Rummanah Aasi

Description: In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

Review: I normally don't read books by celebrities in particularly memoirs, but since I'm a huge Gilmore Girls fan and I adore Lauren Graham I was really looking forward to reading this book. This is a fun collection of essays that bring out Lauren Graham's contagious enthusiasm and giddy personality. While she does talk about Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, both of which received critical acclaim and popular viewership, Lauren also addresses her struggle with becoming an actress, addressing sexism indirectly, and her weird relationship with acting like a celebrity.
 Like her character Lorelai Gilmore, this entire book was fast, loud, hilarious, filled with pop culture references. By the end of the book you realize how incredibly down to earth Lauren is in real life and in role. While she does talk about her experiences on the set of Gilmore Girls, I was disappointed in that she didn't go beyond the surface with her look back at the show. I wasn't looking for dirty gossip or her badmouthing her costars, but more of her thoughts on her character's story arc. Be aware that if you have NOT yet watched A Year in the Life on Netflix you cannot read the last 25% of this book since there are spoilers, so before reading I highly recommend watching that first because honestly the last 25% was my favorite. Like us Lauren is also wondering if there is more Gilmore Girls to come.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Suitable for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, Bossypants by Tina Fey, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Review: Wolf Hollow is my favorite children's book of 2016. Set against the backdrop of World War II, eleven-year-old Annabelle lives in a rural Pennsylvania community in 1943. While the war rages on outside of her town, her life is mostly peaceful until Betty Glengarry's arrival. Betty is cruel and threatening and thrives on inflicting pain. She is virtually a sociopath with zero empathy and has selected Annabelle to be her victim. At first, Annabelle is slightly comforted to know that Toby is watching out for her. Toby is a local vagabond, a World War I veteran of few words who has become something like a friend of Annabelle's family. We don't know much about Toby though there are discussions that he is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder from the war as indicated by carrying firearms around with him and is likely to be unstable.
  As Betty's violent malice grows, she successfully makes herself become the innocent victim while placing the blame on others particularly on a kind German man and Toby. One day Betty goes missing and Toby immediately becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance. Gossip ranging from Toby aloofness to him possibly being a pedophile is spread among the community. Annabelle is sure of Toby's innocence and is determined to prove it. 
  The story of Wolf Hollow is powerful, complex, and relevant. As Annabelle grows, she loses her childish naïveté in a life-altering way. She begins to see the various spectrum of people in her community from those who are plainly cruel without any purpose, courageously kind people, and those who simply pass the gossip without seeking the truth and analyzing it. The witch hunt of tracking down Toby reminded me of The Crucible and his character is much like Boo Bradley in To Kill a Mockingbird. Thematically, this book raises some of the same issues as To Kill a Mockingbird, but with social status rather than racism as the basis for injustice. Despite the darker overtones in the book, the heart of this story is ultimately one of hope and empathy. There is plenty to discuss and talk about with this book and it would be an excellent choice for a book club pick for younger readers.  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying with one incident being particularly violent. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Revolution by Deborah Wiles, 
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Grace's past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

Review: See How They Run is the second book in the Embassy Row series. It picks up where All Fall Down left off and deftly avoids the dreadful middle book syndrome. Grace is reeling from the realization of what actually happened to her mother and the lies her own family had encouraged her to believe. Her guilt and anger are all consuming and she barely eats or sleeps. Partially in explanation for what happened, her grandfather's chief of staff, Ms. Chancellor, reveals the existence of a secret society of women of which Grace's mother was a member and to which Grace herself will soon belong. Ms. Chancellor reveals little more other than that the society is an ancient one that has been involved in much of Adria's political intrigue. Concerned about her mental state, Grace's brother Jamie returns to the embassy from West Point, bringing along a friend whose grandmother was from Adria. When the friend winds up dead and Jamie's Russian friend Alexei is accused of the murder, the action picks up and never ends. Along with Grace, we uncover more conspiracies and perhaps Grace was right about the events all along? Though there are plenty of eye rolling moments where Grace acts impulsively and puts herself in harm's way, the story line and plot development depends on her actions. There is some romantic tension in this book but it is a secondary plot point, which is fine by me. I was surprised by the cliff-hanger ending and couldn't wait to find out how this series ends. If you enjoyed All Fall Down then this sequel will not disappoint.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and some minor language. Recommended for Grade 7 and up.

Description (edited to avoid spoilers): Centuries ago, the royal family of Adria was killed or so everyone thought. Now Grace Blakely knows the truth: There was one survivor. This simple fact could cause a revolution — which is why some people will stop at nothing to keep it from coming to light.
  There is only one way for Grace to save herself, save her family, and save the boy she loves. She must outmaneuver her foes, cut through the web of lies that has surrounded her for years, and go back to the source of all her troubles, despite the risk.

Review: While we did find some answers in See How They Run, we were still left with plenty of questions. Carter takes us on another twisty-turny journey to find all the answers in this series finale. Now aware of the truth, Grace is once again on the lam, hopping from the U.S. to the streets of Paris to the bitterly cold weather of Russia. No matter how much she tries, she can not escape her past and her future. Since her brother Jaime's life is in limbo, it is up to Grace alone to find out what her mother was searching for and to finally reclaim her life and those of her family once and for all. Full of action and suspense this finale delivered and kept me on my toes. I also really liked learning more about Alexei's family. The romance thread is sweet though does not overshadow the plot line. I would definitely recommend this series to readers who enjoy mysteries and thrillers.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and some minor language. Recommended for Grade 7 and up.

