I Am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was fascinated to learn more about the young girl, Malala, who gained the attention of the world when her fight for girls’ education made her a target of the Taliban. She tells of her family, her school friends, her drive to be at the top of her class, her father’s dream to build a school, her love of her homeland (the Swat Valley of Pakistan), her faith in God/Allah, and enough history and politics to understand her story. I was fascinated by her description of the Buddhist statues left by earlier settlers before the Muslim country was created, I laughed at her telling how she and her friends would play “Twilight” – from the books (and DVDs) about vampires, I got angry about the senselessness and violence of the Taliban agenda, I cheered at her courage and resilience, and I am sad that she and her family had to find a new home in Britain. One child, one teacher, one book, one pen – yes, it can change the world.

Book Description: When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The audiobook contains a PDF file of the photos in the book.

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Raven Black

Raven Black (Shetland, #1)Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally intended to be a quartet, there are now 6 in the series. 3.5 stars and I can’t quite round up to 4, but I’ll continue with the series. The setting is interesting, though I didn’t feel like I saw enough of it. It has been made into a TV show in Britain, and I think seeing the locale would help a lot. Like most of the main characters, I felt like an outsider looking in. I liked the shifting points of view – it helped keep the suspense. Everyone seemed unreliable and a possible suspect. All except the old man, Magnus, who had been already convicted in the minds of the townspeople. I also did not feel like I knew much about the inspector, Jimmy Perez, by the end. So there is plenty more to be learned in the rest of the series. It definitely shows promise.

Book description: Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.

The Chaperone

The ChaperoneThe Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Can’t really add much to the description below without giving away spoilers. The story is anchored around the trip to NYC with Louise Brooks (a real person), but encompasses so much more – Cora’s childhood in the orphanage in NYC, being sent west on the Orphan Train, being adopted, her marriage and the secret that cannot be revealed to anyone, and the events that change her from a life circumscribed by propriety to become a supporter of birth control and women’s rights, and a home for unwed mothers. The themes touched on are just as relevant to today as to the 1920s. Bottom line – Cora goes to NYC to look for her past and ends up finding her future.

Book Description: Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever. For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars really, but I’m rounding up. After reading all the controversy around this book’s publication, I was quite pleasantly surprised. I loved the stream of consciousness style back and forth between past and present. The humor of To Kill a Mockingbird is fully present here. And I thought the social commentary quite illuminating of that time and place in our history. While the ending was a bit weak (this story was not a finished novel), it made me think. About shedding childhood illusions and recognizing that the people we love aren’t perfect. About racism and bigotry, which are still big issues today. This book probably cannot stand on its own – if you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird, I would read that first. You don’t have to, but I think having that context makes it more meaningful. I wish Harper Lee had gone on to write more. One could probably write a whole commentary on how her editors suppressed a voice for contemporary conscience in favor of the childhood fantasy. Not that To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t a gem, and a wake-up call for social justice – just that we all have to grow up and she had so much more to say.

Book Description: Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—”Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.

The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl (The Tudor Court, #2)The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Time Period: 1521-1536
Setting: The various courts of Henry VIII, Hever Castle, Rochford
Main Characters: Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, Henry VIII

Opening lines: “I could hear a roll of muffled drums. But I could see nothing but the lacing on the bodice of the lady standing in front of me, blocking my view of the scaffold. I had been at this court for more than a year and attended hundreds of festivities; but never before one like this.”

3 stars for me. Not so much because of her treatment of history – it isn’t as bad as the fabrications of the TV series “The Tudors” – and there is admittedly not a lot known about Mary Boleyn, including when she was born and whether either of her first two children were actually Henry’s or not. And who can fault an author for incorporating all of the more sensational claims of witchcraft, homosexuality, incest, etc.? It makes a whopping good tale! BUT, I find her characters too starkly black and white. Mary the good, innocent sister. Anne the scheming and vicious shrew. The Boleyn family ambitious at all costs. She practically beats you over the head with what you are supposed to think and how you are supposed to feel about these characters. Her style becomes too repetitive telling you the same things over and over again. But she portrays a court where all of these things certainly could have happened. You certainly get a feel for how long Anne had to keep Henry interested before they were finally married, and how exhausting it must have been. And I liked the story of the romance between Mary and William Stafford. She did marry against her family’s wishes and there is extant a very passionate letter by her defending her choice. This novel ends with Anne’s execution, but Mary went on to live quite happily and inherited all of the Boleyn holdings after her parents died, so she and William ended up quite wealthy landowners.

