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Book Reviews

The Autobiography of Malcolm X
As told to Alex Haley
The life story of the controversial leader Malcolm X.
Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) was a leader in the civil rights movement. However, he said
that civil rights should not be fought for, because the black community first needed their human
rights that have been denied them for so long.
Malcolm X was a son of Baptist minister and a U.N.I.A. organizer (Universal Negro
Improvement Association, which followed the teachings of Marcus Garvey, who preached that
black people should return to their ancestral home of Africa. He had many roles in his life: a
token or mascot while attending a white school, a Harlem hustler, burglar, inmate, minister of
The Nation of Islam, and finally, a black rights leader (I avoid using ‘civil rights’ for the reason
above).
This book was probably the most fascinating I have ever read. It was brutally honest and was
filled with so many interesting experiences.
Malcolm X was very intelligent despite having not completed a formal education. He became a
very powerful speaker after he was in jail. He had numerous books on religion and philosophy
to read while there. He also spent his time reading and copying down the dictionary when he
first got into jail, barely literate, in order to improve his lexicon and handwriting skills.
The fact that Malcolm X spent so much time on the streets in his lifetime made him able to
connect and understand the poorer black people, unlike most civil right leaders who belonged
to what he called the “so-called black middle class.” Judging from his description, the “middle
class” were largely pretentious, thinking of themselves as higher than other black people for
having jobs at white country clubs and such, and sycophantic towards white people, liking to
associate with them to show how “classy” they were.
An excellent and very thought-provoking book, fascinating and informative.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
With The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain discusses moral and political issues
through the eyes of an uneducated, yet intelligent, Southern boy…
Or, at least that was what the first part of the book was about. Huck and a runaway slave
named Jim go down the Mississippi River—Huck running away, and Jim running to freedom.
Near the end of their journey, they come across the Phelps farm, which coincidently was owned
by the family of Huck’s friend Tom Sawyer. First, it is important to understand who Tom is. In
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essence, he is the opposite of Huck. While Huck is clever but uneducated, Tom is educated but
stupid, not to mention very childish. Now, the Phelps farm episode was basically Jim being
caught by Tom’s family and kept in the shed until they can claim the reward. Huck was looking
for Jim when he came across Tom on his way to visit his family. Judging from the first part of the
book, you would assume that Huck and Tom would devise a plan to rescue Jim, but no. Instead,
we spend a considerable amount of time watching Tom fool around. When the time finally
came to actually rescue Jim, Tom just told Huck that Jim’s former owner felt so bad when Jim
ran away that she freed him shortly afterwards…
Deus ex machina.
Don’t get me wrong. It was a very good book (disregarding the Phelps farm episode). Although,
I watched the movie before I read the book, and I like the movie a better, but not by very much
(again, disregarding the farm episode).
Stowaway
Karen Hesse
The story of a real boy named Nicholas Young who stowed away on the Endeavour, the
ship in which Captain Cook circumnavigated the world.
This story is a true one, but with fictional bits and pieces. Very little is known about the real
Nicholas Young except from logbooks. Despite this, the story is told in a fictional journal written
by him.
This is the first story I’ve read in a journal format. At first I found it annoying, since I usually
don’t like books written in first person, but later on I found it fascinating. Although the book
isn’t separated into two large chunks, I have done so mentally. The first part was on the voyage
to Australia. This part was very interesting, consisting of new discoveries and visits to various
remote lands. The second part was the return to England. This part was darker as the crew
started to die of sickness, and the stops consisted of crowded, run down, almost pirate-like
towns.
All in all, I loved this book.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Agatha Christie
A murder mystery being solved by the famous detective Poirot, as told by Dr. James
Sheppard, friend of the deceased.
After reading this book, I have no doubt as to why Agatha Christie is known as the queen of
mystery. This was the first true (meaning not a children’s book or short story) mystery novel I
have finished. I personally love to have a story be complex and intertwining and to develop
gradually. This book does this well.
One would think that the criteria I have mentioned would be the basis for all mystery novels. I
don’t know why, but with other mystery books, such as Sherlock Holmes, I find myself bored
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soon after starting them. Maybe it’s the style and quality of writing, but this was the first
mystery book I was able to keep reading from start to finish.
An excellent book.
The Crucible
Arthur Miller
A play taking place at Salem Massachusetts at the time of the infamous Salem Witch
Trials.
I found this story well written. It was the first play I have ever read. At first, I thought I would
hate the fact that the entire story is dialogue, but once I got into the story, I didn’t even notice
the absence of narration.
I liked how the play had some back-story that emerged as it went on, and I also found the
subject of the witch trials interesting.
A very good story.
Hamlet
William Shakespeare
The tale of the young prince of Denmark who discovers mysterious goings-on
surrounding his father’s death, and who may not be entirely sane.
This is the second play I have read. While reading this story, I would often switch between the
original text and the modern translation, the modern being overly toned down and the original
being too complicated at times. However, I enjoyed this play very much—one spends their time
pondering whether Hamlet was really insane or simply passionate in his campaign to avenge his
father’s death.
