Rummanah Aasi
    I seem to be very luck with most of my adult reading picks this year. The latest book that struck a strong chord with me is Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel, The Age of Miracles, that makes us wonder what we would do if we are confronted with a natural disaster and whether life we knew it would irrevocably change.

Description: On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life.

Review: The Age of Miracles is a gripping yet quiet debut novel. Our narrator is the precocious eleven year-old Julia who wakes one day to the news that the earth's rotation has started slowing. The unheard event sends ripples of bewilderment, fear, paranoia, and chaos everywhere. The immediate effects of the slowing is startling as people rush to the nearest grocery stories and survival disasters kits, which is not common with what people really did with the potential threat of Y2K twelve years ago.
  "The slowing" is growing slower still, and soon both day and night are more than twice as long as they once were. The simple concept of what we think time is suddenly altered causing fractions within the nation as the federal governments decide to stick to the 24-hour schedule (ignoring circadian rhythms) while a subversive movement called "real-timers" erupts and disregards the clock and appear to be weathering the slowing better than clock-timers-at first. As the days continue to lengthen, gravity increases, the earth’s magnetic field begins to collapse and the world faces potential famine as plants die during the ever-lengthening nights. The slowing is never explained nor addressed beyond its after effects, much to the frustration of many readers, but I had no issues with it as I saw the event as a series of metaphors ranging from the classic coming of age to the loss of the innocence all thanks to the wonderful narrator.
  I loved Julia right from the start. Her voice is memorable, authentic, direct, and conversational. I connected with her on so many levels. On the brink of adolescence, she's as concerned with buying her first bra as with the world falling around her. She keenly observes her parent's failing marriage and also has a bittersweet first romance of her own. She tries to survive the mercurial waters of junior high where her peers are tweens acting as if they are in their mid-20s and attached to their cliques. Though she attempts to fit in, she still wants a companion who can understand her and be comfortable in her own skin. She wants to take risks but at the same time is afraid to leave her familiar world.
 While the slowing causes irreversible damages, the narrative remains focused on the horrifying day-to-day and the personal decisions that persist even though no one knows what to do. The book suggests that perhaps we are worrying about the wrong set of problems that will bring our end. An exquisitely written, poignant read, The Age of Miracles is easily a book that can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. I would not be surprised to see it on this year's Alex Awards.

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

If you like this book try: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pffeffer, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by  Jonathan Safran Foer
Rummanah Aasi
  Sometimes we need a reality check. We need to be put out of our comfort zone to re-evaluate what are the big issues that we really need to concerns ourselves with and which are extremely petty. Trash is one of those books that remind us that there are places and people that are in far worse conditions than us.

Description (from Goodreads): Fourteen-year-olds Raphael and Gardo team up with a younger boy, Rat, to figure out the mysteries surrounding a bag Raphael finds during their daily life of sorting through trash in a third-world country's dump.

Review: The closest thing that I can compare Trash to is a very, very PG rated Slumdog Millionaire sans romance story. Both stories touch upon extreme poverty along with an engaging mystery at its core. Unfortunately, Trash felt lacking in many ways and instead of being pulled into the story, I became annoyed and could really care less of what happened.
The story was told from the point of view of three boys (along with occasional commentary from other secondary characters) who live and work in trash, namely the city landfill site. They make their living from wading through the rubbish thrown out by the people in the city they live in. The setting of the book is clearly a third world country and after reading the author note, he does mentioned that it is loosely based on the Philippines. Though I found the poverty and the political corruption to be alarming in Trash, I though these themes were repetitive and after a while I felt like it hit me with a sledgehammer. Even characters and their actions are limited and defined by the squalor and the helplessness. As a result, they were flat and unmemorable. It also irked me that characters from the first world were depicted as saviors, most concerned about education, and obliged to help change the world, giving us the impression that those living in the dumps are pleased with their present state.
 The main crux of the story is a mystery based around a bag which is presumably filled with lots of cash, found by the boys one day. The mystery is a plot devise designed to talk about moral questions about poverty, police and statement corruption and the ever growing divide between the world's most rich and the world's most poor. Normally, with engaging characters the plot would be fine. The pacing was okay and the outcome a tad too predicable. 
 Trash is an okay book but it's definitely not a book that I would immediately tell others to read about. The plot nor the characters blew me away. Had it not been on the Caudill reading list for this year, I would not have read it. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: Some language and disturbing scenes. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Boys without Names by Kashmira Seth or for adult reads try: Q & A by Vikas Swarup., and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Rummanah Aasi

