Rummanah Aasi
I didn't know much about Julie Berry's latest book, The Passion of Dolssa, when I picked it up and that was a good thing. I only knew that the setting was Medieval France and it featured strong female characters. The book has received several starred reviews in library journals and was listed on several recommendations list. This book is not for everyone, but I would definitely recommend it if you are in the mood for a serious, well written historical fiction novel.

Description: Dolssa is a young gentlewoman with uncanny gifts, on the run from an obsessed friar determined to burn her as a heretic for the passion she refuses to tame.
  Botille is a wily and charismatic peasant, a matchmaker running a tavern with her two sisters in a tiny seaside town.
  The year is 1241; the place, Provensa, what we now call Provence, France—a land still reeling from the bloody crusades waged there by the Catholic Church and its northern French armies.
  When the matchmaker finds the mystic near death by a riverside, Botille takes Dolssa in and discovers the girl’s extraordinary healing power. But as the vengeful Friar Lucien hunts down his heretic, the two girls find themselves putting an entire village at the mercy of murderers.

Review: The Passion of Dolssa is a story within a story. The overall arcing story is that of a friar from 1290 who is collecting papers and testimonies that will show how the inquisitions on the Spain and France border were done in the name of God. The tale of Dolssa troubles him and that is where we are introduced to our main cast of characters and where our second story starts.
  Botille is a sassy teenager who makes money in her seaside village of Bajas by matchmaking. Losing her mother at a very age young and having an alcoholic father has made Botille and her sisters very close. Unlike the other girls in their village, Botille and her sisters have to fend for themselves. Along with Botille's matchmaking skills, elder sister Plazensa runs the tavern and baby sister Sazia tells fortunes with uncanny accuracy. I absolutely loved these three ferociously independent sisters. It was refreshing to see sisters who genuinely love each other and get along so well with one another.
 To the north, in Tolosos, there is a much different girl than Botille whose name is Dolssa. Aristocratic by birth and a mystic by the grace of God, she spends her days with her “beloved,” Jesus, who wraps her in his murmurs and consumes her with his love. Her passion, which is referenced in the book's title, cannot be contained, and Dolssa begins telling others how much her beloved cherishes all people. The simplicity of her message is seen by the inquisitors as a threat to the church, a devil’s deception, and there is only one place it can end: in a public burning. Miraculously, Dolssa escapes the pyre. She wanders until she meets Botille, who saves and shelters her.
  To be honest, when I read about Dolssa and the religious aspect of the book, I was not sure if I would even finish the book, much less actually enjoy it. I was afraid that I would not find Dolssa approachable, but when she meets Botille and becomes open minded, I did not mind her so much. I was so relieved to find that Berry combines religion and the slice of life of medieval France in a balanced, beautifully crafted story which is not easy to do. Like any great historical fiction novel, I learned a lot while reading the book. I didn't know much of the Inquisition beyond the quick gloss in my history classes.
 While the plot is great in its simplicity, Berry brings her story to another level by establishing a convincing, descriptive setting by sprinkling some Old Provencal language in the dialogue. It is quite clear that the author has done extensive research about the Inquisition, a time period which is not touched upon in YA literature (of my knowledge). The story is also told from many perspectives in addition to Botille and Dolssa and each of these point of views were important to the story and exposed the motives of various characters, particularly revealing how worthy ideas can turn into terrorizing actions, and how fear and self-preservation can make friends and neighbors turn on one another.
  The book's pacing is quite slow at first as Berry takes her time in laying the foundation to her book, but after the first initial chapters, the pacing picks up as Dolssa and Botille meet. Although the book covers heavy topics and has several dark moments, there is also lighter moments in the book and hints at romance in the book. There are also suspenseful moments as the Inquisitors come close to finding Dolssa. My favorite parts of the book are the strong female friendship that develop between Dolssa, Botille, and Botille sisters. These women are not afraid to sacrifice their lives and comfort to help one another.
  I was so thankful to find a glossary and additional information in an author's note that talked about the religious discord, inquisitions, wars, and other female mystics that were referenced in the novel. I only wished that the list of characters was placed in the front of the book instead at the end. Some readers will shrink away from picking up this book because of the religious-centric themes in the book, but I didn't find the religious aspects heavy handed or preachy but rather a fascinating discussion on the different ways people interpret their faith and spirituality.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence throughout the book as people are burned alive at the stake, tortured, and captured. There is some crude humor and a lecherous clergyman who seduces and sleeps with young women. Due to the mature topics and writing style, I would recommend this book to older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Apprentice's Masterpiece: a story of Medieval Spain by Melanie Little, The Day of Atonement by David Liss, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth (especially if you are interested in female friendships in tight situations)
Rummanah Aasi
 I first saw The Forgetting Time in a book review journal and the premise caught my eye. The book crosses a wide variety of genres, but I did not expect it to touch upon the idea of reincarnation. Depending on your viewpoint on reincarnation, this book will either bit a hit or miss with you. It was a miss for me, but there were parts of the book that I enjoyed.

