Rummanah Aasi
 I absolutely loved Jeff Zentner's debut novel, The Serpent King, and I could not wait to read his new book Goodbye Days. Many thanks to Random House and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of the book. Goodbye Days is now published and available at bookstores and libraries near you.

Description: One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts. The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash.
  Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions. Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend.
  Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?

Review: An innocuous text asking when his friends will pick him up from work upends Carver's life and snatches his three best friends away from him. Mars, distracted by replying to the text, crashed into a stopped truck, killing himself and Carver’s two other best friends, Blake and Eli. Now Mars’ father, a judge, has called on the district attorney to open an investigation and weigh charges of criminally negligent homicide against Carver. 
  While I didn't care for the suspense of whether or not the investigation will happen and what will happen to Carver, I did understand why this plot device was used in the book, which is not to trivialize the horrible car crash. I think it helped the reader to contextualize Carver's emotions and inner turmoil. Needless to say Carver is mess. He is riddled by guilt, feeling responsible for his friends' loss, and friendless. The investigation amplifies these emotions and stress, causing Carver to have panic attacks, which send him into therapy. 
  Zenter does a wonderful job in creating empathetic, flawed, and diverse characters. Once again it is his characters that are the highlight of the book. I liked Carver and did not find him whiny. He is introverted and it is clear that his friendship with Mars, Blake and Eli brought him out of his shell as we see in his flashbacks. I also loved his close bond with his sister. It's very rare in YA that we have solid sibling friendship/bonds. Carver's friendship with Jesmyn, Eli's girlfriend, felt natural and awkward as they are both dealing with their grief. Carver's growing attraction to her and the possibility of being more than friends with Jesmyn also felt real. 
  My favorite parts of the book, however, is the actual Goodbye Days as Carver attempts at atonement by spending the day with his friends' loved ones. Each Goodbye Day brings Carver's friends alive as he and their loved ones share memories and discover new aspects of the boys. While the Goodbye Days are met with mixed success, it helps Carver navigate his own grieving process and feeds his subconscious desire for punishment. I also appreciated the inclusion of therapy and medication where Carver talked to and open up with his therapist because it is important to show teens that mental health and getting help is not something to be ashamed of. Goodbye Days is a poignant, realistic read that made me choke up a few times with emotions. While I didn't love it as much as The Serpent King, I would really recommend picking it up.   

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, crude sexual humor, drug abuse and child negligent is mentioned in the story. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Looking for Alaska by John Green
Rummanah Aasi
 Many thanks to First Second Books and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks. The Stone Heart will be released on April 4, 2017 in bookstores and libraries near you.

Description: Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.
  To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he's stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

Review: The Stone Heart builds upon the fabulous and intricate world building of the first volume, The Nameless City, and provides an action-packed sequel that focuses on intrigue and politics. Unlike the first volume that discussed prejudices and history with a more upbeat tone, this second volume is darker with lots of bloodshed.
  After thwarting an assassination, Kai and Rat's friendship has inspired the General of All Blades to change his politics. Instead of reinforcing the strong discrepancies and inequalities of the many citizens in the Nameless City, the General of All Blades moves forward with Kai’s father’s unprecedented plan for a council to give all that city’s peoples, natives and conquerors alike, a say in its governance and future. Many Dao conservatives, especially Erzi who feels ruling the Nameless City as his birthright, strongly objects to the creation of this council and takes drastic actions to prevent it from happening.  With the Dao Empire suddenly thrown into chaos and with their lives in danger, Kai, Rat, and Kai’s injured father seek refuge among the monks of the Stone Heart, but Erzi finds them soon enough as we learn that he is indirectly being steered by the enigmatic, stealth Mura’s quest for vengeance against the monks. The monks hold a powerful weapon and whoever welds it will seal the fate of the Nameless City. 
  Those who enjoyed the first volume of this series will not be disappointed with this sequel. The plenty of action sequences and plot twists had me turning the pages quickly. There are some lighter moments in the book that balance the darker tones. I appreciated the addition of new characters and I can't wait to learn more about them in the final volume of this graphic novel series. An author's note clears up the confusion regarding the author's inspiration is welcomed and a great addition to the volume.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some violence in the book, however, most of it take place off the page. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Fullmetal Alchemist series by Hiromu Arakawa and Avatar: The Last Airbender by Gene Luen Yang
Rummanah Aasi

