Rummanah Aasi
  Do you remember the first time you read a book? Did you pay more attention to the illustrations to follow along with the story and the text your parent(s) read to you when you were little? I know I did. Graphic novels are a great way to teach kids how to read. While the text may have a higher vocabulary that may be beyond their reading comprehension, they can visually 'read' the pictures and understand everything. With pictures and graphic novels, we becoming more aware of the concept of visual literacy. I had a really hard time understanding how visual literacy works. As a child, I didn't read a lot of picture books but somehow graduated to chapter books and eventually novels. It is not until I found some difficulty in reading graphic novels (paying attention to the drawings and text simultaneously) that I understood that literacy is so much more than being able to read and write. This very notion became much clearer for me when I read a toon book called Benny and Penny in Just Pretend by Geoffrey Hayes.

Description: Benny and Penny are brother and sister. Benny is having a great time pretending to be brave Benny the Pirate. He even has a crate that makes a terrific pirate ship. His fun time is threatened by his kid sister, Penny, who is dressed as a princess outfit, suddenly arrives and wants to be a pirate too. Annoyed with his little sister who always tags along and bothers him, Benny intentionally loses her  but soon feels bad after she disappears. Where did Penny go? 

Review: I never heard of a toon book before, but it seems to be a cross between a picture book and a graphic novel. Benny and Penny in Just Pretend is a sweet, adorable, familiar sibling story. It's lovely, vibrant colored illustrations give it an old-fashioned feel. The pages are filled with clear, large illustrations where the text does not overwhelm the page, which in my mind makes it more of a graphic novel than a picture book. The text uses a limited vocabulary with sufficient amount of synonyms and repetition, which will help young readers with word recognition. Children will easily grasp the message through visual clues and learn the same lesson that Benny does as the story ends. Benny and Penny in Just Pretend is a really charming story and one of those books that I'm sure kids will love to read over and over again.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for PreK-1

If you like this book try: Benny and Penny in The big no-no! or Benny and Penny in The toy breaker by Geoffrey Hayes
Rummanah Aasi
  Decisions. We make decisions all the time; whether it the simplest ones (i.e. what to eat/wear) or the hardest ones regarding our future. Humans are unique in the fact that we are given free will yet we often times struggle with the consequences of our decisions. I thought a lot about decisions, consequences, and justice when I read Daisy Whitney's debut novel The Mockingbirds. Although I did have some issues with the book, I found myself asking more questions about the above topics long after I finished the book.

Description: Alex wakes up disoriented and naked in a strange boy's bedroom. She does not know the boy's name and has no clue how she got to his room. While her memories slowly come back to her, Alex realizes she has been a victim date rape. She can either be silent or she can seek justice and vocal the injustice done to her by going to the Mockingbirds, an underground student group dedicated to justice.

Review: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney was one of the debut novels of 2010 that I was really excited to read. I had received an ARC of this book from the publishers and haven't had time to read it until now. What intrigued me about this book is the concept of justice and the proactive student body who creates a justice system to hold students accountable to their actions is  a unique and fresh idea. While I liked the book, I also had a few problems with it.
   As the book opens, we find Alex waking up in a boy's bed and she has absolutely no recollection of the events that transpired and lead her to this room. She does, however, instantly feels something is wrong. She tries to convince herself that this is a bad dream and tries to come up with scenarios of what happened. The very notion of rape doesn't even dawn on her because it is so inconceivable and it only happens in the dark alley with a stranger. Alex remembered she had been drinking and was very drunk.There was no way a boy would take advantage of her in that condition. Its is not until Alex has conversations with her friend and roommate that Alex begins to process that she was date raped and the very concept of consent never registers into her head. Throughout the book we see Alex question herself and try to process that she was definitely raped in her incapacitated state. We watch her passively accept the injustice done to her because she cannot feel anything else.
   Enter the Mockingbirds, Themis Academy's own judge and jury system because the school itself turns a blind eye to conflicts that arise in their 'perfect' school. Bringing the case to the police or Alex's parents are also out of the question. Since there are no adults to turn to, just let your fellow students resolve the issue. Here is my main issue with the book. I would like to think there is at least one adult in Themis Academy who feels responsible for the students and is willing to help with student problems-whether it is from a legal standpoint or as a figure of guidance, but the adults aren't given a chance to help at all in the book. There is one small instance where Alex does seek help from an adult, but that is only when 90% of the story was complete and the trial was well under way, but even then the adult did nothing! I also could not conceive that the police would not have helped, particularly because of the severity of the crime. While the very notion of a student run court system is a very cool concept, for me, I thought the severity of date rape was diminished and not treated very seriously.
  The Mockingbirds themselves is a bit troubling. Their brand of justice is eerily a form of bullying in which they are trying to stop in the first place. I had several questions regarding the Mockingbirds' structure: Is the system really unbiased? How do you determine the punishment? Does the punishment really fit the bill of the crime? How different is the Mockingbirds from our own judicial system?
  While I thought the proceedings was really interesting and well written, I was frustrated that the entire case is based on circumstantial evidence of two unwrapped condoms and on Alex's hazy memory. Based on the amount of alcohol that she drank, I found it hard to believe that she remembered chunks of the infamous night so clearly. Again, the physical evidence which could be taken by a doctor, would have made the case much more serious that it was portrayed.
   Alex has a blossoming romance while the trial is underway. While the relationship was sweet, I also had an issue with it. I have not been in Alex's shoes so I can't say what I would do in her situation, but I would have to imagine that jumping back into any kind of relationship again with a member of the opposite sex would be very difficult. I would think it would take the rape victim a very long time to develop trust issues and intimacy. While I understand that this relationship is suppose to depict a consensual relationship, I felt the relationship happened too soon and quite easy, which didn't feel real to me at all.
  While there were certainly some elements of this story that did not work for me, I did find the book to be an interesting take on the choices that we make as well as the creation of a just justice system. I hope teens will think twice before drinking, having sex, and understanding of what consent means: Yes means Yes vs No means No, which is excellently executed in the book and I think is the main point of this story. I also liked the fact that Whitney didn't just write a dark 'issues' book and left it at that but pushed me to think about uncomfortable questions about our justice system. Whitney, a date rape victim herself, handles Alex's emotional roller coaster ride very well, but I just feel a bit uneasy in how easy the trial was handled and resolved. While not wholly satisfying, The Mockingbirds offers a lot of food for thought and it is a book worth reading.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is language, a scene of underage drinking and mildly explicit episode of date rape that is recounted in several flashbacks. Recommended for ages 14 and up.

If you like this book try: Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm starting to wind down my to be read pile for 2010. I needed a break from a heavy reading book and figured a children's graphic novel is what I needed. I just finished Amulet Stonekeeper Vol 1 by Kazu Kibuishi, who is known for contributing to the highly acclaimed Flight graphic novel-fantasy short stories series.

Description: After a family tragedy, Emily, Navin, and their mother move from their home in the city to an ancestral home to start their lives over. The ancestral home once belonged to Emily's great great grandfather who was an inventor, but suddenly disappeared and left behind a powerful amulet. Creepy things begin to happen in the hollow house once Emily discovers the amulet, particularly in the basement, where a tentacled creature in the basement kidnaps Emily's and Navin's mother and leads the children on a deadly chase into the magical world below their home.

