While I think Malala’s story is an inspirational one I think this book was very poorly written. Malala is the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban and became an international icon for girl’s schooling. She and her father had both been very outspoken opponents to the Taliban’s closing of girl’s schools and the reduced opportunities for education for girls in Pakistan. After she was shot she was taken to England to receive treatment. I believe in her cause and think more people need to stand up to the Taliban as she does. However, this book was pretty hard to listen to. Maybe if I had read it instead of listening to the audio I might have been able to brush off the weaknesses of the text; however, listening to the story just highlighted how poorly written the book really was. The book is set up as her autobiography where she talks about her family history, her childhood, her fight for education and the aftermath of the shooting. Interspersed with that is a lot of Pakistan history and especially history of her beloved Swat Valley. The problem with this book was the lack of cohesive storytelling. It was almost like the co-author took notes as Malala was speaking and instead of putting those notes into a cohesive story she just typed them up verbatim. So the story jumps topics and is more of a stream of consciousness telling than anything else. It may or may not get back to the point or it just might start on another tangent and completely abandon original topic. And this stream of consciousness will be broken up as a part of Pakistan history has to be explained so the reader will understand where her opinion is coming from. Some of this may have been translation but I think most of it has to be the responsibility of the co-author Christina Lamb. I had high hopes for this story and was deeply disappointed. I would not recommend it. If you want to be inspired by Malala I would probably recommend finding some of the articles about her and reading those.

27. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Apocalyptic, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

Fire & Ash by Jonathan Maberry, read by Angie, on 08/26/2014

I am not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading this final book in Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin series. I love this series and I loved this book. It was the perfect ending to the series. 

Benny and the gang have made it across the desert and to the safe haven of Sanctuary. Of course nothing is quite what it seems. The military staff at Sanctuary is very secretive and won’t tell them anything about what is happening. The Reapers led by Saint John are still out there and headed to the Nine Towns. Chong was bitten in the last book and is becoming more and more like a zombie. This is the first time Benny, Nix, Lilah and Riot have a chance to take a moment and take stock of themselves and what they have discovered in the Rot & Ruin. They are not the same people they were when they started this trip to find the mysterious plane. They thought they would find all the answers and all they found were more questions. There is also the case of the missing Dr. McReady. She was supposed to be on the plane they found in the desert and she supposedly has a cure for the reaper plague. The teens set off with Captain Joe Ledger to find her and the cure and bring an end to the zombie nightmare. 

What I love about this series is the fact that even though it is about zombies it really isn’t about zombies. It is about the inhumanity of man and how without society’s strictures man becomes the monster. Zombies are just mindless disease carriers. They have no thought or rationale, but man chooses to do evil or good. This theme is more explicitly stated in this book than in some of the others, but it is an important theme. Benny has to find the person who can fight and win against Saint John. He has to do decide if doing what has to be done to win will make him cross that line in becoming a monster himself. In some ways this book is about redemption; the redemption of Benny, Chong, Nix, Lilah, Riot and even Joe and the redemption of mankind. Is mankind worthy of saving? Or should they allow everyone to be released to the darkness. I really loved how this series ended; it was perfect and felt natural. Humanity is worth saving and there is hope in the world.

26. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Fiction, Graphic Novel · Tags:

Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (Illustrator), read by Angie, on 08/25/2014

A filmmaker is dying. He is retreating from everyday life as he gets worse. He is also working on a film he never believes to see made. It is the end of the world; the last day of the last month of the millennium; 999 AD. This book explores the noise of the world and what it means in our lives. It is an interesting concept and book. The noise between the chapters seems like just a jumble of words but does seem to represent the noise of the world that can distract us from what is important.

26. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Fiction, Graphic Novel · Tags:

The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (Illustrator), read by Angie, on 08/25/2014

A little boy recalls a time when he stayed with his grandparents. His grandpa owned an arcade and a strange Punch and Judy man came to the arcade to put on a show. It is a strangely beautiful story told from the perspective of a boy who doesn’t necessarily know what all is going on. The illustrations are compelling and interesting.

25. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black , read by Angie, on 08/24/2014

Tana wakes up the morning after a party hungover in a quiet house. She discovers a house full of corpses, all murdered by vampires apparently. In her desperate dash to leave the house she stumbles upon her ex-boyfriend Aiden tied to a bed and a chained up vampire. Aiden has obviously been bitten and is going Cold (first stage to becoming a vampire). Tana frees both of them and they all three escape the other vampires in the house. The group decides to head to the nearest Coldtown. Coldtowns were set up after the vampire outbreak 10 years ago. They are basically parts of cities, or whole cities, where the vampire outbreak ran out of control. Officials walled off the infected and the non-infected alike and made sure no one could leave. Tana, Aiden and Gavriel pick up a brother/sister pair who are also headed to Coldtown. They make their way in and chaos ensues. Tana is just trying to survive, but things don’t always work out how you want them to. 

I thought this was an interesting take on a vampire book. I like the fact that it is set in our world and that the actions of one rogue vampire changed the face of society. Vampires were hidden for centuries until this one started a feeding without killing spree across the U.S. Tana is kind of stupid during the book. She is in shock for the first half and just flying by the seat of her pants in the second. Not sure she ever really had a decent plan as she just kept heading into danger. I thought the most interesting aspect of the story was Gavriel and the revelations from his past. I liked the flashbacks of both Gavriel and Tana but did feel like they sometimes pulled the reader away from the main story at the wrong times. This was a fun book and a nice change of pace from some of the other vampire books out there. 

This is the story of a group of friends who attend a Night of Dreaming, a strange and fantastical circus. During the performance Miss Finch disappears and reappears as someone else. It is a strange tale and one I am not 100% sure I understand.

25. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Fiction, Graphic Novel · Tags:

Violent Cases by Neil Gaiman , read by Angie, on 08/22/2014

A young boy goes to see an osteopath who just happens to be the doctor who worked with Al Capone. Their paths cross several times as the boy’s recollection changes and his perception of events differs. It is a strange and wonderful story with beautiful illustrations.

25. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Fiction, Graphic Novel · Tags:

Harlequin Valentine by Neil Gaiman, read by Angie, on 08/22/2014

Harlequin is searching for and trying to seduce his new Valentine in this graphic novel from Neil Gaiman. Since his seduction starts with him pinning his bleeding heart onto her front door you know you are not in for a regular seduction. The story is a bit gruesome, but entertaining. I enjoyed the history of the Harlequin story that Gaiman included at the back.

22. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Dystopia, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell, read by Angie, on 08/22/2014

The year is 2049 and humanity is becoming infertile. Very few babies are being born which has led to “the troubles”. In order to end the troubles, a company called Oxted started manufacturing robot babies. Parents can adopt the babies and pretend everything is normal. The children go back to Oxted periodically for upgrades so they can seem to grow. No one is supposed to know who is a robot and who is a human kid even the kids themselves. However, during the teen years the robot kids sometimes do something that breaks the veneer of humanity and the parents can’t deal so they send them back to Oxted. Doesn’t really matter anyway because all the kids have to be returned at 18 to be recycled. What a lovely future!

Tania is 11 when the book starts. She thinks she is human until she falls into the Thames and doesn’t drown. Once she realizes she is a robot she embraces her robothood (after a few days of cranky). She has made friends with John and Sian and together they form a band; later they are joined by Kieran to round out the sound. Tania starts exploring the TelNet (internet) to see what she can find out about Oxted and what is going on with humanity; however, this plot point doesn’t last very long. The novel is told through Tania’s diary entries in which she writes to a future alien Mr. Zog. Of course Mr. Zog answers her posts from the future where he is reading about earth in some kind of archive. 