Spring Break will start in 1 day for me and I can't wait. The weather outside is anything but spring-like with snow on the ground and temperatures in the 30s in the Chicagoland area all week long. I really hope it warms up for Spring Break! I am always asked for reading recommendations for Spring Break so I thought I would make a blog post about it. Below are some of my suggestions of books that I loved for children, young adult, and adult readers. I hope with this variety that I can find something for everyone!

My Childrens/Middle Grade Picks:

Realistic Fiction:  Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart - A heartwarming story about two marginalized tweens that tackles gender identity and mental health.

Best Man by Richard Peck-  An adorable, funny, and insightful coming-of-age story that traces the milestones in Archer Magill's life from first to sixth grade while deftly addressing a variety of social issues.

Ghost  by Jason Reynolds- A quick and engaging read in which a tween longs for a better life.

Historical Fiction: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk- My favorite children's book of 2016 that reminded me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Fantasy: A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd - A delightful, inspiring, and heartwarming book where words have magic.

Mystery: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein- 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.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Tunage - The star of the book is the quick-thinking, precocious, sassy, and incredibly lovable Mo LoBeau along with fabulous cast of secondary characters in this modern-day mystery set in a small North Carolina town. Mo has an unique childhood.

Graphic Novels: There are so many great graphic novels out. I would highly recommend checking out Princeless by Jeremy Whitley, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks,  and the Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson which can be easily read by middle graders.

Picture Books: Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol,
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown, Blackout by John Rocco, and Journey by Aaron Becker

My YA Picks:

Realistic Fiction: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Lucy and Linh by Amy Pung, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Fantasy: Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Paranormal Romance: A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Science Fiction: We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, and The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

Thriller/Suspense/Mystery: The Agency series by Y.S. Lee, The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting, The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Historical Fiction: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, And I Darken by Kierstin White

Graphic Novels: March trilogy by John Lewis, Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, Strobe Edge manga series by Io Sakisaka

My Adult Picks:

Thriller/Suspense/Mystery: House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, The Fever by Megan Abbott, Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke

Paranormal/Urban Fantasy/Fantasy: One Thousand and One Nights by

Contemporary Literature: Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sankana, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan, In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

Historical Fiction: Before I Met You by Lisa Jewel, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Cove by Ron Rash

Graphic Novels: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, The Monstress by Marjorie Lu

Nonfiction: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore,
The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, 
Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs, The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

I'm going to be taking a blogging break next week, but I would love to hear what are you are planning to read for Spring Break and what would you recommend?
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Princess Diana unlike any we've seen before. As a child, she is spoiled and free to exert her will without restraint -- until her selfishness leads to tragic results. Before she can become a hero, she will first have to find redemption.

