Amelia to Zora by Cynthia Chin-Lee

Title: Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World
Author: Cynthia Chin-Lee
Genre: Children’s Books
Length:  32 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Chin-Lee discusses 26 famous women who have influenced society for the better. In the fashion of an A through Z children’s book she writes short biographies for many popular figures in women’s history as well as some people who readers may not know. Each biography is a paragraph long and accompanied by an interesting portrait by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy. In addition to Helen Keller and Eleanor Roosevelt, Chin-Lee writes about Nawal El Sadaawi, women’s rights activist, and Yoshiko Uchida, writer, and many more.

Opinion: This is a great book for introducing important historical women to children; it’s on my list of go-to gifts for baby showers. But older readers shouldn’t shy away thinking it will just be a review, Chin-Lee covers a wide variety of women and Halsey and Addy do a wonderful job with the illustrations.

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Spider-Men by Brian Michael Bendis

Title: Spider-Men
Author: Brian Michael Bendis
Genre: Graphic Novels
Length:  128 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

While patrolling the dark streets of New York, Spider-Man stumbles upon a mysterious glowing energy beam and his nemesis, Mysterio. Just when it seems like Spider-Man has bested his enemy again, he falls into the energy field. Waking up in daylight, he starts to notice that scenery around him is distinctly New York, but maybe not his New York…

He sets off to investigate and it isn’t long before he stumbles into another masked crusader. Dressed in a black suit with webbing, Miles Morales is stunned to meet the original Spider-Man. But Peter Parker isn’t sure what to think of this pint-sized super human. Peter and Miles make their introductions flying across the New York skyline and Peter is horrified to learn that he’s in an alternate universe where his doppelganger’s death made the front page of the Daily Bugle. The name “Peter Parker” has become synonymous with “hero,” and Miles hopes to carry on that tradition.
S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers work to find a way to send Peter back, but Peter escapes to his childhood home to see if what everyone is telling him is true. Gwen, MJ, and Aunt May aren’t sure what to think about seeing an older version of their beloved Peter showing up on their door step. Will Peter make it home? Or will Mysterio finally get a universe without a Spider-Man?
Opinion: I really enjoyed this graphic novel and now look forward to reading more about Miles Morales. Sometimes, it’s hard to to jump into a superhero story line, but this is a great place to learn about Peter Parker and Miles for those new to the Spiderverse.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn

Title: All the King’s Men
Author: Robert Penn Warren
Genre: Fiction
Length:  656 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥

Willie Stark just wanted to build a schoolhouse. As Treasurer, he fought to hire the best guy at the best price for the job, but his sincerity gets him voted out of office by the political machine. Discouraged, Willie returns to work his family farm. Unfortunately, Fate has a vindictive streak. After a tragic accident at the school, lives are lost and the electorate remembers that Willie spoke out against the builder. People start to believe that God is on Willie’s side and Willie starts to believe it himself when he’s selected to run in the state-wide elections for governor by Tiny Duffy.

Reporter Jack Burden follows him on his political campaign and is a first hand witness to Willie’s unraveling when someone clues him into the fact that he is again being used as a pawn in a political game. But this time Willie doesn’t go back to his farm. He decides he’s going to play the game and he’s going to win.

Opinion: It look me a little while to start enjoying this book, but overall it is phenomenal and important. I would certainly put it on my list of must-reads.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Title: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult
Length:  272 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ 

Colin is a genius with a thing for girls named Katherine. Not Kate or Catherine or Katerina. Just K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e. But Katherines don’t have a thing for Colin. He’s dated 19 Katherines in his short life and each and every one of them have dumped him. Recent grad and now a former child prodigy, he’s resigned himself to wallowing in regret but his best friend decides a road trip is in order. Colin and Hassan drive until they hit Nashville, TN then they turn West. Before they reach Memphis, Colin sees a sign advertising that the Archduke Ferdinand is buried in the tiny town of Gutshot, TN and they make a detour. There they find a dying Southern town and a girl named Lindsey. They decide to stay and discover that things aren’t always as they seem.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Title: Fortunately, the Milk
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Children’s Book
Length:  128 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller, and Fortunately, the Milk does not disappoint. What kind of craziness can happen when Mum is away and Dad has to run out for some milk? A lot of craziness. Dad’s quick morning errand turns into a once in a lifetime adventure when he’s picked up by aliens. They want him to officially surrender Earth so they can redecorate, but Dad refuses. He escapes through an emergency exit that throws him into the space-time continuum. He ends up on a pirate ship, but is rescued by a time-traveling, hot air balloon riding, dinosaur! They travel through time in hopes of getting the milk home to the kids but encounter a few obstacles along the way.