  Today's topic for Top 10 Tuesday, an awesome feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is discussing our most anticipated books for 2013. Here are just a few of mine, in release order, along with a link to Goodreads.

January 2013

Catherine by April Lindner- I loved how Lindner retold Jane Eyre and I can't wait to see what she's done with Wuthering Heights. (Stand-alone)

Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepard- A retelling of Dr. Moreau's Island by H.G. Wells told from the perspective of his daughter. (Stand-alone; Debut Author)

Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook- Bonnie and Clyde meets If I Stay (Stand alone; Debut Author)

Just One Day by Gayle Forman- I can't wait to read a new contemporary series by this fabulous author! (New Series)

February 2013

Pivot Point by Kasie West- A clever premise that sounds a lot like the movie Sliding Doors that featured Gwenthy Paltrow (New series; Debut Author)

April 2013

My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi- Sixteen-year-old Lucy never thought it would happen to her. She planned on becoming a Broadway star, living out her days with her leading man, Ty. Instead, a new girl walks off with her role and her guy. Lucy flies off the rails and does something completely out of character. Something with consequences she'll have to live with the rest of her life...

What will she tell her family? Her friends? Off script and without the comforts of her simple high school problems, Lucy must figure out how to live and even embrace a life she thought was all but over.  (Stand-alone, Debut Author)

May 2013

The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller- Sounds like a funny, contemporary romance ala Big Bang Theory. (Stand-alone)

Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan- sounds like an unique paranormal romance from two great YA authors. (Stand-alone)

June 2013

Linked by Imogen Howson- Elissa used to have it all: looks, popularity, and a bright future. But for the last three years, she’s been struggling with terrifying visions, phantom pains, and mysterious bruises that appear out of nowhere.
Finally, she’s promised a cure: minor surgery to burn out the overactive area of her brain. But on the eve of the procedure, she discovers the shocking truth behind her hallucinations: she’s been seeing the world through another girl’s eyes.

Elissa follows her visions, and finds a battered, broken girl on the run. A girl—Lin—who looks exactly like Elissa, down to the matching bruises. The twin sister she never knew existed.

Now, Elissa and Lin are on the run from a government who will stop at nothing to reclaim Lin and protect the dangerous secrets she could expose—secrets that would shake the very foundation of their world. (Stand-alone; Debut Author)

August 2013

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke-
You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery...who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it. (New series, Debut Author)
Rummanah Aasi
 Manga Mondays is a meme hosted by Alison at Alison Can Read where bloggers can share their passion for reading mangas. It's a great place to get new manga titles to try and to meet new bloggers. At the moment, I've got sucked into the world of Nana where music is the back drop and fuels the characters' passions and where love and heartbreak go hand in hand.

Description (abridged to avoid major spoilers): Tragedy strikes the world of Nana. One horrible accident will change the course of everyone's future...

Review: While Volume 20 left me heart broken with lots of foreshadowing, Volume 21 tore my heart asunder. The story is cloaked in sadness and grief as we lose one vital character from the manga series. The main arc of this story is watching how each character reacts and deals with the loss. Once again the art of Yazawa is impeccable. She deftly uses wordless panels to show her characters' emotions without relying on wordy dialogue. It is also obvious that the author isn't shy away from causing her characters pain, but that's what gives this otherwise melodramatic soap opera manga some realism.
 Other readers have Nana complained that the series focused too much on the various character relationships, watching who breaks up and who gets together. I would argue, however, that each relationship regardless how I feel about them adds an additional layer to the character's personality. There is no doubt that Volume 20 and 21 are the climax of the series providing us with a new story arc, however, the series is currently on hiatus since 2010 due to the author's illness. I really hope that author picks up the series again as many fans, including myself, need some closure. Perhaps I can relive the series by watching the anime and/or live action movies based on the series.

