Rummanah Aasi
      I picked this book up for mainly two reasons. One: This book has won numerous awards for YA literature such as the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, Printz Honor Book, and a National Book Award Nominee. Two: I know next to nothing about Darwin besides his evolution theory. After reading this book, I can understand why this book received so much acclaim.

Description: A unique biography of Charles Darwin that focuses on how his work has affected his personal life, such as his relationship with his religious wife and his contemporaries.

Review: I found “Charles and Emma” to be a very readable book. As the book opens, Darwin is trying to make a decision about marriage, and he is doing so by making a pro and cons list. In this list, readers are shown two sides of Darwin that they which may or may not be familiar. On one side Darwin, the scientist, is taking into consideration the time he will lose from his revolutionary work. On the other side, Darwin, the man, realizes that he is not getting any younger and would not like to spend the rest of his days alone. Thus, his search for a suitable wife starts. He finds his perfect match with his cousin, Emma, who not only becomes his comforter, best friend, editor, mother of his 10 children, but also an opposing force. Although Charles and Emma got along very well and loved each other very much, they were on the opposite sides when it came to the role of God in creation. Emma was a very religious leader who feared her husband’s lack of faith would not allow him to follow her to heaven when they died.
      The book shines when religion and science intersect. Readers will also get a feeling about what it was like to live in Victorian England by experiencing the illness and death the Darwin family faces. Through the uses of the Darwin family letters and papers, the author is able to create a biography in which the reader can really see the vulnerable Darwin who struggles with his doubts of faith as well as get a glimpse of the many different personal influences that shaped Charles’ life as he worked very hard to form his theories. I found the photographs to be fascinating. This would be an excellent source for students to use if they were to research about Darwin and his personal life because it contains both primary and secondary sources. Readers who arent’ interested in science or Darwin’s theology will find an Austen-like romance. I would recommend this book for 12 yrs old and up.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. I found this book to be a very clean, readable, and organized biography.

Curriculum Connection:

If you like this book, try: I am Scout by Charles Shields
Rummanah Aasi
      I’m a very picky reader, especially when it comes to a good crime fiction novel. I’d like a novel of this genre to have something more than a mystery at its center. It needs to have interesting characters that are not exactly black and white, a mystery with a purpose instead of having one just because it is required of the genre, and last but not least, thought provoking. Luckily for me, I read a really good Swedish crime fiction novel called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson, which is an international best seller and a recently adapted into a movie.

Description: In late 2002, a highly regarded reporter, Mikail Blomkvist, has been convicted of libel for his exposé of crooked financier Wennerstrom. After Mikail is found guilty in court, another Swedish financier, who is also a rival of Wennerstrom, wants to hire Blomkvist to solve the decades-old disappearance of his niece (who is presumed dead) from the family’s island compound in the north of Sweden. If Blomkvist works on the project for a year, his employer will give him information to get back at Wennerstrom. Blomkvist reluctantly takes the job and quickly discovers the many shocking secrets of an extremely dysfunctional family. Helping him on the case is the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, a ward of the state who happens to be Sweden’s most formidable computer hacker and a fearless foe of women-hating men.

Review: As expected, the first two parts of the novel are very slow moving since the author is establishing his characters and giving background information. At many times, it seems there’s just too much information that wasn’t necessary, especially in the case of the financial background that really went over my head. Although there is plenty of family drama and financial intrigue in the first part of the book, the book doesn’t take flight until the two characters, Mikeal and Lisbeth, meet and collaborate on the mystery. Mikeal is a likeable character with obvious flaws. He is initially unsure about playing detective, but he starts to care about the people involved once new information about a long forgotten case seems to be a lost cause.
    What caught my eye and kept me reading was the character of Lisbeth. I instantly loved her character along with her punk attire and “don’t mess with me” attitude. She is a complicated, brilliant character, who has a dark and harrowing past which readers only see a glimpse at a time. She is both strong, but yet has very reasonable insecurities, which are highlighted by how she views men in particular and how she views other people. I expect that Lisbeth’s character will be closely examined in the next two books in this trilogy. Unfortunately, readers won’t be able to continue with these characters after the third and final book due to the untimely death of the author. Without spoiling the ending, I will say that some readers may not feel satisfied as how the case is handled because it’s not black and white. I, for one, thought the ending was realistic and added another dimension to the characters and the novel. What did you think?

Words of Caution: Since this is an adult book, it contains adult situations. Though most of the violence takes place off screen, the details of some of the murders are disturbing, particularly those involved with women such as rape and sexual abuse. The book also contains strong language and sexual content. I would recommend this book to only mature, strong teen readers and adults who love a meaty crime fiction novel.

Rating: 4 stars

Additional Information:

  • If you would like to use this book for a book club, here is a discussion guide.

  • Information about the movie such as trailers and reviews can be found at the Internet Movie Database website.
If you like this book, try: The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson or  Into the Woods by Tana French
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