Rummanah Aasi
  Last night I had to occupied myself with reading Heist Society by Ally Carter while waiting to see the midnight premiere of Eclipse. I was instantly absorbed and temporarily forgot about my internal countdown that was going on in my head. Frankly, this is very hard to do, however, this book captured my attention so completely that the next thing I knew I was already halfway down with the book and it was time to go to the theaters! In fact, after I came back from the movie at 2:30 am, I really wanted to pick it up and finish it but I had to force myself to go to bed instead (Watch my blog for my upcoming  movie review on "Eclipse"). Heist Society is a phenomenal book that will be most likely be talked about amongst young adults and checked out constantly at the library.

Description (from the inside panel): When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own--scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.
       Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and wants to retrieve it. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat's dad needs her help. For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in history--or at least her family's (very crooked) history.

Review: Heist Society is one of those rare books that reads like a movie. Carter's descriptions are so detailed that I could picture the characters and the settings without any difficulty. Heist Society is a teen version of Ocean 11. Instead of the rat pack, you get a bunch of sophisticated, smart, and cunning group of teens who have been brought up in con artistry: Kat is the leader and mastermind, who reluctantly comes back to the "family business" to clear up her father's name. Her best friend and maybe something more friend, Hale, is a teenage version of Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief i.e.very suave, smooth, witty, and handsome. Gabrielle is the beautiful distraction. A pair of British twin brothers are the muscle and Simon, the squeamish computer whiz. I loved all of the characters. Kat comes off as a smart, brave, loyal, assertive, and sassy girl who takes the lead. Her clash of desires, between wanting to start a fresh life and her family loyalties to save her father, is real.
    The heist and the mystery of the real thief is the center of the book. There is a budding romance between Hale and Kat, which I really hope progresses because they genuinely care for one another and are perfect for one another! There were some fun twist and turns that I didn't see coming in the story. There were also lots of moments where I laughed out loud. One moment in particular where Kat appears for the first to the guys in her crew as a true female. A great choice for a light, smart, funny, and clean mystery. I really hope there is a sequel because the book ends with a cliffhanger. I'm not surprised that Warner Brothers has already picked up the rights for this book. You read the Variety article here.
Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are threats of violence, but nothing really takes place. A good, clean mystery novel with a great mischievous, smart cast of characters. I would have no hesitations in recommending it to 6th grade and up.

If you like this book, try: I'd Love to Tell You, But Then I'll Have to Kill You by Ally Carter or Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
Rummanah Aasi
   Ancient Egypt is taught in so many social studies classes. I can easily recall learning about the Egyptian gods as well as the documentaries I remember watching in class. What better way to refresh your memory and learn something new then by reading a great book? The Red Pyramid is the first book in Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles. Just like his previous, blockbuster series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Riordan delivers another great series that effectively combines mythology, humor, and adventure.

Description: Since their mother’s death, Sadie Kane has lived in London with her maternal grandparents while her older brother, Carter, has traveled the world with their father, Julius Kane, a renowned African American Egyptologist. In London on Christmas Eve for a rare family get together, Carter and Sadie accompany their dad to the British Museum, where he blows up the Rosetta Stone and summons an Egyptian god. Unleashed, the vengeful god overpowers and entombs Julius, but Sadie and Carter manage to escape. Initially determined to rescue their father, but as they begin to understand their hidden magical powers and family secrets, they must take on the ancient forces bent on destroying mankind.

Review: The Red Pyramid has everything that I loved about the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: a great cast of characters, a great adventure story, and humor all woven together with a complex layer of mythology. You are learning about the myths without the boring context of a textbook and you are witnessing the story first hand. The first-person narrative shifts between Carter and Sadie, which not only gives the novel a balanced presence of both genders, but also an interesting dual perspective on how both were raised. The reader is also able to witness the tension between the two siblings who are more like strangers at the beginning of the story. The chapters are short and hilariously titled. The plot is fast pacing right from the start. The story arc is complex and deals more with issues of family, loyalty, and courage. I did, however, have to slow down my reading pace a bit trying to grasp the Ancient Egyptian mythology because I'm not well versed in it, but nonetheless I did learn something new. The Red Pyramid is sure to satisfy fans of the Percy Jackson series and I look forward to reading more about this series. The second book is expected to come out Spring 2010.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, English
Words of Caution: There are some scary, fantasy violence that is PG rated. I think this book is appropriate for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book, try:  The Ankh of Isis by Christine Norris
Rummanah Aasi
  If you walk through any school's busy hallway, you will be sure to find students yelling over one another and layers of conversations all going on the same time. Educators are always looking for new ways to keep students to mind the noise zone. Librarians are stereotypical known as the "Shushers" who can't seem to handle chatter of any kind. Personally, students chatting doesn't bother me as long as it doesn't interfere with others learning and I am not able to hear every detail of the conversation while sitting at my desk. No Talking by Andrew Clements is a pipe dream of a frazzled teacher. In an ideal world students are able to recognize that they are, well, a little bit loud and correct the problem on their own. While this may seem impossible, we can live in this world vicariously through this book.