Description: Noah wants to go home. A seemingly easy request from most four year olds. But as Noah's single-mother, Janie, knows, nothing with Noah is ever easy. One day the pre-school office calls and says Janie needs to come in to talk about Noah, and no, not later, now - and life as she knows it stops.
  For Jerome Anderson, life as he knows it has stopped. A deadly diagnosis has made him realize he is approaching the end of his life. His first thought - I'm not finished yet. Once a shining young star in academia, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, a professor of psychology, he threw it all away because of an obsession. Anderson became the laughing stock of his peers, but he didn't care - something had to be going on beyond what anyone could see or comprehend. He spent his life searching for that something else. And with Noah, he thinks he's found it.
  Soon Noah, Janie and Anderson will find themselves knocking on the door of a mother whose son has been missing for seven years - and when that door opens, all of their questions will be answered.

Review:  The Forgetting Time is a fictional exploration of the concept of reincarnation and its impact on one family. Single mom Janie Zimmerman is at her wits end with her four year old son Noah. He screams whenever he takes a bath due to his reoccurring nightmare of drowning and has recently been kicked out of preschool because he has been talking about guns and the scary parts of the Harry Potter books. He constantly asks Janie if he can "go home now" and if his "other mother" is coming soon. Noah's behavior spurs Janie to address her sons erratic and troublesome behavior by visiting psychiatrists and specialists which results in only in draining Janie's savings and in a tentative diagnosis of early-onset schizophrenia. Janie doesn't believe the diagnosis is right and in desperation she does an internet search for "another life" and ends up watching a documentary featuring Dr. Jerome Anderson, who has studied young children who has similar experiences as Noah. Once these three characters meet, the book becomes a mystery as Anderson tries to delve into Noah's psyche and attempts to find his other family.
 The Forgetting Time is a readable and ambitious novel. I liked how the concept of reincarnation is worked into the story, but I would have liked the book to include a bit more of background into reincarnation. There are several excerpts from a real book called Life Before Life: Children's Memories of Previous Lives by Jim Tucker, which describe real-life cases of apparently transferred memories, which I found fascinating, but the story in comparison to these excerpts fell flat. I think the book would have benefited from using Tucker's case as an inspiration board for her story instead of including it.
 There are a few subplots that are included in the book that don't have much of an impact as I had hoped. For instance, Anderson has been diagnosed with aphasia, a form of dementia that involves the gradual loss of language and while this has been mentioned with his character introduction, it is not used efficiently throughout the book. Anderson is also grieving the loss of his wife and son, which is important to the character but also not really addressed in the novel. The murder mystery was just okay and was easily solved with the other family was brought into the plot. Overall Guskin's debut novel tells a sentimental story with a murder mystery at its core. I would recommended it if you want to know more about reincarnation, but otherwise skip it.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusion to sexual situations, and underage drug use. Recommended for adults.

If you like this book try: Life Before Life: Children's Memories of Previous Lives by Jim Tucker, Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood, The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
Rummanah Aasi
  I really enjoyed Kwame Alexander's Newbery winning book, The Crossover. I have been recommending the book to both reluctant readers as well teens who love basketball. I will definitely will do the same with Booked.

Description: In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel The Crossover, soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.

