Category Archives: Reviews

For The Win Book Review- Sunkissed

Every now and then on my blog, I’ll review a book that I think may be of interest to college students. It’s also a crafty way of getting me to read for pleasure again. Ever since starting grad school, all my reading became purely scholarly, and I suddenly realized I lost my passion for fiction. As a result, For The Win Book Reviews were born!

Today’s book review is for Sunkissed, by Carys Jones.

(This review was done by Jasmine of the For The Win Review Team)

In the small village of Fandova, Dawn Summers lays dying. Her fiancé, Thomas Weeville, wrings his hands in desperation. Her mother resides in the comfort that her daughter will die soon and be free of the disease. However, that does not come to pass…

Spurred on by his love for Dawn, Thomas seeks a solution to save his ailing bride-to-be. His actions lead Dawn on the path of her destiny – which was set forth by her own father, a powerful and influential supernatural being who’s on the run after consorting with Dawn’s mother.

In her transformation, Dawn is turned by the reclusive and mysterious town doctor, a deceivingly evil and decrepit man. The transformation lends less than desirable results for Dawn, but not Thomas, who greedily sees the new power Dawn has obtained. Through his own efforts, Thomas succeeds in finally embracing the evil which has always rested within his heart. His only shred of humanity left lies in his love for Dawn, who sees only a monster in herself and now with him.

Distraught by Thomas’ post-transformation actions one night, Dawn opens the door, letting the killing sunlight hit her face. It is then that she discovers a secret about herself and her lineage, something of which was prophesied by ancient creatures long ago.

Dawn’s story in Sunkissed is about her transformation and discovery of what she is destined to become – the harbinger of change for all her kind. The author does a good job of capturing the details of Dawn’s and Thomas’ post-transformations and the difference on how they embodied light and dark. However, the first half of the book was choppy in its delivery – requiring smoother transitions between character narrations and point-of-view. The author made progress on her transitions later on in the book, making it more of an enjoyable, but relatively simple, read. Sunkissed does not and will not offer any kind of depth. It is a normal supernatural romance novel that, for this reviewer, only took a couple of hours to finish.

Although the novel did start off choppy and a little dull, it transitioned in the latter half of the story into something more interesting and with smoother transitions. This makes it important to note that the author does need to put more thought into the way her storyline progresses. Pace is an important element in literature. In addition, the ending was a bit abrupt, but the assumption is that this is the first in a series – so this reviewer is a little more forgiving on that aspect. However, it is important to close some elements of the story for the reader, so they are feeling more satisfied with the ending, leaving them excited and willing to read the next book in the series. Sunkissed felt like all the threads were still open even to the very end – nothing felt completely resolved… yet.

As a last note, the author should be more careful when world building. It was difficult establishing where in the U.S. Fandova could have possibly been. One guess is the Midwest but the initial world presented struck as old-world Europe rather than early 1850’s U.S. Midwest – especially with the term “village” rather than “town”, the term that would have been used even in a sparsely populated town like Fandova. Some of the clichés of “going to the West” (or even “Mexico”… Mexico??), which Dawn expressed interest traveling to, seemed stemmed out of a stereotypical and inaccurate “impression” of the U.S. and its history at the time, rather than the actual history and mentality at the time. Given the author’s roots in England, this common impression of U.S. during this time period is understandably but not necessarily excusable. This reviewer wished that the author had taken more time in the first part of her novel when building the location. This may lead to another reason the latter half of the book was more enjoyable from a cultural and historical perspective – given its location in modern New York City. Even to most Europeans, New York City is fairly recognizable and understood.

Overall, Sunkissed rates 3 out of 5 stars. Its drawbacks were not nearly enough to detract this reviewer from wanting to hear the rest Dawn’s sage and how she will change the world while running from an ancient evil and an obsessed ex-lover.

Advertisements

For The Win Book Review: World War Z

Every now and then on my blog, I’ll review a book that I think may be of interest to college students. It’s also a crafty way of getting me to read for pleasure again. Ever since starting grad school, all my reading became purely scholarly, and I suddenly realized I lost my passion for fiction. As a result, For The Win Book Reviews were born!

Today’s book review is World War Z by Max Brooks.

This is an amazing book! It takes the absurd setting of a zombie apocalypse an reshapes it in a more realistic setting of a reporter inquiring about the “zombie war”. The interview style he uses gives the entire book a sense of authenticity, like all of this really happened.

He goes into a tremendous amount of detail within the stories of the “interviewees”, telling me he either did a lot of research for this book, or has had many interesting life experiences.

In a sense, the book itself is a number of short stories with the common theme being that “zombie war”. The stories themselves can be hit or miss. A few at the beginning had me just flipping through the pages seeing where they were going, then disappointing that nothing came from them. Later on, though, the stories started getting much better. I just couldn’t put them down!

