John Lineberger

51 POSTS 1 COMMENTS
John Lineberger is the Lifestyle Editor of Niner Times. He is an English major/ Film Studies minor in his senior year at UNC Charlotte. He is an aspiring YA writer and would like to work at a publishing house or magazine in the future. He spends most of his time reading, writing or watching Netflix, but also enjoys travel and learning new things about birds. You can contact him at Lifestyle@ninertimes.com

Book Review: ‘The Sound and the Fury’

Photo by John Lineberger
Photo by John Lineberger

“The Sound and the Fury” is a fiction novel written by William Faulkner. It was first published in 1929.

If you’ve ever had to learn about classic American literature, then you’ve probably heard of Faulkner and his most widely known work, “The Sound and the Fury.” The novel is considered a great American classic and it also one of the most challenging works you can read, although maybe not quite as challenging as “Finnegan’s Wake.” The novel follows four points of view, all of which are given their own sections.

The first section is told through Benjy. Benjy is the youngest child of the family, and unfortunately befallen by severe mental disabilities. Benjy is incapable of expressing his thoughts in words, so he narrates his section purely in visuals, smells and physical touch. He is able to walk freely, but cannot control his emotions and frequently falls to moaning and slobbering when distressed. His sister Caddy is the only one capable of calming him. The real pitfall though is that Benjy has no comprehension of time, which makes reading his section very difficult. His section is told in non-chronological order across 30 years with no breaks or any obvious marker to let the reader know when scenes or time settings transition, and they transition often. The primary method of combating this is by keeping track of who Benjy’s keeper is. Due to Benjy’s disability, he is constantly accompanied by a keeper who changes several times throughout the novel. In the novel’s present day, his keeper is Luster. In his childhood, it is Versh and T.P. To know exactly what stage of childhood, you have to pay attention to Caddy, such as whether she has married or left home yet. Benjy’s character is highly unique in fiction and while reading through his section is difficult adapt to, it is very doable and one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had reading fiction.

The second section covers Quentin. His section is written almost purely in train of thought. Quentin is the oldest child of the Compson family, but he is fragile and depressed. His section is a massive jumble of memories covering his entire life and his irrational obsession with his younger sister, Caddy. The section revolves mostly around Caddy becoming pregnant with someone’s child and Quentin claiming it as his own. I found Quentin’s section to be infuriating at most points. Unlike Benjy, his section has absolutely no way to ascertain the order of memories or when they switch, which can happen as often as mid sentence, and some sentences run on for several pages. The only way I was able to make sense of this chapter was through outside source material, which may not appeal to most people.

The third section is narrated by Jason, the second youngest child. His section is told almost entirely in the present day and shows how he grew up to be an aggressive and mean spirited man. Jason takes over the Compson household and attempts miserably to rule with an iron fist. I found Jason’s section to be the most enjoyable. Although he is a very twisted man, his dialogue often comes off as so so absurd that it turns into humor. He is also a very unlucky character, who despite his anger and apparent “common sense,” he repeatedly manages to get himself into worse and worse situations.

The final section is narrated by Dilsey, the Compson family’s black cook. Dilsey is by far the most well rounded and sensible character throughout the novel, but by the time we get to her narration she has grown old and cynical. Dilsey has a husband and several children who all grow up in the Compson home and are more or less members of the family. Dilly’s husband always talked about how the family was cursed and befallen, but Dilsey remains stalwart and fully invested in the Compsons throughout her life. Her character, to me, was the one that I could always fall back on as a symbol of truth, structure and efficiency. Faulkner masterfully developed her character this way throughout the other sections, only to show the curse that she denied come back around to her in full swing at the start of her section.

The novel consistently revolves around the character Cadence, Caddy in most scenes, and eventually her daughter. Despite this, neither of those characters have their own point of view. This feels like a very conscious decision, and while I see its merit, I still believe that it would have been worth it to give Caddy her own section, especially in her later years when she becomes a bit of a mystery to the family.

Another big theme of the novel revolves around a “curse” upon the Compson family. However, the novel never explains why it exists or what caused it. It is left ambiguous and fiercely debated upon its existence with no real turn out or final verdict at the end.

Overall, the novel has a lot of pros and cons. It is not by any means a “fun read.” It is difficult and challenging, and you should only read it out of genuine desire. The plot of “The Sound and the Fury” is absolutely excellent and well crafted, which is what initially drew me in. Outside sources are absolutely necessary to piece together the entire story and not every character was interesting to read, especially Quentin. The novel is unlike anything I have ever read before and finishing it did feel like a major accomplishment. For those who occasionally like to read for the challenging aspect of it, this could definitely be a good book for you.

You can buy “The Sound and the Fury” on Amazon, BookDepository.com, Barnes & Noble and most other major booksellers.

3.5 / 5

 

Book Review: ‘Modern Romance’

Photo by John Lineberger
Photo by John Lineberger

“Modern Romance: An Investigation” is a book written by comedy star Aziz Ansari. It was published on June 16, 2015.

There’s been a string of new books and novels written recently by popular comedians and YouTube celebrities. Just in the past year or so we’ve had releases from Mindy Kaling, Tyler Oakley, Zoe Suggs and soon to be Amy Schumer. Unlike those, Ansari decided not write an autobiographical story, but rather explore a topic that has deeply interested him for years: romance in the modern world.

So, what is it about?      

Inspired partly by one of Ansari’s own recent relationships, “Modern Romance” is an investigation into the way we deal with romantic relationships now and how they compare with the past. It is broken down into an introduction and seven chapters. In chapter one, “Searching for Your Soulmate,” Ansari and his crew visit a retirement home and discuss how finding and the need to find, your one true love is so different now than it was 50, 70, 80 years ago. From there, the chapters cover many subjects such as how we go about asking someone out, online dating and how its moved into the mainstream, the overwhelming amount of choices that have become available, how love is different abroad in Tokyo, Paris and Buenos Aires, Argentina the rise of sexting, cheating, breakups and finally settling down. “Modern Romance” tells many personal stories and constantly refers to the past while discussing the present in order to visualize the bridge we have crossed over the years.

So, is it any good?

I can safely say that this is the best “science” book I have ever read in my life. It’s short, compactly written and Ansari’s humor is lightly spread into every page. I found every chapter subject to blow my expectations away with surprising information and things I never thought about. Who knew Japan’s population is plummeting due to the overt popularity of sex toys and a new generation of men being called “herbivores?” Who knew that Buenos Aires, Argentina is the most “sexually aggressive” city in the world, or that we even had a ranking for that? Before this book, I had never put into perspective the idea I could make an OkCupid account online and have thousands of people to aimlessly swipe through, whereas for my grandfather, it was really just the girl next door or somewhere down the street. I had thought about, but not yet absorbed the idea that young women used to care much less about love and compatibility and much more about practical sense.