Rated: 5 stars

Words of Caution: Mature themes and language. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: We Were There by Yuuki Obata, Honey and Clover by Chica Umino, Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa
Rummanah Aasi
  I've read a few books that feature characters who have autism and for the most part really enjoyed them. It helps me look at the world with a different lens. Anything But Typical is a middle grade novel that successfully tells a story about autism with heart and universal appeal.

Description: Jason, a twelve-year-old autistic boy who wants to become a writer, relates what his life is like as he tries to make sense of his world.

Review: Baskin tells an enlightening story entirely from the point of view of Jason, an autistic boy who is a gifted creative writer, but is mainly viewed as the odd ball by the neurotypicals (i.e. normal people) both at school and at home because he can't comprehend human emotions and social interactions. He is most comfortable in an online writing forum called Storyboard, where his stories explore his rich imagination and eventually kindles an e-mail-based friendship with a girl. His excitement over having a real friend (and maybe even girlfriend) turns to terror when he learns that his parents want to take him on a trip to the Storyboard conference, where he'll no doubt have to meet her in person.
  With short chapters and precise word usage, Baskin describes Jason's attempts to interpret body language and social expectations, revealing the extreme disconnect created by his internalization of the world around him. Jason is an empathetic character and quite witty. He moves through his failures and triumphs with the same depth of courage and confusion of any boy his age. His story, neither overly heartbreaking nor saturated with saccharine sweetness, shows that the distinction between normal and not normal is hard to distinguish yet we ironically have no problems to label things as "different" and "defective". Since I have no personal experience with autism, I can't atest to the authenicity of Jason's voice, but I do appreciate Baskin for making Jason's story universal.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Rules by Cynthia Lord, Mockingbird by for a YA read try Marcelo in the Real World by Franciso X. Stork
Rummanah Aasi
   I pre-ordered my copy of Clockwork Prince as soon as I had finished Clockwork Angel, but it took me months to actually read it. Why? After being horribly disappointed by City of Lost Souls, the last thing I needed was another book from Clare that suffered from middle book syndrome and I needed time to get over my bad book aftertaste. I happy to say that Clockwork Prince not only avoids the middle book syndrome, but it also reminded me of why I loved the world of the Shadowhunters.

Description: As the Council attempts to strip Charlotte of her power, sixteen-year-old orphaned shape-changer Tessa Gray works with the London Shadowhunters to find the Magister and destroy his clockwork army, learning the secret of her own identity while investigating his past.

