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
Rummanah Aasi

 I would like to wish all of my US readers a very happy and safe holiday! To my international readers have a great rest of the week. I will be taking a blogging break this week. Along with enjoying a wonderful meal and catching up with family and friends, I hope to relax and work through my tbr pile. I will be back next week with more posts!  

Rummanah Aasi

Description: 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.

Review: Smoke has a fantastic premise and a wonderful blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and dystopian elements. Set in an alternative Victorian England, sin is a physical substance and appears in the form of an ugly smoke that leaks directly from a person's body. Any immoral thought, however small, is easily detected. The concept of the smoke is what pulled me into this book. The moral questions surrounding sin are captivating and innumerable such as: are humans naturally inclined to sin or think "bad" thoughts and if so, does that make sinning a normal behavior? Do people behave morally for the sake of true goodness or is it to prove to others how much better they are?
  Smoke is mainly told in third person although there are short chapters told from the character's first person point of view which can be jarring at first. The plot is slow burning and at times drags as the author takes his time expounding on the atmospheric setting and establishing the three main characters in the story. Thomas Argyle and Charlie Copper are two young, upper-class best friends, who attend a boarding school where students are cleansed from the Smoke. Thomas, due to his upbringing and past, is naturally drawn to the Smoke whereas Charlie can mostly escape from it. Both boys build a natural friendship, mostly our their mutual dislike of one their classmates. Over Christmas holidays, Thomas and Charlie meet a girl named Livia, a prefect at another school, the attractive daughter of Baron and Lady Naylor. Naturally both boys are drawn to Livia for different reasons and a love triangle is formed. While the love triangle was annoying, it didn't overwhelm the plot and I was more engrossed in finding more about the Smoke.
  The story picks up pace and action when Thomas learns a shocking secret that sets up the characters for a quest to learn about the origins of Smoke and the maleficence behind it. This aspect of the book reminded me a lot of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Like many quests there are plenty of twists and turns in the story. The ending doesn't end in a cliffhanger but it is left open suggesting there is a sequel in the works. I really hope there is one because there is so much left to explore in the world that the author created and the questions about the Smoke go unanswered. I mostly enjoyed it and I would be willing to read more about this world should the author chose to write more. Overall, there are a lot of things in Smoke that will interest a wide range of readers, especially those who enjoy a cerebral fantasy.
Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images including a live execution scene and some minor language. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon
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