Rummanah Aasi
  I had a wonderful time participating in the Middle East Reading Challenge hosted by Helen at Helen's Book Blog. I just wished that I registered much earlier so I could have fit in more books, however, I do plan on reading more books in this region. I've learned so much. I read G. Willow Wilson's memoir titled The Butterfly Mosque as my last entry for this reading challenge.

Description: The author describes her conversion to Islam and journey to Egypt where she taught English, learned about the Middle Eastern culture, and fell in love with an Egyptian man. 

Review: The Butterfly Mosque is a satisfying, well written memoir that is equally a romance and travelogue. When I started The Butterfly Mosque, I didn't know what to expect. I had never read a book about someone converting to a religion, especially Islam. After an illness forces her to face her own mortality at age 18, Wilson, the child of two atheists, finds herself in search of religion. The faith fits her needs is Islam, but post 9/11 she faces difficulties embracing it fully, feeling as if she is betraying her country, etc. However her interest in studying Islam, Arabic, and learning about the Middle East continues to grow. When she is given the opportunity to move to Cairo and teach at an English-language school that she is able to immerse herself in the religion she has come to love and become a Muslim.
  Her experiences at Cairo are eye opening and fascinating, especially with those of us who know absolutely nothing of the Egyptian culture. When she falls in love with Omar, an Egyptian physics teacher, Wilson becomes increasingly open about her faith. She openly claims Islam despite the fears that her friends and family will not accept her. Though Wilson finds herself warmly welcomed Omar's family, adjusting to life in Egypt takes time and patience. Despite speaking Arabic, following the social mores, and being an observing Muslim, Wilson isn't fully embraced by the Cairo dwellers and will probably always be known as the foreigner.
  Wilson avoids preaching how to be the "right" Muslim, keeping faith personal and instead focuses on the stereotypes of Arabs, particularly of the religious fundamentalists, and breaks them as she learns more about the religion, talks with natives, observes the society around her. As Wilson lives in Cairo, she also makes note how the different genders interact. Women's rights are most discussed, though at times the problematic issues are a bit glossed over. Still I found the memoir an enjoyable and approaching read and would recommend it to others. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed or The Muslim Next Door by Sumbul Ali-Karamali
Rummanah Aasi

  Today I have Shawn Thomas Odyssey on the blog today for his The Wizard of Dark Street Blog Tour This or That post. For those unfamiliar of this post, Shawn will respond to my questions as if he lived in 1876, a time period where his book is set in, in his preference of this or that. I hope you enjoy the post!

Do you like to spend your freetime: reading or going to social gatherings?
Reading. Everywhere and anywhere. Can’t get enough. “Even at social gatherings?” you ask. Well, my wife doesn’t really approve of bringing books to parties. She thinks if you’re going to a gathering, you’re there to socialize, not to read…but between you and me, sometimes it’s nice to have a paperback in my pocket. Just to know it’s there if I need it.

In your opinion, who is a better writer: Lousa May Alcott or Jules Verne? 

Which of them is a better writer? I can't rightly say, but I would be more partial to reading Jules Vern on concepts alone. Talk about imagination!
Which invention, the phonograph or the telephone, do you use the most?

Phonograph. No longer are we required to pay for an expensive concert, but we can enjoy a symphony right in the comfort of our very own parlor. It’s like magic.

Do you prefer listening to "In The Gloaming" or "La Jeunesse d'Hercule" by Camille Saint-Saens? 

As a great fan of popular music, I would have to go with “Le carnaval” actually. The “Aquarium” piece sets the tone for Dark Street quite perfectly. Have a listen and you’ll hear for yourself.

In the presidential race, did you vote for Rutherford B. Hayes or Samuel J. Tilden? 

I can’t remember who I voted for, to tell the truth. 1876 was such along time ago…It was either the guy with the beard…or the one without.

Which sport do you participate in: horse racing or baseball? 

In the mid 1800’s baseball was all the rage in New York City, so I’d have to go with the ball and bat…although, like the Wizard, I’m particularly partial to badminton. Give me a racket and a birdie, and I’m ready for some serious competition!

Is Dark Street located in New York City or Little Old London?
Dark Street actually exists in the space between New York City and the Land of Faerie. A place known as the Drift—the in between place. Its nickname is “Little London Town” because the majority of its inhabitants speak in British accents.

What do you feel most comfortable wearing: Copper Riveted Overalls (blue jeans) or regular trousers?

On an every day basis, I might just go with blue jeans. In 1873 a man named Levi Strauss, together with his partner Jacob Davis, created a kind of men’s work-pants with rivets around the pockets that could be worn day in and day out without fear of being torn or tattered. They could be washed regularly as well, though at the time few of the miners and workmen did so, hygiene not being of the utmost importance.
Of course when heading out for a night at the theatre, I would be wearing a pair of well-pressed trousers to match my fitted jacket and top hat. Yes, yes. Dapper indeed.

Are you most afraid of a witch or a faerie?

This is a fantastic question. Anyone who has grownup on Dark Street knows that the Glass Gates to Faerie at the south end of Dark Street have been locked for nearly five hundred years. Since the end of the Great Faerie War. The thought of those gates ever opening and an army of powerful, magic-wielding faeries spilling through onto the street is enough to give me bad dreams for a month. Though I will admit…the sheer mystery of what the witches do beneath Which Hill, and why the grown witches never show them selves topside is more than a little creepy.

If you couldn't be the Wizard’s apprentice would you be a detective, doctor, banker, or a teacher?

I would be a detective. Life is full of mysteries. I’d like to solve as many as I can.

Would you rather solve a mystery with logic alone or rely on magic only to solve a mystery? 

Well, this is an interesting question. While Oona Crate, the books central character, chooses to use logic only—and she has some pretty compelling reasons for doing so—personally, I would use as much magic as I could muster. Though first and foremost, I would use magic to clean my writing room right now. It is an absolute mess!

Would you prefer to be beautiful or smart? 

Smart. Because the smarter you are, the more you realize that beauty is a state of mind.

 Oona Crate was born to be the Wizard's apprentice, but she has another destiny in mind.

Despite possessing the rare gift of Natural Magic, Oona wants to be a detective. Eager for a case, she is determined to prove that logic can be just as powerful as wizardry. But when someone attacks her uncle--the Wizard of Dark Street--Oona is forced to delve even deeper into the world of magic.

Full of odd characters, evil henchmen, and a street where nothing is normal, The Wizard of Dark Street will have you guessing until the very end.
(Description from
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm really enjoying this year's list of book for the Bluestem Award! I always look forward to reading books by Gordon Korman. I previously read Schooled and Son of the Mob, both of which had a fun plot and great characters. Korman tackles a crime heist in Swindle.

Description: When Griffin Bing and his pal Ben discover an old Babe Ruth baseball card in a home about to be demolished, Griffin dreams of selling it for thousands and use his share of the money to help with his families growing financial woes. The boys are somewhat deflated when they present the card to collectibles dealer S. Wendell Palomino and he suggests that it is not an original but rather a reproduction and buys it for just $120. When the books read about the card in a newspaper and discover that the card was indeed an extremely rare misprint and worth millions of dollars. Outraged at having been taken advantage of, Griffin plans to steal the valuable card back from Palomino, also known as "Swindle." Will Griffin be successful in his plan to con the conman?