Review: Tessa is a shape-shifting Shadowhunter who is becoming accustomed to her powers. In the middle of trying to find out more about her past and be thrust in the middle of all the magic, intrigue and mystery in Victorian England, but the  relationships between Tessa, the enigmatic Will, and the thoughtful, sensitive Jem is the crux of the story.
  Clockwork Prince picks up immediately where Clockwork Angel left its readers. There is hardly any background information given, which for me was problematic since I have read the first book about a year ago. I did forget about some important characters and key events. After a provocative and straight-forward prologue, the story begins at the London Institute of Shadowhunters. The leaders of the Institute are given a two week deadline to find the evil Magister, who is still determined to gain control of Tessa’s powers and bring down the Enclave. Tessa and the Shadowhunters must battle dreadful clockwork creatures, demons, uncover hidden secrets and even treachery within their own ranks before everything around them is forever altered. We are also given tidbits on how the ties between the Lightwoods and Herondale families are formed. In addition to following our three main protagonists, we are also given more time with other secondary characters such as Jessamine, Henry, Charlotte, and Sophie as well as introduced to new characters.
   Unlike Clockwork Angel which focused more on the time period and action, Clockwork Prince has a slow burning plot that is dedicated to character development and relationships. Tessa becomes more sure of her unique position and powers. She is even more endearing in this book, because she is calm, level headed, and taking her obstacles in stride. I admire how she tries to approach her ever-changing relationships with Jem and Will, which deepens in a life-changing way without being wishy washy. Jem and Will both have enough time to come into their own as characters as well as have their individual alone moments to shine with Tessa, which provides lots of swooningly romantic and wildly sensual moments with our heroine. Jem unexpectedly reveals a new side to him, a man who doesn't want to be only known as the "sick one", and we finally discover the devastating secret in handsome, bad-boy Will’s tragic past. As you have probably guessed, Clockwork Prince has a love triangle and I think it's one of the most well-written love triangles I’ve read in a long time, not only Victorian with its timing and circumstances, but also a very hard one to solve. Tessa is torn between two very attractive and honorable boys; there are good reasons for Tessa to love them both, but also excellent reasons for her to give her heart to neither. I'm on and still remain Team Jem, but I will admit that Will has also won me over in Clockwork Prince.
  In addition to the romantic relationships, we are also shown the depth of Will's and Jem's friendship. Both searching for understanding, attachment, honor, and loyalty from one another. It is their strong connection to one another that makes the love triangle with Tessa even more potent. It is going to be hard to be with one without wounding the other. Sacrifice, love, honor, duty- all important ingredients of being a Shadowhunter, but what do you do if your heart is torn into all of these parts?
  Clockwork Prince has several important revelations hidden in the prose and a wicked cliffhanger. If you have been disappointed with the Mortal Instruments series or simply just can't get into it, I think you should try the Infernal Devices. Clare's writing is much stronger and more concise. I think it goes without saying that I'm really excited for Clockwork Princess and it might wise of me to do a quick reread of the first two books of the Infernal Devices before jumping with its concluding volume.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence, minor language, and a scene at an opium-like den. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: The Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray, Prophecy of Sisters by Michelle Zink, or The Mortal Instrument series by Cassandra Clare
Rummanah Aasi
  Manga Mondays is a meme hosted by Alison at Alison Can Read where bloggers can share their passion for reading mangas. It's a great place to get new manga titles to try and to meet new bloggers. At the moment, I've got sucked into the world of Nana where music is the back drop and fuels the characters' passions and where love and heartbreak go hand in hand.

Description (from Goodreads): Ren's drug use is spiraling out of control and he doesn't want to drag Trapnest down with him. Neither Takumi nor Reira are willing to let Ren quit the band, and both do their best to give him the time he needs to get it together. But Ren isn't sure this is something he can handle on his own. Will he turn to Nana for help, or will their strained relationship make him try to face his demons alone?

Review: Though volume 20 might be one of the shortest volumes of Nana, but it packed a powerful punch that left me reeling and in tears. It's hard to believe that the story of two girls with the same name has taken place for a year. Do you know the saying, "When it rains, it pours?" Yeah, well it's pouring buckets and buckets in the world of Nana. Blast has had to break up and Nana O. begins to pick up the pieces and start her solo career. This time Trapnest is imploding from within: Takumi crosses the his boundaries with his relationship with Reira in the hopes of containing the damage, while Ren attempts to leave band as he knows his drug use has gotten out of control.
    Yazawa has some of the most beautiful artwork in this volume. The tone of the volume is colored in quiet, dark strokes. There are several panels that are wordless yet the character's body language speaks loudly. There are a few comic intervals than usual and the "look" from the characters clothes, dialogue is suitably oppressive and tense. She really does do an amazing job of keeping it all visually consistent.
   One of the reasons why I love this manga despite its melodrama, soap opera plot line is the way in which its multi-stranded plot jumps back and forth in time. The stories and the character's internal conflicts in their essence is very realistic. Besides the main story line and the inevitable character "back-stories," there are also sections of the story that are set an unspecified number of years in the future, and indeed, much of the continuing dramatic tensions revolves around what happened to Nana Osaki and the rest in-between. We are told that the Nanas have separated and the fiery, strong-willed Nana O. that we have come to love has irrevocably changed. In this volume we now understand what tragedy occurred and how its magnitude is felt with all the characters.
  Another reason why I love this manga is the growing character development for all of the characters. The chapters from the future suggest that characters, particularly Takumi who I find is most striking, have changed. It is as if to suggest that the most single event in this book was a wake-up call for all of the characters. Needless to say, this volume ends with the single event which is likely to begin the ripples which will bring this series racing toward its climax. I don't know how the characters will deal with the present situation and move forward.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are mature themes and depiction of drug use. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: We Were There by Yuuki Obata, Nana Vol 21 by Ai Yazawa, Honey and Clover by Chica Umino, Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa
Rummanah Aasi

