahab seeks revenge on this whale whom he has as the source of all that has been wrong in his world and perhaps the world, period.  To Ahab, Moby Dick is the source of all evil.  To kill Moby Dick is to, in fact, strike at evil itself. The journey includes a crew of about thirty sailors, including “Ishmael,” the voice of Melville, himself.  Ahab’s quest will take him from New Bedford and Nantucket through the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and finally, the Pacific where his showdown occurs.

The novel at its deeper levels examines many other ideas.  It examines the madness of Ahab’s driven vengeance.  Ahab seems to become evil in order to fight it and others will die in the end because of this.  The Pequod is a metaphor for the human soul itself with Ahab as the darkest part of it.  Ishmael is the thoughtful, reflective part of it and the rest of the crew represents the remainder. However, Melville does remind us that every chaotic soul does have one “insular Tahiti,” and island of inner peace.  Tragically, the evil that emerges as we seek vengeance makes us suffer throughout.  Ahab demonstrates this as he sweats through his nightmares each night and awakens with his bloody fists clenched. His obsession has driven him mad.  This seems a reminder to us all to choose our anger wisely.

Moby Dick has also been offered as an allegory of American democracy in the mid-19th century.  The Pequod is the United States and the thirty members of the crew are thirty states in the Union. It seems clear that Melville does not think that the US is truly democratic in that it is being driven into the abyss by an Ahab, a maniacal evil that will wreck our great experiment. He speaks of slavery and that killing it will require killing each other in a civil war that will drive our ship to the bottom of the sea. Indeed, the Civil War nearly killed our noble experiment, a point that Lincoln reflected on in his Gettysburg Address.

Moby Dick also is a story about man against nature. Nature wins. The whale symbolically represents the power of nature and Ahab, man’s attempt to subdue it. Written during the rise of the industrial age in America, Melville was among those who urged caution in the worship of machines.  No matter how powerful your ships, little man, the ocean will always and ever beat them to bits, he notes. Does this not remain true?  Furthermore, Melville notes that nature is eternal and man is not. The whale and the ocean have been around a lot longer than man and Melville expects that the ocean will roll on long after man’s demise.  After the Pequod has been smashed to bits by Moby Dick and the sea swallows up its latest victims, Melville reflects that “the sea rolled on just as it did 5000 years ago.” Noah’s flood indeed covers 70% of the planet. False arrogance by those living on the remainder should be avoided.

I love this book because it offers truth at so many levels. It makes me think as I travel thousands of miles on the Pequod, with nothing but blue sea and sky.  I love the dreamy drift of the open sea, the perfect place to ponder Melville’s vision and mine as well. The sea is my escape. It is wide and vast, with infinite time to imagine. In this I might begin to approach truth, my own truth. I can only hope to be Ishmael in life and praise the journey, not Ahab, obsessed with the destination.

   Kit Freddura, Class of 2014

The Elegant Universe ~ Brian Green

To all readers who are not aren’t interested in science, I challenge you to read The Elegant Universe by Brian Green and keep strong to that opinion. I myself was converted after a read of this book. It takes such complicated concepts as general relativity, quantum mechanics and Super String Theory, and teaches them to the reader with such ease that they seem second nature.  Throughout the book, the reader is constantly confronted with Green’s humorous writing style and engaging examples.  Somehow, this book will leave the reader craving more.  Green’s humor catches the reader’s interest from the start, and doesn’t let go until the last word is read. While there are some complicated and confusing topics, Green does an excellent job of explaining each and teaching the reader something.  By the end, the reader will understand general relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory, at least to some extent.  So the next time you find yourself bored, I strongly recommend giving this book a read. You’ll be surprised as the hours drip away while you sit, eyes glued to The Elegant Universe until you’ve finished it cover to cover.

   Zack Hesse, Class of 2014

“A Game of Thrones: Collection 1-4” ~ George R. R. Martin

First off, I have to say that I enjoy fiction more than nonfiction. This has always been the way for me, and this collection is (in my opinion) the best fantasy series of all time. Spanning near fifteen years, this collection is 3500 pages long (it took me two whole weeks to read!) and doesn’t waste a word. The story is, from the title, one of political intrigue surrounding a recently and suspiciously vacated throne. Multiple people from different affiliations rise up to claim it and war with one another, while characters within the factions spread out and make their way through the huge land of Westeros. In the next few books, the author treats us to a rapidly developing plot in the island land of Valyria and Braavos. The book is divided into passages done from the point of view of each character, of which there are about thirty main ones and about five supporting characters (this is only counting those who have a chapter written from their point of view). The level of detail is amazing, in language that you’d expect to find in a land set in this time period (technology similar to medieval England).