Review: Amulet: The Stonekeeper is a graphic novel that has lots to offer for young fantasy readers. Boys and girls alike will be drawn to the main characters, Emily and Navin, as well as their dangerous journey. Emily is a spunky heroine, who has to make difficult decisions on her own without the help of her elders and must grow up quickly in order to save her family. Navin is Emily's younger brother who is brave in his own right and must also help his sister from becoming too dependent on the powers that surround the mysterious amulet.
  The pacing of this graphic novel is pitch perfect. The uncluttered visuals presented in the colorful panels, clear dialogue, and the action-packed adventure sequences does not allow the reader to be bored. I was a bit surprised on the heavy elements of the story, particularly the heart-wrenching moment where Emily loses her father in a tragic accident right from the very beginning. As an adult reading this graphic novel, it was a bit dreary to find that the kids have to find answers on their own without any guidance besides anamorphic creatures and robots, but I think this very notion will draw in younger readers. Amulet: Stonekeeper is part of a three volume series. I look forward to reading the next two books and getting to know our main characters at bit better and unlocking the secrets of the mysterious and powerful amulet. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some scary images and mature themes, such as losing a parent that might scare the younger kids. I would recommend this graphic novel to kids in Grades 4 to 7.

If you like this book try: Amulet: The Stonekeeper's Curse (Vol 2)
Rummanah Aasi
 Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This feature is a great way to interact with other bloggers and add more books to your to be read piles. This week's topic is to list your ten favorite books from 2010. Since I read 230 books this year and started this lovely blog late March, I thought I would create two top ten favorite books Pre-Blog and Blogged About.

Top 10 Books Before I Started Blogging (listed in order of preference)

Afterschool Nightmare manga series by Setona Mizushiro- A fantastic manga that combines psychology, dreams, mystery, romance, and an examination of gender roles. Although I started the first two  volumes late 2009, I quickly finished this series in 2010 and wouldn't mind rereading it because I loved the characters and how everything came together in the final volume. This series is complete and consists of 10 volumes.

    The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd - I really enjoyed reading Nick Burd's debut novel. Dade, the main character, is trying to enjoy his last summer before college but his corrosive relationship with Pablo, his parent's marriage in rumbles, and being stuck in the closet in Iowa isn't helping until he meets the mysterious Alex Kincaid and everything changes. Although the premise of the book isn't original, I loved Burd's descriptions, Dade's self reflection, and the symbolism of a lost girl.  If you're a fan of David Levithan's writing, you'll definitely like this book. 

    Flash Burnout by LK Madigan - Flash Burnout tells the story of Blake and his relationships with his girlfriend, Shannon, and his girl friend Marissa. He's in love with Shannon, but Marissa needs his help when Blake makes an unexpected discovery with a picture he took for his photography class. During the book, Blake struggles balancing his relationships with the two girls. Blake's voice is perfect and I was floored to find out it was written by a female author. I found the story to be funny, sweet, and heartbreaking. It's a quick read thanks to the great cast of characters and I didn't have to worry too much about the technicalities of photography. A great book to pair up with Sara Zarr's Sweethearts and John Green's Paper Towns

    How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford-A wonderful, quirky, sweet, and heart breaking story of friendship and loss. Don't let the cover fool you into thinking this book is a cliched teen romance, it's very far from that. The author weaves the story and lives of Beatrice aka RobotGirl and Jonah aka Ghostboy, who share a unique bond through a late night radio station. Each character has a mystery to them, which ultimately brings them together. My favorite parts of the story was the transcript of the radio show. If you like quirky films like "Ghost World" or "Juno", then this book is for you.

      The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han- I loved Han's Shug and wanted to read another title by her. The Summer I Turned Pretty is a great blend of familly drama and romance. Isabel aka Belly lives for the summer, where she and her family goes to the beach just like every other summer of her life, but this summer is very different. Although Belly is at times self-centered, she does grow out of her shell as the story continues. You can tell that she does indeed care for others and is vulnerable, which I found appealing. This is the first book in a trilogy. I have yet to pick up the sequel.

    Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane- Since I had no one who would go and see the movie with me, I decided to read the book first. I was excited to find out that it was written by Lehane since I really enjoyed his other book Mystic River. Shutter Island is a psychological thriller and mystery. It starts off with two US Marshalls sent to an asylum to find a missing patient, but the mystery broadens when more information about the Island is revealed. I enjoyed reading this book. It has a very Poe-like atmosphere and definitely elements of a Kafka horror. The book had me guessing and questioning until the very end, which is a good sign of a mystery book. I did see the movie on DVD and liked seeing all the little details that I missed.

    Hold Still by Nina LaCour- A heartbreaking yet hopeful book about losing a loved one too early and recovering from that tragedy. This book reminded me a little of Laurie Halse Anderson's fantastic Speak in that it corporates an issue and the main character coming to terms with the issue by expressing it through art, which in the case of Hold Still is photography and constructing things.

    Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor- I generally do not read short stories, because for the most part because a) they don't hold my attention and b) they end abruptly. Lips Touch Three Times avoids both problems. The stories are thoroughly entertaining and interesting. My favorite story in the collection is the second story titled "Spicy Little Curses Such As These". The illustrations were beautiful and added depth to the stories.

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Anne Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer- This book is more than a simple plot: an author on a search a new topic on her next book. The book is a celebration of the written word in a variety of formats- letters (which is mainly what the book is composed of), telegrams, and the deep, intimate connection between readers and books. I also learned a lot about the Channel Islands and the German Occupation, which I did not know before reading this book. 

    The Color of Earth series by Dong Hwa Kim- A fascinating trilogy about the lives and loves of a mother and daughter team in Korea. I learned a lot about the Korean culture and custom. Since there are strong themes of sexuality, I would recommend it to 16 yrs old and up.

Top 10 Books From Blogging (in order of preference)

     The Study series by Maria V. Snyder- My favorite discovery from 2010. I loved the world building, mystery, intrigue, romance, and most of all the characters. Yelena is definitely one of my favorite heroines who doesn't need a guy to bail her out of trouble. Series order: Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study.

    The Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews- What can I say about this series that I haven't already said before? Action packed, romance, awesome world building, mystery...this series has it all! Series order: Magic Bites, Magic Burns, Magic Strikes, Magic Bleeds, Magic Slays (due out late May 2011)

    The Age of Bronze series by Eric Shanower- A fabulous graphic novel retelling of the Trojan War. Currently there are three volumes in a ten volume series: A Thousand Ships, Sacrifice, and Betrayal. A must read for Greek mythology aficionados.

    Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan- A book made of pure awesomeness. Humorous, thought provoking, and fabulous characters. I heart Tiny Cooper and I know you will too!

    Linger by Maggie Stiefvater- Another beautiful, lyrical addition to the Wolves of Mercy series. I can't wait for the third and final book, Forever, to come out!

    Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan- A sophicated, quirky, teen romance that examines how we communicate with one another. A great book to read during the holidays!

    Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan- A spin off of the Percy Jackson series. A terrific combination of Greek and Roman Mythology into the 21st century. Fun and an educational read that I'm sure kids will love!

    Heist Society by Ally Carter- Looking to take a break from teen angst and a marathon of paranormal romances, Heist Society is exactly what you need! A fun, quick read that is made for the movie screens. It's a teen version of Ocean 11 and I'm thrilled that this will be a series! 

    The Great Wide Sea by M. H. Herlong- My favorite book from the Caudill list. Three brothers have to fight to stay alive on a boat after being abandoned by their father. You will be on the edge of your seat with the adventure and grabbing tissues as the family grapples with the loss of a family member.

    The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larrson- My favorite book from the Millennium Trilogy. Lisbeth's dark, mysterious past comes to haunt her and she's ready to get even for good. I would not want to meet Lisbeth in a dark alley or piss her off.
      These are my favorites from 2010, what are yours?
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm sure that you've either heard or seen Steig Larsson's books (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) pop up everywhere. These books, collectively called The Millennium Trilogy, are gritty crime fiction novels that are set in Sweden. The author was a journalist, who wrote for a popular Swedish magazine and submitted the manuscripts for these novels shortly before he died at the age of 50. There is currently a battle for his other writings between his girlfriend and his family.
   I'm not surprised that this trilogy will appear on lots of people's best lists for 2010. Are the books that great? The writing isn't great, but it's not bad either. I found it hard to oriented myself in the plot and deciphering what it or isn't important through the massive amount of details that Larsson provides in his books. Even though the books are quite hard to get into, I continued to read this series because I liked the characters that Larsson created, particularly Lisbeth Salandar and Mikael Blomkvist. I just finished the last book in the series.