If the process, history or hilarious short stories about finding a romantic partner is something that has ever interested you, then I think this book could be a perfect match. I highly recommend it to everyone and hopen it sees a lot more sales, as the information is truly eye opening.

You can buy “Modern Romance: An Investigation” on Amazon, BookDepository.com, Barnes & Noble and most other major booksellers.

5 / 5

Book Review: ‘The Invention of Wings’

Photo by John Lineberger
Photo by John Lineberger

“The Invention of Wings” is a historical fiction novel based on a true story and written by Sue Monk Kidd. It was published on Jan. 7 2014 by Viking.

If the author name sounds familiar, it may be because you remember her critically acclaimed novel, “The Secret Life of Bees” from the early 2000s, or the film adaptation that came several years later. She’s published a few more things since then, but this newest novel, “The Invention of Wings,” seems to be once again taking the literary world by storm.

So, what is it about?

“The Invention of Wings” is a fictionalized account of the real life abolitionist and then suffragette, Sarah Grimké, as she grows up in Charleston, S.C. in the early nineteenth century. It tells most of her life story, starting from her eleventh birthday when she is given her own slave as a present, to well into her later life as a full blown political activist.

The novel is told by two separate points of view. First there is Hetty “Handful” Grimké, the slave whom Sarah receives. Handful starts out as a very curious young girl who is extremely taken in by her mother’s folklore and complex sewing abilities. Over the course of the novel, Handful is taught many things by Sarah in secret, things that slaves aren’t allowed to be taught. Handful begins to see the world for what it is, and has painstaking realizations that slavery was not her god given destiny, she was just a victim of it. She becomes a rebel in the making.

Sarah Grimké is the other point of view. Whereas Handful uses more physical action to solve her problems, Sarah is a thinker. She has many social dilemmas—low self-esteem, a terrible stutter, a lack of interest in settling down as a housewife and many radical beliefs that get her in trouble with her family. Sarah’s image of herself is repeatedly crushed throughout the novel as she can’t seem to find love, receive the same education as her brothers or become the lawyer that she wants to be, in a time where female lawyers don’t even exist yet. Emboldened by the fire and ferocity of her younger sister, Angelina, Sarah takes life into her own hands.

So, is it any good?

I went into “The Invention of Wings” with some nervous expectations and found it to be pretty spectacular. Before this novel, I’d never been a big fan of stories about life in the Antebellum south. Slave narratives and long accounts of the colonial aristocracy just don’t grab me that much. There’s something about the perspective of “The Invention of Wings,” simultaneously focusing on black and women’s rights, combined with two very different characters who both find ways to overcome all odds that makes the novel such an entertaining read.

Another point is that, while it’s a fictionalized account, a lot of what happens in the novel is actually true. Not only are the characters gripping, but you also get affirmation what you’re reading has real merit. The back of the novel has a detailed account of everything true and everything fictionalized or slightly reframed for storytelling. For instance, while Handful was a real person, there is no documentation on her life other than Sarah receiving her as a present. Most of Handful’s story is a fictional account, but it serves to show the daily life of slaves in Charleston and give a different perspective of Sarah.

“The Invention of Wings” is absolutely buried in religion. Particularly Sarah, from her late twenties and onward, is so absorbed in her religious beliefs that it is the primary tool in most or all of her decision making. One might think, as I did, that this could prove to be detrimental to the story as it bases too much of Sarah’s decisions on blind faith rather than reason or a compelling notion, and could create distance between her character and the reader. I’m going to say that, for the most part, Kidd handled religion very well in the novel. There were certainly a few small moments where Sarah’s obsessive devoutness distanced me from her character, because she wasn’t thinking much for herself and I lost interest. However, it was too scattered to have a lasting effect on me. The novel has many takes on religion though—there are characters who apostate, convert, use it to save lives, abuse it to fear monger and deal punishment and some who are left very scarred by it. Ultimately, religion has to play a big role one way or another, as it was crucial to the time period.

Overall, “The Invention of Wings” is very worth reading. I’d especially recommend it to people who do not normally enjoy colonial period stories, because this one certainly transcends most others in the genre.

You can buy “The Invention of Wings” on Amazon, BookDepository.com, Barnes & Noble and most other major booksellers.

4.5 / 5

Book Review: ‘Station Eleven’

Photo by John Lineberger
Photo by John Lineberger

“Station Eleven” is a science fiction/literary fiction novel written by Emily St. John Mandel. It was published on Sept. 9, 2014 by Knopf.

As I do with most novels, I picked up “Station Eleven” because of its beautiful cover. I loved the atmosphere it created. I’d heard about the novel somewhere before, maybe read about in a Goodreads list. “Station Eleven” was a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2015, it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom, and the Toronto Book Award. Much of the novel’s critical acclaim comes from the fact that, for a science fiction novel, it reads much like literary fiction. The novel creates a stunning blend that is both highly creative and unusual.

“Station Eleven” is a novel based around the outbreak of a terrible flu that rapidly wipes out 99 percent of the world’s population. There are no zombies, no aliens, no greater conspiracies, just the remnants of a lost world. The novel tells the story through several points of view.

We start off with Jeevan, whose story mostly revolves around day zero of the outbreak and the couple weeks that follow, showing humanity’s fall.

Kirsten was an eight year old child actress when the outbreak happened. Most of her story takes place 20 years later and shows the reader what life has become post-apocalypse. Kirsten moves through what’s left of Lower Michigan in a nomadic band of actors called the “Traveling Symphony,” as they reenact Shakespeare plays for newly formed towns. She and the band run into dire issues once they accidentally cross a religious extremist, known as “The Prophet,” who has taken complete control over one of the passing towns. Kirsten frequently obsesses over her small comic collection, titled ‘Station Eleven” and the actor Arthur Leander, who she watched die as a child.

Miranda, Arthur and Clark’s stories tell us about their entire lives up to the outbreak and after, for as long as they can survive. Their stories weave the plot more tightly together and reveal many things about “Station Eleven” and how it came to be.

So is it any good?

“Station Eleven” is quite the jewel. I think its biggest strong suit is that the novel is built to appeal to both lovers and haters of apocalyptic fiction. The novel strategically avoids stereotypes in the genre and more than half of it takes place before the apocalypse even happened. The major focus doesn’t seem to be on the survival of humanity itself, but on the survival of human culture.

