Rummanah Aasi
 To All the Boys I've Loved Before highlights all the reasons why I'm a big fan of Jenny Han's books: wonderful characters, an interesting plot, and the right balance between romance and an coming of age novel. Once I started reading this book, I found it very hard to put it down.


Description: What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren't love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she's written. One for every boy she's ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean's love life goes from imaginary to out of control.


Review: Lara Jean Song has always loved from a distance and writes never-to-be-mailed letters to every boy she's ever liked. In those letters she writes the reasons why she fell for her crushes and it is her way of purging them out of her system in order for her to move on. Lara Jean's easy system and carefree life goes out of control when her letters are accidentally sent out. On her list is Josh, the boy next door, her best friend, and most recently her older sister, Margot's ex-boyfriend. Lara Jean's relationship with Josh is complicated. She loved him before he got together with her sister, but stopped her feelings when Josh and Margot got together. Now Margot has left for college, Lara Jean wonders if she has a chance with Josh, but immediately feels guilty for even thinking this could even happen. She makes a decision to not come in between her sister and Josh and concocts a plan to date someone in order to desperately convince Josh that she's over her crush. Peter, the popular jock at school, also received one of Lara Jean's love letters, and-hoping to make his ex-girlfriend jealous-agrees to be her "pretend" beau. 
  I loved Lara Jean right from the moment she appeared on the page. I could very easily relate to her. She lives in her own world, having more fun creating activities in her mind than actually doing them, an unabashed homebody who adores her family. Unlike typical teen romances, this is as much the story of a family as it is about falling in love. Family traditions are skillfully woven into the first-person narrative, including some from the mother's Korean heritage, which felt natural and welcoming and not at all forced. Since her mother died, Margot has taken up the role as a parent to Lara Jean and their kid sister, the ever adorable and feisty Kitty, but that role is soon passed on when Margot goes off to college and gives the parental torch to Lara Jean. Though the three sisters are very close, they also have conflicts to resolve, and Lara Jean's perspective as a middle child suddenly left in charge is compelling. We slowly watch Lara Jean come out of her shell and gain self confidence as well as independence as the story progresses. 
  The romance is very cute in the book too as Lara Jean tries to sort out her feelings. With Josh there is a natural comfort level where she can easily talk to him without feeling stupid, but I didn't really feel any spark between them but more along the lines of a brother-sister relationship. Peter, however, is much more complicated. Easily dismissed as a cute, self absorbed jock, Peter kept surprising Lara Jean and myself with his hidden layers of sensitivity and vulnerability. Peter also helps Lara Jean to take risks and be herself. 
  The only downfall for this book is that it ends abruptly, but thankfully there is another book on the way that will continue Lara Jean's confusion and adventures. So while there are indications of a love triangle, I really don't think there is a strong case for it for this book, but we shall see what happens in the next book as we see how Lara Jean's other crushes handle her letters. I really can't wait to be back in the Song house and catch up with these characters! 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of caution: There is some language, teen party scene with underage drinking, sex is mentioned but not discussed in detail. Recommended to Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, On the Fence by Kasie West, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Rummanah Aasi
  I have thoroughly enjoyed every book in the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs so far and Dead Heat does not disappoint. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read an advanced reader's copy of this book.


Description: For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal, as Charles plans to buy Anna a horse for her birthday. Or at least it starts out that way...
  Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire. 

Review: The Alpha and Omega series has a different feel than the Mercy Thompson series. While both are fantastic urban fantasy series, the Alpha and Omega series feels more intimate as it focuses on the main relationship of Anna and Charles rather than a large cast of relationships featured in the Mercy Thompson series. Instead of adding superfluous drama in the paring of Anna and Charles, we observe how these two characters come together and wonderfully complement each other. In Dead Heat, Anna wants to have children and Charles is reluctant to appease her. Anna doesn't hold a grudge against Charles' opposing view, but rather tries to understand his point of view which nicely ties in to the central mystery of the book.
 The mystery and hunt of the powerful and evil fae who has been using children as a power source kept me turning the pages as the suspense build and the clues were spread evenly throughout the story. An additional bonus was the inclusion of strong secondary characters such as the Sani family, which not only made the mystery even more pressing to solve but also showed us the vulnerable and sensitive side of Charles which we don't really see or sometimes have a hard believing he has one due to his rough exterior and his position as the executioner in his father's pack. The inclusion of horse breeding and riding didn't personally appeal to me but I do see its purpose in the story. Overall, Dead Heat is thoroughly enjoyable and a wonderful read with characters who seem more like friends. It is going to be hard waiting for the next time we see Anna and Charles or Mercy and her crew.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some disturbing scenes, strong violence, and a couple fade to black sex scenes. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews, Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Other series by Anne Bishop
Rummanah Aasi
  Anyone who has ever been nervous about the first day of school can easily relate to Maggie's dilemma in Faith Erin Hick's graphic novel, Friends with Boys. While I did enjoy the graphic novel, it felt unfinished and left me wanting more.