Even the mundane tasks in this book are described in such beautiful detail that you can imagine yourself actually there. This book has realistic characters, a huge plot spanning years and whole continents, wars, love, and everything else you’d find in between.

   Eric Hillebrand, History           

No Man Knows My History:  The Life of Joseph Smith ~ Fawn Brodie

I wonder if this is the year that a lot of Americans ask seriously, for the first time:  What do Mormons believe?  Perhaps Mitt Romney’s rise to the GOP nomination for President will spur more people to wonder.  I decided it was time to know more and read Fawn Brodie’s biography of Latter Day Saint church founder Joseph Smith.

As an historian, I appreciate her careful attention to pointing out the support, in the historical record, for her tales.  The book scared me a little.  I used to take Mormonism in the same breath as the Catholicism I grew up with, or any other Christian sect present in America.  I wasn’t aware of the Mormon historical record of Christ lecturing ‘North American’ peoples in what is now Mexico around 34 AD, or the appearance of angels in upstate New York in the 1820s.  I didn’t know that lost tribes of Israel beat Columbus by more than 1,000 years as the first of the ‘Old World’ to reach American shores.  I was shocked to hear that those Israelites split into two groups and began fighting, that God cursed one with red skin, that those accursed were the ancestors of today’s ‘Indians!’  Nor did I know that gold tablets had been delivered to Mr. Smith, the founder of Mormonism, by these angels, deciphered by him with their help, and then whisked back to Heaven, leaving us with only his word.  Thankfully Smith asked a friend, who could write, to record these tales and we now have them in the book of Mormon.  Joseph was the only living man to ever see the tablets.  The scribe took his cues from the other side of a curtain.

What Ms. Brodie gives us is the times and characters that brought these tales and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into being.  Joseph Smith’s early life was full of schemes to get people pay him to ‘see miraculously’ where buried Indian treasure lay in upstate New York.  After being brought to book a few times for this and even tarred and feathered in a few towns, Smith made a wise career decision:  he became a prophet.  It’s good work if you can get it.  Of course it didn’t turn out well for Joe, in the end.  He was killed while in custody in Carthage, Illinois by Mormon haters in 1844.

I remain in wonderful amazement at the size of the church and strength of the adherence to these kinds of stories today.  It reminds me of stories I heard in my own Catholic upbringing of seas being parted and lepers healed at the touch.  What makes these Mormon stories so amazing to me today is that eons can’t be ‘blamed’ for misinterpretation or the growth of fact-based myth.

We need these stories though, I think.

   Diane Klaiber, Librarian            

Riding on Duke’s Train ~ Mick Carlon

I was not sure this book would keep my attention after hearing the author speak in person about “Duke” and listening to John Murielle, Cape Cod Conservatory Voice instructor, sing his songs on a Sunday afternoon in Sandwich.  While the event was captivating, the book did not disappoint my imagination.

How many of us have longed to hop a train and explore the countryside?   When 9-year-old Danny is orphaned, he does just that only to land on Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington’s personal train as it traveled the countryside from one gig to another.  The author has a great way of intertwining the world of Duke Ellington contrasting the Jim Crowe laws of the 1930’s to the rise of Adolf Hitler at the same time in Europe.   Unfortunately, Duke Ellington created fabulous music during a time when blacks were treated like 3rd world citizens.

The book is filled with facts about “Duke” who was a prolific composer for over 75 years, having written over 2000 compositions.  The author mentions Duke wrote up to the very end and requested his piano so he could compose on his deathbed.

I love this quote from one of the band members while talking to Danny, “Books are portable worlds that you can carry with you anywhere.  They don’t need electricity and they don’t need a bed for the night.  When the real world intrudes, then slap that book closed and your other world will wait around patiently until you are ready to dive in again.”  So play some Duke music, grab this book and return to your other world!