Review: Swindle is a delightful and quick read that I finished in one afternoon. It made me laugh in several places and by the end of the book, I had a big smile on my face. Griffin is known as "the man with a plan" amongst his group of friends. When he discovers his rare misprint of a Babe Ruth card was appraised incorrectly and is now being auctioned at a much higher rate, he gets angry but more importantly wants to get even. He recruits his friends, who all have a special talents (i.e. dog whisperer, an expert in technology, etc), and develops a plan to steal back his card.
  Swindle has the traditional kids-versus-adults themed story that is purely plot-driven. Though there are some steps in the heist that are a bit stretch to believe in as an adult, I don't think younger readers will have any complaints. Things don't always go according to Griffin's plan, which is half the fun, but everything turns out all right in the end. Griffin even learns a lesson or two by the end of the book, which come naturally once the adults get involved with all that is happening.
 Swindle would be a good choice for reluctant readers, who enjoy sports, especially boys. The chapters are short and the pace is quick. The characters with their quirky personalities make you laugh and want to root for them. You can almost always count on Korman to deliver a fun book and I look forward to reading more by this prolific writer.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. A great choice for a read aloud for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Heist Society by Ally Carter, Zoobreak by Gordon Korman, or The Boys Start a War by Phyllis Reynolds
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm trying to read out of my manga comfort zone. I tend to lean on the action/thriller or gothic romance genres, but I haven't really ventured into the shojo, romantic comedy genre of manga. The Absolute Boyfriend series would be my first romantic comedy. Though the storyline is quite silly, it's a great escape and a fun read. I recently finished the second volume.

Description: Riiko thought her prayers where answered when her mail ordered, perfect boyfriend, Night, appeared at her door. She was only suppose to keep Night for his 3 day free trial and return him, except she forgot to look at the small print of her receipt and now she has to fork up $1 million dollars to pay for him. Thinking quickly on her feet, Riiko proposes she can help Night's manufacturing company by providing them with lots of data about women. As long as Night collects data, she doesn't have to pay the large fee. Where would be the best place to take Night that has lots of girls and is of free of charge? To school, of course! The hilarity continues in Volume 2.

Review:  Absolute Boyfriend is a manga series where you can sit back, relax, and don't really need to think too hard. While the storyline does not make complete sense, it is still fun to watch the characters create problems for themselves and then try to get out of them. Riiko's successfully tried to keep Night hidden, but since she can't afford his hefty fee of $1 million dollars she strikes a bargain with his manufacturing company in allowing Night to gather as much data as he can about the opposite sex in hopes of perfecting the company's models in the future. In order to keep Night in her sight, she enrolls him into her school where he is instantly popular amongst the girls and boys. Soshi, Riiko's neighbor, is suspicious about how perfect Night seems to be and he feels there is something odd about him that he can't quite pin point.
  In the second volume of this manga, there are two major plot lines that will determine how the series ends. In one plot line, Riiko finally finds out why she has been rejected so many times by her previous crushes during a school field trip. I was proud of Riiko, who quickly gets on my nerves sometimes with her whining and clueless attitude, for standing up for herself. Watase does a good job in describing all the teen drama of various relationships. The second plot line perfectly sets up the inevitable love triangle between Riiko, Soshi, and Night. We also see more signs that Soshi has feelings for Riiko as comes to her side when she needs a shoulder to cry on. Riiko clearly has feelings for both Night and Soshi. Night who observes Soshi and Riiko getting closer, gets jealous and finds a way to show Riiko that he can take care of himself.
  What enthralls me about this series so far is how human Night comes across. We do get to see him being jealous, insecure, and well vulnerable, but are his feelings genuine or just programmed by Riiko? Perhaps he is a Pinnochio who will really turn into a real boy? The second volume does leave off at a cliffhanger and I look forward to all the drama in Volume 3.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some sexual innuendo, jokes, and discussion about relationships spread throughout the book. Rated OT for Older Teens.

If you like this book try: Girl Parts by John M. Cusik, The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee, Absolute Boyfriend Vol 3 by Yuu Watase
Rummanah Aasi

    Today I'm thrilled to bring you author Arlaina Tibensky's Teenage Garage Sale post. In this post, we ask the author on what we might find if there were to have a garage sale featuring items from their teenage years. Here is what Arlaina shared with us:

In And Then Things Fall Apart Keek and her friend Nic like to go to garage sales in the suburbs of Chicago.  The call it garage sailing and they love it-

Last summer, before high school started, we would get a Suburban Life newspaper and a red Sharpie, and circle the most promising sale events, mapping out our route and filling our handle bar baskets with crap we could not live without.  Albums and fondue paraphernalia, dresses, jackets, square-toed patent leather boots.  Cocktail rings, Adam Ant posters, fish tank toys and giant daisy pins.  How we loved the ephemera of suburban living, repurposed with knowing worldliness for our own lives, making everything we did seem unique and full of unearned gravitas because the very objects themselves had a history separate from our own.

Do not be shocked when I tell you that some of these very same items in the book are from my actual teenaged life…

  1. Adam Ant Poster $5.00. 
      Yes, I was (and still am a little) in love with Adam Ant.  I have all his records on itunes. Prince Charming and Stand and Deliver are my two favorite songs and when I was into him, I’d kiss the poster. On the lips. Dreamily.

  1. Hexagonal fish tank $25
      Blue gravel, treasure chest aquarium toy, and missing dwarf albino African frog skeleton included.  How many nights of my sophomore year were spent listening to Adam Ant on my tape deck and dancing in the blue light of this same fish tank as my tiny white frog pumped his pale pink legs open and shut on his way up for air?

  1. Handmade One of a Kind (OOK) Barbie doll hair clip $2.00
      Keek likes to make upcycled items of wonder for her Etsy shop.  Was I any freaking different?  Dear reader, I was not.  Here on sale, today only, is a unique hair clip featuring a Barbie head, arm, arm, shoe, another head and another arm all lashed to a giant barrette with blue plastic beads and florist wire.  How punk rock.

  1. Sylvia Plath tights OOK! $2.50- make me an offer!
      Random Sylvia Plath verses from Ariel and The Bell Jar written on a pair of white tights in Sharpie Marker.  “The blood flood is the flood of love,”  “Devilish Leopard!”  “Daddy Daddy you bastard, I’m through,” “I’m a pure aceyletyne virgin-”

  1. Hair Crimper $3.00 Like new.  Used three times.  Once for Junior Prom.  Sigh.
 6. Nazareth Academy Catholic Co-Ed College prep uniform skirts- one red Stewart tartan, one gray with maroon check. $15.00 OBO 
            These look especially amazing when paired with the Sylvia Plath tights.  A look to remember.

7.  Various VHS videotapes in the 25 cents box
            Titles include such classics as Repo Man, Barfly, Casablanca, Near Dark, The Hunger, Earth Girls are Easy and Sid and Nancy.