If you like these books try: The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall, The Fixer by Lynn Barnes.
Rummanah Aasi
Description: After the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign, John Lewis is more committed than ever to changing the world through nonviolence - but as he and his fellow Freedom Riders board a bus into the vicious heart of the deep south, they will be tested like never before.
  Faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder, the young activists of the movement struggle with internal conflicts as well. But their courage will attract the notice of powerful allies, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy... and once Lewis is elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this 23-year-old will be thrust into the national spotlight, becoming one of the "Big Six" leaders of the civil rights movement and a central figure in the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Review: While I enjoyed reading Book One of the March trilogy, I didn't learn anything new about the events covered in that volume. Book Two, though continues memorializing the civil rights movement, has a distinctly different tone. It is much darker as brutality and visceral hatred is on full display, but it also shows how the tensions within the movement of itself is starting to splinter and develop own separate factions. This second volume focuses on the dangerous freedom rides in 1961 as well as the monumental March on Washington in 1963.
  Continuing their nonviolent action meant facing potentially fatal consequences; Lewis and the freedom riders, for instance, all signed wills before they embarked on their historic ride, and Martin Luther King Jr. himself declined to participate. What I found particularly eye opening is how the politicians used the civil rights movement mainly for their own selves (ensuring votes, saving public face, etc) even if they may or may not agree with what the civil rights movement represented. The graphic illustrations powerfully captures the danger and tension in stunning cinematic spreads, which dramatically complement Lewis’ powerful story. There is no added melodrama in the story but real, raw, authentic account of history. The overlay of President Obama's inauguration with snapshot glimpses of the bloody, angry aftermath of the freedom rides in Montgomery, Alabama, makes you stop and reflect on the significance represented by Obama’s election and the sacrifices many made to achieve it. The story of the civil rights movement is told in several books and other mediums and sometimes in a legendary, mythologized tones. This graphic novel series keeps it grounded by people questioning their actions particularly with remaining true to the nonviolent movement versus taking action and resist, being a idealist like Dr. King or a realist like Malcolm X. Both viewpoints are presented and credited. This is an incredibly important graphic memoir that is a must-read.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence and the "n" word is used frequently and purposefully. Recommended for teens and adults.

Description: By Fall 1963, the Civil Rights Movement is an undeniable keystone of the national conversation, and as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, John Lewis is right in the thick of it. With the stakes continuing to rise, white supremacists intensify their opposition through government obstruction and civilian terrorist attacks, a supportive president is assassinated, and African-Americans across the South are still blatantly prohibited from voting. To carry out their nonviolent revolution, Lewis and an army of young activists launch a series of innovative projects, including the Freedom Vote, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and a pitched battle for the soul of the Democratic Party waged live on national television. But strategic disputes are deepening within the movement, even as 25-year-old John Lewis heads to Alabama to risk everything in a historic showdown that will shock the world.

Review: This is the concluding volume in the critically acclaimed March graphic novel trilogy. The graphic novel opens with the heartbreaking and gut wrenching bombing of the Birmingham Baptist Church, where innocent children were murdered in the name of hatred and intolerance. The violence and tension among the activists in the civil rights movement are at an all time high. This graphic novel covers the Freedom Summer and President Johnson's eventual signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  Once again politics, protests, and marches are divided and their significance are explored in this volume. Opinions among the activists in the civil rights movement are varied. Many are rethinking of putting themselves in self-harm in marching is worth it. Others wonder if they should trust politicians who are only willing to meet them half way. There is a lot to take in and digest in this final volume and like the movement they cover in this graphic novel series the message of equal rights is long and hard journey that took immense sacrifices, time, devotion, and faith to succeed. While the series continues to shine the spotlight on President Obama's presidency as the light at the end of the tunnel, it is clear that we are far from ending the movement. This graphic novel series proves once again in the power of the people and the power to change. This is an essential read and bound to become a classic.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence and the "n" word is used frequently and purposefully. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like these graphic novels try: Strange Fruit by Joel Christian Gill, The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and for nonfiction titles try Blood Brother by Rich Wallace, Across that Bridge by John Lewis
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Review: Hidden Figures is an inspiring and enlightening story that gives us an inside look at the "invisible" World War II–era black female mathematicians who assisted greatly in the United States’ aeronautics industry. I have never heard of this important story and this is why this book is written to give due credit and acknowledgement of these hardworking women who endured so much in their careers and person life. The author draws her inspiration for her story after her father told her stories of the black female “computers” who were hired in 1943 to work in the computing pool. The first female computing pool, begun in the mid-1930s, had caused an uproar among the sexist men who didn't believe the female mind could not handle the rigors of math and work the expensive calculating machine. In 1941, Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, desegregating the defense industry and paving the way for Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and others to begin work in 1943.
  All of these women who were hired were mathematicians, either already holding master’s degrees or destined to gain one. It was hard enough to be a woman in the industry at that time, but to be a double minority it took an extra dose of courage and tenacity. These black women were incredibly strong, ambitious, sharp, and resilient enough to question their superiors when they are clearly wrong. They sought information, offered suggestions, caught errors, and authored research reports. They were professionals in every sense of the word, battling discrimination and sexism while managing their own personal lives. These stories are amazing not because how high the obstacles are stacked against them but because they helped each other rise up. Their work outside the office from Scout leaders, public speakers, and leaders of seminars to promote science and engineering was even more impressive and a testament to who they are. While all the science and math that were discussed in the book went over my head, I still really enjoyed this book and I look forward to seeing the movie adaptation of this incredible story.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt, The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
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