For those who have seen the movie by the same name, this is nothing like the movie. And I’m not saying that in a “the book was better than the movie” way that book enthusiasts tend to say. No, I mean they are really nothing like each other besides the main character’s name and maybe a setting or two. For one thing, the book takes place in the future, after the war ends (I’d mark that as a spoiler, but that’s what it literally says in the back of the book). In the movie, it’s in the present, and the main character is in the middle of it all. But anyways, I’ll leave it at that, as this isn’t a book vs. movie review.

All in all, I really enjoyed this fresh take on the zombie genre. The characters introduced seemed very real and relatable, even if they were only introduced one time and never heard from again. It also makes you wonder if this really is how society would respond during such an outbreak. This book has gotten me extremely interested in the zombie genre.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Monsters University offers a surprisingly deep look at college

Pixar’s latest entry in the animated film industry received a lot of mixed reactions upon its announcement. Following in the footsteps of two other PIxar sequels, Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, many figured that Pixar was running out of ideas and had to recycle their existing series into sequels and prequels.

Although Toy Story 3 was met with strong critical acclaim, with a 99% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com, Cars 2 was met with a 39% “rotten” rating for feeling too much like a cheap cash-in and lacking that Pixar magic that their movies have been known for.

But where does that leave Monsters University? Just like in the original movie, Monsters Inc., the movie takes place in a world inhabited by the monsters that children fear are hiding in their closets. They have their own society, with their own economy, factories, and of course, education systems. As a prequel to the original Monsters University, this movie follows Mike Wazowski who attends Monsters University in an effort to achieve his dream of becoming a scarer.

Make him a few inches taller and that’s me my first day of college.

Let me just say that I went into this movie pretty skeptical. The last two movies I had watched, Cars 2 and Brave, didn’t really impress me much. Monsters Inc, while a good movie, just didn’t appear to me to be the kind of movie that needed a prequel. However, I was pleasantly surprised that not only was this a good movie, but it offered a really nice view of college life through Mike’s eyes, and even ended it with an interesting message that you wouldn’t typically expect from a movie for kids.

Let me explain. At first glance, this movie is just pure fun, providing typical satire of college life, such as the super peppy RAs that you find on campus, to the new roommate, the craziness of sororities and fraternities, and the rigors of academic pressure.

But where this movie really shines is the parts that aren’t so typical for a college movie. At first glance, the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they meet seems to follow the typical movie cliché: nerdy guy meets the cool guy. Cool guy is popular and everything comes easy, whereas the nerdy guy has to fight his way to make it through the top. Cue a rivalry through the whole movie until the nerd comes out on top. Surprisingly, this movie was not as shallow.

Right from the beginning, despite Sulley’s cocky attitude at the beginning due to being son of a famous scarer, he quickly realized that his reputation wouldn’t get him far in class. His lack of care and preparation had him fall behind in class and get a pretty bad tongue lashing from the dean. Meanwhile, Mike’s studying and preparation actually made him a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, quickly becoming the professor’s favorite and impressing the rest of the class. This is quite different than what I expected, which was Mike having to catch up to Sulley through the whole movie.

Their bickering eventually gets them in trouble with the dean, causing them to fail the qualifying exam and kicked out of the college of scaring. This forces the two of them to work together to prove that they can be decent scarers.

The rest of the movie has your typical “ragtag team of losers overcome the odds to win the championship” type of plot, but once again wowed me as it reached the end. The entire point of the movie was Mike’s dream to be a scarer. It is all he wanted since he was a child, and promised himself he’d do whatever it takes to make it. This manifested himself in the scaring competition, where he truly believed in himself, and against all odds, scared the tacos out of the child simulator and won the team the competition. I rolled my eyes after watching this scene, as the whole “you can do it if you believe” schtick is in just about every animated movie you can imagine.

But in an effort to continue to feed me crow, Pixar once again throws another curveball by revealing that Sulley actually tampered with the machine which allowed Mike to win. As it turned out, Mike wasn’t scary at all!

Yeah, that cute face ain’t scaring anyone.

After a series of events, Mike and Sulley end up trapped in the human world, hunted down by a bunch of cops (or were they park rangers?). In the midst of hiding, Mike gives what I believe to be one of the most heart-wrenching, powerful speeches I’ve ever heard come out of an animated character’s mouth.

Earlier in the movie, the dean had these words to say to Mike: “Mr Wazowski, what you lack simply cannot be taught. You’re just not scary.”

After everything he went through, after all his failures, he came to the realization that she was right. He is not scary, and he will never be scary. Mike realized that his dream was wrong, and that he simply could not be something that he was not. Instead, rather than trying to chase after an unrealistic dream, he altered his goals to match his strengths, and together with Sulley, managed to come up with a plan to scare away the cops that were chasing them and find a way back to the monster world.