The story is pretty slow and drags a lot as we are just hearing Tania’s side of the story and she is mostly talking about her day-to-day life. The idea of the book was an intriguing one but the execution was pretty terrible. None of the characters actually seemed like real people to me; they didn’t talk like real people or act like real people. Maybe it was because most of them were robots but I think it was more poor writing. The world building was atrocious. This is set only 35 years in the future, which isn’t really that long, and yet the world has fallen apart. There is no explanation as to why fertility has disappeared or how the robot babies were accepted so quickly. Other than the robots, technology doesn’t seem to have advanced very much either. Other than the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any real book or music or movies anymore because everything is digital. I also thought it was really interesting (kind of dumb) that everyone seemed to only listen to 70s rock bands???? Lots of music was mentioned throughout the book but very little of it was post-1980. Why? The end did not make reading the whole book worth it at all. I wanted more from this story and was really disappointed that I didn’t get it.

21. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, read by Angie, on 08/20/2014

Splendors and Glooms is a 2013 Newbery Honor Book and kind of reinforces my idea that the Newbery Award is not about books that kids would choose to read themselves. It is about books that adults think kids should read or need to read. Which means the books are generally not popular and are not going to be books kids will pick up on their own. Splendors and Glooms is a heavy book that deals with some very tough topics like child abuse, unwanted male attention, death and evil all the while set in Victorian England. It is a long read with a lot of descriptive language reminiscent of Victorian literature. It is a book that I would actually say is more geared towards older kids because of the situations and language (there are a couple of swear words). 

Splendors and Glooms is the story of three children: Clara, Lizzie Rose, and Parsefall. Clara is a privileged girl who is the only surviving child of a cholera epidemic that killed all her brothers and sisters. Her house is one of mourning even years after the fact. Lizzie Rose is a child of the theater who was orphaned when her parents died who plays at being a lady. Parsefall is another orphan who was rescued from the workhouse, loves being a puppeteer and picks a pocket or two. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall live with Grisini the puppeteer. He doesn’t treat them very well, barely feeds them and makes them work for him. The three meet when Clara begs to have Grisini do a show at her birthday party. She disappears the next day with no trace. Then Parsefall and Lizzie Rose discover a new puppet who looks just like Clara and come to believe that Grisini is a magician who turned her into a puppet. Grisini disappears leaving the children on their own until they discover a letter from Cassandra asking them to come live with her. Cassandra is a witch who has visions of being consumed by fire because of the fire opal she possesses. Grisini tells her that a child must steal it from her in order to free her (thus the request for the kids). The kids arrive at her country castle and start trying to figure out what is going on and how they can get out of it. 

So not my favorite book. The story was overly dramatic and gruesome at times for a children’s book. The ending was way too simple to be realistic and diminished the drama of the previous 400 pages. And the plot got a little convoluted and a bit boring to tell you the truth. 

21. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction · Tags:

The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection CD by Neil Gaiman, read by Angie, on 08/19/2014

Four short children’s stories by Neil Gaiman are contained in this collection and they were all wonderful: Crazy Hair, Cinnamon, The Wolves in the Walls and the Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. I think my favorite might have been the Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish just for the plain fun and silliness of the story. The Wolves in the Walls was a bit scary. Cinnamon was a touching story. Crazy Hair was just fun with its rhyming text. I think the best part was the fact that Gaiman read the stories himself and the fact that his daughter interviewed him at the end. Wonderful collection. 

Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller and listening to him tell this tale was chilling and thrilling. It is a story taken out of legend and the mists of time. It is a story about adventure and greed and revenge and evil and what causes all of the above. Gaiman has a hypnotising voice that makes the story come alive in a way just reading it would not have accomplished. His telling is accompanied by music which really helps to set the mood in this dark tale.

18. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

Homeland by Cory Doctorow, read by Angie, on 08/17/2014

This is the second Cory Doctorow book I have read and it scared me and made me paranoid just like the first one. Homeland is a followup to Little Brother and follows the same character of Marcus. Marcus and his girlfriend Ange are at Burning Man when they are given a USB stick with confidential information on it and later watch the couple who gave them the info taken away by paramilitary thugs. Back in San Francisco Marcus has to figure out what to do with the thousands of documents full of incriminating information. He is also starting a new job and trying to deal with the fact that his parents have both lost their jobs. There is a lot going on in this book and I will admit that I didn’t understand the majority of the techno jargon. What I did understand was enough to make me paranoid and leary of everything I have ever done online. The scariest part is that this is not fiction; stuff like this is happening around the world as we speak. Cory Doctorow is truly terrifying and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if someone was hacking him and watching his every move. 

17. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, read by Angie, on 08/17/2014

The old gods walk among us in the United States of Asgard. They are real and they are everywhere. Soren Bearskin is pledged to Odin as a berserker. It is a family legacy he does not want and fights against. Astrid Glyn is a seether pledged to Freya. She reads the future through visions and prophecy. When Balder the Beautiful fails to rise Soren and Astrid team up to find him and bring him back to the world. Their journey will take them all over the United States of Asgard. They find Baldor but he is not the god they know. They have to take him to find Idun’s apple orchard so he can remember the go he was. Their journey is not without its dangers and they are not prepared for the end. 

I really like books that bring mythology to the modern age and this one doesn’t disappoint. It is an interesting if sometimes confusing new world. I like that the Norse gods came to America and pretty much took over and made it their own; however, there wasn’t enough world building for me in this book. I wanted to know how they came here and when and how the United States of Asgard was formed. I truly enjoyed Soren and Astrid’s journey and Baldor was a hoot. I think this is a good start to a series, but I hope the future books explain a little bit more about the world other than giving places new names. 

Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi commander in charge of emptying Europe of its Jews. He commanded the transportation of Jews from their homes to the ghettos to the camps and to their extermination. He was an essential part of the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. At the end of WWII, he escaped Germany and ended up in Buenos Ares, Argentina. He lived there in freedom for 15 years before he was identified by a local girl and her Jewish father. Israel was contacted and soon a team of Mossad agents where in Buenos Ares with a plan to capture Eichmann and bring him back to Israel to stand trial. This is their story. It is a compelling story of how the Israelis tracked down Eichmann, confirmed his identity, captured him, and secreted him out of Argentina. The trial of Adolf Eichmann brought the story of the Holocaust into the public consciousness. Survivors were able to tell their stories and the world was ready to listen. This trial was a turning point in the story of the Jews. It is a powerful story and one I hadn’t heard before. Definitely worth the read.

16. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, read by Angie, on 08/16/2014

Sarah Grimke is the daughter of a prominent Charleston family and on her 11th birthday is given Handful as her own personal slave. Sarah doesn’t like being a slave owner. She is intelligent and wants to be the first female jurist. Unfortunately, her family doesn’t support either her ambitions or her feelings on slavery. Sarah grows up to be an old maid, a Quaker and an abolitionist, all things her family can’t stand. She heads off to Philadelphia and his followed by her sister Angelina. Together they embark on an abolitionist speaking tour around New England. Their views are radical and dangerous, but they persevere as two of the first women to speak about the rights of women and slaves. 

Sarah’s chapters are interspersed by Handful’s story. Handful and her mother are slaves of the Grimke’s and seamstresses which make them very useful to the family. Her mother Charlotte has an independent streak and sneaks out of the house repeatedly meeting up with a free black man and eventually becoming pregnant. When she gets in trouble she runs away, is eventually caught by a slave stealer and sent to a rice plantation. Handful develops her own independent streak which lands her in the workhouse and lame. Eventually, after many years, Charlotte makes her way back to the Grimke house with her teenage daughter Sky. The family is more determined than ever to get free one day. 

Sarah and Handful’s friendship crosses social and racial lines but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Sarah teaches Handful to read and Handful helps give Sarah the conviction she needs to find her own path. I enjoyed this story even more after I realized it was about real people. Sarah and Angelina Grimke are actual historical figures and Sue Monk Kidd tried to stay as true to their stories as possible. While Handful is a fictional character her story rings true as well. This is a powerful story and two women and their desire to be free. 

16. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Steam-punk, Teen Books · Tags:

The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress , read by Angie, on 08/16/2014

Three female assistants in 1900 London come together over a rash of murders and burglaries. Cora is the assistant of Lord White, a prominent member of the House of Commons and an inventor. Nellie is the assistant of The Great Raheem, a premiere magician and illusionist. Michiko is the assistant of Sir Callum Fielding-Shaw, a self-defense instructor who thinks he knows more than he does. They first meet at a gala where they all perform and then again on a foggy London street at the scene of a murder. They keep meeting again and again and finally join forces to investigate the murders and strange happenings around town. 

This was a really fun book to read. I thought the steampunk atmosphere was subtle yet fit right into the story that was being told. I liked that the historical period was present but not overwhelming as well. It made it easier to focus on the outstanding characters. Cora, Nellie and Michiko were fabulously written and a lot of fun to read. They each had their own voices and motivations which came clearly through on the page. I did think the mystery got just a bit wonky, but it all worked out in the end. 

16. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Little Bee by Chris Cleave, read by Angie, on 08/15/2014

The world’s of Little Bee and Sarah collide on a Nigerian beach; they both come away changed. Two years later their lives collide again in London. Little Bee has spent the past two years in a detention center for refugees. Once she is out she seeks out Sarah and her husband Andrew, the only people she knows in England. Little Bee enters Sarah’s world on the day of Andrew’s funeral. He killed himself a few days before; he never recovered from what happened in Nigeria and the call from Little Bee just sent him over the edge and into suicide. Sarah and Little Bee form an alliance. Sarah feels guilty over leaving Little Bee in Nigeria and resolves to help her in any way she can. Little Bee just wants to live and starts to fall in love with Sarah and her young son Charlie. Theirs is a partnership built out of guilt and need and love, but will it be enough to save them?

I wasn’t sure what to think of this book at first. So much of the story of these two women is given out in little bites. I am not sure we ever really get the full story, but that doesn’t take away the power of the story. It is one of survival, but also of grief. When I finished the book I wanted more. More information about what was going on in Nigeria, more information on Sarah and Charlie and how their lives would end up, and especially more information on Little Bee and what would become of her.

15. August 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould, read by Angie, on 08/14/2014

Laura has been living in a convent ever since her father put her there. She is surprised when he pulls her out and sends her back home. Turns out her beautiful sister Beatrice has drowned and Laura is to take her place. She is to marry Vincenzo, Beatrice’s betrothed, who turns out to be an old, lecherous man. She is recruited by The Segreta. In return for a secret, they will help her get out of her betrothal to Vincenzo. The plan works, but Laura feels like she might now be in an even worse situation. The Segreta is a group of women who control the secrets of Venice. If they can topple great men like Vincenzo what else can they do? Laura also finds herself drawn to an artist she meets. Giacomo makes her think about love, but a marriage can never happen as long as her father wants to use her to make connections. 

This was a fast-paced, fun novel. I liked the glimpse of Renaissance Venice and actually wished there would have been more. I also enjoyed the idea of The Segreta and the power the women yielded. The story does get a bit complicated by all the twists and turns and some of those are a bit far-fetched, but the story is still fun. The one thing that kept throwing me off however was the name of the main character. Everyone in the book has names like Bianca and Vincenzo and Giacomo and Allegra, but the main character is named Laura which seems so far from a traditional Italian name. Even changing it to a more Italian sounding Loretta would have helped. A name is a picky thing but it did seem very English in an Italian setting.

The Venus Fixers is the story of the monuments men in Italy. If you have read and enjoyed The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel then you will probably enjoy this one. Whereas The Monuments Men was very much the story of the the looted artwork from France and the treasure hunt to find it, this is the story of how the Venus Fixers were on the front lines trying to save monuments and art as soon as they are destroyed. It is the story of Florence and the terrible price that city paid during WWII. It is the story of the Italian superintendents who worked within and around the fascist government and the Nazis to protect their treasurers. It is a fascinating look at a fascinating time of history.