Rummanah Aasi
 The Serpent King is the best book that I've read so far in the month of May. It is possibly my favorite book by a debut author so far this year. The book has rich characters, thought provoking subjects, and a setting of rural Tennessee that is not seen frequently in YA.

Description: Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

Review: The Serpent King is a lyrical coming-of-age novel about three teens who are trying to escape poverty, abuse, and prejudice that follow them like shadows in their rural Tennessee town. The book is told in three, distinct, and unforgettable point of views. All of the main characters are outcasts in their own rights, but their alienation made them best friends and an incredible support group.
  Dill is burdened with carrying the name of his grandfather and father who are both known for their notoriety. His grandfather in his grief became mad and his father, a Pentecoastal minister, was publicly shamed and arrested for child pornography. Dill feels that he will inevitably follow the same bleak path as his elders. He is bullied in school and his overbearing mother feels that he is partly responsible for his father's arrest since Dill had a computer in the house and furthermore, he should work and focus on his faith in order to help her pay off his father's legal bills rather than pursue his dream of being a musician and going to college. Dill's only life line to sanity is through his best friends Lydia and Travis.
 Lydia is considered the lucky one out of her friends. Her parents support and love her unconditionally. She is also financially well off compared to Dill and Travis. She has big dreams of working in the fashion world and is the creator of the super famous fashion blog called Dollywould, a salute to her idol Dolly Parton. Lydia is a bit of a cultural snob and can't wait to leave her provincial town to start her new life in New York City. 
  Travis has a mixture of both of Dill's and Lydia's worlds. Travis has a very intimidating physical presence, but he is really just a giant teddy bear. His geeky devotion to Game of Thrones-esque fantasy series is contagious and his only escape from his abusive father. 
  I loved each of these characters for different reasons. I really empathized with Dill's existential crisis and his ultimate fear that he would never leave his town. I also appreciated the open discussion of whether or not college is even an option because of financial strains and Dill's mother not valuing education. I think we all assume that college is the next step after a teen graduates from college, but that is not always the case. I will say that I was initially worried how the book would handle religion considering how prevalent it is in Dill's life, but the author showed both religious fervor as well as Dill questioning his faith which felt real and not heavy handed. Though Lydia annoyed me at times for being judgemental, I admired her ambition and her desire for her friends to reach their own potentials. I also adored Travis, who is full of light, love, and laughter.
  The Serpent King is very much a character driven novel. The pace is a bit slow, but I didn't mind as I got to spend time with each of the characters. While the themes are dark and hard to read sometimes, there is hope and lighter moments that will lift you up. There is a bit of romance in the book but it is slow burning and takes a bit of a back seat to the characters' self discovery. Definitely pick this book up if you are in the mood for an absorbing, beautifully written realistic fiction read.  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language including homophobic slurs, a scene of underage drinking, scenes of physical, verbal, emotional, and alcohol abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Looking for Alaska by John Green
Rummanah Aasi
 I really enjoyed reading Tim Federle's middle grade novels. His books had warmth, humor, and depth about a boy trying to pursue his dream on Broadway. When I heard the author was going to write his debut YA novel, I had high expectations. While there is still humor and warmth in the book, I still felt like it was missing something.

Description: Quinn Roberts is a sixteen-year-old smart aleck and Hollywood hopeful whose only worry used to be writing convincing dialogue for the movies he made with his sister. Of course, that was all before—before Quinn stopped going to school, before his mom started sleeping on the sofa…and before the car accident that changed everything.

Enter: Geoff, Quinn’s best friend, who insists it’s time that Quinn came out—at least from hibernation. One haircut later, Geoff drags Quinn to his first college party, where instead of nursing his pain, he meets a guy—okay, a hot guy—and falls hard. What follows is an upside-down week in which Quinn begins imagining his future as a screenplay that might actually end happily—if, that is, he can finally step back into the starring role of his own life story.