Despite their victory, they were still kicked out of the university for cheating and consequently trespassing into places they weren’t allowed. The final foot-in-mouth moment I experienced with this movie was towards the end, when Mike and Sulley finally accepted who they were at the bus stop before Mike left. As they were saying goodbye, the dean approaches them to congratulate them for their previous victory in working together to scare full grown adults.

As I’m sure most people watching were expecting, this would be the part where the dean enthusiastically invites them back in, they finish their degree, then claim their place at Monsters University. But that didn’t happen. She did not let them back in. They did not go back to college, any college, and decided to start at the bottom at the Monsters Inc post office. The credits scenes subsequently showed them working their way up to the scaring positions we are familiar with them having.

This movie shares with its viewers a couple of messages that go against the norm of society today.

First, that just because you really, really want it, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. If you do not have the talent to do something, then you just can’t do it, period. Sure, you can work years and years to become adequate at it, but why waste your time becoming adequate on something you’re bad at, when you can be great at something you’re good at?

For example, try as I may, I will never be a great Olympic swimmer like Michael Phelps. I’m not 6 feet, 4 inches, for starters, and my wingspan is nowhere near as long as his. Plus, I just suck at swimming. But society today tells me that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. That’s just not true, and as a result, we end up with a bunch of very disappointed kids who were raised with unrealistic expectations. Many people I’ve talked to complained about the downer ending in which Mike never became scary, but instead became a scaring coach. Well, so what? If this were a real life situation, isn’t that what would happen? I applaud Pixar for giving this realistic ending.

The second message that this movie gives us is that college isn’t for everyone. I may get a couple of dirty looks for saying this (especially from other college professionals), but it’s true: college isn’t for everyone. Some people are just not suited to learning in a college atmosphere. But that’s not a bad thing. Society seems to stigmatize people without a college education. Monsters University is unique in that it doesn’t seem to favor one way or the other. Mike and Sulley quit college, but instead gain all their skills by starting from the bottom of the totem pole and working their way up. They become just as competent in their job as the rest of their colleagues.

But let’s take Randall, Mike’s roommate. He stayed and (we assume) graduated from Monsters University, and yet he was also a pretty good scarer. In Monsters Inc, he was shown to go toe-to-toe with Sulley. Is either approach better than the other? Not necessarily. There’s a reason vocational and tech schools have grown rapidly: some students just don’t want or need college for their career goals. On-the-job training is sometimes the best route for them.

Too often is college seen as the only option, and the message is that if you don’t go to college, you are a loser and will never succeed. This is demotivating for students that either can’t afford to go to college, or just can’t succeed in the college classroom setting. Now, granted, I do believe that most people can benefit from a college education, and it’s true, most jobs nowadays won’t even look at you without a college degree, but I still stand by my statement that college isn’t for everyone.

So all in all, this was a really good movie. Pixar has once again managed to raise the bar with quality animation and throw in some wonderful messages without being too preachy. Good show, Pixar, good show.

My only question is, what the heck happened to these guys? I never saw them at Monsters Inc!

For The Win Book Review: The Consequences of Forever

Every now and then on my blog, I’ll review a book that I think may be of interest to college students. It’s also a crafty way of getting me to read for pleasure again. Ever since starting grad school, all my reading became purely scholarly, and I suddenly realized I lost my passion for fiction. As a result, For The Win Book Reviews were born!

Today’s book review is The Consequences of Forever, by Kaitlyn Oruska.

The Consequences of Forever is a story about a teenage girl named Lainey whose life changes completely after realizing that she’s pregnant at 15. The novel follows Lainey and her boyfriend Adam as they struggle with the idea that they’re going to have a child.

This is my first foray into this type of novel. I’ve always been a mystery and thriller reader, so I was hesitant at first to check it out. However, in an effort to expand my genre horizons, I pushed myself to get the book and see what it was about. I was very pleasantly surprised at the story the author told us through Lainey’s eyes. The plot itself is very straightforward: a girl she finds out she is pregnant, deals with the ramifications of being pregnant in high school. However, what really makes the book truly shine is the characters that the author brings to life.

I instantly found myself liking Lainey from the beginning of the book. She was grounded, idealistic, if a bit unsecure at times. She wasn’t angsty or annoying, traits I often found in stories starring teenagers. The emotions she felt and her reactions to her pregnancy seemed realistic to me. Her boyfriend, Adam, was very supportive of her upon learning about it, yet still exhibited enough flaws as a character to make him seem human, rather than an idealistic caricature he seemed like at first glance.

The author did a great job of developing their relationship. I could sense how much they’ve matured as individuals as well as a couple from the beginning of the book to the end. I noticed growth in not only them, but even the several supporting characters they interacted with. This attention to detail to every character introduced is what really made the story feel organic and engaging.

The title of the book seemed a bit cliché at first, but it makes a lot of sense within the context of the story. It really takes until the end of the book to appreciate the choice of words in the title. I thought that was pretty nifty, though I can see how it may scare away new readers of the genre.

