When you ask most kids what they want to be when they grow up, you may find some sports stars, billionaires, or rock musicians among the surveyed crow...moreWhen you ask most kids what they want to be when they grow up, you may find some sports stars, billionaires, or rock musicians among the surveyed crowd. Very few would want to be criminals, lawyers, or mobster employees.
Mitchell McDeere was all three, without knowing.
Mitchell “Mitch” McDeere is an aspiring lawyer. He’s always had to work to get himself places. Born into a non-assuming family, he has worked hard to graduate third in his class at Harvard Law School, and is not about to stop then. He could have written his own ticket to any big name law firm in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, but he chose Bendini, Lambert and Locke, a small Memphis-based law firm. For a man whose life is all about ambition, mainly in the form of money, the small firm, while not having a major name for itself, is all that McDeere can ask for. It boasts of a great community, great salaries, and an overall turnover rate of none. However, McDeere soon finds that this little paradise law firm is not all that it appears to be. The firm, while doing some business for other clients, is actually the principal money-laundering operation of a Chicago-crime family. Upon this revelation, Mitch soon finds himself in a predicament. He has been contacted by the FBI, who is looking to bust the firms operations and crack the secrets of the long elusive Chicago mobsters. However, if he betrays the mob, a massive organization, there is a high probability that he will be found out and wind up like most of the mobs victims: dead.
The Firm, by John Grisham, is the first of many legalistic thrillers that centers around the story of Mitchell McDeere. A lighter read, The Firm, perfectly encapsulates a perfect blend between reality and Hollywood drama. As a reader, the book isn’t drab, like much of a lawyer's life is. You aren’t bogged down by legalisms, names, or other language that makes the book like a law manual, which is something that sometimes happens in books that center around lawyers. Similarly, the story isn’t overly cheesy and doesn’t seemed forced, with much of the storyline just as believable as a biography may be. As far as one is concerned while reading, Mitch McDeere is a real person living in Memphis, working 18 hours a day in his office, and going home to his wife, driving a BMW and taking vacations in the Cayman islands like he does in the book. Still, the book is not all serious and dramatic. There is some humor, albeit a little dark, that makes the book bearable at points. One line that was particularly enjoyable remarked on the danger of the situation Mitch found himself in. It involved one of Mitch’s bosses, Locke, discussing the mobs habit of eliminating snitch firm members with the head of security, DeVasher. His remarks on the firm, were frank. In his words, “We had a higher casualty rate than oil rigs.”
As you can probably tell, the humor is a bit sophisticated, and a bit dark, much like the rest of the novel. Overall, the novel comes highly recommended to those people who enjoy law and government. The Firm can be enjoyed by others, certainly, however those who have some background knowledge in law and current events will get the most out of the book. That being said, this book can be enjoyed by any advanced reader nonetheless for its interesting plot, emotions of the characters, and for some of its jokes (depending on your sense of humor). Still, any law-buff or advanced reader will certainly like the book more than not. (less)
If one were to miraculously build a time machine and travel back to North Korea 50 years ago, they would be amazed at what they found. If one were to...moreIf one were to miraculously build a time machine and travel back to North Korea 50 years ago, they would be amazed at what they found. If one were to then travel back to the present, 50 years later, to North Korea, they would be somewhat shocked, probably because they would see that nothing had happened to the country, despite the 50 year time jump forward.
Plagued by a failing communist dictatorship, North Korea is a horrible place to live. Founded in 1948 by the Soviet Red Army and Kim Il-sung, a guerrilla fighter, North Korea has continued in existence as a hereditary dictatorship, currently entering its third generation of Kim family rule. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the fall of communism across most of the international community, there have been chronic food shortages throughout the country. According to the United Nations, over two million people have died because of this famine. In addition to these deaths, millions of developing children suffered from chronic malnourishment, and, as a result, have had their growth stunted. The average North Korean boy of 14 years of age has the physique of an eight-year-old child in the United States. In addition to the horrible food situation, North Korea has an incredibly repressive government. Secret Police roam the streets and arrest people for the simplest of actions. One man was reportedly arrested for making a joke about the height of the second leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il. For this offense, given that it was a first time case, he got years in a soviet-style forced labor camp. Propaganda plays a central part in the regime, and there is an extensive personality cult around the leadership. The propaganda claims that the leader’s possesses godly powers, and millions of citizens actually believe this lie, along with the illusion that North Korea is successful.
