Longbourn, by Jo Baker

The story is set in early 19th century England. It takes place on the Bennet family property, Longbourn. There are five daughters in the Bennet family and their mother is quite concerned that they marry into wealth. Sound familiar? However, Jo Baker has taken Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and turned it up side down. She has created an imaginative story about the servants in the Bennet household. Their relationships with the family members and interactions with other characters from the Austen book are woven into their story. Daily work tasks are described and you get a feel for the drudgery and hardship of the life of a servant. You also get a real sense of their caring for one another, and their longings for a better life. I really enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.

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Wool, by Hugh Howey

In his debut novel (originally self-published in individual novellas on Amazon.com), Hugh Howey’s dystopian science fiction novel Wool is a wonderful idea that unfortunately is never fully utilized. In Wool, an underground silo is home to a large number of people hundreds of years following a mysterious end to civilization as we know it today. The ultimate punishment is referred to by the residents as a “cleaning,” in which the criminal is forced into the outside world where they furiously scramble to clean the tower sensors before the contaminated air eats through their bio-suits and flesh. It is a simple and straightforward process, but Holston and Juliette—sheriff of the upper level and worker at Mechanical Level respectively—both stumble upon secrets that force them to reconsider everything they’ve been raised to believe, including the origin of the silo itself and how underground life began; or perhaps most importantly, why.

The writing is mostly average, the plot painfully predictable, and the scenes that are supposed to cause sorrow and sympathy are played out in a way that is too hackneyed for the reader to truly care. There are flashes of briliance with the prose and plot development, but it is nearly ruined by how predictable it is, not to mention that Howey rarely seems to want to let his readers think for themselves. Another problem with the story is how unbelievable some of the events that take place are. For example [minor spoiler]: a character breaks his arm but is still somehow able to aim a rifle at an upward angle on a staircase, shooting two people without missing once despite those people being on higher levels than him. The obvious pain in his arm—where shrapnel from a bomb is also embedded within his flesh and bone—doesn’t affect his ability whatsoever. Add this to the fact that this person had maybe five, ten minutes of training with a firearm beforehand, otherwise having never even seen a firearm. Unrealistic happenings like this are the biggest eyesore of the novel’s readability.

However, what saves Howey is the characterization and dialogue, for those two areas are clearly his greatest strengths, even if a handful of the minor characters often come off as recycled versions of more important characters. Despite this strength in characterization and dialogue I still didn’t care enough about the story to read the sequel. An idea that could have been great, an instant classic even, stalled because the writing left too much on the table.

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No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

No Place to Hide by Glenn GreenwaldI admit that when the news broke about the NSA’s surveillance scandal, I didn’t feel terribly alarmed about it. Of course I value my own privacy, but the NSA wasn’t really going to spy on me, right? What’s the big deal? In his book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, Glenn Greenwald aptly explains what exactly the big deal is. Greenwald is an acclaimed journalist and after reading this, I understood why he’s won so many awards. He’s great at turning something complicated and maybe a little bit boring into a compelling narrative. It doesn’t hurt that in researching this story, his own life turned into a bit of a real life spy novel. Greenwald was the journalist to whom Edward Snowden decided to entrust his leaked documents, but in order to meet with him, Greenwald and his colleague had to travel to Hong Kong and follow Snowden’s requests, like meeting in unoccupied hotel conference rooms and greeting each other with code phrases, or covering his head with a towel when he types in his computer password to prevent any hidden cameras from being able to observe. At first, Greenwald (and I) thought Snowden’s measures seem extreme, but as Greenwald gets in deeper, Snowden begins to seem more and more reasonable.

I recommend No Place to Hide to any reader looking to understand the NSA surveillance scandal and what the right to privacy should mean in the USA. It also doubles as a pretty good true crime thriller.

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