Opinion: Loved it! Go read it. Right now!

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Title: I am Malala
Author: Malala Yousafzai
Genre: Non-fiction
Length:  352 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Malala Yousafazai’s biography, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban is a moving tale of life in Pakistan. Malala is the first born child for her parents, but her father Ziauddin is offered no congratulations because she is a girl. Ziauddin refuses to follow Pakistani customs and delights in the birth of his first child. He adds her to the record of the family lineage which is usually reserved for males. Ziauddin’s refusal to see Malala as less valuable will shape her view of the world, and give her the courage to stand up to the Taliban and advocate for women’s education across the globe.

The Yousafazai family lives in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. It may not have many of the amneities of Western society, but it makes up for this lack of luxury in beauty and history. Malala lives with her two younger brothers, a loving but illiterate mother, and a school teacher for a father. She recognizes the value of education from first hand observation and is encouraged to attend school by her father, rather than staying at home which many traditional Pakistani families require of their daughters. Malala dreams of becoming a politician and improving life for people in the Swat Valley. But as the Taliban comes into power in the valley, these dreams become impossible. The government seems powerless to stop the Taliban as they impose Sharia Law, vigilante justice, and ultimately ban the education of girls. Malala refuses to stop attending school. She speaks out publicly defending her right to an education, attracting national attention. She also draws the ire of the Taliban. Convinced that the Taliban would never attack a young girl, Malala only fears for her father’s safety. But she has underestimated the lengths that the Taliban will go to silence her. Her school bus is stopped one afternoon and armed Taliban demand, “Who is Malala?” When her classmates eyes instinctively glance her way, the man takes his gun and shoots her at close range.

Malala miraculously survives this attack. She’s flown to England for care and her family follows her there. Now, as an exile from the country she loves, Malala fights for equality and hopes that one day she can return to a peaceful Pakistan.

Opinion: This powerful biography has made me a life long fan of Malala Yousafzai and her mission to promote access to education for girls across the globe. Her writing is easy to follow and tackles dark subjects without being depressing. Her biography is not that of a victim of the Taliban, but of a champion for women and education.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Title: The Orphan Master’s Son
Author: Adam Johnson
Genre: Fiction
Length:  480 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize winning book about life in North Korea. Jun Do grows up in his father’s orphanage. He has power over which orphans are sent to deplorable work details, which orphans have food, and which orphans have to sleep out in the cold. Just as Jun Do controls the orphans’ lives, the Communist government of North Korea has control over the fates of all its citizens.

It’s not long before Jun Do is conscripted by the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea to work as a fighter, a kidnapper, a translator, a hero, and then a diplomat. His final service is to visit the state of Texas to try and negotiate for the return of a mysterious object belonging to Kim Jung Il. The trip is not a success and Jun Do is thrown into prison. He loses himself in the hellish landscape of North Korea’s prison system, but eventually escapes after killing the Minister of Prisons and becoming his victim, Commander Ga.

The new Commander Ga has done something no one else has even dreamed of before. He has killed his suppressor and seamlessly stepped into his life. He goes to Ga’s home and introduces himself to Ga’s wife, Sun Moon, as her new husband. Kim Jung Il accepts the usurper because he is not a rival like the previous Commander Ga and uses him to negotiate again with the Americans. But Commander Ga and Sun Moon are no longer loyal to their dictator and plan to escape the dangers of North Korea. Will they be able to escape or is the Dear Leader too powerful?

Opinion: A beautiful novel that plays on themes of propaganda, identity, and power. I highly recommend this title for book clubs interested in an intricate plot with many talking points.