I would like to thank all the readers for stopping by the blog and entering this giveaway. I would also like to thank B.C. Johnson's generosity in offering copies of Dead Girl for my readers. A huge thank you also goes to out Heidi of Rainy Day Ramblings for hosting the fabulous October event Something Wicked Comes! According to, the winners of this giveaway are: Holly and Melissa from Books and Things! Congrats, ladies! I already sent you an email regarding the giveaway.
Rummanah Aasi
  There is one thing I've learned from doing the banned/challenged reading challenge this year: You can't write a book that will please everyone. There is going to be something about your book, no matter how minuscule or indirect, that will offend someone. Picture books for younger readers are easily targeted for challenges due to their brief text and illustrations as you will see in the following reviews below.

Description: A story of a strange, shy, small boy who is isolated by his differences from other children in a Japanese village school.

Review: Crow Boy is a very simple story and it would work as a great way to introduce the topic of bullying through a multicultural lens. This story centers around a boy that does not fit with the social and cultural norms of his classmates throughout his school career. He continually is bullied and made fun of by his classmates. It is not until the sixth grade when a teacher takes interest in him and creates opportunities for him to show his talents and knowledge. For example, the boy can imitate lots of crows. He is admired for his crow calls and dubbed "Crow Boy". Once his classmates learn about his hard struggles and what the boy does just to go to school, they realize how quick they were to jump to conclusions and by the end of the story, he is incorporated to the group. The story is told with sparse illustrations and what seems to be colored pencil illustrations that allow for shading, multiple color use, and abstraction within each illustration. Each classmate's face along with the main character's face are somewhat blurred and allow for a greater audience for this story, since it is not specifically identified with Japan and Japanese culture. I'm not a fan of the book's illustrations at all and I think they are kind of off putting, however, the powerful story makes up for it.

Rating: 4 stars

Reasons why it was banned/challenged: Challenged by a school board member in the Queens, N.Y. school libraries (1994) because it "denigrates white American culture, 'promotes racial separation, and discourages assimilation."' The rest of the school board voted to retain the book. Source: ALA, Banned Books 1994-1995

Words of Caution:
None. The book challenge for this book does not make sense to me at all. I'm almost positive that the challenger has not even bothered opening this book to realize that a) the book's setting is a village in Japan, b) the story is about bullying, and c) the lesson in this book is about embracing differences, not labeling people, and why bullying is bad. There is zero discussion about race and race relations. Furthermore, I think Crow Boy successfully tries to be multicultural in showing that bullying, unfortunately, takes place anywhere. The last time I checked, American culture is not just "white" but a melting pot of lots of other races, ethniticies, etc, and that all men are created equal.

If you like this book try: Umbrella by Taro Yashima, Be Good to Eddie Lee by Virginia Fleming

Description: Telling his faithful dog to make sure nobody touches his clothes but him, a cowboy jumps into a New Mexico river for a bath, not realizing just how much the scrubbing will change his scent.