I found Miranda’s plot to take hold of me the most. Many pages of the novel are dedicated to her point of view and really solidify the literary fiction aspect of the novel. Watching her grow up and her complex relationship with Arthur was incredibly fun to read and it took place decades before the outbreak.

Kirsten appears to be the closest thing to a protagonist in the novel. She is the one who progresses the current world forward, her struggle to remember the past prompts many of the other characters chapters, and all roads seem to lead back to her. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of zombies or much of the supernatural. Kirsten’s chapters felt very real and believable, which smoothed my transition into this post-apocalyptic world and helped me stay on board with it.

As I read Kirsten’s chapters, I had to keep stopping to remind myself that she is 28 years old. For some reason, this did not come off to me at all. Kirsten’s mind read more like a young adult. My image of her is as a 16-18 year old girl. This is probably not the author’s intention, but my enjoyment of young adult literature made it a very small issue for me.

Clark’s chapters came off somewhat sluggish. He lives very long both before and after the apocalypse. While he does play a role in key moments, much of his chapters are just him doing a routine or wandering aimlessly. Many of his chapters exist solely to give us a side view of another character, which I found took away from him as a whole.

Overall, “Station Eleven” is a fantastic novel. I highly recommend it. You can find “Station Eleven” on Amazon, BookDepository, Barnes & Noble and most other major booksellers.

A film adaptation has also begun development for “Station Eleven.” The release date is currently unknown.

4.5 / 5

How to eat healthily at Subway

Photo by John Lineberger
Photo by John Lineberger

So we all know Subway, the big sub sandwich fast food chain that started off as a meat-lover’s paradise, but has since changed their focus into healthier eating. With the new motto “Eat fresh” and a bunch of green leaves adorning the sub wrapping paper, Subway has become one of the most popular and successful chains in the world as a “healthy” fast food alternative.

Let’s take a look at the options you can pick from Subway and figure out what is really healthy and what’s not.

Foot-long vs 6-inch

Unfortunately, it is impossible to eat an entire foot-long sub from Subway and consider it “healthy.” It’s just too much bread. You’ll consume at minimum 85g of carbs and 1200 mg of sodium, which is close to what you should getting in an entire day.

Bread

None of the bread options are super healthy or far apart from each other, but the wheat and honey oat options are definitely the best. They both pack a lot of dietary fiber and are relatively low calorie and sodium. The main thing to avoid is Italian herbs & cheese. It is high calorie and high sodium and you haven’t even started adding meat to it yet.

Meat

The healthiest option here is to just have a veggie sub, but let’s be real. The best meat options are turkey, oven roasted chicken or roast beef. They are all lean meats with a lot of protein, healthy fats and fairly low calorie count. Any of the other meats though—ham, salami, pepperoni, steak, buffalo chicken, Korean pork, etc… are going to be considerably higher in sodium and saturated fat. According to the Academy of Nutrion and Dietetics, the average person should be getting somewhere around 1500-2300mg of sodium per day. If you choose any one of the latter meats, you could hit that number by midday.

Vegetables

This part is pretty much free reign. You choose any and as much vegetables as your heart desires. My only suggestion would be, if you’re trying to decide between lettuce or spinach, shredded lettuce is a pretty neutral food that isn’t going to hurt or benefit you if you eat it, but spinach contains a good amount of iron and vitamin A, making it the best choice.

Sauces

Once again, there aren’t too many good options to pick from here. Vinegar and olive oil are the best two, but Subway also has sweet onion sauce, honey mustard, yellow and deli brown mustard, all of which are fat free. I’ll be the first to admit, I absolutely love spicy food. I’m extremely tempted to put sriracha and/or chipotle southwest on my sub every time, but beware that if you are trying to be healthy, those two sauces are egregiously high in sodium. Subway’s mayo and ranch are also pretty bad for you, both being really high in saturated fat.

My personal favorite

Bread: Honey Oat
Meat: Turkey
Vegetables: Spinach, Cucumber, Red Onion, Bell Peppers, Black Olives
Sauce(s): Olive Oil and Vinegar

Just remember, take everything in moderation. If you’ve been eating well for a while, then it’s okay to splurge on the sauce, the meat or the bread choice every once in a while. Subway also offers the double meat option, so if a 6-inch just isn’t going to do it for you, then you could try having double meat for a while and it’ll still be cheaper than a foot-long and way better for you than eating all of that bread. Pretty much anything you choose to have at Subway is going to be better for your body than a double cheeseburger and fries at McDonalds or an XXL burrito from Taco Bell.

Remember the body you have is the only one you’re going to get. Keeping it in good health is going help you live a much longer and happier life. Much of today’s foods are processed and loaded down with carbs that increase our appetite, sugar turns into fat and sodium sky rockets our blood pressure. Don’t forget that Subway’s website also has a meal calculator, so you can know exactly what you’re eating. Counting your nutrients in every meal may seem like a hassle, in the end it’s going to be one of the most useful decisions you’ve ever made.

Technology in the year 2020

Have you ever thought about how quickly technology is advancing? 10 years ago, no one was using a smart phone. 15 years ago, it was completely reasonable to say you don’t have internet in your home. It’s an exponential growth, which means the speed technology continues to innovate is only going to get faster.

According to a CNN article from last week, technology could kill more than five million jobs by the year 2020. But what kind of technology could we possibly have within just four more years? Let’s take a look:

Toekomstfestival_20151
By Rebke Klokke (Partij van de Arbeid) (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pvdanl/16293865630/)

Virtual Reality

Ever heard of the Oculus Rift? It’s a new gaming device with a huge backing behind it. It’s even been bought by Facebook to ensure completion. The Oculus Rift is leaps and bounds ahead of any virtual reality technology we’ve ever created thus far. Just put on the helmet and you will be placed into a virtual world with surround sound and a fully developed world.

This tech isn’t just going to be for gaming though. It is already in development for movies, tutorials, virtual tours and porn. In fact, CES 2016 allowed people to experience VR porn firsthand.

See: Oculus Rift | CES 2016

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Google_self_driving_car_at_the_Googleplex
By Michael Shick (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Autonomous Cars

Google appears to be partnering with automakers to get their self-driving cars on the market by 2020. We don’t know a whole lot about them right now, but we know that they are very small and contain no front dashboard or steering wheel. A test drive was done early in 2015, but the car was limited to 25 mph for safety. 2020 might actually be a conservative estimate for autonomous cars though, with Tesla CEO Elon Musk saying that Tesla could be rolling them out in the next few years, plus a rumor that Apple will be entering the competition with a 2019 ship date. That makes me wonder, what does this mean for car insurance?