Description: Lisbeth Salander is literally fighting for her life. She is has been shot in the head and shoulder and is currently recovering in a Swedish hospital. She is also on trial for the murder of three people. Friend and journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, knows the truth and is willing to do anything to prove her innocence. The murders are just a tip of the iceberg of a long-buried conspiracy within the Swedish Secret Service.Will Lisbeth recover and take revenge on those who made her life a living hell or will she rot in prison for the rest of her life?

Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest picks up immediately where The Girl Who Played with Fire ends: Lisbeth is rushed to the hospital after being fatally wounded. Blomkvist is held in jail despite his incessant claims that the real criminals are getting away. I enjoyed this final installment of the Millennium trilogy, however, I was expecting a lot more.
   The plot of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is very convoluted. There were four story lines that ran throughout the book: Lisbeth's recovery in the Swedish hospital, Blomkvist's trips and encounters to gather information to help Lisbeth's trial, the history and conspiracy of the Swedish Secret Service, and Erika Berger's, Blomkvist's best friend with benefits, adjustment to her new job. The transition from one story line to the other were at times smooth and other times very abrupt, especially when Berger's new job is mentioned. I found myself drawn to the first three story lines and read those pages quickly. When I came to Berger's subplot, I had to slow down and remind myself what was going on, which not only took me out of the book as a whole but really slowed down my reading. In my opinion, the book would have been stronger if Berger's subplot was completely taken out, however, I can see why Larsson thought it was important. Larrson's purpose of these books is to illustrate how women are being abused and neglected in all walks of life including the workforce, which is what Berger represented. While I do like Berger's character, I think it would have worked better as a novella or even a spin off. Given Larrson's untimely death, maybe that was the direction he wanted to go, I don't really know. 
 Not only did I have to keep track of numerous plot lines in the book, I also had to keep track of brand new characters, particularly those involved with the Swedish Secret Service. I didn't get a chance to connect with the new characters mainly because Larrson doesn't spend too much time on them. Like the rest of the trilogy, the book does shine whenever Lisbeth or Blomkvist appear on paper and really, the only reason why I bothered reading these books in the first place. Lisbeth is a very strong heroine who is incredibly intelligent introvert, who has a very hard time opening up and trusting others. Given her background, I can hardly blame her and I amazed on how well she turned out. Blomkvist is a terrific journalist who has the uncanny ability to form strong connections with people. All of Larsson's characters are very much in the gray shades. They have lots of flaws and are content with how they run their lifestyles, which make them appealing and real. Larrson asks thoughts provoking questions on how women are treated by men, however, I wished he allowed his main heroine, Lisbeth, a lot more time and presence in the final book. She seems to be appear as if she was an after thought, particularly in the end.
  The Millennium Trilogy should be read in order in order to get a better grasp of the main characters and the overall story arc. While I did enjoy the series, I didn't love it. If I had to pick a favorite from this series, it would definitely be The Girl Who Played with Fire.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and disturbing images such as a visual recounting of rape. There is also strong sexual content in the book too. Recommended for Adults and only mature teen readers.

If you like this book try: Missing by Karin Alvtegen, The Water's Edge by Karin Fossum, In the Woods by Tana French
Rummanah Aasi

  Since I graduated from college, I wanted to get back to reading classics. So when I came across this challenge that combines both classics as well as the Victorian period, which happens to be my favorite literary periods, I knew I had to join. This challenge first caught my eye on my fellow blogger friend Book Quoter's blog and I knew I had to learn more. The Victorian Literature Challenge 2011 is hosted by Bethany at Words, Words, Words. This challenge will be my sixth and final challenge for 2011.

Here is what you need to know for this challenge: 

1. This challenge will run from 01 Jan 2011 - 31 Dec 2011. Participants can sign up at any time throughout the year.

2. Read your Victorian literature:  Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901. If your book wasn't published during those particular years, but is by an author considered 'Victorian' then go for it. We're here for reading, not historical facts! Also, this can include works by authors from other countries, so long as they are from this period.

3.  Literature comes in many forms: There are so many Victorian reads out there, including novels, short stories, and poetry. One poem doesn't count as a 'book': pick up an anthology instead!

4.  Choose your books:  List your books before you begin, or pick up titles along the way. It's up to you! You can review them if you choose to, but it's not necessary. If you don't have a blog, that's fine! Link to a Facebook, or a page somewhere where you can list what you've been reading. If you can't link up, no problem - feel free to just comment and enjoy.

5. Spread the love:  Post the reading challenge on your blog - make your own post(s), or stick the button on the side of your page. The more the merrier, after all. Let's build a big community of Victorian literature lovers!

6. Choose from one of the four levels:

Sense and Sensibility: 1-4 books.

Great Expectations: 5-9 books.

Hard Times: 10-14 books.

Desperate Remedies: 15+ books.

7. Sign up, and enjoy!

You can sign up for this challenge here.

 Since this challenge is the one that frightens me the most, I'm going to shoot for the Great Expectations level: 5-9 books. Victorian novels tend to run really long, mostly because the authors were payed by the number of words they've written, but regardless I hope to revisit some of my favorite Victorian writers such as Thomas Hardy, the Bronte sisters, and Elizabeth Gaskell as well as discover new writers too. I haven't created my list yet, but I will post them here.

Books Read for the Victorian Literature Challenge 2011

  1. Silas Marner by George Eliot
  2. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  3. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  4. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  5. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Rummanah Aasi
  As a kid, I was a reluctant reader. Books bored me and made me think of homework. I never understood why people would read (i.e. do more homework outside of what was required) at home and think it was fun? I had a much better time watching t.v. where story lines and characters who were like me came to life. My older siblings gave me several books to read. One of them was the Betsy series by Carolyn Haywood. Betsy and I did not get along at all. She was too nice and sweet and never got in trouble. Seriously, what little kid never got in trouble or came up with mischievous plans? Thank God Ramona Quimby came along and saved me. I think little old me would also have loved reading Ivy and Bean, the best selling children book series by Annie Barrows too. Like Ramona, the characters were realistic, the story lines were plausible, kids caused havoc and indiscreetly learned a lesson too.

Description: Bean is constantly told by her mother to play with Ivy, the new neighbor, but Bean thinks she is too boring because she never gets in trouble. It is not until Bean plays a mean trick on her sister and could get in mega trouble that she finds unexpected support from Ivy, who is actually less boring than Bean first suspected.Will Ivy and Bean become friends? Will they escape from the looming punishment they may face from their pranks?

Review: Barrows, who is probably known for her adult best seller book, The Guernsey Literary and Potate Peel Pie Society, hits all the right notes in her debut children series. Ivy + Bean are delightful characters that reminded me of my friends I had as a kid as well as the memories of when my baby brother and I played tricks on one another or co-conspired pranks around the house. Ivy is the least person you would expect to be mischievous because she is always seen with her nose in her book and thus making her your perfect partner in crime. Ivy reminded of me when I was a kid. My brother always complained I was the last person to get in trouble for something we both did. Bean, like my brother, is spunky and full of tricks.
  The tricks that Ivy and Bean play on Bean's sister, Nancy, is funny, harmless, and filled with younger sibling angst. I couldn't help but chuckle on how both girls discover how similar they are and become fast friends and co-conspirators in their great plan. It was so much fun seeing how plans unfold in all the wrong and right ways. Blackall's great illustrations expertly details the girls' actions and expressions are featured throughout the text. Readers who are not old enough to read the words will easily be able to follow the story through the clues provided by the drawings. The chapters are short and the pacing of the story is very fast; perfect for readers who have short attention spans. Ivy and Bean is a sure hit with kids, who like me, wanted books that demonstrated characters and situations that happen in real life. There are currently 7 books in a series, but I'm sure there are many more on the way.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for read-along for beginning readers and readers beyond chapter books.