Review: After finding 32 fleas in his hair and tumbleweeds in his chaps, a freckle-faced cowboy decides that it's time for his annual bath. He mounts his horse, calls for his old dog, and heads for El Rio. There he takes off his clothes and commands his dog to guard his duds and to not anyone take them except him. After frolicking merrily with a bar of soap through G rated illustrations that cover the lower parts of his body, he emerges thoroughly scrubbed and thinks he should also wash his clothes too, but there is a slight problem. The dog does not detect his owner's familiar "wild boar-like smell" and stubbornly refuses to relinquish the garments. A hysterical brawl ensues as owner and pet fight for the clothes that ultimately leaves the man as dirty as when he started, ultimately restoring his usual aroma. Unfortunately, the clothes do not survive the tussle, and the cowboy heads for home in his birthday suit. Told in descriptive language that rolls off the tongue, this story makes the most of a humorous situation. Filled with the dusty reds and sundown bronzes of the New Mexico setting, the paintings have a gritty, sinewy look that matches the earthy tone of the tale. The illustrations does have a Norman Rockwell appeal to them. The illustrations are clever, but my favorite picture is of the hangdog expression on the pooch's face when he realizes his mistake is priceless. Dirty Cowboy is a fun tall tale story that younger readers will enjoy and might even get them to take baths more often.

Rating: 4 stars

Reasons why it was banned/challenged: In April 2012, the Annville-Cleona School Board in Lebanon, PA, voted 8-0 to remove the book from its elementary schools after a student's parents objected to some of the book's illustrations. There is no objection to the story itself but rather the illustrations may lead children to think "that looking at nudity is OK, and therefore pornography is OK.'" Source: LDN News

Words of Caution:
As I mentioned, the illustrations are G rated and not all that different from the old cartoons where a person would wear a barrel if their clothes were destroyed. Now I'm pretty sure that all kids know that in order to take a bath or a shower, you have to disrobe. I see to be missing the huge "logical" jump  from this idea to pornography. Can you help me out? Recommended it for Grades K-Grade 2nd reading level.

If you like this book try: Down the Drain by Robert Munsch, Tub Toys by Terry Miller Shannon

Description: Through a series of questions to which the reader must answer yes or no, the personality and occupation of a lady called Daisy O'Grady are revealed.

Review:  Guess What? is an off beat Halloween picture book in the form of a question and answer style. The structure is simple, introduced on the first page with a flat statement: ``Far away from here lives a crazy lady called Daisy O'Grady.'' This is followed by a series of questions that are answered with a resounding ``Yes!'' when the page is turned. Each exchange builds a description of a woman who, it is increasingly obvious, is a witch. The last lines, however, are reassure us that Ms. O'Grady is isn't frightening. The text is paired with illustrations that add to the eerie atmosphere with a photographic surrealism. Framed sharply to face the text, which is in large print, the pictures become increasingly bizarre in their use of detail, commenting on the text as much as extending it. The picture and text are darkly humorous and I think would go over the little one's heads. I know I found some of the pictures to be a bit grotesque for my taste and could have easily scared me as a child. As a result, it's an okay book with a cool format, but definitely not my first choice as a Halloween book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Reasons why it was banned/challenged: References to witchcraft. Source: MVCC Libraries 

Words of Caution: 
The book doesn't teach you how to become a witch. It just features a witch, a figure that is quite common in a lot picture books about Halloween. Due to some nightmarish images, I would feel better recommending this title for Grades 2-4

If you like this book try: Are You Awake? by Sophie Blackall, Boy Wonders by Calef Brown

Rummanah Aasi
  I've been a Libba Bray fan ever since I read and loved her Gemma Doyle series. Each of her books are completely different from one another, which shows how versatile she is as a writer. I've had the great opportunity to meet her in person and she is genuinely awesome. When I first heard about Beauty Queens I knew I had to get my hands on a copy of the book and read. As a side note, for information about the giveaway winners please scroll down this post.

Description: When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island's other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.