Description: While doing a class report on India, Dave learned that Mahatma Gandhi habitually spent one day a week not talking in order to center his mind, Dave decides to try that out. He is successful until lunchtime, where he is engaged in a shouting match with fellow fifth-grader Lynsey. Soon the no talking effort moves from a solo effort to a full blown, two-day zipped-lip contest between the whole grade's infamously noisy boys and girls. Who will win?

Review: Clements has a knack for writing a theme driven novel that is not only funny, but also lays down a "lesson" in the story. While the students are no longer talking, they are still able to communicate by writing down words, speaking in only three word answers given to teachers (which are often very funny moments in the book). Students not only see the difference between how they communicate, but also tend to appreciate the value of talking i.e. not talking when it is not necessary. The plot, though not realistic, is interesting and fast moving. The author includes viewpoints from students as well as teachers. The illustrations by Mark Elliott are lively and add immediacy to the story. Overall, a clean and feel good story for children. This would be a good selection for a classroom or book club discussion.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution:  None.

If you like this book, try: Frindle or Lost and Found by Andrew Clements
Rummanah Aasi
   In my Jumped book review, I discussed how one of the main characters worked as an enabler to a bullying incident. Now, let's take a look at the victim's perspective by reviewing Julie Ann Peters' haunting and gut wrenching novel "By the time you read this, I'll be dead".

Description: Daelyn Rice who has been bullied throughout her entire life by the kids in her school. Her parents have moved her from school to school in hopes of Daelyn starting over. Instead of listening to their daughter, Daelyn resorts to suicide as an answer to the abuse she is suffering. She has more than once attempted suicide unsuccessfully, but plans to kill herself for once and for all by registering on an suicide website called "Through-the-light" where she hopes to gain the right information. Meanwhile Daelyn befriends an unusual boy named Santana, who is also dealing with suffering, tries to draw her out of her troubles. Is Santana successful and will Daelyn live to see another day?

Review: Although "By the time you will read this, I'll be dead" is a very slim book at a 198 pgs, it took me a long time to finish it. It's not that I didn't like it, but it Daelyn's pain was so intense and the way her mind works was so morbid that I had to step away for a little bit at a time. Peters does an excellent job in explaining the monotony of Daelyn's life, how her parents talk at her and not to her, and a little ray of hope or promise by introducing Santana. Daelyn is mute for majority of the book, due to the latest botched suicide attempt. Her silence speaks louder than words. She speaks of the horrors she has endured by typing them in on "Through-the-light" forum board. Though most don't read her comments, the act itself is cathartic. Though Daelyn is a sympathetic character, readers must understand that she is emotionally damaged, single-minded in her goal and an unreliable narrator.
    "By the time you read this, I'll be dead" is one of those books that parents should read with their children and the talk should generate lots of questions, especially whether or not Daelyn was an all too willing victim to bullying. We need to be reminded that words are heavier than sticks and stones. They do break bones and shatter individuals. Note: A reader's guide, research on bullying, and lists of suicide warning signs, hotlines, and websites are appended.
     I've read lots of reviews where readers were turned off by the ending of this book, but I thought the book could not have ended in any other way. I like to believe that Daelyn's has changed, but you let me know what you think when you finish "By the time you read this, I'll be dead."

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: The methods of suicide appear in this book. Unfortunately, these methods can also be found easily on the Internet. I urge parents to read this book with their children. There is some language throughout the book.

If you like this book, try: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Rummanah Aasi
   I first heard of The Prophecy of Sisters by Michelle Zink on Teen Reads. I always visit Teen Reads to find out the latest YA books as well as to read book reviews on books that I'm debating on whether or not to pick a book up. I highly recommend teens, parents, teachers, and librarians to book mark Teen Reads and follow it closely to see not only what is popular in Young Adult Literature, but also read author interviews and book reviews.

