Book Review: ‘Flash Boys’ by Michael Lewis


Rating: 4 / 5

Flash Boys is a detailed look at high frequency trading, and the lack of transparency and sense of fairness that is at the heart of the Wall Street vs Main Street debate.  Some keen institutional investors have wondered why they are unable to fill client orders at prices that appear on their screens, but instead of just abstractly thinking about it, RBC’s Brad Katsuyama actually made it his mission to figure out the root cause of the discrepancy and how to fix it.  What he discovers is that flash traders have used speed to muddy the proverbial investing waters, skimming hundredths of a penny here and there.  But those hundredths of a penny has added up to millions upon millions of dollars.  Flash traders have built a system to see what orders are coming in, buy them on another exchange, increase the price, and then sell it back to the original buyer.  This front-running has undermined the markets, but has also generated millions of dollars for high frequency traders, and these traders are not even providing a service. (more…)

Book Review: ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ by Anthony Marra


Rating: 4 / 5

In the sleepy village of Eldar, Akhmed has tasked himself with Havaa’s safety, after he finds Havaa hiding in the forest, her father abruptly abducted by Russian soldiers and the house set on fire.  Knowing that the soldiers are looking for Havaa, he takes her to the only place he knows where she has a chance of survival, an abandoned hospital run by the only remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina.   (more…)

Book Review: ‘The Weight of Blood’ by Laura McHugh


Rating: 4.5 / 5

Lucy Dane doesn’t know of life outside of small town Hebrane, in the Ozark Mountains.  Her father, Carl Dane, wants Lucy to graduate high school, and leave Hebrane to go to college and lead a better life.  Though Lucy was born and raised in Hebrane, she has always felt like somewhat of an outsider.  This is because her mother, Lila, disappeared when Lucy was just a baby, and Lila appeared in Hebrane overnight.  The residents of the sleepy town all know one another, and Lila’s sudden appearance and mysterious past had people convinced she was a witch.  Carl rarely mentions Lila to her daughter, and the town is divided between believing that Lila ran away on her own accord and believing that something tragic happened to her. Recently Cheri, an acquaintance of Lucy’s was found murdered, and Lucy, with the help of a local boy, Daniel, try to figure out how wanted to kill Cheri.  In the process, Lucy uncovers deep secrets about her family, threatening her father and her own livelihood.  (more…)

Book Review: ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir


Rating: 5 / 5

Botanist and astronaut Mark Watney is one of the few human beings to ever walk on Mars.  Six days in though, a dust storm passes through, and in the chaos, a piece of equipment punctures his suit.  He was thrown away from the rest of his crew, and his suit biometrics readings showed no activity.  The storm is so severe that the mission has been scrapped, and the rest of his crew is forced to evacuate without him.  By a miracle, he does survive, and now must find a way to survive, the will to survive, and means to contact Earth.


Book Review: ‘Radiance of Tomorrow’ by Ishmael Beah


Rating: 4.5 / 5

Imperi is a small settlement nearly demolished during Sierra Leone’s civil unrest.  After the war, its residents have slowly made their way back to Imperi to rebuild.  Like many other settlements in the country, Imperi was devastated by the civil war and most of the homes were destroyed.  The lucky families were only separated, but more often than not, family members perished in the aftermath.  Life will never be the same again, but those who have returned have cobbled together an existence, relying on one another to help ease the pain and raise the next generation.  School has once again started, though a poor government infrastructure combined with a corrupt principal means there are few supplies and teachers are not paid on time.  Additionally, big trucks have been rolling through the settlement, a consequence of the land deal with a mining company to extract the mineral rutile from the land.  Though the villagers think that the worst is behind them, after all, the war has been declared over and done, the battles they face with the mining company will ultimately test their mettle and challenge their way of life. (more…)

Book Review: ‘The Winter People’ by Jennifer McMahon


Rating: 4 / 5

West Hall, Vermont is a small sleepy town with strange disappearances that the residents cannot explain.  Many think it is the ghost of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in the early 1900s, was murdered in the field behind her house.  It is said that her husband, Martin, killed her, and then shot himself, both distraught over the death of their daughter Gertie the month prior.  Teenager Ruthie lives with her mother Alice and younger sister Fawn on the land that belonged to Sara, and now their mother has disappeared without a trace.  While searching for their mother, Ruthie stumbles upon parts of the Sara’s hidden diary, and discovers that what happened almost a century ago could be pertinent to her mother’s vanishing, and that someone else is also looking for Alice.