Still, the outside world knows little about North Korea, otherwise known as the “Hermit Kingdom.” It’s people live in virtual isolation from the outside world, with no information being let in or let out. What we do know about life in North Korea is only a small piece of the puzzle. In Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick, more of that puzzle is pieced together. Through interviews with North Korean defectors, Ms. Demick has been able to provide a rare new view of the secretive North Korean autocracy to the reader. As the title appropriately conveys, life in North Korea is nothing to envy.
The view that the reader has while reading Nothing to Envy is the ideal way to tell the story of the Hermit Kingdom. The book, though its stories and descriptions of normal lives in North Korea, evokes a sense of empathetic pain inside of you, and allows you to partially experience the stories which each defector tells. One can fully connect, despite the lack of firsthand experience, with every story told by the defectors. On a personal note, I found myself weeping as I read the stories on how countless relatives of the defectors starved to death, dying slowly of their ailments, eventually reduced to nothing more than shadows of men looking as if they had just emerged from Auschwitz 50 years prior. The reader was vividly told of situations and stories where children cut class, but not because they did not want to attend school; rather, they needed to spend the time looking for food to feed themselves and their families. Similarly, while the book was emotional and touched the soul, there was plenty of content to back up the anecdotes. Facts about the country were abundant, and there is a healthy balance between information and anecdotes. This makes for a read that was neither too dense nor too fluffy with facts or stories, with the perfect balance for any documentary like book.
Nothing to Envy is a great book. However, it is a book for mature individuals. Much of what is told in the story would probably qualify to be R-rated if put into a documentary, and reader discretion is advised. Being an oral history more than instead of a fictional story, there really is not a theme to the book. Instead, you could say the book acts as a warning as to what a country can become, given the right circumstances. This compilation of firsthand experiences of one of the last truly totalitarian regimes is a masterpiece and something that everyone even marginally interested in government should definitely pick up and read.
As JFK lay in his bed, recovering from painful back surgery, the World War Two veteran and hero didn’t know what to do. He decided, eventually, to pas...moreAs JFK lay in his bed, recovering from painful back surgery, the World War Two veteran and hero didn’t know what to do. He decided, eventually, to pass the time by writing a book. He had recently been awarded for his acts in actively saving comrades of his naval ship, PT-109, during the Second World War. Instead of talking about this, though, the man who would become a future President of the United States decided to write a book about other people and their selfless acts of courage in the course of their political careers.
In what became a future Pulitzer Prize-winning biography set, Mr. Kennedy began to write the book that would eventually be called Profiles in Courage, which focused on the actions of eight United States Senators who either crossed party lines or crossed the views of their constituency in order to do what they thought, was right. The book focused entirely on these eight politicians, past and present, for their acts that ended up being their political damnation, from John Quincy Adams breakaway from the Federalists, to Robert Taft’s criticism of the Nuremberg trials in the shadows of the Second World War. It forces the reader to think about the many things that have plagued American politics, and yet have served as its blessings: the power of the people over the law. For many of these Senator’s, this power marked the end of their career, but for all the wrong reasons. And while none of them really lived in the same time period, and virtually none of them ever debated together on the Senate floor, it is the leadership and courage that these politicians have that unites them in history, and that will, thanks to JFK, continue to unite them in years to come. Senators and politicians have always been viewed as people who, at least initially, have their constituents’ thoughts in mind, and have always been thought of by people as good people of moral character, at least within their constituency. They always seem to have their states in mind, and the people who they represent are happy for this. What, though, happens to people like Robert Taft, who challenges his parties and his constituency’s viewpoint on the Nuremburg Trials and actually argues against the legal basis of the trials, which have tried some of the most despicable people ever to live. This unpopular act of opposition eventually led to him losing his Senate seat and his nomination race for President in 1948, something undeserved by the poor politician. What happens to a southerner who sides with the Union in the Civil War, a time of great tension within our country? Nothing good, one can be assured. These people are cast out by their party, receive death threats and hate mail from citizens in their state and around the country, and have their political aspirations chewed up and swallowed whole in the face of their controversial decisions. It’s the same idea of what would happen to the New York State Republican Senators who cast their vote for legalized same-sex marriage: political damnation for voting in favor of a civil rights issue, death threats and hate mail sent to their homes and offices, and the probable loss of their seats in the coming election cycle. All of that for voting for what they thought was fair and right on the hot-button issue of gay rights and gay marriage.