  Arlaina Tibensky is the world’s oldest teenager.  She lives in NYC where she curates the Pen Parentis Literary Salon at the Libertine Library. Her debut YA nove, And Then Things Fall Apart, about how Sylvia Plath and an old typewriter usher a reluctant virgin through the worst summer of her freaking life, is out July 26, 2011 with Simon & Schuster.  Visit her at

Rummanah Aasi
 I hope everyone is staying cool during this very hot summer days. Thank you to all of those who entered my Kate Daniels giveaway. I really hope you do pick up this series. It's absolutely fantastic! According to, the winner for this giveaway is Alden Ash! Congrats, Alden. I sent you an email. Please respond within 72 hours or I will have to pick a new winner.
Rummanah Aasi
  YA Dystopian novels seem to be everywhere this year. One of the most talked about and hyped book this year is Veronica Roth's debut dystopian trilogy, the first book called Divergent, which is set in post-apocalyptic Chicago. Summitt Entertainment, which now known for the Twilight Saga movie adaptations, has picked up the film rights before the book was published. After reading several glowing reviews about the book and my own curiosity of the book's setting, I decided to give it a try. While I didn't "love" the book, I did enjoy it.

Description: In the future, you are born into one of five factions, each of which is characterized by its strength and focus: Abnegation (service), Candor (truth), Erudite (intellect), Amity (friendship), or Dauntless (fearlessness). On your sixteenth birthday, however, you take a test and you can choose a new faction if you are so compelled. This is exactly what happens to Tris, who shocks everyone by exchanging the drab gray robes of Abnegation for the piercing and tattoo styling of Dauntless. What people don't know is that Tris really doesn't belong in any faction, but she must keep her anomaly status to herself in order to stay alive.

Review: Divergent is marketed as the next Hunger Games series. Though both series share very similar structure, they differ in their storytelling. In both books, there has been a post apocalypse which forces the remaining nation (or in the case of Roth's book, only city?) to divide into different districts or traits with the sole purpose of keeping peace and paying for past sins. Both series contain gritty moments where characters are pushed to their physical and mental limits, causing great tension and fast paced adventure. With the Hunger Games, we knew right from the start that the games are real life and death situations. There is a sense of urgency and our emotions are heighten. I didn't sense anything like that with Divergent. In fact we spend most of our time with Tris in the Dauntless training camp and finally get to the central conflict of the book after we are 3/4 into the story.
  I liked the characters of Divergent. Tris is a strong female character that joins the ranks of Katniss and Katsa, girls who can stand on their own, persevere, and fight back. She is constantly battling over which of the five traits that defines her, which makes her likeable and someone you easily root for. Another stand out character is Four, the reserved, broody, and of course, handsome trainer of the Dauntless camp. He holds secrets of his own, but clearly doesn't agree with how things are currently running in his camp. Roth does a good job in creating the romantic tension between these two characters. There is quite a bit of romance to balance the action/thriller scenes in the book.
 What Divergent failed to do, for me at least, is make me deeply care for these characters. The training at the Dauntless camp is grueling. Roth isn't afraid to make her characters miserable, but I didn't come away feeling sad or angry when a character met his or her demise.
  Like many dystopians, we find out that society isn't as perfect as it seems (surprise!) but for an advanced technological society, it is quite predictable. I predicted all of the plot twists of the book, which I'm sure many close readers will too. I found the world building a bit shaky. Is there a world beyond this dystopian version of Chicago? If not, then why is Chicago the chosen city (despite the fact that Roth herself is from Chicago). The world of Divergent just seemed too simple for me. Most of the book discusses morality issues, but there is a very clear line between the "bad" guys and the "good" guys. I was really disappointed that the setting of Chicago wasn't used to its fullest, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to read the book. In fact there were many times where I forgot we were in Chicago unless a landmark like the Millennium Park or Navy Pier was mentioned. I hope Roth does take advantage of the city's landscape in the next two books.   
  Overall, Divergent doesn't add anything new to the crop of dystopian novels that are out right now. Those who are eagerly anticipating the Hunger Games movie will easily love this book for its romance and gutsy action scenes. Despite the books tome-like appearance, it reads quite fast (besides the font is large and the margins are big). The book kept me entertained, but I wanted more and was left unsatisfied. I'm not sure if I'll pick up the second book when it comes out, but I guess I'll wait and see.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence in the book. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins or The Maze Runner series by James Dashner
Rummanah Aasi
 I'm taking a detour from horror/dark comedy manga and venturing into romantic comedy/silliness arena. I've debated on whether or not to pick up Absolute Boyfriend. I was a bit hesitant, considering what's on the first volume cover and its description, but after reading favorable reviews on manga review websites, Amazon, and seeing it listed on quite a few library bibliographies I thought I would give it a shot. There are a total of 6 volumes of the Absolute Boyfriend series.

Description (from Amazon): Shy high school student Riko Izawa aches for a boyfriend but guys just won't look her way. Then one day she signs up for a three-day trial of a mysterious "lover figurine," and the next thing she knows, a cute naked guy is delivered to her doorstep--and he wants to be her boyfriend! Has Riko died and gone to heaven? The cute naked guy turns out to be smart, super nice, stylish and a gourmet chef. Plus, he looks like a million bucks.... Trouble is, that's about what he's going to cost Riko because she didn't return him in time!

Review: If you mashed up Steven Spielberg's A.I. and John Hughes's Weird Science, you would end up with a product that is very close to Yuu Watase's Absolute Boyfriend, the author's first attempt at a romantic comedy. Riiko is a clumsy, boy obsessed teen whose love life is DOA. When her latest crush turns her down, she is devastated and depressed. She doesn't understand what's wrong with her and wishes, above all else, to have a boyfriend. Her prayers seem to be answered when she stumbles upon a website where she can order a boyfriend, even customize him with every personality trait she desires. On a moment of weakness, Riiko orders one and the next day receives a stark naked 'figure' out of a box who looks like a real life, utterly beautiful boy.She names him Night, a play on the 'figure' category on the website. In a side note, the author explains that she wants to stay away from calling Night a robot and doesn't draw him as having circuits but as a human-like figure, but he is essentially what we call a robot, programmed to attune to a woman's desires and emotions. Thus, Night is eager to please Riiko in more ways than one. Riiko must keep his identity secret and aims to teach the eager-to-please boy how to function in the real world.
  The first volume of Absolute Boyfriend had me chuckling in many places. The story is told with a lot of heart. It's light, fun, and a bit racy, especially if you don't take it too seriously. While Night is used mostly as a comedy relief, Soshi, Riiko's childhood friend and neighbor, caught my eye. Soshi mostly keeps to himself and takes his role of taking care of Riiko, while her parents are working abroad, seriously. Though Soshi and Riiko constantly argue, it's quite clear that Soshi has feelings towards Riiko. Only time will tell if he acts upon them and if clueless Riiko will figure it out Soshi's strange behavior on her own. There are plenty of great and unexpected jokes thrown in at just the right moments, especially where Night is concerned. The artwork is great and the panels are quite easy to follow. There definitely some disturbing issues underlying the manga, especially with how Riiko and Night's relationship begins to form. I'm curious with how this storyline will progress and what troubles Riiko will bring upon herself. Due to the manga's sexual themes, it is rated OT for older teens.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: This manga is rated OT for older teens. It contains semi-nudity (like the cover) as well as sexual innuendos spread throughout the manga.