Review: While I cross my fingers for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie to not be the epic failure of recent DC movies this summer, I thought to brush up on some Wonder Woman comics. Thompson provides a riveting and unique origin story of the most famous female heroine of all time. Thompson draws from Greek myth to recreate Wonder Woman symbol as we now know it thus making her even more appealing. 
Princess Diana is born from her mother’s longing and the sympathetic tears of the Olympian gods. Diana is doted upon. As she grows, so do her incomparable skills, her unrivaled courage, and her overbearing arrogance. This is definitely not the Princess Diana that we know and for most of this graphic novel I had a hard time rooting for her. Princess Diana's hubris reaches its height as the great Amazonian prepare for a contest of skill and strength. Like the impetuous brat that she is, Princess Diana stops at nothing to be the victor of the contest while unleashing horrific calamity in her wake causing many Amazonian warriors to lose their lives and to gravely injure themselves. Now that Princess Diana has fallen in the eyes of her mother and her admirers, she must prove herself worthy as a heroine and most importantly an Amazonian princess. While Wonder Woman's story has always been grand, Thompson manages to transform a demigod to a simple human on the path of redemption. 
   The illustrations match the grandeur of the tale, but I felt at times they were inconsistent. Thompson easily captures Princess Diana's androgynous figure but at times it was a bit too garish for me. There is also an undertone of queerness to the story as Princess Diana seems to be drawn to one particular woman but it is not really explored like I had hoped. Overall this is a refreshing and solid standalone story of one the iconic figures of comics. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Wonder Woman series by Brian Azzarello
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran, the Beast Lord, are struggling to solve a heartbreaking crisis. Unable to control their beasts, many of the Pack’s shapeshifting children fail to survive to adulthood. While there is a medicine that can help, the secret to its making is closely guarded by the European packs, and there’s little available in Atlanta.
   Kate can’t bear to watch innocents suffer, but the solution she and Curran have found threatens to be even more painful. The European shapeshifters who once outmaneuvered the Beast Lord have asked him to arbitrate a dispute—and they’ll pay him in medicine. With the young people’s survival and the Pack’s future at stake, Kate and Curran know they must accept the offer—but they have little doubt that they’re heading straight into a trap.

Review: This is an another adrenaline pumping read in the Kate Daniel series. We finally meet Hugh D'Ambray, a character that I loved to hate. Hugh is almost like the male version of Kate herself, he has the same fighting skills, tenacity, and stubbornness. The big thing that separates them is Kate's strong moral code and conscience, both of which Hugh finds unnecessary and useless. It's clear that Kate hates Hugh though there is a part of her that can not deny a pull towards him, but to be clear there is no love triangle.
  There is a lot of conflict, angst, and miscommunication in this book. I know a lot of readers hated Curran in this book but I wasn't one of them which isn't to say that I approved what he did but I knew his heart had the best intentions. We also lose a valuable pack member in this book which was shocking, but necessary in order to move the plot arc along. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, strong violence, and some crude sexual humor. Recommended for adults.

Description: As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.
   As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear.

Review: After hearing about Roland and his immense power for six books, we finally get to meet him in person and find out what his feelings are towards Kate and the pack. When Roland makes a power move, we anxiously see how Kate responds and whether or not she resorts to using her magic to keep the people she love safe or some other means.
  Unlike the other books in this series, this book zeroes in on the politics of the Pack which is preambled by a prologue written from Barabas' point of view. Curran makes a world shaking choice that opens a new story arc. Though I understood why Curran made his choice, I had a really hard time agreeing with it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, strong violence, some crude sexual humor, and sexual situations. Recommended for adults.

Description: After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Curran misses the constant challenges of leading the shapeshifters.
So when the Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild, Curran seizes the opportunity—too bad the Guild wants nothing to do with him and Kate. Luckily, as a veteran merc, Kate can take over any of the Guild’s unfinished jobs in order to bring in money and build their reputation. But what Kate and Curran don’t realize is that the odd jobs they’ve been working are all connected. An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece.

Review: Unlike the other books in this series, I had a really hard time finding my reading groove with Magic Shifts. I think partly is because it reads very much like a transitional book. I wasn't entirely happy with Curran's new lifestyle and retirement. It annoyed me how the Guild is now set up much like the Pack where Curran was beastlord and that all the important secondary characters are now Kate and Curran's neighbors. I also wasn't sure where the plot of this book was going because I didn't feel connected to the missing pack member. It's not until a pivotal scene where Kate is seriously injured did the book pick up for me. I loved learning about the Arabic mythology introduced in the book and I'm curious to see how the battle of Roland vs Kate is shaping up.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, strong violence, some crude sexual humor, and sexual situations. Recommended for adults.

If you like these books try: Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews (Kate Daniels #9) Arcadia Bell series by Jenn Bennett, Other series by Ann Bishop, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne

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