Read more here.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

prime-air_01
Photo courtesy of Amazon.

Drone Delivery

Ever heard of Amazon Prime Air? It’s been rumored and talked about in small bursts over the past 18 months, but now it seems like it’s finally becoming a reality. The drones will be able to carry packages up to five pounds and delivery is guaranteed within 30 minutes. We don’t know anything about costs for shipping yet and you have to be living fairly close to an Amazon fulfillment center. The goal is that the drones will be able to make deliveries more than 10 miles away, but there’s no set number yet.

Read more here.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

biofuels
Solar Panel in Afghanistan. Major Paul Greenberg/U.S.M.C. Photo from popsci.com

Bio-Fuels

This one isn’t exactly new tech, but the U.S. military said back in 2010 they aimed to reduce their use of fossil fuels by 50% by the year 2020 in exchange for renewable energy resources. This is a big step towards the future that we are heading for and it means a lot of effort is going to be placed into developing alternate means for energy that are less harmful to the environment.

Read more here.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

OLED_EarlyProduct
By meharris (English Wiki) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Ultra-Thin, Flexible OLED Screens

Ever wanted a touch screen computer in your window glass? Or your mirror? Or even right on the wall? With increasing development in OLED screen technology, we’re going to be seeing computers pop up in some peculiar locations. Right now, these screens are roughly as thick as a sheet of vellum and very flexible. They are expected to replace TVs by 2020, with the rest coming sooner than you might think. This is also the same technology that we are starting to see already in smart glasses.

Read more here.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

maps
Daniel Ruch. Photo by Corey Inscoe.

Google Maps

You know that crazy street view feature on Google Maps that lets you stare at yours and your friends’ houses? Well now Google is advancing this feature to actually let you go inside of commercial buildings to see what they look like. And the real crazy part? It’s already begun in Charlotte. Google has completed the process for Luna’s Kitchen, Amelie’s French Bakery, Knight Theatre and McGlohon Theatre. Expect more to come!

Reader more and see it in action here.

 

So, as we can see, the world is changing. Yes, five million jobs will likely be lost to redundancy and automation by the year 2020. People now need much more specialized skill sets to find the jobs they want.  It’s not all doom and gloom though. The World Economic Forum says that 65% of kids in primary school today will be working a job that does not yet exist. These massive advances in technology will create new issues, new problems to fix. We’re not yet near the age where technology can repair or innovate itself, and the human mind will continue to be a necessity in our ever diversifying workforce. It also opens more room for the world of arts and liberal sciences to grow. With less and less of a need for human interaction in the process of mass production, people can turn their attention to humanity and the world at large—social issues, politics, film, literature and everything else that molds who we are today and in the future to come.

Book Review: ‘The Girl on the Train’

20160110_133549
Photo by John Lineberger

“The Girl on the Train” is a psychological thriller novel by Paula Hawkins. It was published on Jan. 13, 2015 by Riverhead Books.

Paula Hawkins has sort of erupted onto the scene as of late. “The Girl on the Train” is her debut work of fiction. It received wide critical acclaim, selling more than three million copies in the United States alone. It was a GoodRead’s Choice 2015 winner. It has been often compared to “Gone Girl,” a novel of the same genre that received similar recognition back in 2012. “The Girl on the Train” will be releasing as a film on Oct. 7, 2016.

So what is about?

The novel follows Rachel, 32, an alcoholic British woman still severely damaged by the dissolution of her marriage to Tom. Tom left her for another woman, to which she partly attributes her inability to have a child. Rachel has lost her job, but still takes the same train into London every day to keep her flatmate from finding out. Every morning, she sees a couple atop their balcony over the railroad and she fantasizes about the perfect life they must lead. She has even built nicknames for them, “Jess and Jason.”

The novel introduces you to Rachel’s world, but then throws a wrench into it when one day Rachel witnesses something terribly strange happen one morning atop the balcony. Later, after a night of heavy drinking, Rachel awakens to find herself injured and covered in blood that she is not sure is her own.

The rest of the story switches points of view frequently, telling the greater truths about Rachel, Tom, his mistress Anna, Jess, and Jason. It reveals a much more complex and interweaved plot that leads Rachel down the path of no return.

So how good is it?

Overall, “The Girl on the Train” has as many strong points as it does weak. I do not think that it performs on the same level as “Gone Girl,” and for good reason.

First off, the novel is really complex, which is good. It is extremely hard to predict what comes next and almost every curve in the plot will surprise you and yet remain fairly reasonable. Having so many points of view helps develop the plot in a way that would be otherwise impossible. Hawkins primarily uses Rachel’s chapters to progress the plot forward, while using all of the other characters to fill the holes in what has happened. The novel reads at a fast pace and can definitely be hard to put down, especially once you have become immersed into the mystery.

That said, most of the plot’s complexity is only because Rachel is always drunk. She never knows what’s going on or why because she is always, always on the verge of blacking out. I found this to get annoying after a while. She was so unreliable that her chapters felt almost irrelevant. She only gains a footing for herself towards the end and it’s just too late.

The setup is also very convenient. I can’t go too far into this without spoiling major points of the mystery, but all of these characters are interweaved so tightly that it feels like a miracle/nightmare situation. I see this in a lot of novels, but it still doesn’t look good.

The biggest downfall of “The Girl on the Train” is, for me, the ending. It has so much build up, as most mystery-thrillers do, but the ending felt totally unsatisfying. The final 50-70 pages of the novel devolves into something that you would normally see in a Lifetime channel movie. It reaches a surreal level of dramatic, and the “villain” of the novel goes into a painfully slow monologue, tying up all of the novel’s loose ends so that the reader knows, step by step, exactly what happened. The final outcome and resolution became lackluster and predictable because of this.

The ending is so played up, so uncharacteristic of human behavior, that it totally shattered my suspension of disbelief up to that point. I am very curious, albeit worried, about how the director will approach the ending for the film adaption of “The Girl on the Train.” I am hoping for some significant revisions, especially to dialogue.

It’s not a bad novel, probably one you should read if you’re big into mystery and thrillers, but I don’t think it lives up to the height of the critical praise it received. I’ve seen many of my opinions shared in the consumer reviews on Amazon and GoodReads.

If you want to read “The Girl on the Train,” you can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDepository, and most other major booksellers.

3/5

Book Review: ‘All the Light We Cannot See’

Photo by John Lineberger
Photo by John Lineberger

“All the Light We Cannot See” is a historical novel written by Anthony Doerr. It was published on May 6, 2014 by Scribner.