This book comes highly recommended for all people, politically inclined or not. It is a true tale of courage, a tale that often ends in defeat for many, and political isolation or banishment for many more. It is an eye-opening book should be on anyone’s reading list if it has not been read already. Even if you aren’t a political junky like I am, reading this book will change the way you look at acts taken by people in trying times. Stress not only builds character: it reveals it. In times like those presented in Profiles in Courage, what is revealed about these politicians, whether one agrees with the politics or not, is incredible courage for standing up for what they think is right. Who knows: maybe your Senator’s last act, unpopular or not, was really just an act of courage in disguise. (less)
In the world of The Son of Neptune, things do not appear to be what they are. What seems to be the normal world on the...moreThe Son of Neptune Rick Riordan
In the world of The Son of Neptune, things do not appear to be what they are. What seems to be the normal world on the outside is really just the careful concealment and assimilation of a world in which the old stories of Greek mythology are alive and well, if you count being “well” as being out for revenge. All of the monsters, Gods, giants and other enemies and friends in past Greek myths are living right under the population’s noses, causing trouble whilst plotting the takeover of Western civilization. The main characters are demigods, the offspring of Gods and mortals, who all posses special powers according to their godly parent. It is their job to act as a sort of pest control for these monsters and giants that crop up every once and a while in semi-organized attempts to overthrow their current deities. The most prominent of these demigods in this novel is Percy Jackson, 16, who we first meet earlier in the series as the Son of Poseidon, Greek sea god and one of the more important deities. In his ongoing adventure, Percy finds himself out of his comfort zone (again) and winds up in a camp for Roman demigods, a microcosm of ancient Rome, called Camp Jupiter. Here, he meets new people and makes new friends, before being given an adventure, or “quest,” by Mars, the Roman God of War, to go up to Alaska, the land beyond the gods, and battle the powerful giant Alcyloneous, enemy of the Gods and reborn evil child of the Earth Goddess Gaia. Simultaneously, though, Percy and his new friends, Frank and Hazel, who join him on this adventure, have a time limit; they have until June 24 to accomplish this quest, or otherwise Camp Jupiter, their beloved home, will be invaded and destroyed by an encroaching giant-led army. On another level, besides through his plot development, Rick Riordan was able to display a perfect balance between character development and action, a warming familiarity you can find throughout all of his literary works. The pace of the action is perfect, not too rapid, and yet not too descriptive or wordy, with an interwoven presence of witty humor which makes the most intense of all scenes entertaining on multiple levels. He keeps the reader on their toes constantly, with the reader reading not so much to find the outcome of the plot, but why the outcome came to be like that; this leads to a genuine interest in everything the novel has to say about anything. This makes every word a cliffhanger for the reader and every line an instance of heightened anticipation, a true skill that is not present in most young adult literature. Adventures in The Son of Neptune also contain a certain audience appeal that transcends age differences and present themes and motifs for each audience. As an adolescent reading the book, you find yourself more geared towards the sarcastic humor and action, and yet sympathizing with the problems of each character, such as not being loved, wanted, or accepted by general society, all things that you know as a reader all too well. As an adult, you might feel a certain twinge of nostalgia when you experience the feelings between characters who are lovers, just trying to take the first steps in building a romantic relationship, or when you read the curt remarks of a Frank’s grandmother and think about your grandparents and parents back in your childhood. (Upon hearing the age-old protest of “she’s not my girlfriend,” this is what Frank’s Grandmother proceeds to say: “Not your girlfriend? Well, she should be, you dolt! Don’t let her get away. You need strong women in your life, if you haven’t noticed.”) In yet another showcase of his classic and unique storytelling style, Rick Riordan once again makes something new out of something old, appealing to all different age groups with different nuances to his plot and complexities to his characters. In the form of an instantly entertaining novel, The Son of Neptune brings joy to any reader, young or old, educated or uneducated, and makes the ageless stories of Greek and Roman mythology come alive again to all who choose to pick up the book. (less)