Book Description: When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of the handsome and charming Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane, and soon she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. With her own destiny suddenly unknown, Mary realizes that she must defy her family and take fate into her own hands.

Comments on the films:
The 2008 version starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and Eric Bana:
2 stars. Where do I even start? Fans of the book will be sorely disappointed. The time frame has been shortened considerable. Mary’s first husband just disappears with no mention of his death. There is no romance between Mary and William Stafford. Just a note at the end of the movie that they got married and lived happily. Mary has a son but no daughter, and there is nothing of her and her children which was one of the good parts of the book. It is all about Anne Boleyn, and with the time frame so shortened, it all comes off as ridiculous and unbelievable. Eric Bana is suitably regal as Henry VIII, but dark-haired and much too young here. The sets and costumes are gorgeous.

The 2003 version starring Natascha McElhone, Jodhi May, and Jared Harris:
3 stars despite the low budget sets and costumes. This is a little more intimate in format, and I kind of liked the confessional asides by the two sisters. I thought Jared Harris was too small to be Henry VIII and had none of the authority and hints of the tyrant he would become that Eric Bana portrayed. But all in all, it follows the book a little more closely and does not leave out key events like the death of William Carey. I still would have liked the romance between Mary and William Stafford developed a bit more.

After Dark

After Dark (Harmony #1)After Dark by Jayne Castle
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I was intrigued by the idea of a whole series of interconnected stories – past, present, and future – by this author (under various pseudonyms). There are so many different series, with some books numbered in more than one series, so it was a little arbitrary where to actually start, but I really was intrigued by the idea of pet “dust bunnies”, so this was it. Set in the future, about 200 years after humanity had crossed through some kind of planetary curtain and then were unable to return, cut off from Earth. The planet is called Harmony. The human colonists have apparently been developing the ability to resonate with amber and use it to focus psychic energy. The planet was once inhabited by a race of aliens who left behind the ruins of their culture protected by illusion traps and eerie energy manifestations (ghosts.) I enjoyed the world building, although some of the terminology was confusing at first. Lydia is a tangler – someone who can psychically untangle and defuse the illusion traps. Emmett is a ghost hunter – someone who can either summon or dissipate ghosts. And dust bunnies! sort of a cross between a predatory rabbit and a spider (not literally, but they do have six legs and 4 eyes…) All of that was interesting. A solid 4 stars for the sci fi/paranormal aspect. The relationship between Lydia and Emmett, as they learn to trust each other while solving a mystery, was okay plot-wise. It kept me guessing “who done it.” So something between 3 and 4 stars for plot. And if you like romance, there is that, too, but I have to say the two explicit sex scenes really didn’t add to the plot for me and could just as well have been left out. I’d call this more of a mystery than a suspense/thriller. And there was sexual tension, but nothing I would call a romance, so 2 stars for the romance aspect. I may read more in the series, but it isn’t compelling. Hopefully the sequel will develop the romance and back story a bit more. I will be reading the prequel short story “Bridal Jitters” since it is included in this edition of After Dark (titled Harmony.)

Book Description: Life is tough these days for Lydia Smith, licensed para-archaeologist. Seriously stressed-out from a nasty incident in an alien tomb, she is obliged to work part-time in Shrimpton’s House of Ancient Horrors, a very low-budget museum. She has a plan to get her career back on track, but it isn’t going well. Stuff keeps happening. Take the dead body that she discovered in one of the sarcophagus exhibits. Who needed that? Finding out that her new client, Emmett London, is one of the most dangerous men in the city isn’t helping matters either. And that’s just today’s list of setbacks. Here in the shadows of the Dead City of Old Cadence, things don’t really heat up until After Dark.

Series info (Harmony: Ghost Hunters):
.5 Bridal Jitters
01 After Dark
02 After Glow
03 Ghost Hunter
04 Silver Master
05 Dark Light
06 Obsidian Prey