Description (from the publisher's website): An ancient prophecy divides two sisters. One good. One evil.
Only one will prevail…Twin sisters Lia and Alice Milthorpe have just become orphans. They have also become fierce enemies. As they discover their roles in a prophecy that has turned generations of sisters against each other, the girls find themselves entangled in an age-old battle that could have consequences of biblical proportions. Lia and Alice don't know whom they can trust. They just know they can't trust each other.

Review:   I really enjoyed reading The Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink. I was immediately drawn to the book's Gothic tone and ambiance, which reminded me a lot of  the Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray (which I highly recommend if you have not read it!). The story takes place in 19th century New York and opens at the sister's father's funeral. We quickly learn that their father died under mysterious circumstances. Lia, bears the mark of the Jorgumand (a snake devouring itself) on her wrist, but does not know what it means. After discovering a lost book in her father's library, she soon learns that she and her twin sister, Alice, are fated to play crucial opposing roles in a mystical struggle that goes back to the dawn of time. Only they can prevent or cause the Apocalypse, but which role will they play?
      The Prophecy of the Sisters as the title suggests is clearly a plot driven novel. Understanding the prophecy takes front stage as our characters try to figure out which role they play in it. There is not much character development, which I didn't mind because I was too fascinated in the prophecy itself. I have never read a prophecy in a book, which I can recall, in where the fate of the world lies in the hands of solely two female identical twins and not a love triangle involved in the mix. I liked the imagery and the dichotomy that author describes in the novel. Lia and Alice are complete opposites, I just only wish we got to see more of this in terms of dialogue and character development in the novel and I hope this is present in the next two books in the series..
     Although there is a love story in the novel, it is innocent and does not deter from the story. The book ends with a promise of a sequel. The second book, Guardian of the Gate will be out this fall. I really look forward to reading Guardian of the Gate and I hope you decide to pick up The Prophecy of the Sisters.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Magic has a large role in the book. Lia's trip to the Otherworlds is PG-13 scary and maybe a bit too much for elementary school readers. I would recommend the book to strong 6th graders and up.

If you like this book, try: Guardian of the Gate (Book 2 of the Prophecy of the Sisters Trilogy, The Gemma Doyle Series by Libba Bray or The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare.
Rummanah Aasi
  I am a huge fan of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which has the adventure of Harry Potter set to Greek Mythology. The first book in the series is called The Lightening Thief. If you have not read this series, you're missing out! Run, don't walk to your nearest library or bookstore today.

Rick Riordan is starting a new series following a new gang in Camp Half Blood called The Heroes of Olympus. Here is the book cover of the first book, The Lost Hero, in that series:

My good reading friend M_Dobrev sent me a link to the Entertainment Weekly article that gives readers a secret code to read the first two chapters of The Lost Hero. Be sure to read the article and then stay tuned to my blog as I review The Red Pyramid from the Kane Chroncles another new series by Riordan set to Egyptian Mythology as well as The Lost Hero.
Rummanah Aasi
  I have a very hard time in finding adult titles to read ever since I started reading Young Adult literature. I don't have the patience to invest in an adult book if the characters are boring and unapproachable. Or if the plot is boring and moves at a snail's pace. No wonder I can walk into the Young Adult section of my library and walk away with more than 5 titles to read whereas I can browse the Fiction section until I'm blue in the face and come out with only one book. In my last visit to my local library, I didn't want to waste time in the Fiction section aka black hole of time, so I asked one of the librarians for some book recommendations. I explained I was looking for a well written adult book that wasn't dismally depressing. One of the books she recommended was The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Catherine Schine. She described the book as Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility set in the 21st Century at the East Coast. The modern rendition should have been a warning sign to run from the book, but I didn't listen to my own instincts and gave the book a whirl.

Description: Sisters Miranda and Annie retreat to Westport, Connecticut, with their mother after their father files for divorce after forty-eight years of marriage due to 'irreconcilable differences'. The three women find life in a small, dilapidated beach cottage where confusion over reason and romance dominate their lives.

Review: I don't understand why writers want to recreate a classic, especially a poorly written one. Is it for self indulgence or because they can't come up with an original idea for their novel? Austen's classic Sense and Sensibility without its warmth, thought provoking questions, and interesting characters are dropped into Westport Connecticut. All of the main characters in the original novel are true to their personalities and unfortunately, appear pretty much one dimensionally in Three Weissmanns of Westport. Majority of the novel revolves around the difficult and emotionally exhausting divorce between Joseph and Betty, Annie and Miranda's mother and stepfather. Miranda's and Annie's plot lines are secondary to this story. I expected this novel to be relatively happy considering its source, but I found it to be very sad and depressing. While all three women seem to find what some might call "happiness", I didn't feel like their problems were really resolved. There's not much romance or comedy in the book though most reviews that I've read claim there to be. Perhaps there was both, but I failed to see it. I'd rather spend my time on watching Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility. I hope to not read another retelling of a classic novel again. If I do, please stop me.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: Since this is an adult book, it contains adult situations. Strong language and sexual content is present. Since the characters are middle aged, teens may not be interested in reading this title.

