Rummanah Aasi
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  Life has been extremely hectic lately. There are quite a few things that I am handling and work has been extremely busy as we head into the last quarter in just a few days. Unfortunately, I can not keep up with the blog so I will be taking an extensive blogging break. I will hopefully be back sometime in April. Thank you for your patience during this busy time. 
Rummanah Aasi

Description: It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.
  More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

Review: I really wanted to love The Map of Salt and Stars, but unfortunately I had a few issues with the book. There are two parallel stories running throughout the book. The contemporary story line is told by Nour, a twelve year old girl who has synthesia, and recalls her family's flight into exile from the Syrian civil war. The historical story line is narrated by Rawiya a girl of a similiar age in the twelfth century who is hoping to help her mother by disguising herself as a boy and working as an apprentice to al-Idrisi, a famous mapmaker, as he traveled around trade routes.
  Nour was born and raised in Manhattan by immigrant parents, her mother a cartographer and her father a bridge designer. Shortly after her father’s death from cancer in 2011, her mother moves Nour and her two older sisters, Huda and Zahra, to Homs, Syria, where they have relatives to help out. Soon civil war is underway and the family is not safe.  As the family takes flight, Nour comforts herself with a fairy tale–like story her father used to tell about Rawiya.
 While I enjoyed both stories and can definitely make the connections of symbolism and metaphors that run throughout the book, I did not get a firm grasp on the characters. Though I can empathize with the struggles and pain Nour's family goes through, I could not tell the characters apart and the plot dragged for me. The transition from Nour's and Rawiya's story was not smooth either and would abruptly weave in and out. Personally, I think the book would have been stronger if it just focused on story and fleshed out the characters instead of two. At times I would find Nour's story compelling at other times I found Rawiya's. It is fascinating to see both girls travel though Nour's purpose is to find refuge and Rawiya's a romantic adventure full of wonder and magic. The themes of finding a home both in the physical and spiritual sense will make this book a good candidate for book clubs.  I appreciated the lush imagery, but wanted something more concrete to grasp in this story.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a scene of attempted sexual assault. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Dark at the Crossing by Elliott Ackerman, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner, Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.
  Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