   Jacob Koczwara, Class of 2012

Killshot ~ Vince Flynn

This books starts off with a bang when CIA assassin Mitt Rapp’s assassination of the Libyan Oil Minister who supported Islamic terrorist groups in Paris gets interrupted by an Islamic Extremist Hit Squad hunting for him. For the past year he had hunted and killed people who supported terrorism for the US as a part of a secret CIA black ops team. The hit squad are the last remaining members who want to eliminate the man who has stalked and killed them around the world. Mitch gets shot in the escape attempt and misses his check in. The last member of the Islamic group alive kills three civilians on his escape.

While Mitch escapes to recover from his wounds, his handlers in Langley believe he has broken their golden rule: never kill civilians. Having no way to know the truth since Mitch never contacted them, his superiors believe he has gone rogue. Trying to avoid an international incident, his handlers send Mitch’s boss, Stan Hurley, to bring him in and, if necessary, eliminate him.

Caught in a game of cat and mouse between his superiors in the CIA and the Islamic extremists hunting him with their high ranking French accomplice in the French Intelligence service as well as their high ranking ally in the CIA who sold Mitch out, Mitch has to survive with only his wits and his skills. Mitch is so shaken by the incident believing he has been betrayed fights for his life in a battle he can’t possibly win. Not knowing who he can trust and who is on his side Mitch has to make decisions fast to survive or he could end up under the cross hairs and eliminated by his foes. Who is on Mitch’s side and who is willing to help him survive the ordeal?

I loved this book because the plot has many twist and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat and wondering what will happen next the entire time. The quick paced plot forces the reader to experience the adrenaline and anxiety of Mitch by placing us in his shoes. The grit and gore of the book also forces the reader to understand and experience Mitch’s world around him as he fights to survive against friend and foe.

   Courtney Laperriere, Class of 2014          

Water for Elephants ~ Sara Gruen

The magical world of a circus opens before your eyes in the novel Water for Elephants.  Around 1931, Jacob Jankowski runs away from the pressures of veterinary school after a tragic accident kills his mother and father, the two people he could always count on. Jacob finds himself working at Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth employed by Uncle Al, a man who would do anything to get ahead. Jacob soon finds working at the circus will not be as easy as expected, with a woman named Marlena who he is quickly falling in love with and her husband August, a man of charm on the outside but deceptively cruel on the inside. Jacob has to quietly insert himself in the business and save many lives around him, but he soon realizes that some of his actions will definitely have consequences.

As an old man, Jacob sits and reflects on his past.  He now lives in a nursing home being forced to abide by the rules. Sometimes he doesn’t even recognize his family but he can always remember the distant memory of the circus and the wonderful but disastrous events that happened. His love for the circus has not died away and all he wants is to go to it one more time. Water for Elephants will leave you wanting to read more. It is a beautiful story of joy but also sadness. Sara Gruen creates characters you feel you could have known for your entire life. I advise everyone to read this novel and enjoy the story within.

   Rebecca Lieberwirth, Class of 2014          

A Study in Scarlet: The First Sherlock Holmes Mystery ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes: his name has become famous throughout the centuries as one of the most intelligent fictional characters that literature has to offer. Yet how many people have actually read how he became as famous as he is? In A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we meet John Watson, an ex-army doctor looking for a place to stay despite his not-so-good finances. Because of this he meets Sherlock Holmes, a man in a similar situation. John and Sherlock decide to share a place at 221B and John gets a bit more than just a roommate. Sherlock is a consulting detective, the only one in the world. Not only does John find out that he is highly intelligent but the thing that makes Sherlock so vastly different than other detectives is his amazing perceptive abilities, to find out everything about you by observing you, the way you stand, the state of your clothing, and so forth. Holmes’ abilities lead the official detectives coming to him to solve mysteries when they can’t, and John Watson becomes caught up in his first case which he later names “A Study in Scarlet.”