If you like this book, try: The New Yorkers by Catherine Schine
Rummanah Aasi
  Bullying is often seen as a rite of passage. A little harmless event that everyone, at some point in their lives, has experienced and it's usually a case of "kids just being kids". It's not until recently that bullying has been more closely examined and taken seriously after a rush of school violence and/or youth suicides. What I think we fail to understand that bullying is much more complex than just having a bully and a victim. Rita Williams-Garcia shows us how we perpetuate the cycle of bullying in our daily lives in her National Book Award Finalist title appropriately called Jumped.

Description: Meet Leticia, Trina, and Dominique. Leticia is your typical gossip-loving high school student. Trina is a hyper, over confident, high school student who has artistic talents. Dominique is a tough as nails basketball player, who is unable to play on the team due to her low grades. Jumped tells the story of how these three lives intersect in a small moment: Trina has obliviously cut Dominique in a hallway. Dominique swears revenge by fighting Trina at 2:45pm. While Leticia, who skips class on a bathroom excuse, overhears Dominique's intention. Will Leticia get involved and stop the girl fight before it's too late?

Review: I enjoyed Jumped. The book's content is relative and unfortunately realistic. Although the school setting is urban, I think it can be transferred into a rural school setting as well. The story is told in 38 short chapters that switches narratives between the three main characters. Even though each voice is authentic and distinct, I didn't feel like I got to know Leticia or Trina beyond their surfaces. Leticia comes off as a girl who seeks attention by finding out the latest news. Trina is a little too irritating in her hyper, confident mood. I was easily turned off by her personality, but I was still able to feel sorry for her towards the end of the book. The only character that I felt was fully developed was Dominique, whose tension and anger built upon in each of her chapters.
  Although the impetus of the fight is trivial and small to the reader, it is the last straw for Dominique, who feels as if this one act will successfully fill the void she has been feeling by not playing basketball. She obviously has some anger issues that needs to be resolved. References to other works such as A Separate Peace and Of Mice and Men are obvious and will alert the reader on how this book will end. Readers who are looking for a happy ending will be disappointed and shocked. A great choice for reluctant readers.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is language throughout the book and a scene of violence. Although the scene of violence isn't graphic, the reactions of others who witness the scene tells the reader what is happening.

If you like this book, try: Shattering Glass by Gail Giles or The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier 
Rummanah Aasi
  I had the pleasure of devouring Changeless, the second installment of the Parasol Protectorate series. Changeless is just as witty, smart, and fun as its predecessor, Soulless, which I really enjoyed. Gail Carriger is clearly a talented writer. I love her unique and detailed world building coupled with clever dialogue and a great cast of characters. 

Description: Changeless focuses on the disappearance of Lord Maccon as well as getting background information regarding his past and the status of his pack in Scotland. There is a strange phenomenon that is going on Scotland: many paranormal creatures are unable to shift to their true forms and are stuck as humans. Alexia is determined to solve the mystery and find Lord Maccon if she feels like it.

Review: I thought Changeless was much more a mystery novel than a romance like Soulless. Although romance is present, but only amongst the secondary characters. The quest of locating Lord Maccon and the mystery surrounding why the supernaturals became human was an interesting plot for the novel.The main cast of characters in book one is also present in book two. They are just as funny and sharp. The dialogue and the characters are mainly the reasons why I love this series. Ivy, Alexia's best friend, had me in stitches and kept the novel light when things turned serious. An additional bonus is learning about all the cool gadgets that Alexia uses. I can't help but think, "Man, I wish I had that!"
    I know that some readers were turned off by the cliffhanger ending, but I had a hunch of how the book would end. I was more shocked on how Lord Maccon reacted and how things were left. Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to the third installment, Blameless, which comes out this September.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language. Sex is implied, but not graphic. Teens who are looking for angst ridden werewolves and vampires might get bored. I think this book is more suited for adults and those who enjoy dry humor.  