If you like this book try: Ivy + Bean and the ghost who had to go by Annie Barrows (Book 2) or the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park
Rummanah Aasi
  I had a very strong feeling that I was going to love the Kate Daniels series after I finished the first chapter of Magic Bites, the first novel in the series. I knew there were currently only four books out for the series and that I had to pace myself. Pacing myself was easier said than done. After I finished each book, I fell in love with the characters and the fantastic world that Ilona Andrews created and I didn't want to leave. I recently finished the fourth book, Magic Bleeds, which is my current favorite out of the series so far and now I have wait 5 months for the next installment.The waiting is going to be brutal.

Description: Kate Daniels is an employee for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, which is really a fancy way of saying she cleans up paranormal problems that plague Atlanta. Her latest assignment is to track a carrier of a plague which is meant to kill all of the shape-shifters of Atlanta. With the help of Curran, Lord of the Beast and the thorn in Kate's side, Kate uncovers clues about who the villain is and begins to fear they might be related.

Review: The Kate Daniels series is in my top ten favorite of adult books that I've read this year. This series is filled with non-stop action, humor, mystery, magic, and fabulous characters. With each book we are introduced to complex villains and dire scenarios. We also see new layers of our characters. After my jaw dropped numerous times with world shattering information surrounding Kate's mysterious parentage presented in Magic Strikes, I didn't really know what other critical information will be revealed or how the husband and wife team could top themselves. I did high expectations for Magic Bleeds and it easily exceeded all of them.
  Kate Daniels has become one of my favorite heroines and I would really want to be her best friend. Although she has a tough exterior, wicked physical strength, and fighting abilities, she also has a soft side and vulnerability. Through the first three books, we watch Kate develop relationships with those she cares about even though she has been taught and believed that relationships will only make her weaker and weakness will only get her killed. Torn between her love and loyalty for those she loves and the arduous destiny that lies ahead of her, Kate must decide which is more important. Will she run away from her fears and hide or will she confront them? Thus is the main crux of Magic Bleeds. Like Kate, Curran also has his shares of difficulties and does not go unscathed in this book either.
  Readers, like me, who loved watching the dangerous dance between Kate and Curran will find  the answer to the question we all are dying to know: Will they or won't they get together? Their similar personalities, flaws and strengths, mirror one another and this is the main reason why I enjoy observing their interactions. I swear I fall more in love with Curran after finishing each book, but this book cemented my feelings for him and I bet yours will too.
  Although Magic Bleeds can be read as a stand alone, I wouldn't recommend doing so. Readers who have not read the previous books will miss out on the story arc as well as not appreciate Kate's character growth and her connections with other characters. Each book builds upon one another and, I promise, won't disappoint you. Rarely do I want to reread a book as soon as I finish the last page, but I wanted to do so with Magic Bleeds.
  It saddens me that I have to wait until May 31, 2011 to read Magic Slays, the next book, but I will definitely be getting my own personal copy of this series and hopefully reread them before it comes out. Even though there is a snippet of the prologue in Magic Slays available on the author's website, I refuse to read it because I hate being teased and tortured not having the book in my hands. The Kate Daniel series is filled with non-stop action, humor, romance, magic, and mystery. If you haven't read this series yet, what are you waiting for?!

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and strong violence in the book. There is also some sex. Due to these precautions, I would recommend this title for adults only.

If you like this book try: Magic Slays (Kate Daniels #5) available May 2011, Fray by Joss Whedon, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
Rummanah Aasi
  Nightshade by Andrea R. Cremer has been getting a lot of buzz this year and has been popular in my public libraries. I have read many favorable reviews of the book as well as minor negative reviews. It is so interesting to see how many people critique a novel, which is one of they many reasons why I love blogging and the blogging community. While Nightshade is marketed as a paranormal romance that centers around werewolves, the book is actually much more. It is filled with intrigue, politics, struggle of power, love, family, and betrayal. It is by far the most interesting paranormal romance book I've read this year.

Description: Calla Tor has always known her destiny. She is an alpha werewolf of the Nightshade Pack and is to be mated with Ren Laroche, the male alpha werewolf of the Bane Pack. The plans for their impending union, designed to create a new pack, are upset by the arrival of Shay, a human, when Calla impulsively saves him during a night on patrol. With this one simple decision, Calla has changed everything. Her fascination and attraction to Shay will cost her everything that she has held so dear-including her own life. 

Review: Nightshade may sound like an ordinary paranormal romance with a forbidden love story, however, its supreme world building, mythology, and intrigue sets this book apart. From the very beginning, we find ourselves in the middle of a bear attack. Calla, in wolf form, makes a rash decision to disobey her wolf pack in saving, what she thinks, is an ordinary human. Words such as Guardians, Keepers, and Searchers are introduced and used frequently, but we are given no explanation as to what these terms mean. As you can imagine, I was a little confused by the story in the beginning. I did manage to wrap my head a little bit with inferences from the plot, however, it is not until about a third of the way through the book that the information is given. While this may frustrate some readers and make the story disjointed, I was hooked right away and didn't mind the gaps. I wanted to know what these terms mean and how they relate to one another. I was glad things weren't quickly given away. 
  As we go deeper into the story, we realize that Nightshade has many layers that go deeper beyond the tropes of its genre. There is a hierarchy and social class structure in Calla's world. Guardians, what we call werewolves, are created by magical creatures (who, in my opinion, are very similar to witches and warlocks) called the Keepers. The sole purpose of the Guardian's role is to serve and protect the Keepers against their enemy, the Searchers. Humans are the lowest class and not given any importance, which is why Calla's disobedience in saving Shay is so striking. In addition to the social structure of Calla's world, we also learn about the customs and traditions of the pack. It is through her increasing fascination with Shay and his challenges to her traditions that catalyzes Calla's rebellious attitude. From the werewolf books that I have read, this mythology of magic and power is refreshing and intriguing.
  Calla is a strong female heroine. She is a firm believer in her traditions and understands what is required of her. She is willing and determined to do anything for her family and pack. Though she is an alpha and can control her pack, we see how easily her powers are overshadowed by others, especially her destined mate, Ren, and her willingness to except orders from others. Like Calla, we also begin to question what it means to be alpha, especially when she is surprised by the unfairness of being an alpha (i.e. losing personal freedom) and the traditions that bind her. Despite her uneasiness with her customs, she reluctantly goes out of her comfort zone when she and Shay uncover startling truths of her real history. We quickly find out that nothing is what it seems.
  Shay and Ren, the two love interests in Calla's lives are very interesting. Both have their shares of flaws and appeal both to readers and Calla. It has been a really long time since I have been divided by choosing a male lead. In Nightshade, there is no clear winner for me or even for Calla, I think, because there is so much left to be discovered about them. I found the boys' relationship with Calla to be fascinating. Shay first appears as your ordinary human who falls for a werewolf, but he goes through significant changes and becomes a key figure in the long fight between Searcher and Keeper. We finally go beyond the mortal/paranormal pairing. I found myself questioning whether Calla is drawn to him because he represents the unknown to her or whether it is because her alpha holds power over him. Similarly, our first impression of Ren is that he is sexy, cocky, and womanizing, however, he also begins to be much more complicated as we learn about his past and family. I also couldn't help but wonder if Calla's hesitance in becoming closer to Ren is due to her own insecurities or because her dominance is overshadowed by his. While there are steamy scenes and romance featured between Shay and Calla as well as Ren and Calla, I couldn't help but question if it was really love or simply a matter of Calla struggling with pre-determined destiny or free will or even a competition amongst our two male leads. 
  While some of the plot twists were kind of predictable, I was more invested into the characters, particularly the secondary characters. Cremer does a great job in describing the individuals that make up the two wolf packs. I loved watching them interact with one another and how they responded to their alpha's call. Since Nightshade is the first book in a series, the ending did feel abrupt and it does leave off in a cliffhanger as I expected. I look forward to seeing how each of the characters grow and what is the true history of the Guardians, Keepers, and Searchers in the sequel, Wolfsbane, which will come out in July 2011.     