Throughout this story we read about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson solving their first ever case together. Sherlock observes and makes seemingly impossible theories, but always later explains his theories to his new partner-in-crime, which not only helps John but the reader as well. Doyle writes this story in such a way that the reader is constantly thinking, their own brains attempting to “observe” what they read and to solve it before finally reading what leads Sherlock to the truth. Of course you don’t have to be solving the mystery while reading in order to enjoy it. John Watson is very much a normal human being who thinks like one, which makes him very easy to relate to and also gives the story a little more to it than just the mystery itself. Another section of the story that makes it very intriguing is the fact that the murderer becomes a character in which his existence isn’t only to create a crime. In Part II we read about a whole other story entirely, that of the murderer’s.  He is no longer just an evil person who Sherlock must catch, but a man with his very own story which, unfortunately for him, intertwined with that of Sherlock’s. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is one that’s brain stimulating and entertaining, a must read classic!

   Hannah McLaughlin, Class of 2014          

The Secret Life of Bees ~ Sue Monk Kidd

Imagine a warm summer day, with clear blue skies and white puffy clouds, the sweet smell of Carolina jasmine, perched under a shady tree sipping sweet iced tea. Well, this is exactly what 14 year old Lily Owens experiences once she leaves the hive and sets off on her own journey and finds sweets sweeter than purple honey and more mothers than she could ever think of having. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd surely captures all the aspects of a true heartwarming story that teaches us all, to stand up for what we believe in and realize that the heart is the only thing that matters. Our journey starts with Lily Owens, a 14 year old girl living in Sylvan, South Carolina with her “so called Daddy” T. Ray, a heartless bitter man now a widower, and their housekeeper Rosaleen, who acts as a mother to Lily. When Rosaleen and Lily head to town to register Rosaleen to vote, conflict breaks out, sending Rosaleen to jail but leading to one of the best opportunities that Lily has ever come upon. She runs away from the cruelty of T. Ray and, bailing Rosaleen out of jail, escapes to the pinkest house in South Carolina that is blinding to the eyes. Yes, the house belonging to the Calendar sisters. The eldest, August Boatwright, the bee keeper, June, the musician, and May the youngest sister but unfortunately carries the weight of the earth on her shoulders ever since her twin sister April killed herself when she was fifteen. Kidd perfectly describes the sisters from their unique and different personalities,  May placing red socks on the claws of the bath tub,  June playing her cello every time of the day, and August who is described as the “queen bee” of the hive looking after her younger sisters.

Not only does Kidd do an amazing job capturing Lily’s journey and her inner thoughts, but Kidd also includes a little something extra. Kidd includes at the beginning of each chapter an excerpt from a book about bees to go along with the main idea in the chapters. Those are the little things that count. Details that don’t have to be added but are there to create a book even more worth reading. Like all stories there are ups and downs, but I don’t want to spoil that for you. You will laugh when the sisters and Lily have a hose fight cooling off in the hot summer days of Tiburon, you will cringe when Lily has to kneel on “Martha Whites” the cruelest punishment T. Ray could ever come up with and you will cry when Lily learns about her past and the feeling of being unlovable. But I guarantee you will love the true meaning this book sends out. You can find love anywhere you go, it might not be noticeable, it might be hard to find, or even on the tip of your nose, but surely you will realize that love is all around you and nothing is more powerful than the feeling of love.

   Connor Naples, Class of 2014          

Survival in Auschwitz ~ Primo Levi

A book I have read out of school is named Survival in Auschwitz written by author Primo Levi. Primo Levi was an Italian-Jewish chemist in the outbreak of World War II when Dictator Adolf Hitler came to power. He was sent to Auschwitz because of his religious views. Throughout the novella, Primo has to go through many hardships while clenching onto and grasping  life. With hope and prosperity, he just barely manages to get through living in the terrible horrors of an infamous Nazi concentration camp in Hitler-led Germany.

Survival in Auschwitz is graphic at times and very detailed as well. Those two combinations form a terrifying but accurate imagery of what Levi had to go through along with many other people who were at Auschwitz for multiple different reasons. Although Levi managed to survive, his soul died during the Holocaust. In 1967, Levi died after falling from the third story window of his apartment. His horrific memories live amongst the readers who have read his novel. This book is highly recommended for those who wish to learn about the Holocaust and its survivors. The memories are dreadful, but we all must remember what happened in the past to these people so we can prevent it from happening again.