I like reading plays, such as this, because it allows one to envision the scene to one’s own
preferences instead of having everything detailed by the author/playwright.
Frankenstein
Mary Shelly
The story of doctor Victor Frankenstein and his unholy creation.
For quite a while, I thought, like many people, that Frankenstein was the monster in the story. I
eventually learned that he was the creator, but I still was under the impression that it was a
corny story that takes place in some evil-looking castle with a villainous scientist and a runty,
hunch-backed minion. Then I saw episodes of Wishbone and Arthur while still a child and
learned of its darker and well-written story.
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Starting the book, I found the broken remnant of Victor Frankenstein to be suspicious. I didn’t
think that he would do anything sneaky or villainous, but the way the intro was written made
me feel something was off about him. And then in about three pages, I found him horribly
annoying. He was whiny, self-pitying, and vain, and I could not STAND how much he would beat
around the bush (although, I have seen this more often, as I have read older books, particularly
the way Van Helsing speaks in Dracula. Apparently, this is how learned people spoke in the old
days). As the story wove on, I found it increasingly interesting, particularly in the chapters about
the creature and how he came to understand the workings of this world.
I liked the darkness of the story, and as it progressed, I found myself more and more immersed.
The real story is much better than the one people are familiar with from movies… but I still love
the one with Abbott and Costello.
Lies My Teacher Told Me
James Loewen
An alternative history book highlighting the wrongs of the traditional way of teaching
American history.
Mr. Loewen is a very negative person, or, at least he was when writing his book. It was very
interesting and informative when it wanted to be, but for the most part, he just seems to rant
about how anyone who isn’t any kind of minority or isn’t oppressed sucks. But it was
informative, and it helped me to recognize bias… from his writing.
I found it an informative but very negative book.
A Young People’s History of The United States
Howard Zinn
Whereas Lies My Teacher Told Me is very negative and biased, Zinn’s book takes a more
balanced approach to the subject.
Like L.M.T.T.M., Zinn’s book is about alternative history but in a much calmer tone. I found it
more informative than L.M.T.T.M., but since this edition was written for children and young
adults there had to be some censorship. But then again, who would want their children to see
pictures of villagers getting killed with napalm?
I enjoyed this book. It was very informative, and the “fact files” where actually interesting.
I plan on reading the original version.

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The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
Book I
The story of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old girl living in a post-apocalyptic future in
which teenagers are made to fight to the death for their ancestors’ rebellious acts.
A very dark book, but realistic in a way. Rather than having the oppressed people being brave
and ready to stand up to the government, they had an air of being broken and seemed to care
about no one but themselves, and with some people, their circle of good friends and immediate
family. The characters are not exactly the most likeable people but realistic, nonetheless. The
first book was not as good as I thought it would be. I expected Katniss and a small group of
comrades to attempt to escape the arena and start a rebellion, but things did not turn out like
that.
I disliked the ending (the very end, the last few pages), it was too sudden.
Book II: Catching Fire
Katniss survived the Hunger Games, but to do so, she outsmarted the government, and
now she must be punished.
This book is even darker than the first one, it was also almost exactly what I thought the first
book would be, but much better. The story is also deeper and more widespread than before,
and I liked the fact that it developed more as the book wove on.
This is a very good book. I liked the new characters, and the story now seems to be more deeply
rooted in its history.
Book III: Mockingjay
The darkest of all three books. Discord is now widespread and a rebellion is in full swing.
Katniss now plays a prominent role in the new rebellion. When she outsmarted the government
to survive the Hunger Games, she became a symbol of rebellion. The way war was approached
in this book was very different than that of most books and American movies. In books, you
usually get some brave, heroic-type people fighting an evil, oppressive, sneaky and cruel enemy.
In movies, you get basically the same thing, but with American soldiers. The portrayal of war in
this book series is what I think makes it so thought-provoking. Another thing that was done in
this book was that the characters where almost killed off at random. In books, TV, and movies,
the main characters will usually only be killed off if it has some sort of relevance to the story, like
someone sacrificing themselves to save the group. When I first read the book, the killing off of
the characters really annoyed me—if I liked that character and they were important, why were
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they killed off like that? But after rereading the book and thinking about it, it is much more
realistic, even if it is not likeable.
This book was dark and depressing but very thought-provoking.
All in all The Hunger Games was very good and well-written.
Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the
Fantastical World Around You
Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black
This book is quite different that the others I have been reviewing. It is a book describing
magical creatures that have been redesigned and, in some cases, repurposed.
This field guide is meant to be a companion book for The Spiderwick Chronicles, a book series,
but one could just take the book off the shelf and sit for hours studying it without ever reading
the books it was written for. The paintings inside the book are primarily pencil and gouage, a
type of watercolor that leaves a matte look. I very much like the paintings in the book, and the
notes and passages are quite interesting. Most of the creatures inside this book are from
folklore, such as boggarts, manticores, pixies and merfolk. Others are made up by the authors
(of course all of these creatures are made up), such as the phooka or knockers. There are some
creatures that have been entirely reinvented, such as the will o’ the wisps. Rather than being
some form of spirit luring travelers to their doom in the dead of night, they are like insects
shaped like balls or Chinese lanterns, simply floating around without reason. In the book, it was
stated that it was unlikely that the wisps knew of the damage they caused, but if they found out,
there is little evidence that they will change.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book—I just wish it was longer. I loved the illustrations.