If you like this book, try: Blameless by Gail Carriger, #3 of the Parasol Protectorate series (available in Sept. 2010)
Rummanah Aasi
  As many of you know, I'm a Twilight fan. I read Twilight when it was first published in 2005 and then followed the series very closely. I've been an active member on the Twilight Lexicon website where I debated my little heart out on all the idiosyncrasies of the series including my reluctance to accept Breaking Dawn, which in my opinion is the weakest book of the series. Yes, I really did just type that. My main issue with Breaking Dawn is that the happy ending comes too easy and all the issues are resolves just too neatly. Of course I wanted my favorite characters to have their happy ending, but felt that there was hardly any struggle in the book. One of the most sensitive areas of the series that I continue to debate with fellow lexiconers is how Stephenie Meyer does or does not define what it means to become a vampire.
   In the first three books of the Twilight Saga, Bella is asked repeatedly to look at the darker side of becoming a vampire. To become a vampire in the first three books means losing the ones you love, your human experiences, and connections will be lost forever. However, when Breaking Dawn rolls around, the dark side of being a vampire is not accounted for and all the importance of making a well informed decision is negated. I thought maybe The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner would help shine some light on the dark sides of being a newborn vampire, but I fear it doesn't add much to the mix.

Description: Bree Tanner was a small character that was first introduced in Eclipse. Since readers who have read Eclipse are already aware of how Bree's story ends, this novella focuses more on how Bree lives her short life as a newborn vampire and gives the reader a little insight to the dark side of being a vampire.

Review: I thought Bree's novella was just okay. There is really not much new information given about the new born vampires that the readers and followers of the Twilight Saga does not know. All of the usual Meyer tropes are found in the novel-mystery, romance, and danger. The characters of Riley and Victoria are consistent as to how they appear in Eclipse. The romance between Bree and Diego isn't developed and wasn't really necessary to the story. I would've liked more human Bree flashbacks than the budding romance. New vampires are introduced, but don't have much screen time to make me care for them. The best part of the novella is the last 50 pages of how Bree meets the Cullens and the Volturi discusses her fate.
    What makes me unsettled about Bree's novella is the fact that the darker side of being a vampire is not shown at all. Bree is completely ignorant of everything (i.e. why she was created, the characteristics of being a vampire in the Meyer world, etc) and only concentrates on her instincts to hunt and kill. She is not a dark, rogue vampire by any means, but rather a young girl who used as a pawn in a vampire army and in a diplomatic exchange for Bella's life as well as a tragic (or fatalistic?) heroine who dies because she has no meaning. As for as Bella, Bree's existence doesn't really matter because everything works out in the end, which leaves me with the question: How did we go from vampires being a curse to strictly being a happily ever after?  Bottomline: If you decide to skip this book, you're not missing out on much.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is violence, mostly the destruction of the vampires and vampires feeding on humans that might be a bit much for the under 13 crowd.

If you like this book try: The Host by Stephenie Meyer
Rummanah Aasi
  As a reader I have a hard time reading nonfiction books, especially when I grew up with the notion that all nonfiction books are equivalent to my textbooks. While that may be true for many books, there are some that capture your attention and are in fact entertaining to read. One example is Nic Bishop's Frogs by Nic Bishop.

Description: The author describes the characteristics and behaviors of a variety of frogs around the world.

Review: Nic Bishop's Frogs is a great nonfiction book that covers everything about frogs for children. The photographs are amazing and clearly illustrate the written descriptions of the frogs depicted in the book. The information is simply written and is not over simplified for the reader. Along with a index of all the frogs discussed in the book is a glossary of words that may not be familiar for children. A must have for library collections for Grades 2 to 4.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None

Curriculum Connection: Science

If you like this book, try: Nic Bishop's Spiders by Nic Bishop
Rummanah Aasi
  In April I attended a graphic novel seminar at Northwestern University that was hosted by Reading With Pictures, a nonprofit organization that advocates the use of comics in schools. The seminar was attended by graphic novel writers and illustrators along with teachers and librarians. I learned so much from the seminar as well as walked away with lots of graphic novels that I need to read. The Age of Bronze series by Eric Shanower is one of the series that was on the top of my list. The Age of Bronze is a seven volume series on the Trojan War. Shanower combines both mythology and recent archaeological findings in his graphic novels. The series has been nominated for an Eisner Award, a prestigious award for graphic novelists. The first volume in the series is called Age of Bronze Volume 1: A Thousand Ships.

Description: A Thousand Ships collects the first nine issues of the comic book saga, beginning with Paris herding cattle on the slopes of Mount Ida and ending with the thousand ships of the Achean fleet supposedly sailing off to Troy to rescue Helen. The first part of the volume tells of how Paris learned that he was really Alexander, Prince of Troy, the dark omen surrounding his birth, and how he abducts Helen. The second half of the volume tells the Achean army was assembled, including cunning Odysseus and the strong, young Achilles.