Description: Maggie McKay hardly knows what to do with herself. After an idyllic childhood of homeschooling with her mother and rough-housing with her older brothers, it's time for Maggie to face the outside world, all on her own. But that means facing high school first. And it also means solving the mystery of the melancholy ghost who has silently followed Maggie throughout her entire life. Maybe it even means making a new friend—one who isn't one of her brothers.

Review: Friends with Boys is an easy to read slice of life graphic novel that centers around Maggie's first entry into a public school after being home-schooled her whole life,. Hicks does a good job in displaying her anxiety and fears. She seeks comfort in her older brothers, who are a nice group of characters and eventually makes a few friends of her own that others might consider weird because of how they look, but they turn out to be good companions.  
 There is also a light supernatural element in the book which I wished had been more developed. Maggie is being haunted by a female ghost who died about 200 years ago. We really don't know much about the ghost per se, perhaps it represents Maggie's feeling of overcoming her fears about school and perhaps getting over the fact that her mother left. Interestingly enough, the graphic novel doesn't steer into the genre with the presence of the ghost (it's unclear if anyone else besides Maggie can she the ghost or since when she's be haunted by it), it remains in reality. And while the book starts out strongly, it left me unsatisfied and I did have quite a few unanswered questions such why did Maggie's mother leave or what does the ghost want, leading to a somewhat abrupt ending. As for the illustrations, I did enjoy Hicks's black and white art which I thought is sharp and expressive.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of caution: There is some language and underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol, Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
Rummanah Aasi
 Perfect for both the reluctant reader and avid bibliophiles, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a fun paced book that takes place in the library. With a touch of humor, popular culture references along with literary ones, this book is hard not to enjoy.

Description: Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.
  Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.

Review: I thoroughly enjoyed and was highly entertained while reading Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. It reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl's classic children book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory minus the creepy and weird Willy Wonka. Instead of a candy factory, the setting here is a futuristic and an awesome library.
  Kyle Keeley and his friends have the opportunity to be locked-in at the newly open Alexandriaville Public Library. Billionaire game-maker Luigi Lemoncello, who has donated a fortune to building the public library in a town that went without one for 12 years, has created intricate games and puzzles throughout the library for the children to solve. The children must use their library skills and library resources in order to find their way out of the library. The game enhances the suspense and pace in the story. 
   Although the characters, from gamer Kyle to scheming Charles Chiltington, are lightly developed and somewhat one dimensional, I did like the emphasis on working together as a team and pooling each individual's strength to achieve their goal. The main star, however, is the library itself which includes modern technology that I would love to have in my own library such as changing video screens, touch-screen computers in the reading desks and an Electronic Learning Center as well as floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stretching up three stories. There are plenty of nods and literary references that are in the book which will make bibliophiles rejoice, but young readers who love video games will also enjoy trying to figure out Mr. Lemoncello's puzzles. I applaud the author in making the library a cool place and I look forward to seeing what Mr. Lemoncello is up to in the sequel.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Help! I'm a Prisoner in the Library by Eth Clifford, Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics (coming March 2016)
Rummanah Aasi
  Alex As Well is a thought provoking realistic fiction read from Australia. Teens looking for books that tackle the issue of identity confusion or even realistic fiction that are written with grace and sensitivity without the bad aftertaste of saccharine should pick up this book. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the advanced reader's copy of this book.

Description: Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that. 

Review: Alex Stringfellow has lived her entire life feeling like she's two people, male and female. She is born with female and male reproductive organs. Her parents had chosen to not tell her this information and chose which gender that Alex should be without her consent. These hidden facts has made Alex's life miserable. Alex has always felt like an outsider, a "freak" that never belonged. Though previously identified as male, Alex takes a very courageous step to live her life openly, honestly, and decides to begin living as a female. 
  I loved the voice of Alex, which is alive, smart, and open in contrast to those of her close minded, narcissistic parents. Knowing that her parents can't and refuse to help her, she takes the assertive step in enrolling to a new school where she quickly makes friends. I was a little lost on how easily it was for Alex to attend school without the necessary paperwork and had to suspend my disbelief in order to roll with the story. While her adjustment is mostly smooth, Alex is concerned about how her friends will react if they find out she's a lesbian or if they find out about her "condition." Adding dimension to her voice and character, Alex has internal conversations with the male and female sides of herself which not only reflect on her confusion of her identity, but also highlights what society would deem as "normal." It is very easy to support and root for her. 
 Unlike her somewhat smooth transition at school, her life at home is intolerable and a hot mess. After telling her parents that she identifies herself as a girl, Alex's father leaves home and her mother struggles with Alex's gender identity and often handles it with fits, abuse, and attempts to control her child. Her absent father offers little support. While there are intersecting chapters of Alex's mom, Heather, blogging about her experiences with handling Alex that allows us to see Heather's emotions in context, I still needed a bit more proof of character development to make Heather a full three dimensional character. I would also have liked Alex's father to have more page time as well as he sort of pops in and out. Thankfully, Alex does find adults who do support her. 
  Alex As Well is a powerful story of courage, where our protagonist is not afraid to stand up for herself and find a support system that works for her. We definitely need more books like this one and I would recommend it to fans of good realistic fiction.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of caution: There is some language, a scene of bullying, and crude humor. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall, Pink by Lili Wilkinson,
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