If you like this book try: Girl Parts by John M. Cusik, The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee, Absolute Boyfriend Vol 2 by Yuu Watase
Rummanah Aasi

   Unfortunately due to some glitches, my interview with Inconvenient author, Margie Gelbwasser was delayed for a few days. Thankfully, all the kinks have been worked out and I'm very excited to have Margie on my blog. Margie was born in Minsk, Belarus. She was just three years old when she emigrated to America. She lived in a dilapidated apartment in Brooklyn, New York and eventually moved to the suburbs of New Jersey. She attended Trenton State College and studied English and Secondary Education. Margie also has a master's degree in English, with a writing concentration, from William Paterson University. Inconvenient is her debut novel, which has received critically acclaimed reviews from several book journals.

Welcome and thank you so much for stopping by, Margie! You have mentioned on your website that Inconvenient was initially an adult multi-generational novel about a Russian-Jewish family, but the idea was scrapped when the voices of teens came to life for you. Have the teen characters stayed the same from your original or have they gone in a completely different direction? 
Completely different direction! In that very first version, the teen MC was dealing most with her identity and trying to figure out—in the midst of that—which of two boys was for her. The MC's name was Rita, and she was less spunky than Alyssa, and the boys did not resemble any from INC either. But there WAS something interesting about that story and maybe one day I'll revisit it—the teen part anyway, not the rest of it.
Wow, Rita sounds so different from Alyssa, though they do try to come to terms about their identity. Speaking of which, I’m always drawn to characters that come from a mixed cultural background, mainly due to my own background of being born in the U.S. but having parents from Pakistan. You also come from a mixed cultural family too, as a teen growing up did you have any trouble finding your own place between these two cultures? Did that influence how you wrote Inconvenient at all? 

Your background is so interesting. I bet you have a lot of stories to tell too. Growing up, I was conflicted about being Russian, and Jewish, and American. I was more like Lana, my MC Alyssa's BFF, than Alyssa that way. I didn't like talking in Russian in public. Like Alyssa and Lana, I felt people singled me out because of the Russian thing. The same kids I went to Hebrew school with, would make fun of me for being Russian, like I wasn't American and Jewish like them. In retrospect, I don't think it was personal. Just kids being ignorant and needing something to make fun of people about. But because I was insecure with who I was, I took it all to heart. So I drew on that when I wrote Inconvenient.  

I totally get the "I'm not this and I'm not that either" scenario. I had moments were explaining the why I wasn't doing this or that got old but it also helped me remember my traditions. What character surprised you the most when writing Inconvenient?

Lana. In the first draft, she was very one dimensional. She stole Alyssa's boyfriend and was plain mean. And then I thought about what that said about Alyssa. Why would she be friends with someone like that? Plus, no one is just one dimensional. So I wrote more scenes with her, thought about her motives, and I grew to like aspects of her. I didn't always agree with what she did, but I understood her, and I don't think she was all bad. Not all good either. Flawed and human. 

That's exactly how I would describe Lana. I admired her daring attitude and understood her desire not to be singled out anymore but feel included, but I didn't agree with her decisions. As a reader, I can’t enjoy a book if I don’t like the main character. Do you have any characters that you hate or love to hate?

That's a really great question. I'm like you. There have been books I picked up that I had to put down after a few chapters because the main character annoyed me. But in my next book, PIECES OF US (Flux, March 8, 2012) one of the main characters is a misogynistic teen male. He has these off perceptions of women and is mostly a real jerk, but he was one of my favorite characters to write ever. And if people react strongly to him, I will feel I have done my job as a writer. 

Pieces of Us sounds interesting. I wonder how he came to that conclusion and whether or not he changes. I'll definitely have to keep my eye out for it! One last question for you, Maggie, if Alyssa could be friends with any other character from a book, who would it be and why?

I think D.J. Schwenk, the MC from Catherine Gilbert Murdok's Dairy Queen trilogy, would be a great pal for Alyssa. D.J. And Alyssa are both witty, stars in their sports, strong, and helpful toward  their families. D.J. also seems like she'd be a really loyal friend and she and Alyssa could make each other laugh and sort out the other's boy dilemmas. And if their guys are being wishy-washy or jerky, they can ditch them for some quality, drama-free, hang time.

Alyssa and D.J. are great characters that I would like to hang out with too! Thank again for stopping by, Maggie! Readers, you can read more about Margie on her websiteTwitter, Facebook, and MySpace.
Rummanah Aasi

I had the pleasure in participating in the Teen Book Scene blog tour for David Yoo's middle grade debut novel. Much thanks again go to Teen Book Scene and Balzer + Bray for supplying me an advanced reader's copy of the book in order to provide you with an honest review.

Description: Peter Lee is about to enter the sixth grade. Much to his dismay, his popularity status from elementary school did not follow him to junior high. After several desperate attempts to regain his popularity back fire, Peter lands himself in detention, which he soon realizes isn't so horrible after all and may help him gain friends and alliances.

Review: Peter Lee isn't surprised to be accepted into the academically gifted program. He breezed through fifth grade without breaking a sweat. He and best friend Drew were popular because of their expert collecting skills. During dinner, Peter's perfect, older sister Sunny warns him that middle school's completely different, none of his elementary antics would work; she couldn't be more on the money. On the first day, Peter and Drew learn that no one followed through on their mica-collecting challenge from last year. There's no recess at school. Everyone seemed to have a growth spurt except for them. By the end of the day, Peter's pretty sure they're losers and begins to plan how he and Drew can regain their popularity.
 Peter and Drew think of all "outside of the box" ideas you could think of in order to get in the good graces of their classmates, but each attempt goes hiliariously wrong that makes us laugh and shake our heads. When Peter ends up in detention after disrupting class, inspiration strikes, though it jeopardizes his friendship with Drew. As if that's not enough, there is a thief plaguing the middle school.
 I liked Peter from the start. He is a cocky, know-it-all, lovable slacker. As Peter starts to berate and prey on his adorable best friend, I started to like him a lot less. Thankfully, we see Peter grow as his journey from totally self-centered loser to a team player is full with lots of bumps along the way(mostly of his own unwitting design). Interestingly, Yoo stays away from the academic scene and thus avoiding the model minority stereotype of his characters. Though Peter's sister, Sunny, seems like a model students she is not without flaws. I enjoyed getting to know Sunny, especially with her snarky attitude and wished she played a larger role in the book.
  I think older elementary students and tweens will see themselves and their peers in the halls of Peter's school. Though the book has a slow start and a meandering, predictable plot, I think many will find it enjoyable.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman
Rummanah Aasi