Review: Although soccer plays a big part in the book and in Nick's life, the real focus of Booked is family relationships. Nick is dealing with his parent's impending divorce and how the sudden announcement is affecting his relationship with his parents, especially with his father. his ties to his parents are strained.
While I didn't like this book as much as The Crossover which I thought had more energy, I still enjoyed it. The book does a great job in balancing soccer and that of Nick's issues at home, humor, a dash of romance, and even incite to bullying. The chapters are short and the poems vary in length and in style. I also liked the nod to Langston Hughes' poetry. Being a bibliophile and a librarian, is it no surprise that I especially loved how reading and the love of words are used throughout the book. For example, Nick's father has written a dictionary and it is part of Nick's "homework" to read and learn the words in the dictionary which Nick hates to do. It is not until Nick's crush tells him that she finds his large vocabulary sexy that it changes his outlook on both learning new words and eventually reading. There are also some vocab words that are peppered throughout the story, which I didn't know and will now be adding to my own vocabulary.
I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention the awesome Mr. MacDonald aka "The Mac" who is a rapping librarian and who relentlessly tries to entice Nick with books. With Booked, Alexander has shown younger readers that reading and learning words is cool. I just hope they will hear the message.


Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson, Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff
Rummanah Aasi

Image Credit

 I wanted to write a book review, but in light of the tragic loss our nation suffered a couple of days ago a book review just seems trivial. Like thousands who stand in long lines to donate blood and/or financially donate to the weareorlando.org, I, too, wanted to show my solidarity, love, respect, and honor for Orlando.
  Thanks to my library professor, Carol, I found a live, collaborating reading list called the #PulseOrlandoSyllabus that is being compiled by librarians, teachers, and others who are contributing their book recommendations to help those in need of comfort, support, and looking for further information about the GLBTQ community. Many thanks to Lydia Willoughby for starting this project!
  I added my favorite titles to the children, middle grade, and young adult sections. Please contribute your favorite GLBTQ resources to this list. If you are a teacher or a librarian who is looking to start your own GLBTQ collection for your school and/or library, this is a great place to start.

Rummanah Aasi


Description: When Esquire magazine planned an issue to salute the American jazz scene in 1958, graphic designer Art Kane pitched a crazy idea: how about gathering a group of beloved jazz musicians and photographing them? He didn’t own a good camera, didn’t know if any musicians would show up, and insisted on setting up the shoot in front of a Harlem brownstone. Could he pull it off?

Review: Jazz Day is remarkable poetry collection in which the author recreates an iconic 1958 Harlem photograph spotlighting many famous jazz musicians in just 21 poems. The poems flows beautifully as the sets up the background starting with Kane's inspiration of the photograph to providing short glimpses of the musicians' biography. Since I don't listen to jazz, a lot of the musicians were new to me and I learned a great deal from the poems. My favorite part of the book is the illustrated reproduction of the famous photograph. The illustrator beautifully captures not only the photograph in great details in acrylic and pastel painting but also captures the tone and the excitement of the photo shoot in progress. There is also an extensive resources page with thumbnail biographies, list of source notes, and bibliography for further reading. Jazz Day is a great resource for teachers and librarians who would like to do a lesson on music and poetry.  

Curriculum Connection: Art, music, and poetry. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up. 

If you like this book try: Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, Harlem Hell Fighters by J. Patrick Lewis




Description: Some girls are perfectly happy never doing anything out of the ordinary. But Addie was anything but ordinary. She longed for thrills and excitement! At a time when a young lady appearing onstage was considered most unusual, Addie defied convention and became a dancer. And when she married the world-famous magician Herrmann the Great, she knew she had to be part of his show. Addie wanted to shock and dazzle! She would do anything to draw the crowds, even agree to be shot out of a cannon. But when Herrmann the Great died, Addie couldn’t disappoint her loyal fans — the show had to go on. What could she do?

Review: Anything But Ordinary Addie is a very fun read. Like many people, I also thought women were only the magician's assistant, but this pictorial biography should me that I was very wrong. Adelaide Herrman was a 19th century female magician. From a very young age, Adelaide did not want to be just any ordinary girl. Her independent spirit fueled her passion to push the limits of her gender. She joined a dance troupe, later joined the circus, and  delighted crowds by riding the bicycle-like “boneshaker.” She was introduced to magic when she boarded a ship from Europe to the U.S. where she met her husband Herrmann the Great. After a tragedy, she transitioned from a magician assistant to an established magician. Like the subject, the illustrations of this pictorial biography are larger than life and very lifelike. The colors are vibrant and bold. Each page draws you in and you begin to feel as if you are in the 19th century and Adelaide is performing right before your eyes. In addition to great story and illustrations, I also loved the female empowerment message.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: Miss Mary Reporting by Sue Macy, The House that Jane Built by Tanya Lee Stone, Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough
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