Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of two debut books, one adult and one YA: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Publish date: January 10, 2017
Publisher: Del Rey

I have been reading some great reviews for The Bear and the Nightingale. From the book's description it seems to have elements of fantasy and historical fiction woven into the story. I believe it was inspired by Russian fairy tales and the first book in a trilogy. 

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift - a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Publish Date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray

 This is a timely read as it is inspired by the Blacks Matter Movement and has received raved reviews from several review journals. 

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Rummanah Aasi
  After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Rose Society, the second book in the Young Elites series by Marie Lu, I had high expectations for The Midnight Star, the series finale, but unfortunately my expectations were not met.

Description: Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all she’s gained.
  When a new danger appears, Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds, putting not only herself at risk, but every Elite. In order to preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest—though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger.

Review: The Midnight Star is just an okay conclusion to the Young Elites trilogy. While there is plenty of emotion and action, it still feels underwhelming and rushed. Adelina Amouteru, once a hated malfetto, is now rapidly becoming the queen of the known world. Her Kenettran army has conquered many lands from Domacca to Dumor. Her inquisitors enforce her harsh rule, and malfettos have free rein to mistreat their former tormentors. It has become clear that Adelina's abilities have been affecting her with invisible voices fueling her paranoia of enemies and distrust among her allies. Meanwhile the Young Elites are all struggling with their powers gone awry. There is an imbalance in the world, and it can only be fixed if the Young Elites and the Rose Society can work together.
  I really liked the overall plot of the book. I found the inclusion of religion and the gods in the world that Lu created to be fascinating and I wanted to know more. I appreciated that the series held on to the strong female relationship between Adelina and her sister Violetta though I wished Violetta had a stronger role in this book. I was disappointed that we didn't see Adelina further descend into darkness since this book is ultimately about her redemption, which I felt she achieved too easily and quickly. I was also hoping for more character development for Magiano and Enzo, but there was hardly any and at times it seemed like Lu didn't know what to do with them. Overall, The Midnight Star was a decent conclusion but in my opinion it is the weakest book in the entire trilogy.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing scenes and violence. There is also an allusion to sex in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken, Control series by Lydia Kang, Steelheart series by Brandon Sanderson
Rummanah Aasi
 Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy of The Other Einstein which I received from Sourcebooks publishers (thank you!). The Other Einstein is now published and can be found in libraries and bookstores near you.

Description: What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.