 Today I'm excited to bring you author Susan Niz's Teenage Garage Sale post. In this post, we ask the author on what we might find if there were to have a garage sale featuring items from their teenage years. Here is what Susan shared with us:

  • A faded jeans jacket with about a thousand safety pins across the back and original poetry written in permanent marker on the inside.  Priceless 
  • Tape collection: Metallica, Skid Row, Cat Stevens, Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers, INXS, George Michael, Bangles, Cyndi Lauper $.25 each ($.10 w/out case) 
  • My Babysitter’s Club books. $.10 each (kind of yellow from sitting on my shelf for five years) 
  • Various sizes of Le Sports Sac bags. $1.00 small, $2.00 medium, $2.50 tote 
  • Liz Claiborne perfume (the classic red triangle) half-empty $4.00 
  • A Benetton and Esprit sweatshirt (the names subtly printed in huge letters across the front) $15.00 each 
  • An autographed postcard from Michael J. Fox $10.00 
  • Poison poster $1.00 

  • A yellow “water-resistant” Walkman am/fm plus tape for your listening pleasure $7.00 (battery cover missing, covered with duct tape) 

  • Portable, yellow Prang art set with drawing pencils, colored pencils, markers, a silver sharpener, and a gray gum eraser. A few pencils missing. $4.00 
  • Army surplus bag with red military emblem on the flap $5.00 
  • Army pea coat (trench) $7.00 
  • 4-color click pen (blue, black, red, green) $.50 
  • Scratch and sniff sticker collection $3.00 
  • RIT dye purple and black, for tie-dye $.25 each 

Rummanah Aasi

   I am participating in the Teen Book Scene blog tour for Susan Niz's debut novel titled Kara, Lost. Much thanks to Teen Book Scene for including me on this tour and to Susan for providing me a copy of the book in order to do an honest review. Please stay tuned tomorrow when Susan talks about what items her teenage self would sell in a garage sale!
Description: When Kara's parents give her an ultimatum that she feels is unfair, she has no choice but to flee, trading in her home and family for a gritty, anonymous existence on the streets of Minneapolis. She begins a perilous journey trying to survive on her own just by living on bare necessities. Will Kara make it on her own or will she return home and accept defeat? 
Review: Kara, Lost is a basic story of one teen's search for independence and survival. When Kara's parents give her an ultimatum of taking antidepressant medication or being grounded until she relents, Kara makes an emotional decision to runaway and thus setting up a chain reaction of living on the edge, taking one day at a time. 
  When her safety net of living with her sister (who also ran away and lives independently) falls through, Kara must find a job and a home that accept minors or better yet, the less information about her, the better. Kara is an impulsive character. She quickly jumps to assumptions, which coincidentally turn out to be true. She knows she is in deep waters, but she does have set goals for herself: get a job, save money, find a shelter, and basically survive. She pushes through and continues to fight even when she could easily concede and go back home.
  Kara, Lost is story of a series of moments that should make our hearts pump, gasp, and quickly turn the pages, however, we are just a few steps behind Kara and feel detached from the story. We learn everything from Kara as she is the narrator of the story, however, we are never given the chance to make our own decisions of what happened or about characters. There are lots of telling of what Kara is going through, but we never get to experience her anxiety or her fear, thus slowing down the pace of the book and have us scrambling of how to react to her story. 
  While I do think Niz does a good job in not glorify running away or struggling to live on an income of less than $1,000 a month, Kara's story is lost upon others who haven't gone through similar experiences. This is a story that doesn't really stick in our heads once the last page is turned. I would, however, recommend this book to those who are looking for an unique story about living on the streets, a topic that is still being explored in YA literature. 
Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language as well as several instances of teen smoking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Theories of Relativity by Barbara Haworth-Attard or Runaway by Wendelin Van Draanen or Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.
Rummanah Aasi

  I am participating in the Teen Book Scene blog tour for Maggie Gelbwasser's debut novel titled Inconvenient. Much thanks to Teen Book Scene for including me on this tour. Please stay tuned tomorrow when I interview Maggie about her book!

Description: Alyssa is the daughter of Russian Jews who came to America when she was four. She lives in an uneventful suburb of New Jersey, trying to survive high school where she can't seem to fit in. While everything on the surface seems to be smooth, behind closed doors Alyssa's mother is drinking and can't seem to stop. Alyssa tries to cover up for her mother and though her father is aware of the situation, he just believes it's just a mere inconvenience to their lives. Will Alyssa's mother finally admit she has a problem and will she seek help with her addiction?
Review: Identifying and exploring the Russian-Jewish-American culture and alcoholism are key elements in Gelbwasser's first young adult novel. Alyssa is forced to deal with her mother's alcoholism alone. At first she believes her mother is unwinding from a stressful project for her job, but soon witnesses that her mother's drinking has become uncontrollable. Instead of speaking about the white elephant in her house, Alyssa's father absorbs himself in the evening news, hoping that the problem will magically go away. Alyssa can't and won't talk to anyone about her problems at home because she's afraid of the shame that will be brought on to her family. Like her father, Alyssa focuses on her own social life where she is trying to make sense of the mixed signals she is receiving from her potential boyfriend Keith and see her best friend, Lana, is trying desperately to fit in with a popular clique. 
  The two subplots involving Keith and Lana are unnecessary to the book and don't really add anything to the story. What I loved most about this book is how the main story line featuring Alyssa's mother and alcoholism is dealt with in the book. Like many contemporary problem novels, Inconvenient does not solve all the characters' problems neatly by the end of the book. Alyssa confronts her dad and mother about the problem. She finally garners the support of her father, and together they help her mother face her illness. We watch as her mother go through the cycles of recovery, but it remains to be seen if her mother is able to remain sober.     
   Gelbwasser's characters are very well done. Alyssa is well-developed and likable. She is aware of her surroundings. She has a strong sense of self. Lana's desperation to be noticed by the popular crowd and slowly losing her own identity is sad to see but it does seem real. Alyssa's parents' desire to pretend everything is fine was also realistic albeit frustrating. Gelbwasser's depiction of Russian immigrant culture is interesting, particularly the aspects of how much drinking is involved in the culture, since I didn't know much about it before reading this book. Though the subplots slowed down the pacing of the book, I would recommend it to readers looking for a realistic depiction of how the issue of alcoholism is addressed in the book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Since the book is about alcoholism, there are many scenes where alcohol is involved. There is also some language as well as a few intense make-out scenes. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Recovery Road by Blake Nelson or Love You, Hate You, Miss You by Elizabeth Scott 

Rummanah Aasi
 I've heard of the children's book, Bunnicula, before but never got around to reading it. It was written in 1979 by Deborah and James Howe, yet it still feels fresh after 32 years and loved by many. Thanks to this year's Bluestem list, I was able to read this children's classic.

Description: When their owners bring home a lost rabbit and claims it as their pet, the rabbit named Bunnicula has strange traits and habits. Though Harold the dog thinks Bunnicula is just an ordinary rabbit, Chester the cat tries to warn his human family that their foundling baby bunny must be a vampire.

Review: Bunnicula is a delightful, silly, and humorous children's story. The novel is narrated by Harold, the dog, who enjoys his time lounging around the house and looking for his next treat. He gets along comfortably well with Chester, the cat, who is quite well read. Despite the most ridiculous situations they find themselves in, the pets have an inherit dignity and can hold their heads high after the event has past.
  Life with the Monroes has never been really eventful until the family comes back one day from a "Dracula" film with a tiny shivering rabbit found in the theater. After a family meeting, they promptly name the bunny Bunnicula in honor of the film but the bunny is not much of a companion. He sleeps all day and never seems to touch his food. Given his red eyes, strange sleeping habits, Chester becomes convinced that the rabbit is actually a vampire and  he takes it upon himself (with a reluctant Harold in tow) to defeat this new nemesis to the Monroe home.
 It was great fun following along Chester's logic. There are many moments were I laughed out loud and shook my head, mostly because Chester is very serious about his plan. The humor does really shine in the book. There are some jokes that may go over little kids heads such as what do vampires do, but they don't retract from the story nor are they inappropriate. It's really hard not to like this book. I think children who are comfortable reading chapter books on their own and love stories where the animals run the show would love this book. I know I did!

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended to Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Bunnicula Strikes Again! by James Howe or The Case of the Lost Boy by Dori Butler
Rummanah Aasi
 Melissa Marr is the author of the best selling urban fantasy series, Wicked Lovely, which features the world of the fae. I really enjoyed the Wicked Lovely series so far (I've yet to read the concluding book which was released earlier this year). Graveminder is Marr's debut adult book which was released last month.

Description (from Amazon): Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the tender attention her grandmother, Maylene, bestowed upon the dead of Claysville, the town where Bek spent her adolescence. There wasn't a funeral that Maylene didn't attend, and at each Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual: three sips from a small silver flask followed by the words "Sleep well, and stay where I put you."
   Now Maylene is dead and Bek must go back to the place--and the man--she left a decade ago. But what she soon discovers is that Maylene was murdered and that there was good reason for her odd traditions. It turns out that in placid Claysville, the worlds of the living and the dead are dangerously connected. Beneath the town lies a shadowy, lawless land ruled by the enigmatic Charles, aka Mr. D--a place from which the dead will return if their graves are not properly minded. Only the Graveminder, a Barrow woman, and the current Undertaker, Byron, can set things to right once the dead begin to walk.

Review: Graveminder is Marr's take on the American Gothic novel. The world and lore of the Graveminder is fresh, intriguing, unfortunately, I also thought it was a bit underdeveloped. For the first fifty pages of the book, the main characters are asking questions such as how does the undead return and why do they need food, drink, and stories to put them at rest? The character's questions mirrors the reader's, neither are given definitive answers. At some point, I gave up searching for answers and kind of skimmed the book.
  In her YA novels, Marr has a knack of exploring and exposing the emotional aspects of her characters. We feel as if we get to know them personally and understand their actions and motives. In Graveminder, however, her characters are quite vanilla and well, boring. Rebekkah is commitment phobic, refusing to establish ties to her hometown and to man that she loves yet vehemently denies. Though I understood her grief from losing a very close loved one and her uncertainties about her future, her passive aggressive attitude became obnoxious and really irritated me. Her relationship with Byron, a man who once dated her deceased sister, plays a big part in the book, however, I felt we were told more about their relationship than we got to witness it. Bryon seems like a really likable guy who is loyal and always available in a time of need. Interestingly enough, I think the only character that piqued my interest is Charlie or Mr. D who reigns the Land of the Dead though he has very limited appearances in the novel.
   I've read that there might be a companion novel to Graveminder, but I can't say that I find anything that pulls me to read the next book. Fans of Marr may be drawn to this new turn from the fae to zombies, but I didn't find it memorable.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, an allusion to sex, and off the page violence. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Rummanah Aasi
  Frannie Billingsley's Chime has received numerous starred reviews from a variety of review journals. In the blogosphere, however, bloggers have a mixed reactions to Chime. I was interested in finding out what divided the reviewers and decided to jump in and read it.

Description: Briony committed a crime. She killed her stepmother and made her twin sister, Rose, sick. Briony's guilt is a cloak that she wraps herself and now can't imagine not wearing it. To escape from her burden, she goes to the swamp where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. In addition to her overbearing guilt, Briony can also see the Old Ones, a clear indication that she is a witch and therefore should be sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.
   Then a young lad named Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know.

Review: Chime is a gorgeously written novel, where each word, each character, and each setting were carefully chosen and used effectively. After reading the first page of the book, I knew this book would be different. The dialogue and society evoked an old fashioned fairy tale story. What sets Chime apart from the numerous other books that focus on folklore is its unique use of magic and settings of swamps. I've never thought of a swamp being a magical place before, but Billingsley makes it work.
   Along with the fabulous world building, the characters of Chime are really the best part of the book. Briony is the narrator of our story. We spend much time in her head. The use of stream of consciousness is expertly done in Chime. I was completely immersed in Briony's tortured and complex psyche. Her voice is so strong and so distinct. Her guilt is palpable and makes you feel like you are carrying her world on your shoulders. For much of the novel, Briony suffers from self hatred and shame. She believes she is the sole person responsible in bringing chaos to her family and should be sentenced to death because of this. Though she did get a bit whiny at times, I found her to be strong willed and she didn't always make the right choices, which reminded her and the reader that despite her claims of what she is, she retains her humanity. I have to confess that I didn't warm up to Briony right away and it's really not her fault either. Her name just echoed a character with the same name that I detested and who actually should feel guilty and ashamed for what she'd done- Briony from Atonement by Ian McEwan. I took me a few pages to get over that bump.
 Eldric, Briony's love interest, is wonderful. His charming, out going, adventurous and laid back attitude balances Briony's dark mood. He really lights up the pages. He and Briony worked so well together, and I'm pleased to say that their relationship seemed real. It was based on friendship and then advanced to young love rather than young lust. Their interactions, jokes and banter, felt very real and helped balance the dark, heavy themes of the book.
  Rose, Briony's sister, who is mentally compromised, is sweet and young at heart. Though people are quick to dismiss her as being ill, she is much keen and observant of her surroundings. Rose's participation in Briony's mysterious is crucial to unlocking what really happened to her and their stepmother.
  What deterred me the most from loving Chime is that the plot moved very slowly, particularly in the first half of the book. I found many of the plot twists to be predictable and knew them before they occurred in the story. The pace does pick up during the second half as we learn more about Eldric's father's plan to drain the swamp which has made the Old Ones unhappy, particularly the Boggy Mun, who has plagued the village's children with swamp cough in retaliation. When Rose's lingering illness turns into a cough, Briony knows that she must do whatever it takes, even revealing her secrets, to save her sister. After a while, I stopped reading the book for its plot but rather sat back and watched Briony come to an epiphany about what is true and false about a mystery that has consumed her life. Though the descriptions allude that Eldric is solely responsible for her awakening, he really isn't. He does indeed help Briony but it is Briony herself who slowly puts the pieces together and has the strength to accept the consequences. That being said, Chime is a brilliantly written book that does include a very dark, gritty, magical world along with just the right dose of romance to prevent being steeped into darkness, but it is ultimately a novel that explores the tortured psyche and the powerful forces of guilt, redemption, and self love. If you decide to pick this book up, just be patient and keep reading. It does get better once you get through the slow half.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and the notion of witchcraft is discussed. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray or The Prophecy of Sisters by Michelle Zink
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm continuing my theme of gothic horror manga this week. I recently finished The Dreaming Vol 2 by Queenie Chan that evokes the old style ghost story very effectively. This is definitely a series for those who like scary but not gory stories. It's one that I would definitely recommend reading during Halloween.

Description: After a gruesome discovery of what happened to Millie, the students of Greenwich Private College quickly flee to their homes and the school is temporarily shut down due to on going investigations. Jeanie's curiosity keeps her on campus. She begins to uncover the secret history behind Greenwich Private College, and she finds a chilling link between the disappearances and a ghostly curse.

Review: The second volume of the Dreaming series picks right up where we left off in the first volume. While the first volume largely focused on the creepy setting of a desolate private college, this latest installment delves deeper into the history of the school, the missing girlies, and the omnipresent administrator. Chan does a great job in pacing and giving little details in bits and pieces, making us wanting to turn the pages faster in order to find the next clue. There is definitely a more action in this second volume as Jeanie and her sister discover that they are still having the same dream, except the dream's location of being in the forest has been changed into the school background. Revelations about Ms. Anu, Jeanie's strict teacher, and Amber's grief about what happened to her roommate are described and illustrated well. I'm curious how this series will end and look forward to reading its last volume soon.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images. This manga is rated T for Teens.

If you like this book try: The Dreaming Vol 3 by Queenie Chan, Skinjacker trilogy by Neal Shusterman, or Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Rummanah Aasi
  Andrew Clements is a very popular children's author that was popular during my elementary student teaching. His latest book, Extra Credit, tries to bridge very different cultures of the U.S. and Afghanistan together. I was curious how Clements would deal with the preconceived notions of both nations in a children's book.

Description: Three junior high kids, Abby, Amira, and Sadeed, are pen pals and exchange letters back and forth between rural Illinois and the mountainous Afghanistan. As the kids write and receive letters they begin to bridge a gap across cultural and religious divides by finding their commonality.

Review: Extra Credit is a story of three pen pals who couldn't be more different from one another. Abby and Sadeed are continents apart, but they forge a friendship that leaves both of them changed. Abby is a reluctant student who is very close to failing sixth grade. Afraid of being held back, Abby promises herself and to her parents that she will become a better student and pick up her grades. Her teacher offers her an extra-credit project: writing letters to a student in another country. An enthusiastic rock climber despite living in the Illinois prairie, Abby chooses Afghanistan because of its mountains. At first Abby puts little effort into her first letter, not sure of what to write but as she continues to write more she begins to learn things about Afghanistan that she didn't know about.
  In Afghanistan, Sadeed is one of the best students in his village. Due to his excellent English skills, he is selected to participate in the pen pal program, but the teacher and town leaders don't approve of a boy writing to a girl due to societal mores. Sadeed creates a plan in which Sadeed dictates the letters but his little sister, Amira, signs them. Proud, studious Sadeed secretly writes to Abby on his own, explaining the ruse, and they correspond until circumstances in both countries make it impossible.
  I really liked the plot description of the book, especially the nice plot twist that brings all three pen pals together. I also liked how the letters opened up the character's minds and have then think outside the box. My main problem with the story is that the conflict occurs too late, at about three fourths of the story. Instead of diving into the murky water of reality between these two countries with high tension or digging deeper into the Afghani culture, Clements sidesteps the challenge and writes a very tidy, unrealistic ending that doesn't address the issues. Perhaps he thought the heavy issues were a bit too much for younger readers, but I think young readers are smart enough to detect a nicely wrapped up and rushed ending. Though I admire Clements on writing a timely story, I felt as if I was missing the second half of the book and was left disappointed. Some reviewers have overlooked the neat ending and still enjoyed the book, but I didn't like it as much and felt a little cheated.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson or Under the Persimmons Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples
Rummanah Aasi
  I read Don Calame's debut novel, Swim the Fly, a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a well written, heart warming, and hilarious coming of age comedy featuring adolescent boys and adolescent humor. It's one that I would recommend for teen boys to read. Beat the Band, the companion novel to Swim the Fly, was released last year and I finally got around to reading it.

Description: Coop wants his sophomore year to be epic. His personal goal to tag as many "bases" as possible. His goal is derailed when he is paired with the infamous "Hot Dog" Helen for a health class presentation on safe sex. Now Coop is struggling to regain his popularity by entering his musically challenged rock group featuring his best friends into the "Battle of the Bands" competition.

Review:  Coop takes over narration duties as he and his best friends, Matt and Sean, return for their sophomore year. Coop has a dream of being extremely popular, especially amongst the ladies. When his health teacher announces a project, he believes it is his time to shine. Right off the bat the hot girls in his health class are paired up with someone else and much to his horror, Coop's health partner is the only and only "Hot Dog" Helen, the school' social pariah. To make matters worse, the pair is assigned to research contraceptives for the unit on safe sex. Immediately dubbed various names including "Corn Dog Coop," he is desperate to find a way to save his social status. Thankfully, an upcoming Battle of the Bands presents the perfect opportunity for him to reveal his inner rock god and make a good impression on all the hottest girls. He recruits and convinces Matt and Sean along with his project and stealthily attempts to get rid of "Hot Dog" Helen.
  I enjoyed Beat the Band but not as much as Swim the Fly, only because I felt there was a lack of heart and the writing was a bit uneven. Calame's sense of humor is spot on and brought many moments where I laughed out loud for several minutes. Though there is crude sexual and bathroom humor in the book, Coop is just all talk. He pretends to be extremely confident in his own schemes, only find them to blow up in his face. He is likable, however, I did have moments where I wanted to smack him upside the head for being stupid, especially when it comes to dumping the beautiful and smart Helen as his partner.
  Issues such as bullying and safe sex are introduced in the book. While important facts of contraceptives are incorporated well (mostly discussed in educational terms), Calame's handle on bullying is a bit loose and could have been stronger if we knew how Helen got her misnomer ahead of time instead of the second half of the book. The many instances where Coop knew he was enabling the bully situation were a bit tedious, especially when he did nothing about it. Coop's epiphany in the end was long coming and satisfying. I loved when he finally got to see Helen as a real person without the rumors and baggage that surrounded her.
 Perhaps I'm a bit too critical of the book since I loved the previous one, but I would still recommend Beat the Band. Coop, Matt, and Sean are lovable characters with a good heart though they may act like idiots sometimes. You don't have to read Swim the Fly to enjoy this book, but I would highly recommend it because it has a great story and to get a real feel of the chemistry between these three best friends.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and mild crude humor. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Carter Finally Gets It or Carter's Big Break by Brent Crawford, Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner
Rummanah Aasi

 Today, I'm thrilled to bring you an author interview with the very funny, David Yoo, provided by the Teen Scene blog tour for the Detention Club. David is a graduate from Skidmore College with an MA from the University of Colorado-Boulder. His previous YA novels,  Girls For Breakfast, and Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before both have been featured on numerous best and favorite lists. His debut middle grade novel, The Detention Club (Balzer + Bray) was released this June and now available in bookstores and libraries. David lives in Massachusetts, where he regularly plays adult soccer and old school video games. He also teaches in the MFA program at Pine Manor College and at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Please help me welcome David to my blog!

Welcome and thank you so much for stopping by my blog. I couldn't help but think of John Hughe's "Breakfast Club" when I read the title of your book. Is that a coincidence or did the movie inspire you in any way?

 I actually didn’t connect the dots until after I’d started writing it—which is surprising given that I grew up watching and re-watching the Hughes ouvre. Now that I think about it, my first novel was called Girls for Breakfast--maybe I’ve been thinking subconsciously of the movie for years…

 I'm a huge John Hughes fan as well. I grew up with his movies. If you could be any character from a John Hughes movie, who would it be and why?

 I’d be Bryce from Sixteen Candles, because he and his brother Cliff had night-vision goggles, which is on a long list of things I’d probably enjoy having but will never come remotely close to owning.

 *Laughs out loud* Nice pick! After finishing Detention Club, I can totally understand why you picked Bryce. Peter and Drew were popular in fifth grade because of their collecting skills. Do you have a collection of any kind?

 I just looked around the house and was kind of stunned to find that I’m not much of a collector these days. It’s surprising because I’m the very definition of a pack-rat. I can’t for the life of me throw out dead tennis balls, broken watches, dried out pens…technically I have a ridiculously large dried-out-pen collection…

Which makes sense, since you are a writer. I probably have a cup of those too. Mainly because I'm too lazy to figure out which ones are dried and which aren't. How would you describe your junior high self? Would you be friends with Peter?

I was really shy around adults and older kids and a little hyper around my peers. I’d probably have a love/hate relationship with Peter.

Interesting..I had a love/hate relationship with Peter too. Well, not really hate, but he did really irritate me at times. I love how your characters move beyond the "I am Asian" stereotype. Their race is just another part of them and they seem to be comfortable with that. However, I've noticed many books featuring Asian characters seem to perpetuate the model minority stereotype or the common immigrant stereotype. How can we breakthrough these stereotypes in literature?

 Well, The Detention Club isn’t about race, and I try to avoid like the plague broaching/inserting “issues” into my stories merely for the sake of having them in there. Race, as with any other issue, only belongs in a piece of fiction if it’s absolutely crucial to the story, and that just wasn’t the case, this time around. As for perpetuating the model minority stereotype—I think what’s more important is whether or not an honest story is being told. But I know what you mean—you don’t want the model minority or immigrant stereotype story to become the only story that can be told about Asian characters—in effect pigeonholing future stories starring AA characters.

 On that topic, my first collection of essays for adults that comes out next spring, The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever (Grand Central) is, as you can surmise from the title, about how growing up I was pretty much the complete opposite of the model minority. Ultimately, I think the way to break through stereotypes is simply to have as much a variety of offerings out there, presenting a wider-range portrait of the Asian American experience.

 I'm excited to read your collection of essay and was in fact going to ask you about that. So thank you, for giving us more details. On that note, what are your thoughts about whitewashing book covers such as the Silver Phoenix series by Cindy Pon?

 I’m not familiar with the cover, but I definitely used to cringe at decidedly “Asian-y” covers (I’ve hardened over the years I guess). The way it exoticizes the Asian American experience with those kinds of covers and basically promotes stereotypes is no different from describing people from the deep South as if they all have no teeth and wear tank tops and have cousins named Cletus. You can still spot Asian American-penned books from a mile away in the bookstore—the cover gives them away almost every time: the bambooish font, the “jet black” hair, NBA player Marcus Camby’s exotic Chinese characters tattoo embossed across the bottom, etc…

  Yep or the summary of the story featuring a immigrant who desires to do something but his/her parent is very against it but the teen protagonist sneaks away and follows their "dreams" anyway. Your books are completely different. They are hiliarous and deal with the common issues of coming age. It's very hard to write humorous scenes without them being forced. What's your secret?

I try not to intentionally “write funny.” Doing so only results in painfully unfunny sentences that nakedly feel like the author’s trying too hard. I don’t have a secret, though. It goes back to that old saying I guess—tragedy plus time equals comedy. As an adult looking back on my youth, the distance allows me to find the humor in a situation I would have found mortifying/frustrating/sad when I was a kid.

I definitely had moments where I shook my head in retrospect and thought, "What the heck was I thinking?" Have you done anything in extreme like Peter in hopes of becoming popular when you were a kid?

I once shaved lines into the sides of my head because that’s what the older soccer guys were doing, only I shaved vertical lines instead of horizontal lines and it looked ridiculous.

 *Laughs loudly* Sorry but I'd love to see a picture of that! You had great success writing for YA, what made you decide to write for MG? Did you find yourself changing your writing style or approach while writing Detention Club?

 I like reading MG as much as YA, and most of my favorites from childhood were MG, so it was always something I’d wanted to try. As for changing my writing style—it was more that I had to change my mindset—getting into the head of an 11-year-old, which is at the very least a good deal less jaded than my 16-year-old narrators.

I enjoyed a lot of MG reads as well. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog, David! Readers, be sure to look for my review of Detention Club coming soon. Follow along the Detention Club book tour hosted by Teen Book Scene to find out more information. You can also learn more about David and his books by visiting his website.
Rummanah Aasi
 I seem to be on a horror manga kick. I've heard lots of great things about Queenie Chan's Dreaming series. I've seen it recommended on quite a few library recommendations for graphic novels and manga, which is always a good sign. I thought I would give it a shot. This series only contains three books and they are all available.

Description: Amber and Jeanie are identical twin sisters, who have just enrolled in an Australian boarding school. The school is isolated and surrounded by bushlands. Once they arrive, the girls learn of a hidden history of students who left the school and vanished without a trace. Amber and Jeanie just think it's an urban legend until one of their friend and roommate disappears. 

Review: The best word to describe the first volume of The Dreaming is creepy. Chan, originally from China but immigrated and raised in Australia, does a great job in building the eerie presence of the boarding school. The mystery surrounding the history of students gone missing held my interest throughout. The story begins quickly and we already know that something is just not right. Vague rumors of students disappearing, sealed rooms, tight-lipped teachers, and a collection of disturbing paintings have the girls unnerved. They twins even start experiencing the same nightmare, but have no idea what the dreams mean.
  The art is traditional manga though the book reads from left to right. The drawings and dialog are spread out evening but don't overwhelm the page and I found it very easy to read. While there are some disturbing images, they are not too overly graphic or deeply scary just very strange. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images. Rated T for Teens.

If you like this book try: Coraline by Neil Gaiman, Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, The Dreaming Vol 2 by Queenie Chan
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