   Danielle Newcombe, Class of 2012

Kissed by an Angel ~ Elizabeth Chandler

One of my all-time favorite books is Kissed by an Angel by Elizabeth Chandler.  This book is about a high-school couple who had been out driving when they crashed and he died.  After that, the girl, Ivy, lost faith in angels and couldn’t feel her boyfriend around her, even though he came back as an angel to try and save her.  The book goes back and forth between each of their points of view; he is trying to figure out who cut their breaks causing their accident in order to try and save her before the murderer comes for her again. She is simply trying to move on in her life after the tragedy and then later has to try and figure out who the murderer is as well in order to save herself.   The differing points of view allow the reader to never be entirely sure who the murderer is and feel the frustration of the characters for not being able to put what they know together.  It is incredibly suspenseful, and a book that I could not put down once I started reading.

This book is a very easy read, and I would recommend it strongly.  It isn’t hard to get through, and it is the perfect vacation read.  It is an incredibly sweet love story that will make you happy just reading it, but it is not over-the-top and has plenty of other plot points to follow that it does not overwhelm you.  The book is one of my favorites, it I long enough that it kept my attention for several days, yet is so well written that I never wanted to put it down.  Also, it is one of those books that does not require you to think about afterwards in order to understand, but it has enough deeper ideas that you will think of it many other times afterwards and be able to see it in new lights.  I strongly recommend this book to anyone looking for an easy read that is purely plot-based enjoyment, and is thrilling yet touching and romantic at the same time.

   Justin Pannell, Class of 2012          

Cat’s Cradle ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle is a satire whose main target is religion, though it does not spare the topics of government fundamentals and scientific research.

The novel begins with an introduction of the protagonist, John or Jonah, a writer reflecting back on when he began work on an account of events surrounding the day the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, specifically the story of the American researchers who worked to develop it.  The writing and the focus of the book quickly shift to the life and family of one man in particular, the fictional father of the atom bomb, Felix Hoenikker.  From here John travels along his own spiritual journey from an atheist to a Bokononist, as he explores the lives of each of Felix’s children and becomes tied into the transition of Government on the island nation of San Lorenzo.  The apocalyptic ending leaves the reader with only the cold teachings, or more accurately “harmless lies”, of Bokonon to comfort them from the dark side of science revealed in a way only Vonnegut could portray.

   Amy Peterson, Technology Coordinator, ITGS

The Sextant Handbook: Adjustment, Repair, Use and History ~ Bruce Bauer

At the dawn of the eighteenth century Sir Isaac Newton presented new principles of optics to the Royal Society in England. Edmund Halley applied these concepts to predict the comet that bears his name. During this time period British seamen were “pushing out the boundaries of the Empire and as yet there was no accurate means of marking the east/west position of place.” In 1715, Parliament offered a cash prize for the development of a practical method of determining longitude at sea. Like the initial development of today’s technological industries, the sextant could be considered a kind of secret weapon capable of determining a real advantage in exploration, commerce and military prowess. The race was on to create this technology with the highest degree of accuracy. The major players were Halley and Col. Thomas Godfrey, a friend of Ben Franklin.  This book offered not just the history of the development of the sextant but also in-depth details on its operation, maintenance and repairs.