Review: Quinn has sequestered himself inside his bedroom for six months after his adoring older sister is killed in an automobile accident the day before Christmas break. Quinn is grieving the best way he can by eliminating everything and anything that reminds him of his sister and that horrible day, including his smart phone that holds his sister's last text message to him moments before her accident; a ban on writing screenplays, Quinn's passion and project that he loved collaborating with his sister, and avoiding any conversation that revolves around his sister. It is not until his best friend, Geoff, who persuades Quinn to go to a party that prods Quinn to change things around.
   Despite his tragic circumstances, Quinn is a very likable character and I warmed up to him quickly. His humor is wry, witty, and self depreciating without being malicious. He does genuinely want to get out of his dark slump, but isn't sure how to do so. Quinn's love for the cinema is quite evident from movie trivia to mentally writing emotional scenes with him as the main character as if they are a screenplay in the movie of his life. I found the screenplay style quite clever, allowing us to get the first person point of view, but also zooming out enough to see how the situation plays out with the other characters involved.
  The relationship between Quinn and Geoff is fully fleshed out. Their bromance is sweet, filled with humor, and felt authentic. I just love the anticlimactic moment where Quinn comes out to Geoff as being gay and Quinn being a bit disappointed that Geoff didn't make it a big deal about it. I just wished the relationships with the other characters where also fully realized. While I felt sorry for Quinn about his loss, I didn't get the full emotional impact as I had hoped. My main problem was that I didn't have a good grasp of Quinn's sister through the few moments in which she is remembered and discussed. I wish there were more moments with her. I also wanted to learn more about Quinn's mom who uses emotional eating as her source of comfort. There is also a light romance in the book as Quinn meets his first boyfriend, Amir, a college student at the party. Where there are a few cute moments between the couple, I didn't really feel their chemistry at all.
  The Great American Whatever is a fast read and while it has some serious moments in the story, it is whimsical, wry, and funny, which is a refreshing take on the "grieving novel". I just wished there was a bit more depth to the story. In many ways it reminded me a lot of Becky Albertalli's terrific debut novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda, which is in my opinion the better and stronger novel. Still I look forward to reading what Tim Federle writes next.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking, crude humor, and an allusion to sex and masturbation. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Rummanah Aasi
I apologize for the lack of posts this week. The school year will be ending in less than three weeks and I am trying my best to handle it all. Unfortunately, that means blogging has been on the back burner, but I hope to have more posts up next week. *Fingers crossed*

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I found some really interesting adult reads that I'm really curious about. Let me know in the comments what book(s) you can't wait to read.

A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install 
Publish date: May 10, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

 This book was originally published in the U.K. last year, but it will be released soon in the U.S. It has the whimsical, charming feel that reminded me a lot of The Rosie Project. I also like that it crosses a lot of different genres. 

What would you do if you found a robot in your back garden? For 34-year-old Ben Chambers the answer is obvious: find out where it came from and return it home, even if it means losing his wife in the process. Determined to achieve something for once in his life, Ben embarks on a journey that takes him and the endearing robot, Tang, to the far side of the globe...and back again. Along the way Ben begins to change, subtly at first, and then in ways that only become clear on his return to the house he's always lived in.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
Publish date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Redhook

 I haven't read a good thriller in a while and the description for this book caught my eye right away. 

All the world forgets me. First my face, then my voice, then the consequences of my deeds.
So listen. Remember me.

My name is Hope Arden, and you won't know who I am. We've met before - a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit - you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Publish date: May 24, 2016
Publisher: Doubleday

 This book looks like it has a lot to offer. From its description alone, 
it has a combination of thriller, fantasy, historical fiction, with a dash of horror. I've also read quite a few glowing reviews for it. 

An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.

An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie—knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and cold hearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Coop is cooking up another sure-misfire scheme (big surprise), and this time the comedy plays out from Sean’s point of view. What’s the new master plan? Making a cheapo horror movie guaranteed to make Coop, Sean, and Matt filthy rich! It’s a terrible idea, and Sean knows it. But he actually is desperate for cash — and for a way to wipe that big fat L off his girlfriend-less forehead. But when he agrees to write a script about the attack of zombie-vampire humanzees, he has no idea just how powerful a chick magnet this movie will be. Suddenly Sean is juggling not one but three interested ladies. There’s his accidental-girlfriend-turned-psychotic-stalker, Evelyn. There’s the wicked hot actress from drama class, Leyna, who seems willing to do anything to land the starring role. And even his twin sister’s gothed-out best friend, Nessa, is looking at Sean in a whole new way. Will any of them wind up as Sean’s true leading lady? Will Sean stop being a doormat and finally start calling the shots?