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the book and a few racey scenes. Recommended for ages 14 and older.

If you like this book try: Wolfsbane (NightShade #2; available in 2011) by Andrea Cremer, Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Dark Divine by Bree Despain, or Matched by Ally Condie 
Rummanah Aasi

  This is my second year in joining the 100+ Reading Challenge. When I first joined I didn't have a blog, but I kept a running list of all the titles I had read. The reason? I'm a book addict. I read for work, helping teachers navigate the large waves of YA literature, and to unwind especially when my brothers hog the tv by watching football. My goal for this year is to read up to 200 books. Currently, I'm at 226 and I have a few more to go before the year ends. I will be joining again for 2011, which I'm sure doesn't surprise my friends and colleagues. My goal for next year is to read 250 books. The 100+ Reading Challenge is hosted by Amy at My Overstuffed Bookshelf. She is challenging us to beat our record for 2010.

Here is some important information regarding the challenge:

  • The goal is to read 100 or more books.
  • Anyone can join.
  • You don't need a blog to participate. Posting on GoodReads or wherever you post your reviews is good enough.
  • Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Manga, Graphic Novels, Library books, Novellas, Young Reader, Nonfiction – as long as the book has an ISBN or equivalent or can be purchased as such, the book counts.
  • What doesn't count: Individual short stories or individual books in the Bible.
  • No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.
  • Crossovers from other reading challenges count.
  • Books started before the January 1st do not count.
  • You can join at anytime.

 To learn more and sign up, go here. I will list my books that I finished in 2011 here, but you can always find the reviews on my review index pages located on the right hand side bar.