Review: I was blown away by A Thousand Ships. At first I was skeptical about the series, especially when I learned that the Greek gods are not present in the series at all. I already witnessed the failure of that deletion in the awful movie Troy and was expecting the same thing in the graphic novel, but that didn't happen at all. The Greek gods are indirectly present in the dreams, visions, and sacrifices made by the various cast of characters in the graphic novel. In Shanower's rendition of the Trojan War, the supernatural is downplayed and the human element is emphasized.
  I was in awe on how Shanower seamlessly blends the various myths surrounding the Trojan War, including the judgement of Paris, Helen's abduction, and the discovery of Achilles amongst Nestor's children, with the culture and customs of Ancient Greece. Those familiar with Greek mythology will pick up these myths early on. I also found new myths that I wasn't familiar with before in this volume too. It is evident that Shanower has well researched his subject and provides a thorough bibliography at the end of the volume along with a glossary of names of all the characters as well as two family trees.
  Shanower makes all of his main characters stay true to themselves. Teachers and students who are struggling to make sense out of Homer's Illiad will find A Thousand Ships a very useful resource. This series is a must read for all Greek mythology fans. I will definitely be reading this entire series.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some sex scenes in the graphic novel that follow the mythology and culture of Ancient Greece. There is also frontal and dorsal nudity of women and men in these scenes. There are animal sacrifices in the novel too. For the reasons listed above, I would recommend this series to mature teens and adults only.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies and English- Greek Mythology

If you like book, try: The Age of Bronze Volume 2: The Sacrifice by Eric Shanower
Rummanah Aasi
  I don't understand where we got the notion of conformity. Have we been unconsciously taught that being different is harmful, funny, scary, or all of the above from society or it just plain old human nature? What deters us from stepping outside of the norm? And who determines what's normal and more importantly, who defines what is normal? These insightful questions are asked in Gordon Korman's smart, funny, and poignant novel Schooled.

Description: Capricorn "Cap" Anderson is raised and home schooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain. When Rain falls from a tree trying to pick plums from their 'alternate farm commune', Cap is forced to attend a public school for the first time. Smart, insightful, innocent and inexperienced Cap is the target of pranks and the butt of jokes in the middle school. Will Cap survive his new school or will he take an extensive leave of absence like others before him?

Review: I really liked Schooled right from the first page. Each chapter is told from a different first person narrative that shifts among the main characters: Cap, Mrs. Donnelly a social worker (who takes him into her home), Sophie (Mrs. Donnelly's daughter who resents his presence there), an A-list bully, a Z-list victim, a popular girl, the school principal, and a football player. Korman capably manages to seamlessly shifts the points of view of characters without confusing the reader and shows how those who begin by scorning or resenting Cap actually end up on Cap's side. The book has lots of memorable moments of comedy, tenderness, and reflection. A great children's book that not only discusses bullying, but also the stifling effects of conformity within a school's culture.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: Nothing.

If you like this book, try: Stargirl and Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Rummanah Aasi
  I found my next read through the Novelist database at my public library. Novelist is a reading advisory database that searches and suggests books based on what books that you enjoy reading. It includes read-alikes for popular authors, book discussion guides, award lists, and full text reviews. When I searched for read alikes for Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, I stumbled upon Indiscretion by Jude Morgan. I read another novel by Jude Morgan called Passions, which is a historical fiction/biography on all the major Romantic poets-mostly centered on their relationships-and I enjoyed it very much. I decided to check out her other book.

Description: When her gambling father loses his fortune, Caroline agrees with his scheme to set her up as the companion of a wealthy and powerful society matron. Caroline must use her beauty and intelligence to attract the attentions of Regency society's most eligible men. Will she find the right person who will like her for who she is?

Review: Indiscretion follows the format of Pride and Prejudice very closely, however, the book lacks the spark of Austen's classic. The characters are relatively boring, with the exception of Stephen Milner. The sparkling wit that Austen is widely known is largely absent in the book. The plot moves very slowly and it never really flowed for me. I had to put it down several times while reading it. Overall, a decent Regency romance, but I wouldn't skip an Austen novel for this book. 

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are some inferences of womanizing men in the story.