Review: I recommend all the Swim the Fly books to my reluctant readers. Boys love the hilarious humor and bromance while the girls love the humor plus the unexpected romance. What I think resonates with my reluctant readers is the authentic teen male voice, language and the thought processes (more like, the lack of) of his main characters. The books are a very fast and easy read, full of heart. You don't have to read the Swim the Fly or Beat the Band before jumping into Call the Shots.
  While Swim the Fly will always be my favorite in this series, Call the Shots is Coop's turn to be in the spotlight. He has just learned that his mother is pregnant, and, as a result, he will have to share a bedroom with his scary and weird sister, Cathy. Coop convinces Sean and Matt to join him in a scheme that he guarantees will reward them with more than enough cash to put an extension on Sean's house. The plan is to make a horror movie and win the $50,000 prize at TerrorFest. Sean hopes that the film will get him out of bunking with his annoying twin and maybe even land him a girlfriend. Of course Coop's plans backfire big time with a whole lot of laughs. There is one scene at the mall in particular that had me laughing so hard I had to close the book, wipe my tears, and wait for the images to clear in my head before I could start again.
  Along with the hysterical hijinks the boys find themselves into and get of, Coop does become his own person and develops self-confidence. He realizes that he is passionate about film-making and might make it his career. There is also a nice romance subplot with a surprising love interest. I will say, however, the one thing that really bothered me in the book was his family assuming Coop was gay for comedy effect and then when the topic is really talked about, it is just skimmed over. I would have loved for this important subplot be explored and expanded upon. I will definitely miss these clueless characters.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong crude humor, some language, and drugs are mentioned and used. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner, Son of the Mob series by Gordon Korman, A Totally Awkward Love Story by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Description: Josie lives her life in translation. She speaks High School, College, Friends, Boyfriends, Break-ups, and even the language of Beautiful Girls. But none of these is her native tongue -- the only people who speak that are her best friend Stu and her sister Kate. So when Kate gets engaged to an epically insufferable guy, how can Josie see it as anything but the mistake of a lifetime? Kate is determined to bend Josie to her will for the wedding; Josie is determined to break Kate and her fiancĂ© up. As battles are waged over secrets and semantics, Josie is forced to examine her feelings for the boyfriend who says he loves her, the sister she loves but doesn't always like, and the best friend who hasn't said a word -- at least not in a language Josie understands.

Review: I have mixed feelings about Love and Other Foreign Words. On the one hand I liked Josie who was incredibly intelligent and insightful. I also loved her strong, positive bond with her sister Kate, which is not seen too often in YA. On the other hand I had a hard time with her obsession in proving her future brother-in-law was a bad fit for her sister. The pseudo-war on Kate's fiance took up almost three-fourths of the book and it made the story drag for me. While I understood the author's intention of using Kate and her fiance's relationship as a litmus test for romance for Josie, I wanted more of Josie's own journey towards romance and her 'aha' moment. While Josie does find romance, it felt underdeveloped and promising characters like her best friend, Stu,were under-utilized. I would recommend this book to readers who like to 'study' romance, but be aware that the actual romance in the book is not its main focus.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and crude humor. Recommended for Grade 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, The Abundance of Katherines by John Green, This is My Brain on Boys by Sarah Strohmeyer
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I'm eagerly awaiting the release of Sarah J. Maas's second book in A Court of Thorns and Roses series, The Court of Fury and Mist. A Court of Thorns and Roses is a series that retells the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale along with fae folklore. While I enjoyed the first book, I was not too thrilled with the love interests, but I am curious to see where Maas takes her series next. 

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas 
Publish date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury

 Now that Feyre is part of the High Fae, I'm very curious to see how her new role plays out in the political landscape. I also wonder if my opinions of Tamlin and Rhysand will change in this book.  

Feyre survived Amarantha's clutches to return to the Spring Court--but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can't forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms--and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future--and the future of a world cleaved in two.
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