Books I read in 2011

  1.  Flaming Dove by Daniel Arenson (Adult)
  2. The Trouble with Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante (Childrens)
  3. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (YA)
  4. Emmy and The Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell (Childrens)
  5. Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs (Adult)
  6. Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen (YA)
  7. The Alchemyst by Michael Scott (Childrens/YA)
  8. The Keening by A. LaFaye (Childrens/YA)
  9. The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Godwa (Adult)
  10. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (YA)
  11. The House of Wisdom by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland (Childrens)
  12. Silas Marner by George Eliot (Adult)
  13. Kill Shakespeare Vol 1: A Sea of Troubles by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col (Graphic Novel) 
  14. Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby (Childrens/YA) 
  15. Bruiser by Neal Shusterman (YA)
  16. Nevermore by Kelly Creagh (YA)
  17. The Cellar by A.J. Whitten (YA)
  18. Trouble by Gary Schmidt (Children/YA)
  19. Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs (Adult)
  20. Priscilla the Great by Sybil Nelson (Childrens)
  21. Shade by Jeri Ready-Smith (YA)
  22. Drowned Sorrow by Vanessa Morgan (Adult) 
  23. Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel (Graphic Novel)
  24. Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams (YA)
  25. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf (Adult)
  26. Miki Falls Vol 1: Spring by Mark Crilley (Graphic Novel)
  27. The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan (Adult) 
  28. Wither by Lauren DeStefano (YA) 
  29. Jellaby: Monster in the City by Kean Soo (Graphic Novel) 
  30. Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs (Adult)
  31. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty (Graphic Novel)
  32. Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell (Children/YA)
  33. Library Wars Volume 1: Love and War by Kiiro Yumi and Hiro Arikawa (Graphic Novel)
  34. Delirium by Lauren Oliver (YA)
  35. Dark Parties by Sara Grant (YA) 
  36. Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro (Graphic Novel) 
  37. These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf (Adult) 
  38. Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky (YA) 
  39. Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis (Children) 
  40. Notes from a Midnight Driver by Jonathan Sonnenblick (YA) 
  41. City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare (YA)
  42. Everything I was by Corrine Demas (Children/YA) 
  43. Memento Nora by Angie Smibert (YA) 
  44. Tales of Asha Volume 1: Death by Joseph Lewis (Adult)
  45. Possession by Elana Johnson (YA)
  46. Bumped by Megan McCaffetry (YA)
  47. Mercury by Hope Larson (Graphic Novel)
  48. Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferrais (Adult) 
  49. Aurelia by Anne Ousterlund (Childrens/YA) 
  50. White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Adult) 
  51. Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (Children/YA) 
  52. Illegal by Brettina Restrepo (Childrens/YA)
  53. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors (Adult) 
  54. Vampire Knight Vol 9 by Matsuri Hino (Graphic Novel/Manga) 
  55. Clarity by Kim Harrington (YA)
  56.  Island of Animals by Denys Johnson-Davies and Sabhia Khemir (Adult, Children, YA)
  57. Vampire Knight Vol 10 by Matsuri Hino (Graphic Novel/Manga)
  58. Savannah Grey by Cliff McNish (Children/YA)
  59. Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara story by Ken Mochizuki (Children)
  60. Stay by Deb Caletti (YA)
  61. Vampire Knight Vol 11 by Matsuri Hino (Manga)
  62. Villette by Charlotte Bronte (Adult)
  63. All Stations! Distress! April 15, 1912, the day the Titanic sank by Don Brown (Children)
  64. Miki Falls Vol 2: Summer by Mark Crilley (Graphic Novel)
  65. Lost Saint by Bree Despain (YA)
  66. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolick (Adult)
  67. Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan (Children/YA)
  68. Miki Falls Vol 3: Autumn by Mark Crilley (Graphic Novel)
  69. 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy along with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah and Thomas Gonzalez (Children)
  70. Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting (YA)
  71. Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvan (Adult)
  72. Miki Falls Volume 4: Winter by Mark Crilley (Graphic Novel)
  73. Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, deputy U.S. marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. (Children)
  74. Red Glove by Holly Black (YA)
  75. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffins (Adult)
  76. Summer of May by Cecilia Galante (Children)
  77. Black Butler Vol 1 by Yana Toboso (Manga)
  78. Please Ignore Vera Diez by A.S. King (YA)
  79. Sparrow Road by Shelia O'Connor (Children)
  80. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (Adult)
  81. Black Butler Vol 2 by Yana Toboso (Manga)
  82. Fablehaven Vol 1 by Brandon Mull (Children)
  83. Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder (YA)
  84. This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson (YA)
  85. Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews (Adult)
  86. Black Butler Vol 3 by Yana Toboso (Manga)
  87. The Silver Kiss by Annette Klause (YA)
  88. Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (YA)
  89. Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen (Children)
  90. Beat the Band by Don Calame (YA)
  91. The Detention Club by David Yoo (Children)
  92. Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala (YA)
  93. The Dreaming Vol 1 by Queenie Chan (Graphic Novel/Manga)
  94. The Dreaming Vol 2 by Queenie Chan (Graphic Novel/Manga)
  95. Divergent by Veronica Roth (Divergent #1) (YA)
  96. Chime by Frannie Billingsley (YA)
  97. Extra Credit by Andrew Clements (Children)
  98. Bunnicula by James and Deborah Howe (Children)
  99. Swindle by Gordon Korman (Children)
  100. Inconvenient by Margie Gelbwasser (YA)
  101. Vampire Knight Vol 12 by Matsuri Hino (Manga)
  102. Absolute Boyfriend Vol 1 by Yuu Watase (Manga)
  103. Absolute Boyfriend Vol 2 by Yuu Watase (Manga)
  104. Absolute Boyfriend Vol 3 by Yuu Watase (Manga)
  105. Absolute Boyfriend Vol 4 by Yuu Watase (Manga)
  106. Absolute Boyfriend Vol 5 by Yuu Watase (Manga)
  107. Absolute Boyfriend Vol 6 by Yuu Watase (Manga)
  108. Graveminder by Melissa Marr (Adult)
  109. Kara, Lost by Susan Niz (YA)
  110. Across the Universe by Beth Revis (YA)
  111. And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky (YA)
  112. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Children)
  113. The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson (Adult)
  114. The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas (Children)
  115. Stolen by Lucy Christopher (YA)
  116. Where She Went by Gayle Forman (YA)
  117. The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf (Adult)
  118. Die for Me (Revenants #1) by Amy Plum (YA)
  119. It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han (YA)
  120. Love Drugged by James Klise (YA)
  121. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell (YA)
  122. Flight of Phoneix by R. L. LaFevers (Children)
  123. The Rock and the River by Kekla Magloon (Children/YA)
  124. Forever (Wolves of Mercy #3) by Maggie Stiefvater (YA)
  125. Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka (Children)
  126. The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair (Adult)
  127. Wolfsbane (Nightshade #2) by Andrea Cremer (YA)
  128. Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society #2) by Ally Carter (YA)
  129. Black Butler Vol 4 by Yana Toboso (Manga)
  130. Black Butler Vol 5 by Yana Toboso (Manga)
  131. Other (Other #1) by Karen Kincy (YA)
  132. Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon (Adult) 
  133. What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (YA)
  134. Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, Alexis Frederick-Frost (Children)
  135. Dying to Meet You (43 Old Cementery Road Book 1) by Kate Klise (Children)
  136. The Predicteds by Christine Seiferts (YA)
  137. Some Girls Bite (Chicagoland Vampires #1) by Chloe Neil (Adult)
  138. Hounded (Iron Druid #1) by Kevin Hearne (Adult)
  139. Angelfire (Angelfire #1) by Courtney Allison Moulton (YA)
  140. Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age edited by Ariel Schrag (Graphic Novel)
  141. Dust by Joan Frances Turner (Adult)
  142. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (YA)
  143. Lush by Natasha Friend (YA)
  144. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (YA)
  145. How to Get Suspended and Influence People by Adam Selzer (Children) 
  146. Frail by Joan Frances Turner (Adult) 
  147. Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes (Children) 
  148. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (Adult)
  149. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Adult) 
  150. Unnatural (Archangel Academy #1) by Michael Griffo *Review posted at Shelfari*
  151. Unwelcome (Archangel Academy #2) by Michael Griffo  (YA)
  152. Solitary (Escape from the Furnace #2) by Alexander Gordon Smith (YA)
  153. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen (YA)
  154. Saving June by Hannah Harrington (YA)
  155. Vampire Knight Volume 13 by Matsuri Hino (Manga)
  156. Friday Night Bites (Chicagoland Vampires #2) by Chloe Neil (Adult) 
  157. Twice Bitten (Chicagoland Vampires #3) by Chloe Neil (Adult)
  158. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendra Blake (YA)
  159. The Name of the Star (Shades of London #1) by Maureen Johnson (YA)
  160. Hard Bitten (Chicagoland Vampires #4) by Chloe Neil (Adult)
  161. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (Children) 
  162. Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey (YA)
  163. Heartless by Gail Carriger (Parasol Protectorate #4) (Adult)
  164. Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2) by Rick Riordan (Children/YA)
  165. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth (YA)
  166. Wherever You Go by Heather Davis (YA)
  167. Dracula by Bram Stoker (Adult)
  168. My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me by Hilary Winton (Adult)
  169. Drink Deep (Chicagoland Vampires #5) by Chloe Neil (Adult)
  170. Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1) by Laini Taylor (YA)
  171. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Koinsburg (Children)
  172. Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson (Children/YA)
  173. Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic (YA)
  174. Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf (YA)
  175. Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris (Children)
  176. Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar (YA)
  177. Amber Frost (Lost Magic #1) by Suzi Davis (YA)
  178. Corner Shop by Roopa Farooki (Adult)
  179. Heart of a Shepard by Rosanna Parry (Children)
  180. The Restorer (Graveyard Queen #1) by Amanda Stevens (Adult)
  181. Moonglass by Jessi Kirbi (YA)
  182. We'll Always Have Summer (Summer #3) by Jenny Han *Review coming soon
  183. Tiger's Curse (Tiger Saga #1) by Colleen Houck *Review coming soon 
  184. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Children)
  185. Wings (Wings #1) by Aprilynne Pike *Review coming soon
  186. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (Adult)
  187. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (Children)
  188. Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (YA) 
  189. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Children)
  190. Living Violet (Cambion Chronicles #1) by Jaime Reed (YA)
  191. Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen (Children)
  192. Bloom by Elizabeth Scott *Review coming soon
  193. Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan (Children)
  194. Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay *Review coming soon 
  195. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (Adult)
  196. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpah Lahiri (Adult)
  197. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (Children)
  198. House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (Adult)
  199. Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman *Review coming soon
  200. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Adult)
  201. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury *Review coming soon
  202. Many Stones by Carolyn Coman *Review coming soon
  203.  Tithe by Holly Black *Review coming soon
  204.  Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger (Adult)
  205.  Kiss Me, Kill Me by Lauren Henderson *Review coming soon
  206.  The Thief by Megan Whallen Turner (Children)
  207. Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale (Graphic Novel)
  208.  Amelia Rules! : The Tweenage Guide To Not Being Unpopular by Jimmy Gownley (Graphic Novel)
  209.  Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty *Review coming soon
  210.  Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge (Graphic Novel)
  211.  That Summer by Sarah Dessen *Review coming soon
  212.  Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol (Graphic Novel)
  213.  Soldier X by Don Wulffson *Review coming soon
  214.  Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson *Review coming soon
  215.  Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Children)
  216.  Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim (Graphic Novel)
  217.  Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 1: Orientation by Tom Siddell (Graphic Novel)
  218.  The Pigman by Paul Zindel *Review coming soon
  219.  Library Wars Volume 2 by Kiiro Yumi (Manga)
  220. Library Wars Volume 3 by Kiiro Yumi (Manga)
  221. Chi's Sweet Home Volume 1 by Konami Kanata (Manga)
  222.  Chi's Sweet Home Volume 2 by Konami Kanata (Manga)
  223.  Chi's Sweet Home Volume 3 by Konami Kanata (Manga)
  224.  Chi's Sweet Home Volume 4 by Konami Kanata  (Manga)
  225.  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (Children)
  226.  Animal Heroes by Sandra Markle (Children)
  227.  The Secret Science Alliance by Eleanor Davis (Graphic Novel)
  228.  The Arrival by Shaun Tan *Review coming soon
  229.  The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan *Review coming soon
  230.  Polo: The Runaway Book by Regis Fallen *Review on Shelfari*
  231.  Mister O by Lewis Trondheim *Review coming soon
  232.  The Lion and the Mouse by Jeff Pinkey (Childrens)
  233.  Naked Song by Lalla *Review on Shelfari
  234.  The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek (Adult)
  235.  Wild Things by Clay Carmicheal *Review coming soon
  236.  Amelia Rules! What Makes You Happy by Jimmy Gowenly (Graphic Novel)
  237.  The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek (Adult)
  238.  Magic Gifts by Ilona Andrews (Adult)
  239.  The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen (Graphic Novel)
  240.  Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neil *Reread for Tempting Tuesday Read-along
Rummanah Aasi
  We all have lost a loved one sometime in our lives. We all deal with their loss in different ways. Some of us get angry at ourselves in thinking of ways how the death could be avoided by plaguing ourselves with "what if" questions. Some of us might seem to dive right back in our normal routine and act as if nothing happened. Some are just shocked, numb, and confused about what exactly has happened. The point I'm trying to make here is that we all grieve in different ways and most of them we look upon others to receive strength and direction, but it's hard to understand that we all are looking for the same thing and most of time, just like in life, have no answers. It is this last epiphany that struck a chord with me when I finished the phenomenal children's book The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong. 