   Alicia Pollard, Class of 2013
Watership Down ~ Richard Adams
Watership Down is one of those rare treasures that hide behind a humble appearance and seemingly dull premise: a book about rabbits sounds dry at best, but is a poor description of Richard Adams’ incredible story. Watership Down is a window into a captivating world where men are one of a thousand enemies, survival is paramount but precarious, and the veil between natural and supernatural unravels. The language, characters and storyline are so vivid as to make them as real as the reader’s armchair: the tension of escaping an unknown doom, one rabbit’s tenuous, frightened possession of the second sight, and the peril of escaping an evil, prison-like warren. Adams masterfully blends the portrayal of a rabbit’s life with the humor, courage and friendship of humans.
Adams’ rich language is vibrant in its description yet clear in its expression. Without dragging down the story with boring digressions, he lets portraits of wildlife’s beauty steal into the action so that both the peace of quiet moments and the tension of dangerous ones come alive. Though avoiding elaborate, clumsy wording, phrases such as “sunset…red in clouds” (12) and “far land of wild mountains”(356) catch the reader’s imagination yet disappear into the intertwinement of setting and atmosphere.  He describes but the characters’ feelings with a gentle, meditative tone and descriptions such as “delightful sense of security” (89) that keeps the omniscience of a narrator and the temperament of the character.
The characters in Watership Down are charming and realistic, with the instincts and aims of rabbits but the flaws and strengths of humans. Hazel’s wise yet humble leadership, Bigwig’s proud but frank toughness, and Blackberry’s quiet ingenuity are endearing and entertaining. Adams has also made his villains as real as his heroes: heartless and ignorant as Cowslip and Strawberry, or cruel and calculating as General Woundwort and his Council – all as terrifying as complex, realistic villains should be. The characters are engaging from the first page and continue to captivate the reader as they grow and develop.
One of the most fascinating elements of Watership Down is how Adams has woven culture into the rabbit’s lives. From explanations about the world’s beginning to why some litters miscarriage, the rabbit folktales sprinkled throughout the story are entertaining and enhance the main plot. The glimpses into the mystery of the folktale’s truthfulness also bind them to the central storyline: Fiver’s truthful prophecies, the stormwhich helped Bigwig and his fugitives escape from General Woundwort, and Vilthuril’s retelling of one of Hazel’s adventures as a folktale all speak of a society shaped by love of trickery and desire to survive. This colorful description of an animal culture so akin to human culture enriches each character.
Watership Down is simple enough for young and older readers to enjoy, yet rich with imagery, language and characters that become three-dimensional from the first page. Adam’s work lets readers experience the thrill of an adventure and the deeper meaning of a quest.

   Peter Richenburg, Art          

 Tiggie: The Lure and Lore of Commercial Fishing in New EnglandCharles “Tiggie” Peluso

Commercial fishing, which tops the list of the world’s most dangerous occupations, has long been a magnet for writers and readers.  I’m a huge fan of Linda Greenlaw’s books, also, Mark Kurlansky’s epic “Cod”. Fishing addresses a hunger of the spirit “Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a healthy soul in him,” Melville asks, “at some time or other crazy to go to sea?” “TIGGIE” offers a convincing answer.  Tiggie is more than a memoir or a how-to book; rather, it combines the virtues of each.  With detailed insights into the catching of fish and moving reflections on the beauty of the rituals, it captures the moments and moods of a vanishing life.  Every time, without fail, when I’m on the water, be it for a couple of hours or a couple of days, there will be time when I quietly utter to myself, “I live for this.”

   Czarina Shartle, Class of 2014

Fahrenheit 451 ~ Ray Bradbury

Imagine a world where books are forbidden and independent thinking is unheard of, a dystopia with the absence of intellectual freedom. In Fahrenheit 451, the authorRay Bradbury creates this world. This story takes place in the future, in an American city in which all books are illegal and any found books are burned. Fahrenheit 451, appropriately named for the temperature at which paper burns, is a hauntingly thought-provoking book and cautionary tale of what the human race could become.

Guy Montag, the protagonist in this story, is a fireman. In the future, firemen do not put out fires; they start them.  At this time, books are forbidden, and the fireman’s job is to burn any books he can find. Montag lives with his wife, Mildred, who has become an empty shell of a person. She spends every minute of the day watching her giant wall-sized television set; she refers to the characters on the shows as her “family” and prefers them to her husband. The people in this futuristic society only care about their final destination. Everyone drives extremely fast and works quickly.  When people feel the need to race through life, they have nothing to truly live for. The people in this society are like ants marching through a mindless, unchanging routine. Throughout the novel, Montag meets intriguing characters such as the whimsical Clarisse and the wise Faber. As Montag’s interest in books grows, so does the danger.  This book is extraordinarily well written and thought provoking. The novel isn’t for everyone. Some will love it, some will hate it and others will think it’s just plain weird. For me, this book is one of my favorites. And for those who it will move, it will linger with you long after you’ve finished reading…a bit like smoke.

   Robin Singer, Mathematics

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks ~ Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks juxtaposes an amazing thread of cellular biology and medical research history, with a harrowing tale of the struggles of an uneducated, African American family in Maryland.  The matriarch of this family (Henrietta Lacks) allowed researchers to harvest her unique tumor cells (referred to as He La cells) when she was terminally ill at the age of 31.  These cells have been mass produced and used in research laboratories all over the world and there are companies that sell them for their unique characteristics, without permission from or recompense to Ms. Lack’s family.