It’s about time I finally got around to reading this. “All the Light We Cannot See” has become a recent phenomenon in the literary world. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014, the highest award a work of fiction can receive, along with the GoodReads Choice Award and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. It’s been given universal acclaim from all age groups. It spent over a year at the No. 1 spot on Amazon’s bestseller booklist, and it’s still at No. 14. It’s already been taught in one of my classes. It’s been on shelves for 19 months and they still haven’t even started printing paperbacks yet—it’s all hardcover. This novel is a monolith that we don’t see too often.

So, what is it about?

The novel, set in WWII, covers roughly nine years and gives additional glimpses into the distant future. It provides several points of view, but spends the vast majority on these two:

A French girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc who goes blind at the age of six. Her father, a brilliant and creative locksmith, helps her overcome this by building wooden replicas of Paris that she studies with her hands, memorizing the city in its entirety. She also falls in love with reading braille copies of books, especially “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne. Not many years later, when the Germans invade France and Paris, she and her father are forced to flee to her uncle’s house in a small coastal  town called Saint-Malo. Unknown to her is that when they fled, her father also took with him a gem from the museum in which he worked—a gem with a long running myth that the wielder would be immortal, but all around them would become cursed.

In Zollverein, Germany, an eight year old boy named Werner Pfennig lives with his sister, Jutta, at an Orphanage. Together, they find a broken radio that Werner becomes obsessed with. He ends up teaching himself how it works and how to fix it. Rather than growing up to work the coal mines like most men in his town, this new skill gets him pulled from the house and into an elite German military training school. His talent in science propels him forward and eventually leads him to creating a device that allows the Germans to track radio signals to their source. Werner and the unit he is assigned to are then tasked with tracking down and killing illegal anti-German broadcasters. With each one, Werner is increasingly sickened and depressed by the killings. He misses the time when science was an instrument of wonder, not death. His device eventually leads him to Saint-Malo…

I absolutely loved it.

It’s a novel where a blind girl describes the world to you through sound and touch, using vague memories of sight to create fantastical images out of what she is encountering. It teaches you the inner workings of a radio and how to identify diamonds, without ever becoming like a manual. I found the prose to be astoundingly thought out and detailed. Every emotion is tied to a memory of the past, every memory evokes all five senses at once. It plants you so deeply into the story that your left feeling like you lived it.

The novel has a very non-linear plot. We  jump back and forth from the climax to earlier periods, everything leading up to the final days of the war in Saint-Malo. Doerr takes the time to show us all of the twists and turns in these peoples’ lives. Coming of age, war, myth, the power of nature, how little events will change the rest of our lives. It makes us think about the uncertainties of life. How not everyone becomes what they are by choice. How the littlest things we do can have the largest of impacts. How morality can be such a grey area to judge.

“All the Light We Cannot See,” set in WWII, which spends half it’s time following a German solider, never once uses the word “Nazi.” This struck me really hard. Doerr does not for a moment allow the novel to be overtaken by the horrors of WWII. We know it’s there, we know what Werner is doing, but it illuminates the characters so profoundly that the war cannot possibly cloud our judgement.

If you’re looking for a book as a holiday gift, this is the one. If you’re the kind of person who fits in maybe one book a decade, this is the one. If you’re a writer looking for inspiration, this is the one.

I highly recommend buying “All the Light We Cannot See.” It’s a novel that doesn’t come around often, and one that we may not see again for some time.

You can buy “All the Light We Cannot See” from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, BookDepository, and most other major booksellers.

5.00/5.00

Starbucks Secret Menu: Honey Nut Macchiato

Photo by John Lineberger
Photo by John Lineberger

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a thousand times, the caramel macchiato is the best and most versatile drink available on the Starbucks menu. You only have to substitute its one syrup, vanilla, for something else to create a totally new drink.

This week, I decided to try out the “Honey Nut Macchiato.” It’s an incredibly simple recipe that any barista out of training should be able to make without issue. Here’s the recipe:

  • Caramel Macchiato
  • Substitute Vanilla Syrup for Chestnut Praline Syrup
  • Add 1-2 packet(s) of Honey to the top

Note that Chestnut Praline is a seasonal syrup only available around the holidays, so don’t wait around too long to try it out.

I think this drink is a perfect addition to the macchiato wall of fame. It’s got a great chestnut flavor along with the caramel and honey that puts me right in the holiday mood. The best part is that the drink costs the same amount as a regular caramel macchiato. I’m not sure if they were supposed to add on a charge for the honey packet, but in my case they did not. I’d be really curious if this drink is just as good or better as the hot version instead of iced. That’s something I definitely plan to try in the future.

So if this drink interested you, go buy it! If not, come back next time and we’ll have another item off of the Starbucks secret menu that may be more to your liking.

You can find all of the Starbucks secret menu items on starbuckssecretmenu.net.

Book review: ‘Light in August’

Photo by Sydney Stephens
Photo by Sydney Stephens

“Light in August” is a southern gothic novel written by William Faulkner. It was published on Mar. 12, 1931 by Smith and Haus.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not an English major, not American or even not a reader, you’ve probably heard of the name William Faulkner. He is widely considered today to be the greatest American writer and novelist of all time. Many of his novels are critically acclaimed classics that have had research paper after research paper written on them, and he is most known for being the first to tell the stories of the common people in the southern United States. He is also known for being extremely graphic and often grotesque with the realism he utilizes in his stories.

“Light in August” is a novel that follows the point of view of several characters who play witness to the events of the novel. The plot first focuses on Lena Grove, a pregnant white woman traveling to the Mississippi town of Jefferson to look for the father of her unborn child. The plot then shifts to Joe Christmas, a man who recently moved to Jefferson and is under the constant suspicion of the townspeople for possibly having “black blood” in him, although he can pass as white. While the present plot of the novel takes place entirely in one day and focuses on a house fire, the majority of the novel is actually about Joe’s twisted upbringing that has led him to the current day.

While “Light in August” is not considered Faulkner’s greatest or most complex work, it is still a very necessary piece about racial and gender equality and religion in the southern United States. It is written in a time period where neither race nor gender were viewed very positively, but both would receive significant progress due to the upcoming war efforts of World War II.

I found all of the characters to be very genuine and representative of their culture, a feat easily achieved by Faulkner since it was written in the present time of the world. Joe Christmas receives the most character development in the story by far. I found him to be a strikingly unique character out of most of the fiction that I’ve read. He is orphaned at birth and largely white, although everyone is able to recognize in a way that is unclear even to them that he has some sort of black ancestry in him. We spend the majority of the novel watching his upbringing where he is constantly abused by his devoutly religious adoptive father, Mr. McEachern.