Description (back of the book): Ben and his brothers have always loved sailing on the lake near their house. But when their mother dies in an accident and their father decides to sell their house and sail around the Bahamas, they aren't so sure about life on a worn old sailboat so far from home. Then one morning the boys wake up to discover that their dad is gone and they're lost half-way between the Bahamas and Bermuda. What happened to their father? And what will they do when a treacherous storm looms on the horizon?

Review: I have not a great adventure, survival story like The Great Wide Sea since reading Gary Paulsen's Hatchet in fifth grade. Without getting a chance to say goodbye to their mother, Ben and his brothers are whisked away by their father to travel. Their father has already sold their house, packed all of their belongs (including their mother's) which will most likely go to charity, and bought supplies for their trip. The loss that the family feels isn't addressed, but it is felt heavily in the air surrounding them.
   Ben is our narrator and a fifteen year old teen as the story begins. He did not expect to lose his mother so soon and have his life irrevocably changed. He had planned on getting a car on his sixteenth birthday and meeting girls, but not leave his home to go sailing with his deranged, callous dad who seemed to quickly forget about their mother. He tries to resist his father and implores him to be reasonable, but he ultimately fails. Thus, begins the slow, strenuous relationship he has with father. For Ben, his father is the one who should have answers not just disappear to let him and his brothers fend for their lives.
  Dylan, Ben's second brother, is stoic and intelligent. Despite when times are frantic and grim, he keeps his cool. Ben receives strength and optimism from Dylan. Gerry, the youngest of the three brothers and just five years old, is one of the most adorable characters I have ever encountered. Though he is a toddler, he is very observant and is keen to understand when problems happen and when people are fighting. He carries Blankie, very much so like Linus in the Peanuts cartoons, as a safety net. It is his innocent questions and body movements that made me cry.    Ben's father is an interesting character. Like Ben, I was completely taken aback from his plans to sail for a year with his boys. His plans were illogical and at times reminded me a little of the megalomaniac Captain Ahab of Moby Dick. We fear the worst for him and dislike him more when he disappears, but we are uncertain until the powerful ending of the book. 
  While there are intricate details of sailing provided in the book, the information did not take over the story but rather vividly painted a picture in my mind. The author has a great sense of setting that I imagined the boat and the storm so clearly in my head. Without having any prior knowledge of sailing, I knew what the characters were doing and why.
  I cried quite a few times in The Great Wide Sea and though the journey at sea was harrowing, most of my tears came from the brother's shared memories of their mother, the few quiet moments where they allowed themselves to briefly cry on each others' shoulders, and at especially the ending. While most readers may be drawn to the edge-of-your-seat plot (believe me, I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough), the storm at sea is also a metaphor of the storm that is raging in the family's heart. The Great Wide Sea is a fantastic adventure/nature/survival story that will please both girls and boys. It also brilliantly portrays family's relationships in a time of crisis and I loved every minute of it.   

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 5 to 8.

If you like this book try: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, The Beet Fields by Gary Paulsen, The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Rummanah Aasi
  Author Sarah Ockler might ring a bell for a few of you. Her 2009 debut, Twenty Boy Summer, was unfortunately and, I think,  randomly targeted in a book challenge along with Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson just this year by a professor in St. Louis. You can read more about the challenge and my reaction on this by reading this post. Note: the article is no longer available online. Like her debut novel, Fixing Delilah is also about loss, grief, but also about love and hope.

Description: Delilah is falling apart. She is losing friends, disinterested in school, and spending way too much time with her non-boyfriend. A phone call announcing the death of her estranged grandmother, however, changes everything. When she visits her family's house in Vermont, she begins to unravel tightly held secrets that her tore family apart. Delilah is desperate to find out the truth, but is she willing to deal with the truth?

Review: Fixing Delilah is a delightful read. As the book opens, Delilah and her mother are on their way to Vermont to arrange a funeral for Delilah's now deceased grandmother and to take care of her estate. Delilah will spend her summer in Vermont instead of the usual partying and hanging out in her hometown in Pennsylvania. During her stay, she tries to get her emotionally distant and workaholic mother to open up about her family. Delilah doesn't remember much of her grandmother and even much less about Aunt Stephanie, whose name is never mentioned by her mother or Aunt Rachel.
  The more Delilah pushes her mother, the more resistant her mother becomes. Delilah can't help but feel that her grandmother's and aunt's death are some how connected to the strained relationship she has with her once close mother. She is terrified that the same cycle will continue to carry on in the present and future. As you can see, there is a mystery element that drives the story of Fixing Delilah. We are given bits and pieces of the past. One question leads to another and essentially where are given three questions to solve: What happened to Stephanie? What was the fight that tore apart Delilah's family 8 years ago? Can this once broken family be connected again? Although these are interesting questions, I thought they fell flat in the story and they didn't hold my interest. For one thing, we are told too much information right away and then large hints are given throughout the book, which is why I was able to solve the mystery before Delilah. The mystery aspect of this book, in my opinion, is the book's weakness.
  What I really liked about Fixing Delilah is the sweet romance between Delilah and Patrick, a childhood friend whom she instantly reconnects with during her stay at Vermont. Their relationship is based on friendship and slowly becomes more. They actually do talk and share their opinions on their lives, which is nice after the numerous "love at first sight" and "my heart aches when I'm not with him" stories that I have been reading lately. Their romance is sweet, realistic, and lyrically portrayed in Fixing Delilah. It's the chapters that develop Delilah and Patrick's relationship that made me continue to read the book.
  I also enjoyed the cast of characters in the book too. I had a hard time at first in liking Delilah, but I warmed up to her as she starts to break down the walls she builds around her. Like Delilah, her mother also goes through a transformation from being cold, robot-like to being warm and vulnerable. Aunt Rachel has a new age vibe that contrasts the coldness of Delilah's mother and me smile on numerous times in the book. My favorite character, however, is Patrick. I instantly knew I would love him when he is first seen reading his annotated copy of  The Cather in the Rye and then more so with his music. The family secrets, sweet romance, and the homey feel of a small town make Fixing Delilah a good read. Fans of Deb Caletti's and Sarah Dessen's novels will feel right at home with Ockler's latest book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the book and some allusions to sex.

If you like this book try: Guyaholic by Carolyn Mackler, Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen, The Queen of Everything by Deb Caletti
Rummanah Aasi

  My TBR pile has gotten out of control. I have two and half bookcases full of books that are filled to the brim. I've now started putting them in bags because I can't find room on the shelves! I bought almost all of them from my public library's used book sale where all the proceeds benefit the library's collection. So, really it's a good thing I bought them. ;) To tell you the truth, I don't think I've read anywhere close to 20% of what I have on the shelves already. I already know that I will go back and buy more this fall. It's not that I lost interest in them, in just that I get distracted by new releases. *Sigh* So when I saw the Off The Shelf Challenge, which is hosted by Bookish Armour, I knew this is the kick in the butt that I need to start clearing my shelves.

Important information regarding this challenge: This challenge is to read those books you own copies of, but have never got around to reading. If you don't have many that you own, but have a massive TBR shelf you're welcome to read those ones as long as you don't add new ones. You don't need to actually get rid of your books after you've read them, this is just to read them. This challenge runs from Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2011.