If you like this book, try: Mr. Malcom's List by Suzanne Allain
Rummanah Aasi
 I was on a waiting list for about a month to read Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. During that time, I kept hearing great buzz about the book, which is being marketed as a modern day star-crossed lovers with an urban twist. When I hear the book was set in a Chicagoland suburb, I was intrigued and couldn't wait to read the book. Now that I finished it, I wish I didn't waste my time on it.

Description: Brittany and Alex are two polar opposites. Brittany is a North Sider who is wealthy and seemingly perfect. Alex Fuentes is a South Sider, Mexican American gangster. When the two meet as chemistry lab partners, sparks fly and they soon develop a relationship, which is disapproved by their family and friends.

Review: Let me preface this review by saying that I have no problem with reading a romance. I know that they are general conventions of the genre that require the reader to suspend disbelief and that the characters will have their happy ending. I absolutely fine with those requirements. So, why did I hate Perfect Chemistry so much? Well, it's mainly because of the characters and how the story is told. Perfect Chemistry is simply a modern retelling of the West Side Story with a happy ending. The plot is very predictable from the first page. You don't have to be Albert Einstein to figure out that the two main characters will initially hate each other, develop a strong attraction which they can't explain, fall in love, and then face a conflict that involves the gang life. I can overlook a simplified plot, but not the characters.
    Brittany, Alex, and the other characters are walking and talking stereotypes. Brittany is the beautiful, rich girl, who has a problem. Whereas Alex is a gangster who secretly is sensitive and smart.  I wanted to strangle both of them and knock some sense into them when they continue to play along with the stereotype instead of breaking them. I've heard arguments that the characters do, indeed, break their stereotypes in the book. It just takes them about 300 pages to do so and with a half heart. I don't think these characters really do change, but rather perpetuate the stereotypes.
   There are some serious issues that the book lightly brings up. There is no gang member that selects what he or she gets to do unless they are a leader. As for dating a gang member, there is not a single alarm that goes off in Brittany's parents. I believe in the power of love, but what I don't believe in is that getting out of gang is a simple process. I've known people like Brittany and Alex in real life and they would never have dated. The guys like Alex have wasted their talents either in jail, died, or have remained with their gangs.

  If you're not bothered by the stereotypes, dialogue filled with cliches, and a very syrupy epilogue in your romance, then this is the book for you but I think I'll pass.     

Rating: 1 star

Words of Caution: I would not recommend this book to anyone below 16 years old. There is strong and crude language throughout the book-both in English and in Spanish. Sex is discussed and occurs in the book. There is also gang violence, which includes beatings and shootings.

If you like this book, try: Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
Rummanah Aasi
  I mentioned in an earlier post that I'm a very a picky mystery reader. I will even go further in my reading quirks, by saying that I flip to the end of the book and read to see who the criminal is. I won't read the whole section, but scan it and if the mystery is too easily solvable then I won't waste my time in reading it. I don't know if anyone else who does this, but it does save me some time. Recently, I read an old fashion mystery that reminded me of the days where I would devour a Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery, a Sherlock Holmes novel, or even Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. The book is called The Sweetness at the Bottom of a Pie by Alan Bradley, which thankfully is a beginning of a series and has recently won the Crime Dagger Award Debut.

Description: Flavia de Luce is a precocious 11 year old who aspires to be chemist and has a passion for poison. She is more delighted than scared when a dead bird is found on the doorstep of her family's decaying mansion with a postage stamp pinned to its beak. She eavesdrop on a private conversation of a man black mailing her father and shortly after comes across a man in the cucumber patch just as he is taking his dying breath. Her father is convicted of the crime, but Flavia believes he is innocent and will stop at nothing to clear her father's name.

Review: I really enjoyed reading this book, partially because I truly adored Flavia and the great cast of characters surrounding a simple mystery. Flavia is very smart and mature for her age. She can easily spout quotes from 18th century literature, read a chemistry book from cover to cover, and yet retain an innocence about her. She is constantly fighting against the traditional roles of being a young girl who knows nothing, which makes her an excellent and unsuspected sleuth.  The mystery is carefully plotted and is filled with background information of the characters as well as the 1950s British time period. I could not help but cheer for Flavia all throughout the novel. I'm sure Flavia's favorite chemist and Sherlock Holmes will be proud of her. I'm definitely going to continue this series and I hope that you'll pick this great book up.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Although Flavia is 11 years old, many children and quite possibly teens may get lost in all the literary and historical allusions in the book. There is a scene where a child is in physical danger. There is also some language in the book.