The novel weaves in chapters of the present day throughout, where a house belonging to Mrs. Burden on the outskirts of town, the house that Joe had been rooming in, is burning down. I enjoyed the structure of the novel and the way that we are able to see the story through the perspective of other characters than just Joe and Lena.

Another big focus of the novel is religion. Christianity is deeply rooted into the town, to the point that it can easily trump any laws. Much of the novel gives us glimpses of these devout characters, some of whom doing all they can for the greater good, and others, such as McEachern, who uses violence and mental torture to conform those to the holy scripture.

My main issue with the novel ended up being relevance. While Joe Christmas’s story is a compelling one, there are many points in the novel that just feel like we’re beating around the bush. This is largely due to Faulkner’s writing style. Faulkner likes to take time to drill every bit of information he can into the reader’s head. Often, this also means redundantly repeating things over and over again. It can become overwhelming after a while, which is part of Faulkner is considered a difficult author to read. I also found other characters, such as Byron Bunch or Lena, to be just as interesting. I wish we could have spent more time with them, maybe going into their backstory, rather than focusing so purely on Joe.

Overall, I think the novel is worth reading. It’s definitely not an easy read and it spends too much time plodding, but it is an incredible representation of the period’s culture and beliefs, and it comes with a story that will leave you with a somber understanding of our country’s past.

You can buy “Light in August” from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and most other major booksellers.

3.75 / 5.00

49 things to be thankful for

thanksgiving cover

I am thankful for:

Ashley Lyons, Account Executive for Marketing

1) My family: Always having a support system behind me and people that I know love me unconditionally is something I will always be thankful for.

2) The opportunity to volunteer. I am very blessed to be able to have the opportunity to volunteer through organizations on campus to give back to the local community.

 

Angie Baquedano, Lifestyle Staff Writer for Niner Times

3) Words; the spoken, the written, the thought and the forgotten. I am thankful for the words that made up all the fairy tales that as a child lulled me to sleep. I am thankful for the intricate ways they can be put together to form a poem, something that could consist of very little words but still have that gut-wrenching power to tear your whole world apart, put it back together, and even inspire you. I am thankful for all 26 of those little hooks and shapes we have come to call an alphabet because without them everything I’ve just said would never exist.

DSC_0892p-360x450

 

Diane Gromelski, Copy Editor for Niner Times

4) My job at the Niner Times, which pays me to do what I would do for free: reading the newspaper and obsessing over grammar.

5) The mock trial team, a group of fellow nerds with whom I can obsess over a fictional case that has no impact on the real world for an entire school year.

6) Fretwell Hall, my second home where I spend more time than my first home.

 

Matt Lorenz, Director of the Marketing Department

7) My mountain bike and the opportunities that I have to see the beautiful outdoors.

A photo posted by Matt Lorenz (@matt_s_lorenz) on

 

Vanessa Martinez, Lifestyle Intern for Niner Times

8) My body.

9) My best friend.

 

Tierra Holmes, Content Editor for Sanskrit Literary-Arts Magazine

10) ’80s Rock.

11) The feeling of freshly shaved legs against newly cleaned sheets.

12) The birth of Jennifer Love Hewitt.

 

Sarah Ro, Lifestyle Staff Writer for Niner Times

13) My study abroad experience to Seoul, South Korea during the fall semester. Being able to see the beautiful country first-hand was truly an unforgettable experience. I am thankful for the new friendships, amazing Korean food, beautiful fall foliage and never-ending places to explore.

 

Ciyana Johnson, Lifestyle Intern for Niner Times

14) The many lessons 2015 has taught me about life, love, friendships, family and school.

15) Maggiano’s cheesecake.

16) Refund checks.

hftAvb8I

 

Jessie Rodgers, Station Manager for Radio Free Charlotte

17) My home, which I’m blessed to have right now.

18) My neighbors, who are a lot of fun to be around and very supportive of each other.

 

Hailey Turpin, Lifestyle Staff Writer for Niner Times

19) To further my education. When I entered my freshman year of high school, I didn’t think I would go off to college. As my time in high school dwindled away, the possibility grew greater, and nothing was more fulfilling than getting my acceptance letter to UNC Charlotte. Now I’m working as a staff writer for the Niner Times and a writer for The Odyssey Online at UNC Charlotte, and I feel more at home than ever. I’m glad to be at a wonderful university and get to use my talents to their greatest potential.

20) Being able to help others. I enjoy writing, and being on the Niner Times staff has given me the opportunity to share my ideas and help people out in any way possible. My goal in life is to help change people’s lives, in any way, and being able to write and have others relate to my writing and ideas helps me better myself as a person.

 

Alyssa Fronk, Community Editor for Niner Times

21) The Carolina Panthers and their kick-ass season. #KEEPPOUNDING

22) Strong, well-made iced coffee.

23) Social media – my personal, creative outlet and ironically enough a source of sanity.

A photo posted by Alyssa Fronk (@alyssafronk) on

 

Sydney Swafford, Lifestyle Staff Writer for Niner Times

24) The opportunity to get an education. Only about 7% of the world population receive college level education.

25) An Internet connection. As much as we all hate the frequent Wi-Fi breakdowns on campus, realize that 60% of the world doesn’t have access to the Internet at all.

 

Kelly Merges, Assistant Director of Student Niner Media

26) The moon and stars that light up the night sky.

 

Alina “Lenny” Fortunato, Content Editor for Sanskrit Literary-Arts Magazine

27) My really soft, ridiculously warm $60 blanket that my mom bought to protect me from my frigid 60 degree apartment.

28) Phone chargers that don’t fall apart in a few months.

29) Glasses. Because I’m very, very, very blind.

 

Benjamin Robson, Photo Editor for Niner Times

30) Live music, punk rock, the Internet, and sports that actually matter (AKA Tennis).

 

Leanna Pough, A&E Editor for Niner Times

31) Direction. Entering college can be just as confusing as high school in regards to future plans. I’m thankful for finally knowing what I want to do when I grow up. Or at least the general field. During this six-year journey -shout out to the scenic route, I’ve gained experience in working with people. Between group projects, internships campus organizations and part-time jobs, you’re constantly interacting. Having a foundation within yourself is important when responding to personalities. As Dr. Freitag once said, “Never descend.”

asd

 

Andrew Hocutt, Creative Director for Marketing and Layout Editor for Niner Times

32) The life given to me by the grace of a higher power.

33) My parents who shaped who I am today. They taught me to always consider the things I have to be thankful for every day of the year, not just thanksgiving.

 

Megan Van Emmerik, Graphics and Production Coordinator for Student Niner Media

34) The Harry Potter series, because it was a big part of my childhood. 35) My bunnies, because they bring me joy.