How to Participate

1. Decide which challenge level you'll be doing (see below) - do not include books that you buy from the start of this challenge.

2. Grab the badge and post it on a side bar or in a signature (if you want to participate but aren't blogging, there is a Submission For Non Bloggers).

3. Create your own post to let all your readers know you’re taking part in the challenge and at what level (if you're really proficient you can list your books!). Make sure to link back to this page with either one of the buttons or a text link.

4. Use the link form to enter into the challenge by sharing your challenge post url and your name (either your name, blog name, or both). Please don't use the comment form to participate, only to comment on the challenge or something else..

5. Submit your reviews (if you choose to review them, but that is optional) on the review page.

6. When you’ve completed your challenge let us know on the completion post. If you're using a tag or category, the Bookish Armour recommends sharing the link back so that everyone participating in the challenge can find them.

Challenge Levels

Tempted– Choose 5 books to read

Trying – Choose 15 books to read

Making A Dint – Choose 30 books to read

On A Roll – Choose 50 books to read

Flying Off – Choose 75 books to read

For extra hard challenges:

Hoarder – Choose 76-125 books to read

Buried – Choose 126-200 books to read

My level for this challenge will be Making a Dent: reading 30 books from my TBR pile. I don't have a tentative list right now, but I will post a compilation here as well as on the completion post of this challenge. Although this challenge doesn't require you to pass your books along when you're done, I'll be weeding my shelves and may even do a few giveaways, so stay tuned.

Books Read from my TBR Pile

  1. Silas Marner by George Eliot
  2. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Khaf
  3. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors
  4. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  5. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffins
  6. The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  8. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  9. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  10. Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris 
  11. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis 
  12. Wings (Wings #1) by Aprilynne Pike 
  13. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy 
  14. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli 
  15. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse 
  16. Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen 
  17. Bloom by Elizabeth Scott 
  18. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson 
  19. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpah Lahiri
  20. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
  21. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  22. Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman
  23. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  24. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  25.  Many Stones by Carolyn Corman
  26.  Tithe by Holly Black
  27.  Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
  28.  Kiss Me, Kill Me by Lauren Henderson
  29.  The Theif by Megan Whallen Turner
  30.  Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
  31.  That Summer by Sarah Dessen
  32.  Soldier X by Don Wulffson
  33.  Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
  34.  Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
  35.  Pigman by Paul Zindel
  36.  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  37.  The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybeck
  38.  Naked Song (Poems) by Lalla
Rummanah Aasi
 We live in a celebrity obsessed society. We love to see stars rise and put them on this huge pedestal, but once we see flaws that make a crack in their image we tend to turn immediately against them. We take a sick pleasure in watching their every move and we love to see them crash and burn. I admit to tuning into Access Hollywood or ET for the latest gossip whether it is the latest celebrity break-up (did you hear about Scarlett and Ryan?) or flipping through People magazine during my lunch break at work. I have no clue how this all started, but it is startling to see how for some kids want to be "famous" when they grow up. Young readers are given a small glimpse of celebrity life in Sarah Week's children book Oggie Cooder.

Description: Oggie never wanted to be a celebrity. He is always described by teachers to be quirky or "one of a kind" and his peers label him as the school weirdo. What they don't know about Oggie is that he is a talented charver (chews and carves) of cheese into various shapes. This rare talent of his has landed him in a spot of a television show. Now that Oggie gets a taste of fame, will he want his normal life back?

Review: I love quirky characters. There is just something about being eccentric and having idiosyncrasies that assures me that I'm not that strange. I think we all have quirks, whether or not we like to admit them is a different story. Oggie is a lovable and sweet character. He embraces his idiosyncrasies with pride and is completely oblivious to his peer's sarcasm and comments. He sees nothing wrong with his unique ability to charve cheese into any shapes nor with his vintage wardrobe and crotchet shoe laces. Of course he finds himself longing to be part of a sports team and have a large group of friends from time to time, but he doesn't dwell on this. In fact, he doesn't realize how much he is missing out until his neighbor, Dominca, the snotty, spoiled brat who is completely obsessed with being "famous" seeks his help for her own benefit. Initially, he naively thinks Dominca is reaching out to him in friendship, but then he slowly begins to realize her real motive. Unlike his peers, he doesn't dislike Dominca for her actions. He was simply doing her a favor. When he gets accidentally gets a spot on television, he has no clue what he is in for, but he keeps having uneasy feelings about the whole ordeal. Weeks does a pretty good job in showing how Oggie feels about being pressured and famous without being too preachy. For instance, Oggie comes to this realization before an adult can step in and tell him, which for young readers is important because it shows them that they are responsible for their own actions.
  Oggie Cooder is a delightful read that will appeal to kids and it easy to read for those who have graduated from chapter books. The chapters are very short and there are small illustrations throughout the book. I did, however, find Oggie's popularity from being avoided to being constantly surrounded by his classmates to be unsettling and unfortunately quite realistic, but I would like to think that Oggie would have gotten friends by just being his fun and sweet self, but I think this would provide a good discussion question for young readers.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for grades 3 to 6.

If you like this book try:  Oggie Cooder: Party animal by Sarah Weeks
Rummanah Aasi
  I never heard of graphic novelist Alison Bechdel before. After finishing her memoir in the form of a graphic novel, I learned that she is best known for her comic "Dykes to Watch Out For", which has won numerous awards and have been translated into several languages. Her memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2006 and has received numerous starred reviews from Booklist and other journals. All of which it rightly deserves.

Description: Fun Home is a poignant father and daughter story. Recalling her childhood and adolescence, the author tries to make sense of her relationship with her emotionally distant and closeted father while exploring her own sexuality.

Review: Fun Home is an engrossing and moving memoir that I haven't read in a really long time. While the memoir includes various rites of passage of adolescence and teen angst that are common to all memoirs, it manages to go beyond the genre's limits. Bechdel does not shy away in presenting her father with flaws to her readers. He is emotionally unavailable, closeted, narcissistic man who is obsessed in creating a facade of the perfect family and runs a funeral home which is where the title comes from. As I read the novel, I couldn't believe how the events of her father's live took precedence over the author's own. The confusion of her teen years are overshadowed by her father's court trial. Even his secret affairs and death, which isn't clear if its suicide or an accident, are given more importance than to her own sexual epiphany. It is only after Bechdel learns from her mother of father's hidden homosexuality that she is able to see her him in a new light and make him human.
  What I loved best about Fun Home is the chalk full of literary allusions, from Fitzgerald, Joyce, and Proust, that are presented in the graphic novel-memoir. The allusions, I think, added another layer and dimension to the story. Both of her parents are very well read. Her father was a high school English teacher while her mother studied theater and performed in community plays. It is only through literature that Bechdel is able to describe her parents. She notes: : "I employ these [literary] allusions ... not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms" (66). It becomes apparent as we read further that literature is really the only way she could connect with her father and one wonders whether the books he picked for her to read were done consciously. While I enjoyed the allusions, I was a bit lost when it came to Proust since I haven't read any of his books but I could still infer the author's significance to the graphic novel-memoir.
  The format of Fun Home is done pretty well. The panels are spaced out and the colors are pretty much monotone with shades of midnight blue, white, and black, which made it appealing. Unlike many graphic novels I've read, the narrative is written above the panel while the dialogue was contained in the panel. I was at times confused on what I should read first, but it did not stop me from reading.
  Fun Home is a wonderful example of a graphic memoir done right. It is engaging, heart wrenching, at times funny, but mostly importantly insightful. I couldn't help but go, "Wow" when I finished it. I think it goes without saying that I highly recommended Fun Home for those who like intelligent memoirs.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong sexual content, nudity, and language throughout the graphic novel. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: Blankets by Craig Thompson or Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
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