If you like this book, try: The Weed that Strings the Handman's Bag by Alan Bradley
Rummanah Aasi
  I vaguely recall a reality TV show of a teenage boot camp, a "conditioning" facility where parents send their "unruly" teens in order to change them for the better. Little did I know that these facilities actually exist. Todd Strasser, author of the amazing Give a Boy a Gun, has written a book that takes the reader inside the boot camp experience.

Description: Garrett comes from a rich family and goes to a good private school where he is a straight-A student headed for an Ivy League college. He has experimented with smoking pot, but he's definitely not a "pothead." According to his parents, his one unforgivable offense is his sexual relationship with one of his teachers, a woman eight years his senior, makes him unruly and hard to control. According to Garrett, he has done nothing wrong and he believes he is getting punished just because his choices don't reflect what his parents want from his life. Garrett refuses to end his relationship with his teacher and he finds himself being transported to Lake Harmony, a boot camp that promises to change every out of control teen to an obedient and respectful teenager.
   Garrett soon realizes that Lake Harmony is anything but harmonious. Lake Harmony offers nothing but torture, brainwashing, poor living conditions, disgusting food, and limited parental contact. Teens in the program spend anywhere from one to three years suffering in this boot camp until most are finally released with broken, damaged spirits or when they turn 18 years old.
   Garrett meets Pauly and Stephanie, both teens who are desperately seeking an escape from the boot camp. The three of them devise a plan to escape Lake Harmony, but will they be successful?

Review: Boot Camp is a shocking and an appalling read. I found myself gasping at the physical and emotional abuse that Garrett and the other teens go through at Lake Harmony. Most of the torture scenes reminded me of the conditioning scenes of A Clockwork Orange, a book that terrified me and which prevented me from sleeping for at least 2 weeks straight. There were a few plot points that didn't add up to me, such as Garrett befriending one adult warden who doesn't agree with how are things run at Lake Harmony and who refuses to do anything about it. I was a bit annoyed that Garrett's illicit relationship with his teacher isn't taken seriously and is not explored. Although I don't condone Lake Harmony, I do believe that the problems of the teens there are not discussed. Overall, I think the raw and shocking details of Lake Harmony would appeal to reluctant readers and spark discussions.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are lots of scenes of physical and emotional abuse throughout the book. There is also some language.

If you like this book, try: Unwind by Neal Shusterman or Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser
Rummanah Aasi
  Sometimes I find it hard to believe that my mother was my age at one point in time. I know this sounds stupid- it sounds worse as I type it out-but I think it's the natural tendency to believe that your parents are frozen in time. As if they have always been the same as you've known them. Sure, you get glimpses of their past through shared memories both good and bad, but are those memories truthfully told? And would you want to know the whole truth even if it might change the way you look at them now? These are the questions I asked myself when I read The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther.

Description: Sara and her mother, Maryam, never really got along. Maryam has always been distant and her past is constantly shrouded in mystery. Maryam, is an Iranian woman, daughter of a general and member of a well-respected family during the Shah's reign. When she became separated from her family at the start of the revolution and was sheltered overnight by Ali, her father's servant, her life was forever changed. Disowned by her father, she moves to Tehran to become a nurse and then to London, where she meets and marries Edward, a fine and gentle man who adores her. When the story begins, their daughter, Sara, born in England, married to an Englishman, and ignorant of her mother's haunted history, is newly pregnant. When she miscarries, during a dramatic confrontation with her mother and her young Iranian cousin, years of secrets and pretending unravel at last. Maryam decides to go to Iran, to distance herself from these events. Will Maryam return to Edward and England or stay where she is once again at home?

Review: I really enjoyed reading this book. At face value, it can be read as a multicultural book where there is a clash of two distinct cultures and generations. However, I feel this perspective limits the richness and complexity of the book. Ultimately, The Saffron Kitchen is a book that explores the relationships amongst families as well as the values, particularly of freedom and honor,  that families uphold. I loved all of the characters in the book. Not all of the characters are perfect nor are their relationships, but that's what makes the book realistic and heartbreaking. Readers will constantly ask themselves, like I did, on whether Maryam's actions of fleeing to Iran selfish or a flight for survival. Crowther's description of Iran is very vivid and I could easily picture myself there. I did have a little problem in the abrupt transition between Sara and Maryam's storylines, but otherwise I thought this book was well written and a great read in trying to understand the traditions and the people of pre and post Iranian Revolution.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: Sex is implied in the book and there is some language. I think this book would be fine for mature high school readers looking for a great book on understanding Iran.

If you like this book, try: The Joyluck Club by Amy Tan or The Tea House Fire by Ellis Avery
Related Posts with Thumbnails