 

Matt Chapman, Co-Sports Editor for Niner Times

36) The opportunity to cover the first three seasons of the Charlotte 49ers football program for the Niner Times.

37) To be graduating in December after four and a half long years.   22657377765_890872bcef_k

 

David Clancy, DJ and host of “The Future of Yesterday, Today!” for Radio Free Charlotte

38) The ability to have a radio show to broadcast lesser-known genres of music.

39) An amazing academic variety.

 

Chris Crews, Technical Director for Niner Technical and Photographer for Niner Times

40) That moment of happiness on someone’s face when they love a photo I’ve taken of them.

41) Arbitrary twists and turns in life, that lead to unexpected opportunities and change who you thought you were.

42) The Charlotte 49ers Men’s Soccer team, for giving me the confidence to keep pursuing photography.

A photo posted by Chris Crews (@psychoticwolf0) on

 

Leah Chapman, Editor-in-Chief of Sanskrit Literary-Arts Magazine

43) I am simply thankful for my family.

 

Sydney Stephens, Assistant Lifestyle Editor for Niner Times

44) Free parking in the union deck on the weekends.

45) Local grocery store discounts for UNC Charlotte students.

46) Green Tea.

DSC_4865p-360x450

 

John Lineberger, Lifestyle Editor for Niner Times

47) Wikipedia, for allowing me to consume hours at a time learning things about events and people that I would never had had easy access to otherwise.

48) Vintage, an imprint of Knopf, for making the most amazing book covers that I’ve ever seen.

49) My Job. I never expected to get hands on experience with my dream job so early, and I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity.

Behind the scenes of ‘Brooklyn’ with Saoirse Ronan

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

“Brooklyn” is a historical period drama film coming to theaters in Charlotte next Wednesday, Nov. 25. It is the story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Ellis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Ellis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within. Luckily, Niner Times and several other news organizations around the country got to sit in for an interview with Ronan about the making of the film and how she felt performing a role that was so familiar to her.

What did it feel like filming so close to where you grew up?

It was weird. It was really weird. We actually shot in Enniscorthy where the book and the film were set, and Colm Tóibín, the author, is actually from there. (It) is like 25 minutes away from where I grew up in Carlow, and it’s a place that we used to go to the cinema when the film that we wanted to see in our one-screen cinema in Carlow wasn’t on. We would go to Enniscorthy, so I knew the faces there, they were quite familiar to me and there were a lot of extras who would be in the dance hall or at the church, and would come up to me and say like, “Do you remember me from years ago? We played basketball together or were at sports together.” These were people that I wouldn’t have known personally, but kind of met in passing.

Eve Macklin as "Diana," Saoirse Ronan as "Eilis" and Emily Bett Rickards as "Patty" in BROOKLYN. Photo by Kerry Brown. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
Eve Macklin as “Diana,” Saoirse Ronan as “Eilis” and Emily Bett Rickards as “Patty” in BROOKLYN. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

How emotionally invested do you think you were in the character of Ellis, since you and she are both come from New York and Ireland?

I mean initially that was the real personal connection for me was the fact that my mom and dad had made that trip over from Ireland to New York and had gotten married in city hall just like Ellis and Tony did, and I was born there. Yes, these two places really very much made up who I am, but by the time we actually made the film which was maybe a year or so after I had signed on. I had moved away from home and was living in London and was going through home sickness myself and still trying to figure out where I stood in the grownup world. It’s a very daunting feeling I think, and I was right in the middle of that while we were making the film, so it meant that every kind of stage that we see Ellis reaching and overcoming, I was going through myself.

It was very scary because of that, because there was sort of nowhere to hide, but by the same token, once you actually get through something like that, there’s nothing more gratifying.

This is your first role or one of your first roles playing an adult woman in a coming-of-age story where she’s adapting to a new country. Could you speak about the role, the character and how you feel about moving beyond juvenile roles?

I mean it’s interesting because even when I was a kid, I never was involved in children’s films apart from maybe one or two. They were always quite grown up, and so when I got to the age of about 18 and 19, I was really ready to play someone older, and certainly by the time I reached 20. It’s a tricky time because there’s a lot of execs and writers and studios and all the rest that can’t really pinpoint exactly what a journey would be for a young woman between the ages of 18 and 21, so it’s a tricky time to get the role that is interesting and still kind of matches your maturity and where you’re at in your own life.

When “Brooklyn” came along, it was perfect, and it was like a bloody guardian angel or something coming down and kind of going, “Okay, you’re ready now.” I think just going through that experience, I felt quite changed afterwards, but I was very much ready to take that step.

brooklyn hug
Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Was it difficult having chemistry with two different actors? How did you approach making the audience believe in your character having feelings for both Tony and Jim?

I think they’re both really great suitors to be honest, and this is something that is sort of a real life situation. I’m sure most of us have gone through it in one way or another. We start out with Tony who’s so adoring and open and passionate about and lovely and lovable for how he feels for Ellis, and I loved that. To have Emory (Cohen) be as magic as he is on screen made that very easy, but then to have Domhnall (Gleeson) on the other side of it, he really had the toughest job out of all of us to try to match us with a dramatically smaller amount of scenes. I mean he really only had like four scenes to kind of reach the same level as Tony. I think because he’s so sincere and dignified and kind of starts to open up with Ellis in a way that he probably hasn’t with anyone else—I don’t know, I could appreciate that I guess.

I could appreciate both of their lovely qualities, and ultimately these two men are representing two different worlds and two different lives that she could have, and so in the bigger picture, that’s what it was really about. I could completely justify her staying in Ireland over New York even though New York ultimately was the braver and probably better choice for her, but I could understand why she was on the fence about it I guess, or why she was feeling that pull.

In Colm Tóibín’s novels, “Brooklyn” included, they’re often said to focus heavily on character detail and on gestures more so than the story itself. Did you ever find yourself referring to the novel more than the script when you were trying to portray Ellis?

No, I didn’t. I usually don’t. I had read the book previously maybe about two years before I knew about the film and before the film was properly being developed, but I’ve always found—I mean I’ve also been very, very lucky that I’ve had great scripts that are very well written already, and it’s kind of all the reference and all the text that I need. But Nick was able to adapt this very colorful, rich piece of literature for film, and any question, I guess, that we had, John was there for that.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

You mentioned that through the process of the movie, you yourself changed in terms of where you were, like moving out to London and everything, so what kind of insights did you take away in terms of who you wanted to be? Like Ellis is in the movie, how far across the ocean do you want to place yourself?

I think coming through “Brooklyn,” the thing that it taught me or the lesson that it taught me is that everyone goes through this, everyone has this feeling, and it won’t always feel like this and it will get easier. I think for me, “Brooklyn,” going through it, reading the script, and even watching the film now and talking about it is the equivalent to somebody either you know well or maybe not at all just sitting down with you and being able to perfectly articulate exactly how you feel. I’m sure we’ve all had that where you’re trying to figure out why you feel a certain why and maybe you’re confused by it, and someone is able to pinpoint exactly what that is for. It kind of knocks you back, and it can be overwhelming and really emotional that somebody else understands and somebody else has been through exactly the same thing. And so “Brooklyn” gave me the safety, I guess, in knowing that I wasn’t the only one who was going through this and it would get easier.

When people go to see this movie what do you want them to take away from it?

I think honestly, I mean John (Crowley) has put it really well whenever anyone’s asked, just to be kind to people. I think the real—if there’s any message with this film, apart from the personal connections that everyone has seemed to have to us in one way or another, the heart of this movie is that she gets on well in life and she grows, and she grows into this amazing young woman because the people around her have been kind to her and they’ve helped her and they’ve shared advice and wisdom and their experience. And because of that, she has been able to, as I said, ultimately stand up and announce who she is and realize that she needs to make a choice. She wouldn’t have been able to do that at the start of the film, she wasn’t there yet. It’s really—it’s the people around her that helped her to come out of herself in order for her to get the confidence and have that security in who she is.

 

 

Starbucks’ Secret Menu: Gingerbread Chai Latte

not featured
Photo by John Lineberger

Welcome back to another week of Starbucks’ secret menu. This week, we decided to take an early look into a secret Christmas drink now that Starbucks is restocking their gingerbread syrup. It’s call the “Gingerbread Chai Latte.”

I went upstairs to my local Starbucks and had it made. Here’s the recipe:

  • Chai Tea Latte
  • Gingerbread Syrup (1 Pump Tall, 2 Pumps Grande, 3 Venti)
  • Top with whip cream and molasses drizzle

One thing I want to add before I go into how it tastes–Starbucks is also offering gingerbread whip cream right now. They mentioned that to me when I ordered it, but then they were also out of it for the day, so I couldn’t test it myself.

I have to say that you can put “chai” into the title of anything and I’ll probably enjoy it, and this drink is no different. The gingerbread flavor came out strong for me and coupling it with that chai spice put me right in the warm, festive mood. They also added a cinnamon sprinkle on top for some aesthetic, but it mostly blended right into the chai. The Gingerbread Latte screams “winter season” and I think it would be a big hit on the regular menu, should Starbucks ever be looking for some new ideas for holiday flare.

The price was also not too bad. It came out at $4.17, which is maybe a little high for tall and a little low for grande, but it’s a good enough price for me to consider buying it again.

So, if this interests you, go buy it! if not, come back next time and we’ll have another item off Starbucks’ secret menu that may be more to your liking.

You can find all of Starbucks’ secret menu items at Starbuckssecretmenu.net.

 

Book review: ‘Mockingjay’

Photo by John Lineberger
Photo by John Lineberger

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins is the third and final book in “The Hunger Games” trilogy. It was published on Aug. 24, 2010 by Scholastic Press.

Just in time for the movie, it’s time to take a look at this final novel in a trilogy that has gone on to become the flagship of the young adult (YA) dystopian genre. I read “Mockingjay” a little late into its career, not getting to it until sometime in late 2011 or early 2012. I never read any reviews for it out of the fear of spoilers, but I had already heard plenty of the rumors that people were not pleased with the novel’s unsettling conclusion. I did not care. I doubted they understood. “The Hunger Games” trilogy is one of the only times in my life in which I found the second book to be even better than the first, which made my expectations for “Mockingjay” absolutely through the ceiling.

The novel picks back up with Katniss and friends in District 13. Many of them are in a shell shocked state, and it takes a lengthy amount of time to adjust into the reality that they have been given. It doesn’t take long for Katniss to realize that Peeta has been taken by the Capitol, and her life feels morbidly destroyed.

Much of the first half of the novel focuses on Katniss’s slow and painful acceptance of all that has happened around her, and how she must once again become a key part of it. The leader of District 13, President Coin, wants her to embrace her role as the symbol of the rebellion, as people have already associated her. Katniss plods around the district and eventually makes a few appearances around Panem in order to appease President Coin and everyone else supporting her. This leads to a few more traumatic moments for Katniss, but ultimately she is removed from most of the events happening in the background. This changes about halfway through the novel, when Peeta has been rescued and Katniss comes to realize his warped mental state.

From this point on, the novel becomes about infiltrating and recapturing the Capitol. The Capitol itself takes on the form of a maze, similar to the hunger games in both of the previous novels. Katniss, Peeta and her closest allies march through, encountering troops, traps and mutants along the way.

I will not be spoiling the final chapters of the novel, as it is what has opened this story to so much debate and criticism.

First off, it was definitely an interesting choice to backload so much of the novel’s action sequences. The first half of the novel, as it reflects in the movie, is a bit plodding and drawn out. It heavily emphasizes Katniss’s depression and all the raw emotions that she feels towards the people who have put her in this situation. In the novel format, I was able to give it a lenient pass, because I was already so invested in her character. It wasn’t up to the same high-tension, constant movement standard that the previous novels instill in the reader. I think Collins was going with the “feeling of being trapped” approach. She played up Katniss’s emotions even higher by making her unable to assist in the only things that she still cared about, all the while having people like Coin breathing down her neck to work the political field. Unfortunately, this does not make the novel as easy to read as its predecessors.

The second half of the novel put me right back into the mindset of the first two books, full of drama and a never ending feeling of movement and plot progression. I enjoyed Peeta’s new dynamic. I felt like his character lacked blemishes in the story thus far, and seeing him in such an altered state, while terrible, really brought out his flaws and showed us what it looked like for him to be violent. The plot of the second half itself was just much more interesting than the first half. Collins was finally able to make more use out of the “mutants” that we had been building up to and only seen glimpses of at the end of the first novel.

My opinions of the ending are fairly positive. This is a YA book with a very adult ending. It goes from being a sci-fi fantasy in which anything can happen to a stunning and crushing example of pessimistic realism. While the end may not give all readers the elated feeling of victory that they had been waiting for, it is an ending that you will likely never forget and still brings about hope for what is yet to come.

You can buy “Mockingjay”from Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble and most other major booksellers.

You can also checkout the film, “Mockingjay – Part II” in theaters on Friday, Nov. 20.

4/5