Review: Greetings from Witness Protection! is a delightful balance of mystery, humor, and heart. Nicki Demere has been living in foster care ever since her father was arrested, biding her time until her father comes to bring her home. She has been trained by her Grammy to an expert pick pocketer with a keen eye on people watching. She records her stories in hopes of relaying them and connecting to her father, but he never comes. The FBI agents arrive first and they want Nicki to be part of an inaugural program that trains and places selected foster children with families under witness protection, thereby changing the nature of the families' makeup so they are harder to track down. When she learns that her father was recently released from jail and has no desire to contact her, Nicki reluctantly agrees. Besides she gets a do-over with a new family. Maybe for once she can be normal.
  I loved Nicki. She is snarky and hilarious. Despite her tough exterior, she finds herself building bonds and connecting with the new people in her life: shy gamer Britt who is bullied by her classmates, perky yet lovable student council member Holly, and, most of all, her new family, even her sullen "brother" Jackson. I loved how she helped those around her and used her skills for pick pocketing for good. Interspersed with Nicki's ordinary life as a middle schooler, we get a mystery woven throughout as the infamous mafia is out looking for the Trevor family. The book handles tough topics such as foster care, bullying, anxiety, and what makes a real family quite nicely and balances it with humor to keep the story afloat.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing, violent images. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter
Rummanah Aasi
 Description: Fall in love, break the curse.
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
  Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she's instead somehow sucked into Rhen's cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a refreshing retelling of Beauty and the Beast. In my opinion a successful retelling uses the main plot points of the classic fairy tale or novel while also constructing a new story to stand on its own. Kemmerer's latest succeeds.
  Prince Rhen, the sole heir to Emberfall, is cursed to repeat the autumn of his 18th birthday until he can find a woman to fall in love with him despite his seasonal transformation to a monstrous beast. The season resets after every failure-all 327 of them. When Harper intervenes in what looks like an abduction on the streets of Washington, DC, she is transported into Emberfall. She is desperately looking for a way back to D.C. so she can tend to her dying mom and help be the lookout for her brother as he tries to pay off their absent father's debts to a loan shark. The last thing Harper needed is to be at the center of the curse. Harper is shocked to learn that she is Rhen's last chance to break the curse, but Harper isn't sure if she can fall in love with Rhen.
   The story is told from dual points of view. Harper is written in modern voice and is absolutely the true hero of our story. She has cerebral palsy, but does not let her disability define her. Kemmerer does a fabulous job in dodging the disability inspiration tropes we often see in fiction stories where characters have a disability. Harper is also fallible. She is impulsive to the point of recklessness, but also incredibly generous, strong, and persistent. She stands toe to toe with Prince Rhen and challenges him to think of helping his kingdom who has suffered greatly while he has been sequestered and aloof.
  Rhen's chapters are written with a historical, refined voice. He is also a complex character. Interestingly, Kemmerer does not make him a full time Beast. The threat of monstrosity is always in the back of Rhen's mind. He bears the burden of the fate of his family as well as the dire circumstances of his kingdom. His interactions with Harper has given him inspiration to fight for something even if his curse can not be broken. I would have loved to get a clearer understanding of the curse and why it happened. We do get some backstory, but I wished it was fleshed out a bit. 
  The romance between Harper and Rhen is delightfully of the slow burn kind. Harper demands trust and friendship first from Rhen, before romance is suggested. Even though the story is problematic when it comes to consent given Harper's abduction which is talked about, consent is taken seriously. Rhen and Harper do not touch unless Harper gives her explicit consent. 
   There are other secondary characters that are equally captivating as our main characters. I loved Grey and want to know more of his story. His interactions and friendship with Rhen is compelling. Freya and Zo are both examples of strong female friendships that Harper has in the story. Though we find out what happens to Rhen, there is a still a lot unknown as we discover more secrets in Grey's past. I'm really looking forward to reading more about him in the future.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence which takes place mostly off the page, threats of sexual assault, and minor language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Hunted by Megan Spooner, A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
Rummanah Aasi

Description: The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship--like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor--April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world--everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires--and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight...Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

Review: Hank Green is the brother of John Green, one of the well known young adult authors. Hank's debut novel is a great entryway into speculative/science fiction for those who are unfamiliar with the genre. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a social commentary on social media and fame as well as a science fiction mystery. April May is a twenty year old graphic artist who works in a creative-sucking job at a Manhattan setup. She longs to use her art degree and do a passion job. Ironically, her creativity sparks an overnight sensation when she vlogs a funny introduction to a an armored humanoid figure, which turns out to be alien in nature, who she calls Carl. The video goes viral and suddenly Carls have been appearing all over the world. While the Carls remain motionless, they spark curiosity, paranoia, and fear. After they discover a complex riddle involving the Queen song “Don’t Stop Me Now,” the mystery becomes a quest for April and her friends.
  An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is highly readable. I found myself more drawn to the human aspect of the story, especially where April has to deal with her instant celebrity status. We live in a time of social media where we present a version of ourselves online, perhaps a fabricated one without flaws. April juggles with her fame and the pressures of constantly churning out material to feel the high of attention. Her celebrity status changes her relationships with those around her, making her wonder if people want to be around her so they can be famous by proxy or if they really like her. The mystery of the Carls isn't boring, but it took some time for me to get interested in it. The clues are sprinkled throughout the story and the dream sequences are quite bizarre. There is a cliffhanger in the end of the book, which makes me very hopeful that we will see more of the Carls and April.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, some disturbing images, and a small fade to black sex scene. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Themis Files series by Sylvian Neuvel, Touch by Courtney Maum

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