I didn’t know what to expect from The Winter People, and was shocked with how gripping and engaging it was.   I’m not one to read ghost stories, but this one was an absolute page turner.  The Winter People is about the town of West Hall, and jumps between the past and the present.  The past recounts Sara’s life, from her upbringing by Auntie, who scared the other residents with her potions, through the death of her child, Gertie, to her own death. In the present, Ruthie discovers that the house her family lives at is none other than Sara’s house.  The house has numerous hiding spots, and while searching for clues to her mother’s disappearance, she discovers parts of Sara’s diary and the mystery that haunts West Hall.

It is difficult to give The Winter People an adequate review without spoilers.  Both the past and the present are compelling and complement each other.  There are a few chapters that are head scratchers, and at first seem out of place with no anchor to either Sara or Ruthie’s story lines, but are intriguing and keep the pages turned.  McMahon does a a splendid job bringing everything together, and this is one of those rare novels where both the journey and the end are equally satisfying.

In the End:  Readers who love ghost stories will definitely enjoy this, and even if you don’t, you’re sure to be swept up into this novel with McMahon’s storytelling.

Other books by Jennifer McMahon:

The One I Left Behind


Book Review: ‘Gaddafi’s Harem’ by Annick Cojean


Rating: 4.5 / 5

Soraya was a 15-year old school girl when she was kidnapped, abused, and raped repeatedly by Gaddafi.  While Gaddafi’s Harem focuses on Soraya for most of the book, her plight is reflective of treatment that thousands of women received during Gaddafi’s 42 year regime.

It was incredibly difficult to read about Soraya, and all the other women who suffered and are continuing to suffer from Gaddafi’s rule, and the Libyan culture.   What resonated the most with me was the fact that women who were raped were not seen as victims.  Since premarital sex is illegal in Libya, women were afraid to come forward.  Also, as it is the responsibility of fathers and brothers to protect their wives, sister, and children, a woman who spoke about being raped would bring shame to her family, and even worse, could be killed by her own brothers.

Soraya’s struggles mirrored many women abused by Gaddafi.  Though she was released, she spent crucial years as a sex slave.  Although she was not imprisoned, she lost many years of schooling, and in the eyes of others, she was seen as a whore.  Since she could not return to her parents for fear of bringing shame and a fear for her safety, she fled to France, hoping to get away from Gaddafi’s reach.  An education was not the only thing denied while she was Gaddafi’s captive; Soraya had no idea how to live, how to be an adult, and how to take care of herself.  Having no skills, no support system, and coupled with the physical and mental damage done by Gaddafi, it is not surprising that Soraya’s future is bleak.

I can’t even describe how heart wrenching and emotionally disturbing Gaddafi’s Harem is, and the shocking dual personalities of Gaddafi.  While publicly he championed women’s rights and developed a military institute to train women, it was known that he was a sexual predator, and thousands of girls and women that he raped and tortured were left with no respectable future and no recourse.

The first half of the book is Soraya’s story.  Her experiences are not an isolated event, but using one voice brings a raw, real, and personal account of the damage Gaddafi inflicted.  The second half of the book is about the struggles Libya faces is establishing a free and democratic country.  While it seems like Libyan women are progressive, the country as a whole has been slow to reform due to religious and traditional strongholds.

In the End:  Gaddafi’s Harem is a must-read.  What was done to these women was horrible, and the stories of Soraya and many others in her position is eye-opening, but ones that need to be told so others can be aware of what has gone on for over four decades.