The only things that bothered me in the book were the over-explanation of some things and their redundancy. A lot of times I felt the monologues were necessary, really driving the point across. But sometimes I felt as if Lainey kept making the same point over and over, and it seemed to slow down the plot progression. A lot of the chapters consisted of minute details that made it feel like I was reading a teenage girl’s diary, but I will admit some of those details really added to some of the revelations that came afterwards.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Though I’ve never been pregnant, I felt I could relate to many of Lainey’s worries, such as dealing with a broken family, judgment from peers, and uncertainty of the future. Problems that may seem minor to others can mean the world to the individual facing them. We all face personal battles, and Lainey’s experience was inspiring, to say the least.

I would definitely recommend this book to readers looking for an inspiring read and like detailed character growth in their stories. You can buy the book online on Amazon and several other websites. You can also find the author’s website here.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Ratemyprofessors.com- A Student’s Best Friend?

RateMyProfessors_com_Logo

It’s here. The enrollment period has begun. Now, after all the honor students, athletes, and seniors got their pick of courses, it has opened up to the general college populace. As you sit there in front of your computer (or paper and pencil if you go to one of those colleges), you have many decisions to make. Deciding what class to take? Psha! That’s child’s play. Half the time your classes are decided for you by your course catalog.

No, there are much more important questions to ponder when you’re enrolling in a class. Should I take the dreaded 8 o’clock class and get it over with? Stick with an afternoon schedule to sleep in? Take Differential Equations and Thermodynamics in the same semester back-to-back? All fair questions.

teachermeme

But the real question you want to know is what professor to take. Who teaches that class, and what does everyone say about him? Is he a strict grader? Does she take attendance? Does she ramble off topic? That’s when you turn over to ratemyprofessors.com and look him up, hoping to your preferred higher power that it’s a good rating because his class is the only one still open. But can that website lead you astray?

Ratemyprofessors.com started in 1999 under the name TeacherRatings.com. It is the largest online destination for professor ratings. So it is safe to assume that you’ll find a rating for most professors on there. But what about its accuracy? A study conducted at the University of Maine attempted to find an answer to that question. Using data from 426 instructors at the university, they compared their ratemyprofessors.com ratings with the ratings found in course evaluations students complete in class towards the end of the semester.

The results were interesting to look at, as it showed that the ratings on the website weren’t too far off from the ratings on the course evaluations. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the website ratings are accurate. For all we know, both sources give an inaccurate depiction of a particular college professor’s ranking. Plus, there was enough variance (basically unanswered questions and other stuff the researchers couldn’t predict) that kept the findings from being fully conclusive.

Still, this gives us some insight into the usefulness of ratemyprofessors.com. My verdict? I think it is a useful tool if you are using it for the right reason. Let me repeat that for emphasis. For the right reason. The biggest mistake I see students make with that website is they look at the score for a group of professors, then take the one with the highest score. Others, it scares me to admit, pick their professor based on their hotness score! “But Roland,” you might tell me. “Who are you to judge my decision process for choosing a professor? What if I want some eye candy to keep me focused?” Well that’s fine and dandy, my hypothetical friend, but it is those same students who come complaining to me at the end of the semester about their professor and write bad evaluations because they didn’t do the proper research beforehand.

“I got an F? I don’t understand. He was hot!”

When I was in college, the most useful part of ratemyprofessors.com was the written reviews by the students. I didn’t even bother with the scores. The review gave me a much better idea of what I could expect. And a rule of thumb was to avoid a review that was only one or two short sentences long. I read reviews that gave details to support their arguments. Perhaps their reason for disliking a professor was a great reason for me to like them. I prefer, for example, no-nonsense professors who stick by the syllabus and lay everything out at the beginning. Someone who prefers a care-free professor who changes things up throughout the year might review such a professor poorly. In that sense, I believe the website is worth your time.

My biggest criticism of the website, as I’m sure is the case for many others, has been that students not liking a professor are more likely to publicly display their opinions online, therefore negatively skewing the results for a professor. Some quick research into this, however, says this is not the case. The website itself claims that over half the ratings are positive. And to look at a less biased source, the study I referenced above suggests that the ratings aren’t too far off from course evaluation ratings. So unless students submitting course evaluations tend to make it a habit to slam their professors, I don’t think the website is doing too bad of a job on that.

So long story short, ratemyprofessors.com is a fine website to utilize when trying to decide on a professor to take. It may not be as helpful if you’re just looking at the score, or if it’s the only professor offering that particular course. Looking at their feedback then would give you an unfavorable bias before starting the class, and you don’t want to start a class with bad mojo. Sometimes it’s just best to go into a class blind and hope for the best.

“Alright, World Thought 101, let’s do this.”

%d bloggers like this: