Rummanah Aasi
  I was in the mood for a suspenseful, contemporary read when I stumbled upon Heather Gudenkauf's These Things Hidden on Netgalley. The premise of having a dark past that won't seem to leave you alone immediately caught my eye. Unfortunately, due to my large to be read pile, I wasn't able to read These Things Hidden until now.

Description: Allison Glenn is 21 years old when she is released on parole after serving five years for an undisclosed but particularly gruesome crime. Disowned by her family and facing a small town's inability to forget her sins, Allison reluctantly moves into a halfway house in order to turn a new chapter in her life. When she work at a local bookstore, she unexpectedly discovers the key to that one night that changed her life forever as well as allow her some hope for a potential future.

Review: These Hidden Things is a dark and disturbing story that seems so real, it could be the latest headlines in the news. The book is told from the point of view of four women, who are from different walks of life. Allison was once a shining star for her parents. She got the top grades, was great at sports, and well liked by those in her school. All of this came tumbling down one frightful night and now she is only known for her heinous crime that follows her like a shadow. Brynn is Allison's younger sister who is often neglected by her family. Besides Allison, Brynn knows what truly happened that night and it has haunted her ever since. Claire is a loving wife who longed to have her own child. Due to infertility issues, Claire's prayers were answered when she adopted a baby boy named Joshua. Charm is a nursing student who is struggling to take care of her ailing stepfather and checks up on Joshua, from a distance, to make sure he is well loved by a good family. All of these relationships collide and have one thing in common: Joshua. The reader tries to solve the mystery given the hints that are revealed both in the present as well as flashbacks.
   The characters in this book are kind of flat and two dimensional. The author doesn't dig deep enough into their layers, but she does demonstrate their emotions quite well in inner monologues. Each of the four women are assigned two chapters each, however, I didn't feel like I got to know them quite well. Though there are strong emotions of resentment, guilty, and betrayal, they don't seem to hit hard enough. The secondary characters such as Allison and Brynn's parents and Charm's mother are already defined for us as cold and trashy, respectively, however, I would have liked to come to that decision of my own. There is not much given as to why they are labeled that way. The only character that seems to seem come alive is Joshua, the precocious 5 year old whose past is shrouded in mystery.
  Although I found the character development quite lacking, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to find out what really happened to Allison and why was she thrown in prison when she was a teen. I also wondered how all these four characters will meet and what was their connection to poor, innocent Joshua. Needless to say, the suspense was gripping and perfectly pitched. I did not see the end coming and was horrified when the mystery was solved. Fans of contemporary suspense, mystery, and books by Jodi Picoult should definitely look into this title.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusions to sex, and a graphic birthing scene/flashbacks. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf, The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell, After by Amy Efaw, or Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
Rummanah Aasi
 I had a great opportunity to attend a lecture/panel with critically acclaimed Jane Yolen, who talked about creating her first graphic novel. I always love hearing about a writer's writing process, but I never heard what the process of creating a graphic novel. For some graphic novel collaborations, the story is first written and then passed on to the artist who creates the images. The writer and artist then discuss revisions, etc. After hearing Jane speak, I immediately put Foiled on my to be read pile and I'm so glad that I did.

Description: Aliera Carstairs doesn't fit in any of the cliques in her high school. The only place that makes her feel special and important is her fencing class, however, she seems to be in the spotlight for the handsome, new student Avery Castle. Aliera knows something is not right. Her ordinary and used fencing foil with a large ruby on the hilt that her mother found at a sale is trying to tell her something about Avery and the world around her. What is Aliera's weapon trying to tell her? Who is Avery and why is he so interested in Aliera?

Review: In Foiled, Yolen has fabulously blended the trivial times of high school with fantasy. Aliera is a strong heroine who minds her own business. She sticks to her routine of fencing practice, homework, and role-playing games. Her main goal is working her way to the National Fencing Championship as she wins her way at defeating those in her class.  Aliera seems to be safe in her own skin until she is sidetracked by the cute, new boy at school named Avery Castle. Avery takes interest in Aliera which immediately makes our heroine suspicious because she's not the type guys fall for. Initially she keeps her distance from Avery and abides her fencing coach's rule, "Protect your heart", but Avery's charms slowly holds her interest.
 I kept flipping the pages as Yolen keeps us in suspense about Avery and the uniqueness of Aliera's weapon. We are given little hints that are sprinkled in the graphic novel. Before reading this graphic novel, I knew next to nothing about fencing and found myself intrigued with learning about the sport, which complimented the banter between Avery and Aliera.
 Cavallaro’s artwork demonstrates Aliera’s monochrome existence, both literally and metaphorically. I was pleasantly surprised when the graphic novel bursts to life in color when she finally sees the hidden faerie world. The explanation and importance of Aliera's status of the faerie world isn't defined, but it sets up wonderfully for the next installments of future volumes. I can't wait to find out more! Foiled is a must read for fantasy lovers and those who are big fans of Tamora Pierce's works.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Fray or Buffy the Vampire Slayer series by Joss Whedon, Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce
Rummanah Aasi
  Immigration has been a hot topic in political circles, especially with the rising threat of terrorism. Sara Grant's debut, dystopian novel, Dark Parties, explores the idea of what would happens to a society if immigration is forbidden. I received an advanced reader's copy from the publisher and Netgalley to provide you an honest review of the book for the Cornucopia of Dystopia blog tour. Dark Parties is slated to release on August 3, 2011.

Description: Neva lives within the Protectosphere, a giant electric shield that protects her small nation from the outside. As the name of the shield suggests, the government persuades its citizens that living inside the Protestophere is safe and patriotic. The world outside is dangerous and uninhabitable due to an event called The Terror that altered the country forever. Neva and her best friend, Sanna, know that their government isn't telling everyone the truth. There is no new technology under the Protectosphere, therefore, everything must be recycled and reused until it falls apart. The population is dwindling and teens (at the age of 16 are categorized as adults) are encouraged to marry and have children right away. After Neva and Sanna host what they call a "dark party" in order to begin what they think will be a small, underground rebellion, their lives are forever changed when they discover what secrets the government has been keeping.

Review: Dark Parties has a really interesting premise, but it doesn't live up to its potential and gets easily lost in the crowd of other books in the fast growing dystopian genre. There are parts of Dark Parties that I enjoyed. I found the central idea of the book, a dwindling population trapped inside a supposedly protective bubble with no real knowledge of their history, to be intriguing. I also enjoyed Neva's memories of her grandmother, who inspires and drives Neva to explore and to hope there is something better in the "outside" world. As a character, I thought Neva was likable though flawed. I appreciated how she refused to be passive and accept her world, but continued to fight for a better future for herself.
   My main problem of the book is how it is structured. As the book opens, we are placed in a pitch black room where the dark party takes place and the talks of rebellion begin. While the characters see the light at the end of the first chapter, I, unfortunately, couldn't shake that feeling of still being completely lost and disoriented when I read the book. I hoped that things would be explained as I continued reading, but it didn't. I hated the feeling that the characters of the book knew more than I did and talked in code. At times, I had to reread sections to try to figure out what was happening, which often took me out of the story completely.
  The plot moves at a feverish pace, leaving very little time to truly get to know any of the characters, which left me feeling disconnected. I only knew the characters by their relationship (i.e. mother, father, friend, boyfriend, etc) with Neva, who is our narrator. We are constantly told that Neva has a strong relationship with her best friend, Sanna, but it's never shown. Similarly, I was at a lost why Neva was drawn to Braydon, besides him being a good kisser. I did not feel as much sympathy for some of the characters nor did I feel an emotional impact with the love triangle and when various betrayals effected our main cast of characters. 
  In addition to the lack of characterization in the book, the world building is sparse. Details explaining what happened to cause the Terror and what lead to the Protectosphere are never mentioned. Reproduction issues are explained a little better, but only clear up things when we already know from the story's context clues, thus being a bit redundant. The ending is semi-abrupt, but also plants a few seeds for a possible sequel.
 Grant has a knack for writing fast paced, action packed stories, but I wish she slowed down just a little so we can catch up and get to know her world and her characters a little better. I would recommend this book to those readers who enjoy plot driven books that contain mystery, suspense, and a little romance.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images in the book as well as a small, non-graphic sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien or Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder
Rummanah Aasi
 Lauren Oliver's debut YA novel, Before I Fall, was one of the most memorable books I've read last year. From the book's beginning to the end, I was on an emotional roller coaster with my emotions shifting in sync with the outcomes of Samantha Kingston's choices and actions. So when all the hype surrounding Oliver's sophomore dystopian trilogy called Delirium, I could not wait to read it. Like her first novel, Delirium gave me a lot to think about. After reading a few other blog reviews about the book, however,  I've come to realize that I didn't love it as much as other readers did for a variety of reasons.

Description: In dystopian America, love has been identified as the life-threatening source of all discord. Citizens at the age of 18 are submitted to a neurological procedure that "cures" them of amor deliria nervosa, i.e. love, whose popular symptoms include passionate feelings about anything including familial connections, poetry, and contact between members of opposite sexes are forbidden. The authoritarian government rules with an iron fist, closely monitors all of its citizens actions. Suspicion, violence and bureaucratically arranged marriages are necessary in order to protect the citizens and maintain peace within the nation. Lena is quickly approaching her 18th birthday and the date of her procedure brings both relief and anxiety. When she meets a mysterious boy named Alex, her unnamed feelings subvert everything that she has believed about her world and herself. With days away from her operation, could it be possible that Lena is infected with the disease?

Review: Believe it or not, it took me a while to come up with a coherent description of Delirium because its essence is much more. I found the book to be a mash up of four books/works that I've read before: A Clockwork Orange, Romeo and Juliet, the YA science fiction series, Uglies, and a recently released dystopian romance trilogy, Matched. I don't mean that the author copied from these works to make her book, but rather they all share a strong connection and left me wanting more from Delirium after I finished reading it.
  Lena's world is very similar to the horrors of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Burgess took violence to an extreme and took advantage of our feeling of safety when the officials in his world took extreme medical measures to recondition criminals. After reading A Clockwork Orange, I was left conflicted: am I horrified because someone's free will is taken away because he is deemed evil in our society or am I disgusted with myself because I agree with the officials actions? These questions further probed me to ask: Does conditioning really work? Can there ever be a utopian society where evil doesn't exist? I had the same questions when I read Delirium. Instead of using an example that we all deem as bad, Oliver takes something that we associate with good connotations, love, and challenges us to think a world can exist without love in any of its forms. Love is considered the root of all evil. In fact, passages of the Bible have been altered to show love has caused chaos and destruction in our world right from the beginning. It is Oliver's dystopian America that caught my attention instead of the romance angle.
  I loved the disturbing snippets of The Book of Shh, a handbook that states all the rules of Lena's world, more than the romance in Delirium. I wanted to know more about the world that Oliver created. Instead of focusing on the social-political impacts of the authoritarian government that rules Lena's world, the star crossed romance between Lena and Alex takes priority. Despite how much time is focused on the couple, I didn't find their romance to be powerful. There chance encounter and fever pace route from infatuation to full blown romance was a lot like Romeo and Juliet whose relationship began and died in a matter of less than a week. I found it fascinating that in Lena's world Romeo and Juliet is read as a cautionary tale instead of a how it's typically taught in classrooms as a tragic love story. After reading the play with a different perspective, I would have to agree with Lena's officials. I would argue that Shakespeare never meant Romeo and Juliet to be a love story. That being said, I didn't find the big twist at the end to be a cliffhanger but actually expected it to happen. For me, the character of Alex was a bit flat because I predicted his back story and secrets before he reveals them to Lena. Once those were stated, there was no mystery left to discover with Alex. Sections of Lena and Alex's romance slowed down my reading pace just a little, while I blazed through the pages when the government came to the spotlight. The only relationship that I enjoyed watching develop is Lena and Hannah's relationship, which seemed as a metaphor for the theme of duality that plagues the world of Delirium.
 Unlike Matched, where romance is the catalyst for the heroine to take a closer look at her controlling society, I didn't think Lena's romance lead to her awakening, but rather a reassurance to those constant nagging visions that she had of her mother. It those vivid and descriptive visions that really highlight Oliver's writing talents and bring in an emotional punch with Lena's first person narrative. Lena always had the drive for resistance from an early age, she was just afraid to test it out. 
  Despite the book's predictability, Delirium is a fast read that will surely appeal to readers who love romance and dystopian novels. Just be aware that the book ends abruptly, which reminded me a lot like how Scott Westerfeld's Uglies ended. Delirium is a planned trilogy and I hope the world building is a fleshed and explored while the romance is toned down just a bit.
 I'd like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for giving me an advanced reader copy of Delirium in order to provide you with an honest review for the Cornucopia of Dystopia Blog Tour.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a small scene of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, Matched by Ally Condie, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, and for completely dark dystopian with a similar world try A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Rummanah Aasi
  With the title called Library Wars and me being a librarian, how could I not pick up this manga? I never read anything that focused on libraries or librarianship specifically before. In most cases, the library and/or librarian are mentioned in a background in books. With the exception of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the library isn't an integral part of the story (another reason besides Giles of why I love this show). I didn't know until after finishing the first volume that the manga series is actually based on a Japanese novel series of the same name by Hiro Arikawa. It is also an anime series that can be found online.

Description: In the not too distant future of Japan, the explosion of information and misinformation came to a breaking point. The government monitors and controls information, suppressing anything they find "inappropriate". In order to protect the citizens rights to read and access information, an agency called the Library Forces is created. Iku Kasahara has always dreamed of becoming a member of the Library Defense Force, but now that she is a recruit, things are not working out like she thought they would. Is she Library Defense Force material?

Review: I was really excited to get my hands on a copy of this manga. As a librarian, I'm constantly battling the notions of censorship in one form or the other and walking on that thin, slippery slope of censorship or selection when I purchase books for the library. That being said, I'm right on board with the Library Defense Force. After finishing the first volume of this manga series, I was left feeling a bit disappointed.
  Library Wars is the outcome if Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 was turned into a romance. While the manga maintains the dark atmosphere of citizens being monitored by the government and book raids suddenly taking place in bookstores and libraries that limit the rights of citizens to gain access to materials, it focuses more on the romance angle. In high school, Iku Kasahara witnessed an Libray Defense agent stop a government raid on a bookstore she frequently visited. She was inspired by the agent's passion for protecting her rights that she vowed to join the organization. The first volume focuses on Iku's adjustments of being a new recruit and going through training.
  The artwork of the characters look and move naturally. Unlike some manga that I've read, the characters are are distinctive and expressive. Scenes are nicely detailed, giving you just the right amount of information to give you a sense of what is going on. The layout panels are not overcrowded either. The action is well paced and the story is very easy to follow. The writing is pretty good. The manga's premise and characters are intriguing.
 So after all this said, what is my problem with the first volume of Library Wars? My biggest issue is how the female characters are treated in this manga. Iku is a spunky, tall, athletic, and smart woman. She is the first woman to apply for a combat Defense Force position and not the traditional Librarian post. Her post and her frustrations reminded me a lot of Demi Moore's Private Jane. Iku is given rigorous exercises, but she succeeds at each of them. At one point, her superior slaps her across the face for making a mistake. The superior justifies his action by saying he would hit anyone, but that's not the most disturbing part. What I found incredibly disturbing is how that same officer suddenly turns kind, encouraging, and perhaps a potential love interest for our plucky heroine. Furthermore, I was shocked to see how the supporting characters interpret this action as flirting. I couldn't swallow the superior's duality and thus lowered my rating from a 4 to a 3. I really hope he is not the potential love interest, however, I'm not holding my breath as this type of dominant male lead often becomes the hero. I'm going to pick up the second volume of this manga only to see what happens next. There are many unanswered questions left and I would like to know more about the manga's world.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some violence and mature themes in the book. Recommended for high school and up. 

If you like this book try: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury or Library Wars Volume 2 by Kiiro Yumi & Hiro Arikawa
Rummanah Aasi
Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature that is created by the folks over at The Broke and The Bookish. I haven't posted a Top 10 in quite sometime, but I couldn't pass up today's topic: Bookish Pet Peeves or things that really annoy you when you read. At first I couldn't come up with a few pet peeves, but then when I thought about the books that I've read in the past my list grew exponentially. I limited to ten here for you all:

Top 10 Bookish Pet Peeves (in no particular order)

1.  Flat and boring characters- I don't want to read about characters who are perfect. I also don't want to read about characters who whine about their problems and do nothing to change their status quo. Give me someone complex and real. Someone I can relate to on an emotional level. I can't like a book if I don't like the characters. It's that simple.

2. Books that drag on and on- I know that the first 50 or 100 pages of a novel sets up the setting and characters, but the pace slows down dramatically when nothing happens until the last 100 pages or so. This also applies to series that just seem to never end and whose plot goes nowhere and characters who no longer hold my interest (I'm looking at you House of Night series).

3. Formulaic writing- Okay, I'll be honest. It took me a while to understand that Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club, and R.L. Stine's Fear Street had a formula as a kid, but now I know better. It's not a coincidence or magical powers that authors like Jodi Picoult, James Patterson, or John Grisham churn out a book every month. If you read one, then you read them all.

4. Finding out the mystery before the characters do in the story- This is my biggest pet peeve for mysteries. I hate figuring out the criminal before the character does and then spend my time waiting for the light bulb go on in the investigator's head. I was so annoyed with this that I started skimming the ending of the mystery just to see if I was right. If I was, I'd skip the book.

5. Preachy books- I understand that some authors write with a particular purpose in mind and they use their writing to convey their message, but I don't appreciate the message being spoon feed to me. 

6. Plot holes/plot points that makes absolutely no sense- I can just picture a lot of my ardent Twilight fans chuckling when they read this. I don't care how you rationalize Reneesme's existence in Breaking Dawn, but there is no such thing as live sperm in a dead boy's body. I can suspend my disbelief but that is just pushing too far. I refuse to acknowledge her and therefore have absolutely zero interest in seeing the movie. 

7. Anticlimatic cliffhangers- I'm talking about you, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I read and devoured 6 books waiting for that face to face showdown between Harry and Voldemort and only to find a measly couple of pages and a total cop-out. What?! Don't get me started on the random characters dying in that last book. Grrr...

8. Series in which there is a recap of what happened of about 50 pages in each book before the main story happens- I understand that everyone isn't OCD when it comes to reading books in a series and they don't necessarily start at Book 1, but can you at least spend a good 5-10 pages with a decent summary instead of boring your series follower to tears with the unnecessary intro?

9. Repeated words or phrases in a book- I know we all have our favorite words or phrases that we like to use, but how many times can you use the same ones over and over again in 300 pages? I can't help but get flustered and ask the author, "Don't you own a thesaurus?"

10. Focusing on a particular item/person/clue to make readers think it's important but has absolutely no significance- I was an English major and therefore I'm always on the look out for symbolism, metaphors, analogies, etc. I can't help it, but please don't draw my attention to something and make me think it's important when it's not.   
I'm not the only one who has reading pet peeves. What are yours?
Rummanah Aasi
  The transition from middle school to high school can definitely be challenging. Within one summer, the friendships that you have had for several years in elementary and middle school suddenly change when new interests and people are involved. Frances O'Roark Dowell's latest book titled Ten Miles Past Normal tackles the several changes of starting high school and centers on a heroine who is trying to find her own niche. I received an advanced reader's copy of this title by Simon and Schuster. Ten Miles Past Normal will be released tomorrow.

Description: Janie Gorman pitched an idea of living on a farm to her parents when she was in elementary school and her parents declined at the time. Now that she is in high school, her parents revisited the idea of living on a farm and decided to go for it, which doesn't help Janie's cool quotient at school at all. Known for hay being in her hair and manure on her shoes, all Janie wants is to just blend in and be normal. 

Review: Ten Miles Past Normal is a delightful book that tweens in particular will enjoy because it centers around the mystique and realities of high school, which is something in their near future. Janie's plight of finding her own niche in high school, looking for friends to eat lunch with, and the ever-confusing potential relationships with cute boys are universal in coming of age stories. The story is told from Janie's freshman year experiences. She has a sure, smart, sarcastic, and self deprecating voice that will appeal to many readers. Unlike many teenage protagonists, Janie knows she won't be in the popular crowd and doesn't strive for the impossible, but she yearns for companionship with people who are like-minded like her so she can eat comfortably at the cafeteria instead of scarfing down her lunch at her locker and taking refuge in the library.   
  High school becomes tolerable when Janie and Sarah, her best friend, try to get closer to cute Jam Band boy, Jeremy Fitch, and they get involved with their upcoming school history project. Dowell gets all the details of the frustrations that many high school freshman face right. There is only a touch of romance, but if anyone who is looking for a strong romance element will be disappointed in the book. I did like many of the secondary characters in the book such as fellow band mate Monster and Sarah's older sister, Emma, however, I felt they were a bit undeveloped and didn't have a strong impact on the story as Dowell wanted them to do. The subplot involving Janie's history project held my interest, but I felt it didn't have a smooth transition to the main arc of the story and at times felt to overshadow the book's main purpose, which is Janie's attempt to find her place in high school.
 Overall, Ten Miles Past Normal is an enjoyable and quick read. Though it is marketed to teens, I think there is more tween appeal to this book and will probably circulate more amongst middle schoolers, which is not a bad thing at all. 

Rating: 3.5

Words of Caution: None. Recommended to Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar, Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern or Dairy Queen by Catherine Murdock
Rummanah Aasi
  In September 1994, a story of gang violence on the South Side of Chicago rocked the U.S. and forced the nation to look closely at the rising gang violence across the country. Robert "Yummy" Sandifer at age 11 became the poster child of gang violence and was featured on several issues of Time Magazine.

Description: Robert Sandifer is known by his neighborhood as “Yummy” because he had a sweet tooth. He was born in 1984 and lived on the South Side of Chicago. He was only 11 years old when he became a gang member, a criminal, a corpse, and a poster child for gang violence. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty is a fictionalized account that tries to make sense out of true and tragic events.

Review: I don't recall the Yummy headlines, however due to the continuing rise of gang violence in Chicago, his story is not unique nor forgotten. Like many gang stories we have heard before, Robert "Yummy" Sandifer came from a broken home and whose parents neglected and abused him to due to their own involvement with drugs and possible gang involvement. Yummy sought refuge with his grandmother, a woman overworked by taking care of other children just like Yummy. In 1994, Yummy became involved with Chicago's Black Disciples gang. Attempting to protect his gang's turf by shooting a rival gang member, Yummy instead killed an innocent teenaged girl. Yummy went on the run, only to meet his demise by those who he sought comfort, security, and support.
  Before the graphic novel opens, Neri informs us that he has blended fact and fiction in order to tell Yummy's story. Neri's well researched story gathers information from a variety of resources. His use of a fictional acquaintance and observer, Yummy's classmate Roger, whose older brother is also a member of the Disciples allows readers to get a personal yet distant account of their neighborhood and Yummy's personality. Like Roger, the reader can't help but ask his/herself whether or not Yummy is a victim of his own society or a cold blooded killer. There are no black and white answers given, however, the reader is forced to look at the clear evidence laid before them in order to come up with their own answers.
  Yummy is a gritty and unflinchingly realistic from its simple sentence structure to the rough black and white illustrations by Randy DuBurke. Yummy's famous mugshot, the daily activities of gang life and gang-ruled neighborhood are powerfully depicted. While some reviewers thought the graphic novel was too preachy, I thought it was all too real. It is meant to cause us discomfort and open our eyes at the horrible sociopolitical situations that are plaguing the streets of America. There would definitely be something wrong with us if this critically acclaimed graphic novel didn't touch us.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is gang violence, but nothing beyond what we see and hear on the news. Recommended to Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Monster by Walter Dean Myers, There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz, Always Running by J. Luis Rodriguez
Rummanah Aasi
 I have mentioned before that book characters, especially those who I have a strong connection or response to, feel real for me. I care for them as if they were a personal friend. I hate to see them hurt and go through terrible times in their lives. I get angry at them when they are being stupid (I'm looking at you, Edward Cullen). So when I heard that Sam, one of my favorite characters from the Mercy Thompson series, was headed for some major trouble in Silver Borne, I got worried and anxious. Bracing for the worst as I watch him slowly deteriorate from the first book, I just had to know if he was okay or at least on the road to being okay which is why I burned through Silver Borne.

Description: When Mercy attempts to return a powerful Fae book she'd previously borrowed in an act of desperation, she finds the bookstore locked up and closed down. The book seems to contain some powerful and secret information about the faes and the Fae will do just about anything to keep it out of the wrong hands. And if that doesn't make matters worse, her friend Samuel is struggling with his wolf side. Mercy has to help him before Samuel's own father declare Sam's life forfeit. 

Review: I have been having a hard time adjusting to the time change for daylight savings and quickly get exhausted after a long day at work. I was looking forward to reading Silver Borne since the next book in the series, River Marked, has been released last week, but I was afraid my exhaustion would detriment my enjoyment of this fabulous urban fantasy series. I am thrilled to say that this book sucked me in right away. In fact, I had to force myself to sleep in order to get up for work in time, but I couldn't put it down until I found how it ended. Silver Borne is the fifth book in the Mercy Thompson series and currently my favorite book in the series thus far.
  Briggs has maintained her well plotted mysteries and world building, but also upped the action and romance while furthering character development in this installment. Unlike its previous installments, Silver Borne tackles many different plot lines that left me on the edge of my seat. I tend to frown upon multiple plot lines because they are generally boring or they don't seem to fit the overall tone of the book, but this is not the case in Silver Borne where all the subplots make up not only the plot but also several character arcs. I did not find myself skimming any parts of the book, in fact, I had to slow done into to absorb the snarky humor and the romantic tidbits in the book.
  Mercy continues to be an awesome and humble heroine. I like that she feels uncomfortable being in the spotlight and finds herself ordinary. There is no air of arrogance surrounding her. She can take care of herself yet call on others for help. In the past books, Mercy has struggled with the mentality of the wolf pack. She's terrified of losing her own identity and power. Mercy doesn't do submission and she never will. In Silver Borne she comes to realize the importance of pack, which I seem to understand in our layman terms would be family. While the pack does have it's social and political structure, it also has intimacy and affection which Briggs excellently demonstrated in the romance and the lack of for certain key characters in the book. 
  I have been a bit disappointed with the mystery aspect of the previous Mercy books, however, with Silver Borne I didn't have any idea of what would happen next. I enjoyed the twists and turns. I was truly in the dark along with Mercy. I did, however, miss Stefan, Mercy's vampire friend, but thought he needed some time off considering what he went through in Bones Crossed.
  If you do decide to pick this series up (I really don't know why you wouldn't), I would highly suggest that you start at the beginning or at the very least with the second book in the series, Blood Bound, in order to get a sense of how Mercy's world works, and most importantly how the characters interact with one another. I love these characters and can't wait to see what happens next. Silver Borne is a must read for all Mercy fans. And yes, Una, you were right on when you told me that I would love this book. Thank you again for introducing this series to me!

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and some strong fantasy violence. There is also a small sex scene that is not overly graphic. Recommended for mature teen readers only and adults.

If you like this book try: River Marked by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson #6), Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews, Fray by Joss Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer series by Joss Whedon
Rummanah Aasi
  I really enjoyed reading Jellaby by Kean Soo last year. A fellow librarian and friend insisted that I read the second volume, Jellaby: Monster in the City, which I happily obliged. Currently there are two volumes of Jellaby and a few shorts available online or in various graphic novel anthology. I really hope Soo continues to write more about these lovable characters, because I'm not ready to say goodbye since I just started to know them.

Description: Portia, Jason, and Jellaby continue their journey through the city of Toronto in search of a way to get Jellaby back to his home. Portia has never really had friends before. Though she wants to see Jellaby happy, she is torn between her friendship with Jellaby and her duty to help him. How can Portia say goodbye forever, when she finally found someone to call her best friend? 

Review: Jellaby: Monster in the City is just as adorable as its previous volume, maybe even more so. Our story picks up immediately where we left off in volume one. Thus, I would highly suggest readers to track down and find the first volume of Jellaby first (it's either going/have been out of print) before reading this second volume, otherwise you might be lost with the characters and important plot points. While the first volume focuses on character development and building character relationships, the second volume furthers the development even more while upping the action sequences.
  Our heroes, Portia, Jason, and Jellaby are on a mission: help Jellaby find his home and possibly finding Portia's missing dad in Toronto, Canada. The kids are disappointed that their mission isn't much of an adventure, but that quickly changes when our trio spend time in an amusement park. I love how Soo shows equally shows Portia's strengths and weaknesses. She is a spunky girl on the outside, but she internally longs for companionship and misses her father very much. She has trouble making and keeping friends, mainly due to the fear of losing them like she did with her father, who seemed to disappear without a trace. There is also a parallel story of Portia's character arc with a mysterious character that the trio meet in the amusement park.
  Despite its 172 pages length, this volume is fast paced and held my attention throughout. It was over before I knew it. Soo has an equal balance of silent panels where the character's emotions speak louder than words and active panels where we can't help but smile or chuckle at the jokes being made. The color scheme and the drawings are simple yet eye appealing. While the ending left me thinking and hoping there is more to come since there are still many unanswered questions left as the volume closes. I really, really, really hope that I'm right. Jellaby: Monster in the City is a heartfelt, warm story where children learn what it means to be a friend, how to cherish friendship, and to stand up for what you believe in.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some fantasy violence. Recommended for Grades 3-8.

If you like this book try: Bones series by Jeff Smith or Owly series by Andy Runton
Rummanah Aasi
 I have been eagerly anticipating for Lauren DeStefano's YA debut, Wither, ever since my fellow book buddy, Leanne, told me about it. Be prepared to hear and read lots of reviews of this book because it has been on many reader's list of books that are highly anticipated for 2011.  Thanks to Simon and Schuster, I was able to get an advanced reader's copy of the book in order to give you all an honest review.

Description: A generation of "perfectly engineered" embryos, known as the First Generation, has been watching its children die off from a virus that claims females at age 20 and males at age 25. Girls are kidnapped for brothels or polygamous marriages for the sole purpose of breeding children.

Review: Wither is an enthralling read that sucks you in its very first pages. The book is told in the present tense by 16 year old Rhine who is kidnapped and forced into a polygamous marriage with Linden Ashby. DeStefano's world shares many characteristics with Margaret Atwood's groundbreaking novel, A Handmaid's Tale, where females are solely used for their body, but it also seems to have a connection with HBO's critically acclaimed TV show "Big Love".
  Unlike Atwood's novel, DeStefano presents a world that constantly challenges our sensibilities of its restraints. Rhine is taken from her hard, impoverish life and sold with two other girls to Linden Ashby. Though the girls live in a lavish, palatial Florida home that is surrounded by gardens and are treated like royalty, they are sequestered from the outside world. Rhine desires her freedom and wants to escape and reunite with her twin brother, the sole member of her family. Leaving, however, is not easy as Rhine begins to grow bonds with her sister wives, feels pity for her husband,  Linden, and her fear of Housemaster Vaughn, Linden’s manipulative father. She also begins to fall for a servant named Gabriel.
  Wither is a character-driven dystopian novel that makes us think rather than spike our adrenaline like Collins' blockbuster Hunger Games series. Rhine is a determined, strong yet vulnerable heroine and appropriately named. She spends little time wallowing in her situation. Like her namesake, she is constantly planning on creating a plan to runaway and seek freedom. Whenever she seems to get accustom to her luxurious life, reminds herself why she wants to escape. Rhine's sisterwives, Cecily and Jenna, are also well depicted. Cecily immediately comes off as a spoil brat who craves attention and doesn't seem bothered by her situation. Jenna, on the other hand, is quiet, smart, and vigilant. All three girls use their feminine wiles to manipulate their husband into doing things in their favor and possibly gaining their freedom and/or power, which reminded me a lot of the power struggle between Anne Boylen and Henry VIII in The Other Boylen Girl by Philippa Gregory.
  Linden is by far the most interest characters out of the bunch. He is a walking contradiction that challenges our emotions. He, like his wives, are also trapped into his status quo and controlled by his creepy, authoritarian father. We tend to feel sorry for Linden but we can't help but remember that he is also the captor of our heroines. Gabriel, Rhine's love interest, has a fleeting appearance and his relationship with Rhine is underdeveloped.
    The pace of the book is deliberately slow, as the characters try to get a feel of their setting. The theme of uncertainty flows throughout the entire book and almost becomes a character itself. We are not told what happens outside of the Ashbury mansion thus horrifying and disturbing us to believe that the girls are better off in their present situation. I would have liked more of back story of how the virus came to be as well as a flushed out world building that at first glance seems to have holes. I felt the ending was a bit rushed compared to its overall languid plot. Addressing social issues would also have been welcoming too. I hope these issues are dealt with in the next two installments of the series. DeStefano writes very well and I'm vested enough its characters to want to learn more.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and allusions to sex. Due to its mature themes, I would recommend the book to ages 14 and up.

If you like this book try: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Matched by Ally Condie, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, or The Other Boylen Girl by Phillipa Gregory.
Rummanah Aasi
  I am a David Levithan fan ever since I read Boy Meets Boy for my YA lit class for library school. After finishing that book, I've read several other of his YA books. I was super-excited to learn last year that he was going to write his debut adult fiction novel, The Lover's Dictionary, which I was really looking forward to read this year. I also included his book on my Can't Help Falling in Love Booklist, but after finishing the book, the list could also go on my Love Will Tear Us Apart Booklist too.

Description: A nameless narrator tries to define his experiences with love and being part of a relationship by writing a dictionary.

Review: The Lover's Dictionary reminded me of a stanza that is from one of my favorite Smith songs, Stop Me If You Think You Heard This One Before, that always made me pause and think:

Nothing's changed
I still love you, oh, I still love you
...Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love  
 When I first heard these lyrics, I couldn't believe that this statement is true. Could one's love for a person really change? Now that I've grown up and look back at these lyrics, I realize what they really mean: love changes, from its fiery intensity to its slow, constant simmer, perhaps once we adapt to work with one another's quirks and flaws. The Lover's Dictionary addresses the same issue in its deceivingly simple sentence structures that compose a dictionary in order to uncover the complexities of love and human relationships.
  The dictionary is based on two central and unidentified character's relationship. The narrator is only known as 'I' and a few context clues lead me to believe that the narrator is a he, however, his romantic interest is simply identified as you. Each word, from aberrant to zenith, defines the language of love as well as show the reader how the narrator's relationship evolved. What I found fascinating is that each definition is told from the point of view and in the first-person voice of only one of the partners, the 'I'. The other partner’s voice remains silent throughout except as quoted by the narrator. I loved how Levithan left these characters nameless and faceless because we can easily put ourselves in their shoes. Though they may not have a concrete identity, the characters are instantly come alive and complex, multidimensional, and flawed human beings. We share their universal emotions of being scared, happy, sad, angry, and a whole slew of emotions as we get involved in relationships.
   Though the dictionary begins in the order of the alphabet, it doesn't outline the story of the relationship. In fact, the story moves forward and backward in time. The Lover's Dictionary gives you the good, the bad, and the ugly side of relationships; sometimes all in one entry such as the narrator writes under corrode.
corrode, v.
I spent all this time building a relationship. Then one night I left the window open, and it started to rust.  ~pg. 64
 Like many relationships, nothing is simple. The emotions and intimacy vested in a relationship are enigmatic and sometimes there is just not enough words to describe what you are going through. I would have liked to have seen things from the "you" perspective, but I thought the book does a great job demonstrating how love isn't perfect no matter how much we try to romanticize and analyze it. It simultaneously messy, euphoric, and intimate.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and frank discussion of sex. Although the book is marketed to adults, I think it also has teen appeal but I would recommend to mature teens only.

If you like this book try: How They Met and other Stories by David Levithan 
Rummanah Aasi
  Enjoy a guest review from Jules, my dear friend and book buddy, who timely read and reviewed Red Riding Hood which is now released in theaters. Thanks Jules!

I think YA novels often get made into movies because their stories, at least until the publication of series like Harry Potter, Eragon, and Twilight, are stereotypically short in length.  They can be adapted to a screenplay with relatively little story lost in the process and come with a built-in audience, babysitting money burning a hole their pockets.  Add in a hunky lead and blow some stuff up and you’ve got a summer blockbuster.  Adaptations of Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood are making live action appearances for spring break this year. 
Little Red Riding Hood, however, isn’t so little anymore.  Grimm’s dark fairytale was adapted to a screenplay, titled simply Red Riding Hood, by David Leslie Johnson having been mentored by Hollywood heavy-hitter Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption; The Green Mile.)  In the book’s introduction, the movie’s director, Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) said, “The deeper we went into the world [of Red Riding Hood], the more I realized that the characters and their back stories were too complex to fit into the film, so I wanted to help create a novel to fully explore the tangled web of emotions in the village of Daggorhorn.”  Hardwicke called upon a personal friend, Sarah Blakley-Cartwright who had just graduated cum laude from Barnard College, to write the book.
Description: In a time when villages are so small that everyone knows everyone else, one girl struggles to find her own way.  Valerie is not a “good girl.”  When the local werewolf singles her out, Valerie must make an impossible choice.  With a marriage being forced upon her and a true love asking her to run away, Valerie has no one to turn to.  Her father is the town drunk, her mother wants to control her, and the other girls—they quickly turn her in as a witch.  Who will save her?  Or can Valerie save herself?
Review:  I have to admit that I saw the movie trailer first and assumed the movie was being based on a book.  I ran to the bookstore and purchased the book with a big sticker on it that said, “Now a major motion picture from the director of Twilight.”  I wanted to read the book first and then compare it with what looked like would be a better adaptation than Hardwicke had done with Twilight.  In fact, I had read and liked Flinn’s Beastly and was anxious to read this new version of a dark fairytale.
  It wasn’t until I skimmed Hardwicke’s introduction that I realized Red Riding Hood was not only NOT written first, but wasn’t even a movie-to-book story.  It was written during production. Slightly reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s’ collaboration on Space Odyssey 2001 where the screenplay and book were written simultaneously, Blakley-Cartwright’s source material wasn’t solely Johnson’s screenplay nor pouring over a finished movie.  She interviewed actors about their characters, she was there while sets were being built, and costumes were being sewn.  She participated in rehearsals and even danced across hot coals during a village festival scene. 
  The writing is surprisingly good.  Blakley-Carwright’s descriptions are vivid and the emotions she was paid to delve deeper into were present and authentic.  I feel she accomplished what Hardwicke had commissioned her to do.  With the book being tied so intimately with the movie, about half way through I became a trailer junkie.  For me there were no other faces for these characters than the actors already chosen to portray each part. 
  The book was going to be a solid four stars for me – until I reached the end. The book went Hollywood on me.  There is a bit of a bow at the end to tie things up, but it’s not a tidy bow and too many questions are left dangling from the branches of Daggerhorn.  The book then directs you to a website where there is a countdown widget to the movie’s release on March 11, 2011.  Then, in small print, there is an invitation to come back to the website on March 14th, after the movie has opened, to get a “bonus chapter” which will presumably tie up the rest of the loose ends.  At least it had better.
  This is an instance when I’m not sure you gain anything by reading the book first.  As far as I can tell, you’re better off waiting until after the movie comes out so at least you can get the proper ending.  Also, if you like the movie, you can enjoy the more in-depth telling.  If you don’t like the movie, you don’t need to bother with the book because being tied so closely, it’s just more of the same.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Words of Caution: There some violent scenes depicting wolf attacks and the torture of a teen, and a passionate sex scene that is interrupted before it gets very far.

If you like this book try: Beastly or A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn, Beauty by Robin McKinley, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearse, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater 
Rummanah Aasi
  I really enjoyed Alex Flinn's modern fairytale retelling novel, Beastly, when I read it a few years ago. I was excited to learn that it was going to be a movie. The movie was suppose to release early, but do to some production issues it was released last week. I needed a break from the hectic work schedule and got a chance to see Beastly over the weekend. I thought it was an enjoyable, sweet film.

Description (in case the trailer didn't work for you):  Kyle is an extremely vain, superficial, and rich New York teen who is transformed into a hideous monster in order to discover what true beauty means and to find true love.

Review: After watching horrible adaptations of some of my favorite books (the Twilight Saga, anyone?), I had very low expectations of Beastly. In fact, I only knew the final cast before watching the film. To be honest, I found the casting a bit odd and was curious why they chose certain people for the roles.
 The plot of Beastly is very simple and familiar to those who know the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is an arrogant, shallow, narcissistic, and extremely wealthy New York teen who lived his life by believing that beauty is everything, a mantra that his his equally arrogant and shallow father constantly spews. After repeatedly belittling those who he thinks is beneath him, Kyle is transformed into a 'beast' by a witch named Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen). He is cursed to look beastly until he can find someone who can truly love him despite his grotesque appearance. Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) is the Kyle's way back to normal, but will she accept him? You can easily figure out how this story will end.
  Like many film adaptations of young adult books, the screenplay of Beastly is the main problem. Would it really hurt to add another 30 minutes to a 90 minute movie so that we can actually see some character growth? We are introduced to Kyle and see his transformation all within the first 10 minutes of the movie. Pettyr's dialogue is spoken so fast that you can almost imagine someone in the background timing him with a stopwatch. While Kyle develops a special bond with his tutor and housekeeper in the book, he continually does nothing but give them orders and somehow they magically care for him in the movie. It was a bit hard to swallow. I also found Kyle's beast actually more appealing than disgusting unlike the book. Perhaps the reason for this change is that they had to make him look startling yet allow him to move around and speak clearly. 
  There are some changes in the movie. Some of them, like character name changes, I didn't mind or really take notice after watching and thinking about the movie. My heart did break, however, when the location of the study session was changed, which is where we see Kyle's character growth and introspection. My favorite scenes of Kyle chatting in a chat room with other fairytale creatures who are facing a dilemma were also removed, but the funny and romantic scenes of Kyle trying to woo Lyndy made up for this deletion.  
  In terms of the acting, I think the actors did a good job overall. With all the hype and rumors of Alex Pettyfer being involved in the upcoming Hunger Games and Mortal Instrument movies, I had to know if this guy could act or just be another actor who got lucky- a la Robert Pattinson. I'm glad to say Alex does have an acting bone in his body, unlike Pattinson, though he still needs to develop his skills. While reading the book, I enjoyed how I was able to get inside Kyle's skin and sense his vulnerability, his loneliness, and what truly makes him..well a beast. We get flickers of this in the movie. Alex Pettyfer perfectly embodies the cocky, extremely vain Kyle with his looks and body language. The actor also does a decent job in exposing Kyle's insecurities if you look closely to his eye movements. Unfortuantely due to the script, we don't delve deeper into his character but we get enough to see that Kyle's life is far from perfect.
  Vanessa Hudgens is a very beautiful girl and didn't see her as the plain Lyndy of the book, however, she does bring out Lyndy's sweetness and made me smile a few times. I'm glad that the producers chose a girl with a diverse ethnic background to play a lead role in a teen movie, which doesn't happen very often. Peter Krause, who plays Kyle's distant father doesn't seem to fit his role and doesn't have that much screen presence to make an impression. Not to sound superficial, but Krause is rather average looking compared to Pettyfer and when he repeatedly says that beauty means everything, I can't help but think, "Well, you're not that great looking yourself".
  I was pleasantly surprised by the supporting cast of Beastly. Neil Patrick Harris had impeccable comedic timing with his dry and off kilter one liners. Mary Kate Olsen plays a quirky, creepy, evil witch quite well. Lisa Gay Hamilton plays the warmth and wise Zola is exceptional.
  Despite the movie's short comings, I think it succeeds in capturing the spirit and message of the book which is important. Beastly is a predictable romance that I found pretty entertaining and enjoyed. I would recommend seeing it, but not necessarily rush to your local theaters unless your are dying to see it. You might wait until the DVD comes out and rent it. You can read Alex Flinn's reaction to the movie and her red carpet experience on her blog.
  If you are interested in the story, I would highly recommend checking out the book. It's fantastic and one that I have been recommending to lots of readers who equally enjoyed it.

Rating: 3 stars (Recommended)

Words of Caution: The movie is rated PG-13 due to some crude language, drug references and brief violence.
Rummanah Aasi
  Mark Crilley is mostly known for his Akiko novels and comic books. I was unaware that he also wrote Miki Falls, a manga-like supernatural romance series. Just the fact that a male, American writer writing a love story, especially told from a female point of view, and creating manga inspire drawings piqued my interest. Unlike many manga and graphic novel series, Miki Falls is completed and only contains four volumes, which are published by HarperTeens. You may recognize this title from my Bizarre Love Triangle Booklist for Valentines Day.

Description: Miki is ready for adventure and romance. She is tired of being a pushover and vows that her senior year of high school will be different. She will be confident and in charge. Her senior resolution is called into question when Miki sets her sights on Hiro, a tall, handsome new boy at school who is determined to be antisocial. Miki thinks Hiro is putting on a show and hiding a dangerous secret, but what is it? Miki is determined to find out.

Review: Miki Falls is exactly what I needed at the moment. After reading a few titles that left me in a "blah" mood, Miki Falls is a fresh of breath air for me and I'm so glad that I picked it up. As the story begins, Miki is both literally and figuratively falling out of a window and possibly in love too. We learn that Miki threw herself outside of a third story window. The reason is not given, however, we think it has to do something with Hiro, the mysterious and distant new boy that enrolled in Miki's high school as Miki beings to explain on how everything happened.
  Miki is a extremely likable teen. She is trying to confront her insecurities and no longer wants to be passive. She wants to take charge of her life, which at times makes her impulsive and stubborn especially when she refuses to be avoided by Hiro. She goes out of her way to be nice to him and to speak to him even though he has continually expressed his disinterest in anyone yet Miki sees a vulnerability in Hiro, a person who is much like herself- a rule follower and not living life.
  Hiro is your typical brooding love interest who is hiding a secret. I liked how his revelation is an odd twist and something that I didn't guess. Crilley does a great job in building suspense and mystery surrounding Hiro's past and his mood swings. I can't wait to see how the supernatural aspect of the book develops in the next three series.
  I really enjoyed Crilley's manga-like format. Unlike manga's the book does not read from right to left nor are the illustrations squeezed into panels. A lot of the illustrations are crisscrossing sequential panels that emphasize art as well as furthering the plot, which allows the story's emotion, humor, and drama unfold in front of the readers. My favorite part of the illustrations are the focus on the eyes of the characters that are cut in between dialogue to heighten the characters' sense of vulnerability, confusion, and shock. Crillye's light shading and unique facial features give the book a softer and romantic feel. 
  If you are curious about manga but a bit afraid of it's format, I would highly suggest to pick up the Miki Falls series not only to read a great story but also to experience what reading a manga might feel like. Even though the characters are in their teens, I think this series has a wide age appeal very much similar to the Twilight Saga due to a chaste yet passionate love story. It's definitely worth checking it out.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. This is a very clean romance that I would recommend to well read 4th graders and up.

If you like this book try: Miki Falls Vol 2: Summer by Mark Crilley
Rummanah Aasi
  The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf was recommended to me by my dad or more accurately-one of my dad's student had recommended it to him, but since my dad doesn't read "novels", he passed it on to me. I wasn't in the mood to read a preachy book and thus had the title sitting on my shelf for about five years until I put in my list of top 10 books I resolved to read in 2011. I'm glad that I can finally pull it off from my bookshelf, but I can't seem to shake off my frustration with the title.

Description: Khadra Shamy recalls what it was like growing up as a Syrian Muslim American during the 1970s in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her devout parents raise Khadra and her older brother, Eyad, to be observant of Islamic customs. As Khadra grows older, she reaches a cultural crossroad that forces her to question what it means to be "Muslim", "Syrian" or "American."

Review: The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is a very ambitious novel that seems to tackle all the important complex issues tied to identity: religion, race, and politics. For Muslim Americans (such as me), the book forces them to see the rising problems in the Islamic community that are still relevant today. For those who are not familiar with Islam, the book is an eye opening experience of looking at America from a "foreigner's" point of view. Regardless from what perspective you are reading the book, it is undeniable that the issues it brings up is important, timely, and much needed, however; I can't honestly recommend it without some reservations.
 I had a really hard time reading this book. It's not that the language or themes were beyond my comprehension, but rather I found the writing and editing to be so poorly done. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf has no plot, at least in the way we traditionally think of plot (beginning, middle, end or events leading to a climax and a resolution- depending on how you define plot). The prologue establishes our protagonist, Khadra, on a trip back home to Indianapolis, Indiana for a project she has to do for work. She has some trepidations in coming back home. The book immediately goes back in time to her childhood through adulthood with abrupt transitions to the present. There are large plot holes in the novel, particularly with the books timeline. In fact by the last few chapters of the story, I completely forgot Khadra was on a trip at all because I didn't know what she was doing in the present.
  In addition to the plot holes, there is an inconsistency with the translations of important Arabic phrases that are used throughout the book. While I have background knowledge of Islam, I did not have a problem understanding the terms, however, those who are not familiar with the Islamic faith could easily get confused and miss out its significance. I don't consider myself a lazy reader who is not willing to look up information in order to understand a book nor do I feel that an author needs to spoon feed me the information in order to enjoy his/her novel, but I do strongly believe there needs to be some context in which phrases are used. The author doesn't give any context clues nor a glossary, but only a haphazardly thrown bibliography of books that influenced her writing.
  Along with the book's disorganization, I did not feel there was any character growth for the characters. Kahf throws in characters right and left as if she's a chef preparing a complex dish. Characters disappear without leaving any impression on the reader. I didn't like Khadra at all. For the first half of the book, I found her to be insulting and condescending. She sees religion in its most puritanical form and those who don't follow her rules are deemed as unobservant and are "going to hell". While the book is a coming of age novel and most novels in this genre show the protagonist question authority and go on a quest to find their own identity, Khadra does neither for the first 300 pages. She follows the beliefs that her parents taught her blindly and absolutely. It is not until her trip to a politically charged Syria, does she reconsider her beliefs and only then her epiphany is only about 5 pages, which I found very hard to digest and believe.
 While the book addresses important issues such as gender equality, how one interprets religion, and tolerance, it superficially addresses them. One can argue that the book isn't really a novel with a message, but rather an expository piece that shows how fractured the Muslim community is in terms of what constitutes a Muslim identity and what is the correct way to interpret Islam in the 21st century. In that case, I can't help but think the book succeeds in this aspect only by the stereotypes it presents to the reader. 
 I appreciate the author's attempt in exploring the identity of a Muslim American, which has been routinely questioned by those who are first generation Muslim Americans (including myself). For most of us, our parents have raised us to follow Islam and the Islamic code the way they have been taught by their elders, however, things get murky when you live in a secular society like America (and that's not always a bad thing). Books like The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf that explores the identity crisis of Muslim Americans are desperately needed and I think book is in the right direction. Some readers may think the book is poignant and a great choice for book discussions, but it's definitely not for me.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language in the book including racial slurs. There is also allusions to rape and murder. Recommended to mature teens and adults only. For those readers who are unfamiliar with Islam, I would highly suggest you read some introductory materials to gain some background knowledge first before reading this book.

If you like this book try: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Rummanah Aasi
  I featured Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams in my Bizarre Love Triangle booklist that I created for Valentines Day. The book is marketed as a quirky, comedy of errors/romance for teens. The book is set in Melbourne, Austraila, which allows readers, like me, an inside glimpse of what it is like to be an Aussie teen.

Description: Are we destined to fall in love with someone or is it just pure coincidence? This is the question that superstitious John Lennon aka Beatle, to his friends, struggles with when  he meets Destiny McCartney (on Friday the 13th no less) while dating the best friend of his twin sister. Beatle and Destiny seem to hit it off right from the start with their shared quirkiness. Are they meant to be together?

Review: The premise of Beatle Meets Destiny is nothing new in the realm of teen romances. We have two main characters who are drawn together despite one of them being attached to another person, however, the book takes a closer look at the horrible choices we make and its consequences which in the case of this book turn out to be really funny.
  John Lennon (yes, that's his real name) is known as Beatle to his friends and family. He is one half of a set of twins- his sister, Winsome,was born months 45 days after him due to an accident that resulted in Beatle's premature birth. With a mother who is obsessed with astrology and horoscopes, Beatle can't help but be superstitious. He never wants to become like his good-for-nothing dad who had numerous affairs behind his mother's back and ultimately abandoned his family, however, he feels like he is fated to do the same thing when he meets and suddenly falls for a girl named Destiny McCarthy (yes, that's her real name too) by chance on one Friday the 13th, a day Beatle risked to stay out late. There's nothing wrong with meeting Destiny, except that Beatle has a long term girlfriend named Cilla, Winsome's best friend. Thus begins Beatle's hilarious struggle to keep his current flame/possible soul mate separate and unknown to his girlfriend of several years.
   Beatle meets Destiny is a quirky, teen romantic comedy that has a dash of drama thrown in for good measure. The characters, both main and secondary, are original and unique. Unlike most teen romances, I didn't care for the protagonists. Beatle was selfish and self absorbed, but I couldn't help but laugh at all the trouble he caused himself because he didn't have the courage to tell his girlfriend that he'd like to break-up with her. I thought Destiny was okay, but she also self absorbed. In other words, they were perfectly made for each other. The one character I did like though was Cilla, Beatle's girlfriend who was just too good for him. It frustrated me to no end that she didn't see the obvious signs that he was cheating and no longer interested in her.
  The novel reads very quickly and the chapters are short. There are other subplots thrown into the narrative such as a documentary on twins and an online advertisement. I didn't mind the subplots, however, I thought the transition from the main storyline to the subplots was a bit abrupt and could have been smoother. At first I was a bit confused and had to go back and read the first chapter to see how it ties to the bigger picture.
  I will warn you though that while reading the book, you have to suspend your disbelief on the numerous sheer coincidences that pop up in the story in order to enjoy the book's humor and bizarre "twists". I couldn't help but laugh out loud and shake my head on the poor choices Beatle and Destiny make throughout the story, which I found to be quite refreshing, but there were many times when I rolled my eyes and thought "Really?". I think readers will enjoy the book's Australian setting and ask themselves whether or not fate is actually bringing our protagonists closer or do they just happen to stumble upon one another at the right times. Beatle Meets Destiny is a cute, fluffy, romance, beach read. As long as you don't expect too much from the story, you will enjoy it.    

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language in the book and some sexual suggestions. Also as the author note suggests, 18 year olds in Austraila are legally allowed to drink and considered adults. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn or When It Happens by Susane Colasanti
Rummanah Aasi
  Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel has been on several lists last year. The School Library Journal gave it a starred review and listed it in its Best Graphic Novels for Children's list. It was also listed in VOYA's (Voices of Youth Advocates) list of Best Fantasy/Horror in 2009. I thought I'd check out the graphic novel and find out what the buzz is all about.

Description: When Garth Hale is accidentally zapped into the ghost world by Frank Gallows, an underachieving ghost wrangler. Frank Gallows, he finds out that he has some awesome super powers. When the evil ruler of Ghostopolis discovers Garth in his kingdom, he desperately searches for the young boy who will allow him to keep a tighter grip in his afterlife world. Will Garth be able to survive and make his way back home? Will Frank Gallows come to Ghostopolis to have save Garth or will it be too late?

Review: Ghostopolis is an enjoyable read, but it left me wanting more. The story is unique and filled with humor as well as heart. The world building of the Ghostopolis is quite good, however, I would have liked a little more of an explanation of how it came to be than what was provided in the graphic novel. There is a balance between narrative panels and wordless passages such as two mummified squirrels fighting for the same acorn that keep readers interested and stay on task with the plot.
  While there is a diverse cast of characters, whom I'm sure many readers will like and feel invested in their adventures, I thought they were a bit flat and lacked character development. The book takes its time establishing Ghostopolis and Garth's plight in finding a way to get back home, however, I thought the ending was very rushed in the end. Even though some loose ties are tied up, I thought some important themes were glossed over and I still had some questions that were unanswered. It's also hard not to notice the strong Christian overtones in the story, however, I enjoyed the dry humor of the book. I think Ghostopolis might be a good step for readers who aren't ready to tackle the frightening and weird tales of Neil Gaiman. Young readers should dig the graphic novel's creep factor, adventure, and humor. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: PG Fantasy Violence. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Coraline by Neil Gaiman or Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
Rummanah Aasi
  I was approached by indie writer Vanessa Morgan to review her novella, Drowned Sorrow, for my blog. According to the author's good reads page, the novella has been inspired by horror films such as Dark Water, Dead and Buried, The Wicker Man, and Dagon. A movie based on Drowned Sorrow is also in works. I received a free copy from the author in order to provide an honest review. 

Description (from the back of the book): Megan Blackwood has just lost her son in a terrible accident. Now she has come to Moonlight Creek with her teenage daughter Jenna, hoping a change of scenery might help to put her life back together. But something odd is going on in Moonlight Creek. When rain falls over the village, its inhabitants commit grisly murders, leaving the place deserted with the first rays of sunshine.
  Beneath the lake's surface, an eerie presence watches... and waits... Waits to reveal a tragic past drowned in mystery and fear. One that doesn't bode well for visitors. By the time Megan realizes that her daughter's life is in danger, it may be too late to escape.

Review: Let me preface this review by saying that I'm not a big horror reader. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I don't consider slasher movies or things rich in gore, blood, and murder to be horror. What terrifies me is the subtleties of the story that seeps into your bones without you realizing it until you close the book or disturbing events that should shock you but don't. So with a pretty good book description of Drowned Sorrow, I hoped to read a fast paced, psychological thriller/horror novella but I ended up being disappointed. 
  Although the novella is less than 200 pages, I found myself putting it down quite often because I couldn't get into the story. Morgan introduces a cast of characters who stay at a eerie hotel named Willow Creek where people seem to disappear and really like water. Seriously, the only drink that is sold anywhere is water. We meet Megan and her daughter, Jenna, who are in mourning over a family member who has committed suicide. Distraught and filled with guilt, Megan's friend suggested she and her daughter spend sometime together on a resort. Along with Megan's and Jenna's stay at Willow Creek, there is Kenny who is seeking cancer treatment, and Mark, a teen who is caught in the middle of his parent's nasty divorce. All of these characters have the potential to be interesting, however, that's all that we ever know about them. There's not much character growth for any of them in the novella besides their introduction. As a reader, I need some character development to keep me interested.
  Besides the lack of character growth, I also had a few problems with the writing. There were some large questions in the book that were never answered such as: How did the village become the way it is? Why is water chosen to be dangerous? The book takes place in four days so when did the twist happen? I thought once Megan and Jenna were in the heart of the problems, we would get some details but none were given. I also thought the book's editing was done poorly. There were inconsistencies in the writing such as one sentence indicating there was no one on the beach, which was then followed by another sentence indicating that they were people there. I was quite confused and had to slow down my reading pace. I also can't make sense of the twist at the end of the book.
  I did, however, really like somethings about the book. The concept of taking something quite banal such as water and making it into something menacing is a fresh horror twist that probably hasn't been revisited in books since Jaws. The author's talent really showed through the ambiance of Willow Creek, which was definitely haunting, and the events that took place in the water was disturbing and well written. I loved how the villagers became one with the water, which I'm sure will give people who are afraid of the water even more reasons to justify their phobia. (Side note: I didn't find the book scary.)
  I clearly think I'm not the right reader for this book. Perhaps a movie adaptation with visuals will do the book more justice to the book than its editing did. Morgan definitely has the flare and talent for writing talent, which I'm sure will only improve as she writes more. If you're a fan of Stephen King or Dean Kootz, she is definitely an author to look out for and give Drowned Sorrow a chance.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and frightening moments. Even though it is marketed to adults, I think this novella also has teen appeal so I would recommend it to Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: The Strangers Outside by Vanessa Morgan or The Red Church by Scott Nicholson
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