Redwall
Brian Jacques
The epic of woodland creatures defending their abbey from various evildoers over the
ages.
There are twenty-two Redwall books in total, many of which are set numerous years apart,
calling for different casts of characters. One would think that the books would be very
repetitive, but out of all of the books I only did not like two: Book 16, Loamhedge, and Book 19
Eulalia!.
Redwall takes place in a fictional, England inspired, medieval woodlands named Mossflower.
Deep in the Mossflower wood is an ancient, red sandstone abbey, from which heroes arise.
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Despite being set in an abbey, the presence of religion in the Redwall series is limited to the
residents of the abbey being known as “father,” “brother,” and “sister,” and saying a kind grace
that doesn’t really have any religious meaning.
The villains in Redwall are vermin and snakes and other dastardly creatures. The heroes are
small woodland creatures like mice and otters. However, there have been reversed roles, some
vermin have become good, usually simpletons who were abused by their fellow vermin. There
have also been woodland creatures who take on a villainous role, such as isolated shrew tribes
(who are quite belligerent) or some spoiled, royal types.
Book 6: Martin The Warrior
One of the prequels to the Redwall series, this book is about the founder of Redwall
Abbey, Martin the Warrior, and how he came to Mossflower country.
This book is easily one of my favorites in the series. It was the first book to explore an entirely
new setting (the books before are set either partially or entirely in Mossflower wood). I also
loved the cast of characters and the bit of tragedy involved in the book. The story is about the
life of Martin and how he came to be a slave for the pirate lord Badrang and how he and a small
group of friends escaped, defeated the tyrant and freed the Northwest Coast.
Probably one of the reasons I loved reading this book so much was because I remember
watching the Redwall show as a little kid; the season that focused on Martin the Warrior was
my favorite.
Book 19: Eulalia!
The tale of the search for the badger heir to the mountain fortress of Salamandastron,
and to defeat the notorious pirate Vizka Longtooth.
In the Redwall books, Salamandastron is a fortress carved into an extinct volcano. It is run by
one badger lord and filled with scores of battle-ready hares. Salamandastron is an ally of
Redwall and played a part in its founding.
I disliked this book simply because I disliked all of the characters, with the exception of one, a
female hare named Maudie, who reminded me of a similar hare much earlier in the series
named Dorothy who was one of my favorite characters. There was also another character who
appeared in the end that I liked, but he wasn’t in the story very much.
Another reason I disliked the book was that I found the ending very sappy, which usually doesn’t
happen in these books, even when there is a happy ending. The quality of the writing seems to
have gone down too, it was not like Mr. Jacques was losing his touch, because some very good
books have come afterward; it seems that this one was just pothole or a glitch. Although, since I
read this book a few years back, my opinion of it may change if I read it again.
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Book 22: The Rogue Crew
The story of a battalion of Salamandastron hares sent to investigate the reemergence of
Razzid Wearat, who apparently died years ago.
A wearat is a creature Brian Jacques created, a hybrid of unknown origins. It is a giant vermin of
gargantuan strength and an horrifying appearance.
The Rogue Crew is the last Redwall book, released shortly after the death of Mr. Jacques. It was
a very good book, especially due to the fact that most of the characters are hares, who are quite
entertaining. It had many elements now characteristic of the series, such as pirates and
villainous shrew tribes, but it had something new: heroes willing to stoop to the level of the
villains. The hares who were investigating the wearat business came across a tribe of sea-otters
who protect the northwest coast, the leader of which was the one who supposedly killed the
wearat. The hares in the battalion where appalled at the savagery the otters displayed towards
their enemies and their willingness to torture. The otters justify their actions by explaining the
hardships of living in the barren north coast and the constant threat of pirate attacks. I found
this thought provoking.
Mr. Jacques has an excellent style of writing, coming from his life of a jack-of-all-trades. He also
uses the many British accents well, and his descriptions of food are so delicious sounding they
seem almost cruel. He also is able to keep the books fresh for the most part.
1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization
Fourteen-hundred years ago, while Europe struggled in its dark ages, a religion started
to arise in the deserts of Arabia. This religion began to spread until a powerful empire
arose from it, an empire that was to influence the world for hundreds of years to come.
The Islamic Empire spread, at its peak, from western Africa and southern Spain to places as far
off as the Philippines. Unlike the Christian church, which denounced scientific discoveries, Islam
embraced and encouraged the discoveries in the fields of math and science. I loved reading this
book, it gave me a sense of pride when I would read about the Islamic advances in science,
math, art, and literature… to name a few. A very informative book, with sections on numerous
topics and information on the influences Islamic discoveries had on the modern world.
Probably one of my favorite books, I almost always have it in my room. I enjoy opening the
book at a random page and reading the information on the topic I land on. I found the excerpts
translated from a 13
th
century very cool and would like to try the recipes one day.