Review:  I picked up The Other Einstein due to my limited knowledge of Albert Einstein. I know that he was a renown and brilliant scientist, famous for E=mcsquared equation, the theory of relativity, and had unruly curly hair as depicted by his numerous photos. I did not know anything about his personal life so I knew nothing about his first wife Mileva Maric who was also a brilliant scientist in her own right. I had hoped that this book would shed some light on Einstein the man and Mileva, but it is hard to judge whether this book is successful on that account because it is based on a lot of speculation rather than actual facts.
 While I admire the author for highlighting a lesser known individual, The Other Einstein did not rise above a superficial, melodramatic re-imagining of the marriage of two intellectuals. The book suffers from the lack of character development and a plot that dragged quite a bit. In fact the actual conflict felt rushed and finally appears in the last half of the book.
  The book revolves around the relationship between Albert and Mileva, but I didn't feel any chemistry between the couple nor did I think it was a true partnership. Their relationship felt very much one-side from Mileva's perspective and Albert came across as a person who took advantage of his wife's intelligence. I often found myself frustrated with Mileva, who easily allowed herself to be marginalized for so little emotional and/or professional return. It is no doubt that Mileva was a victim of her own society in where a woman's ambition to have a career much less get an education with a degree was looked down upon, but I got the impression that she was pushed into education not because of how intelligent she is but because she was deemed un-marriageable due to her leg and that inferiority complex lead her to be with Albert. Otherwise I couldn’t understand what Mileva saw in Albert.  Though the author clearly states she does not intend to stain Albert's legacy, he does come across as cold, calculating, manipulative, and difficult individual.
 In addition to the issues I have about the marriage, I also struggled with was the science behind the story. Both Albert and Mileva are highly accomplished scientists, but we don't see this in the book besides the author telling us they are in a cafe chatting about other scientists and studies. Benedict shies away from the intricacies of their studies and profession. You simply can't write a book about Einstein's accomplishment and fame without talking about physics. This is especially important when the crux of the book is the possibility of Mileva being a co-author of the theory of relativity. In the book it appears that Mileva is the person who came up with the theory and Albert took her theory and plagiarized it.
  The Other Einstein is an ambitious story and asks an interesting question particularly when sexism in the workplace is a very lively topic today. I would recommend picking up the book if you are interested in the subject, but be aware that the book is heavy on the fiction and less on the historical.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of sexual situations but nothing graphic. Suitable for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Albert Einstein/Mileva Maric: The Love Letters edited by Jurgen Renn,
In Albert's Shadow: The Life and Letters of Mileva Maric, Einstein's First Wife by Milan Popovic,
Secret Traces of the Soul of Mileva Maric-Einstein by Alter and Svetlana
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.
  Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn't possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she's starting to fall for the girl. Even if there's a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is a thoughtful exploration of the complexity surrounding faith and sexuality. Jo Gordon is a proud lesbian. Due to her father's remarriage she has been uprooted from her home in Atlanta to a more rural part of the state during her senior year of high school. Her father is a man of faith and hosts a very popular Christian radio show. Since Jo's new stepfamily are very conservative in their religious beliefs, Jo's father has asked her to keep her sexuality hidden from the greater community, emphasizing that it will help her "blend in better" and make their transition to their new family less stressful. Jo reluctantly agrees and strikes a deal with her father that if she can keep her sexuality a secret then she can have her own radio show for teens that will address faith and coming of age issues including sexuality.
  We follow Jo as she remakes herself from a new wardrobe to less Gothic makeup. She also manages to make friends by attending a youth group at her stepmother's church and discovers an unexpected romance. This is one of those books where I liked the secondary characters a lot more than the protagonist. I liked Jo for the most part. She is bold, candid, and thoughtful but she could also be very bratty when she throws tantrums at the beginning of the book. She does grow as she knocks down her own presumptions of people around her. The rest of the book is about Jo's torn decision between love and the commitment she made to her father.
  I really appreciated how the characters attempt to navigate unfamiliar terrain that challenges ideals surrounding faith and sexuality. The author does not have any heavy handed messages of her own but rather lets her characters decide for themselves on this complex topic. Themes such as deception, trust, and sexuality are present throughout. Sex is discussed in candid terms as some of the characters are sexually active though I would have liked it if the topic of slut shaming had been addressed more. I also liked the inclusion of the different variations of diversity included in the book too.
 The romance between Jo and Mary Carlson is cute, but I wished there was more an emotional development between the two girls. They seem to skip getting to know one another part of the relationship and jump into lust which is realistic but it feels superficial. I was unclear as to Mary Carlson's romantic experience as she seemed to take charge. I would have also liked to see Mary Carlson talk about her own revelation on her sexuality and spent more time on her coming out. Overall I liked the book and thought it was different than your typical coming out book, but it loses a bit focus with the melodrama towards the end.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, crude sexual humor, and a scene of underage drinking. Sex is discussed in candid terms as some of the characters are sexually active. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Stealing Parker by Miranda Keneally
Rummanah Aasi
A Silent Voice is a very short manga series that is complete with seven volumes.  The series gives us a glimpse of what bullying is like in Japanese schools. If you enjoy books that tackle difficult subjects along with slice of life moments that are not too long, I suggest picking up this series.

Description: Shoya is a bully. When Shoko, a girl who can’t hear, enters his elementary school class, she becomes their favorite target, and Shoya and his friends goad each other into devising new tortures for her. But the children’s cruelty goes too far. Shoko is forced to leave the school, and Shoya ends up shouldering all the blame. Six years later, the two meet again. Can Shoya make up for his past mistakes, or is it too late?

Review: A Silent Voice takes an interesting look at bullying and its consequences. Nishimiya Shouko is a new transferee and a deaf student to the middle school. She is the target of relentless bullying by one of her classmates Ishida Shouya. Shouko's bullying escalates rapidly from name calling to physical violence. It got so bad that Shouko transferred to another school. Shouya then became the bully target of his own classmates. He lost all of his friends and was simply isolated. Now a few years later, Shouko and Shouya's paths have rejoined once again. Shouya has realized what harm he has done and is now on the mission for repentance and forgiveness.
  I loved the overall message of the manga in which friendship, unconditional love, understanding, and empathy are explored, however, there is a lot of things that are underdeveloped. For example Shouko doesn't emote her emotions at all. At times she is unrealistic, blaming herself for the bullying that is done to her and then in a short amount of time develops a crush on Shouya which left a bad taste in my mouth. Shouya is a hard person to like. He was so despicable and unlovable in the beginning volumes that I found it hard to embrace him though he does seem to grow. It is not clear why Shouya turned into a bully, was he insecure or was it a result of how he was raised?
  After finishing the series, I still had a lot of questions that were left unanswered such as the absence of Shouya's father, Shouya's sister who seems to have a revolving door of guys coming in and going, and what happens to Shouko in the future. I also can't really make out Naoka Ueno's and Miki Kawai's roles either.
  There are great moments in the series in which we get to step inside Shouko's shoes and see her world through her eyes. Despite my issues with this series, I do think it has a valuable message and would recommend it to my teens. I think it will provoke interesting discussions among readers.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, scenes of violence and bullying, and allusions to sex. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this series try: El Deafo by Cece Bell
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