So many themes are interwoven in the book, including the unethical treatment of poor blacks in the South at the time of the second world war up through the 1960’s, the difficult lives of the Lacks children who lost their mother at such a young age, the possible consequences of biological research without good oversight,  the ethical issues associated with ownership of cell lines by private companies and the loss of individual rights over one’s own cells and the cells of one’s ancestors.   The author writes authentically; she is simultaneously sympathetic and impartial and the book is absolutely riveting.

   David Stewart, Class of 2006       

The Crying of Lot 49 ~ Thomas Pynchon   

One of my favorite books has to be Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. As wild as Pynchon’s prose is, this novel has the acerbic view of the late nineteen-sixties that mirrors that of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe mixed with a picaresque style of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Pynchon is one of those authors that you cannot read just once, it takes many different perspectives to have it grow on you as if you were listening to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” or sitting through an Antonioni film. It’s revolutionary in the sense that it follows a board housewife and her journey through the annals of an ever-changing society, rather than to be confined with the label as the typical, conservative housewife. Pynchon is no stranger to viewing the flaws of man and the power of woman as displayed in his first novel, V. If you are looking for a novel that will shake you up in terms of going beyond the fringe of the typical, straightforward novel, The Crying of Lot 49 is one of those books.

   Alicia Fenney Watts, English         

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ~ Mark Twain  

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a literary masterpiece. Huck Finn stars as the pre-Civil War protagonist, a thirteen-year-old boy whose picaresque lifestyle and childlike innocence are absolutely loveable. Add in throngs of hilariously irresponsible adults posing as parent figures, silly superstitions and corresponding pranks, and the tomfoolery of Huck’s friend Tom Sawyer, and it’s a recipe for laughs.  But fun and games are only half of the story. After faking his death to escape the abuse of his pap and “sivilised” life, Huck teams up with a runaway “nigger” named Jim. Headed down the Mississippi into the belly of the Confederate beast, Huck learns from Jim the meaning of humanity and friendship, which does not discriminate on the basis of race. A true bildungsroman, this novel is about the education of a young picaro but also educates the readers whom Twain hoped to reach with his satire of race and racism in the South.

I enjoyed Twain’s novel as a sophomore in high school and was thrilled at the opportunity to re-read and teach it to my Standard Level seniors this winter. Books don’t change; we do. Through this second reading I was able to learn more about my own humanity, bringing me to a greater understanding of the world around me and my place in it.

   Marion Weeks, Community Outreach Coordinator

Paradise Walk ~ Mary Malloy

“History is not for the faint of heart, is it?” So proclaims a character near the conclusion of Paradise Walk, Mary Malloy’s second historical mystery. Historian Lizzie Manning certainly faces her share of challenges when she is commissioned to take a trek across England to retrace the trail of the Canterbury Pilgrims in hopes of documenting the historical source for Chaucer’s infamous Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales.  During the trek, Manning compares Ordnance Survey maps and woven tapestries of strip maps with a recently discovered manuscript of a diary written in 1387 by a woman who made the pilgrimage from Bath to Canterbury. She discovers that the diary’s author, referred to simply as “The Weaver,” was a fine artisan who created extremely complex tapestries and commissioned artwork in churches across England.  Throughout Lizzie Manning’s adventures of tracking The Weaver, she relies on the research of historians, Chaucer scholars and reference librarians.  She is supported by a lively band of capable friends, several of whom come to walk segments of her path to Canterbury.  Along the way, they experience moments of great good humor, danger and even murder. Woven into this intriguing search for an ancient path beneath layers of modern culture and urban sprawl are puzzles of navigation, relics of Saint Thomas Becket and Arthurian legends.

I discovered Paradise Walk through a Cape Cod Times review of local books. Although I am not a regular fan of mysteries, this book intrigued me because I spent a summer studying The Canterbury Tales in college and have hopes of taking a literary walking tour in England someday. Mary Malloy is the author of four maritime history books, including Devil on the Deep Blue Sea, which won the 2006 John Lyman Book Award for bestmaritime biography. Malloy has a PhD from Brown University and teaches maritime history at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole and Museum Studies at Harvard University.

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