Review: Beauty Queens is a satire done right. With extremely witty and spot-on social commentary, surreal plot elements, and feminist themes Bray's Beauty Queens is a book of many layers. At the book's surface level is it modern rendition of Golding's Lord of the Flies with sparkles, lip gloss, and a cast full of caricatures.  The plot itself is outlandish as we follow a group of beauty pageant contestants stranded on a remote island after a plane crash. Undaunted by disaster, the teens hone their survival skills as they practice dance routines and pageant interviews, while a ruthless corporation secretly plans to use them as pawns in an arms deal with an insane dictator.
  Beneath the absurdity and the laughs lies a thought-provoking exploration of society's expectations for how young women should look, feel, think, and act. Wry footnotes lampoon the media and pop culture. Hilariously scripted and well timed "commercial breaks" interrupt the narrative, leading readers to question the pervasiveness of self-improvement products that make consumers feel inadequate. There were many times where I laughed out loud and shook my head in agreement with the various products advertised. Bray's off beat humor shines in Beauty Queens. While some readers thought the breaks were annoying, I absolutely loved them and thought they demonstrated her purpose quite well.    
    There is quite a large cast of characters in Beauty Queens and I was a bit worried that not all of them would get a change to shine, but thankfully Bray rises admirably to the challenge. Each pageant contestant is given a confessional of sorts that exposes their true personality, conveying both strengths and insecurities  Not only do we get to hear their distinct voices, but we are shown how each girl possesses much more than surface-level beauty, and even the most stereotypical ditzy girl offers unique and unexpected strength. Readers from all backgrounds will identify with the representation of various religions, ethnicities, and sexual orientations among the characters. There are moments when you are cheering these girls on the sidelines especially when they embrace their own individuality and drop their facade. I love the empowering theme of self-acceptance and the affirming message that women should not underestimate themselves or others makes in this novel and that's why it is a standout to me and one of the best satires I've read in a very long time.
  As a side note, I've heard from many readers that Beauty Queens is a bit hard to read due to the "commercial breaks" so I would suggest you look for the audiobook which is narrated by Bray herself and she does a marvelous job. The audiobook might be easier to follow.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, frank discussions about sex, and a small non-explicit sex scene. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld, Feed by M.T. Anderson


  Unfortunately, last week got the best of me and I wasn't able to post the winners for the Freak and War Stories giveaways. Thank you to the authors for stopping by the blog to talk about their books and for their generosity. Thank you to all of the readers who entered the giveaway. The winners were all chosen by Congrats goes out to Elizabeth from Nightmare on Bookstreet, Suzy, and Bn100! Winner have already been confirmed and notified. 
Rummanah Aasi
  Manga Mondays is a meme hosted by Alison at Alison Can Read where bloggers can share their passion for reading mangas. It's a great place to get new manga titles to try and to meet new bloggers. At the moment, I've got sucked into the world of Nana where music is the back drop and fuels the characters' passions and where love and heartbreak go hand in hand.

Description (from Goodreads): The tabloid feeding frenzy has finally brought Blast down, but Nana is determined to keep hope alive. She's going to take a gig as a solo artist, and even accept acting jobs she has no interest in. As long as she keeps herself in the spotlight, she knows there's a chance Blast can make a comeback. But while all eyes are on Nana, what's happening to her friends in the background?!

Review: Valentines Day is the setting in this volume of Nana and things should be great but since happiness is short term in this manga series you can expect a lot of melodramatic moments. As you may recall, Blast's first major tour has been cancelled due to Shin's sudden arrest. In a last ditch effort, Nana O. tried to save the tour by swallowing her pride and asked Ren to fill in Shin's shoes. Ren flat out refused saying it would be an insult to both of their bands and told Nana O. to stop being selfish. I can see his point. When it comes to music and her career, Nana can have tunnel vision. She didn't stop to consider that Ren is not part of her band and that he won't drop everything for her just because he is her husband. Both Nana O. and Ren want to retain their own individuality. Now Nana O. and Ren are in a fight and not speaking to one another. Nana O. is staying at her old apartment while Ren is trying to overcome his drug addition to either cocaine or heroin (I'm not really sure since it just looks like powder in a pouch). Though we do see Ren dumping the drug in a hotel toilet and trying to recommit himself to his band, the next few panels shows him going through really bad withdrawals and ultimately succumbing to the drug. We also find out that a higher person in Trapnest's agency is Ren's supplier and will continue to supply so long as Ren writes hit songs for Trapnest.
  Meanwhile a weird love triangle has surfaced between Reira, Takumi, and Shin. Reira is refusing to back down from her strong feelings towards Takumi. She gives him a box of chocolate and confesses that she has always been in love with him. Taken aback, Takumi shuts off all of his emotions. He talks cruelly to her in hopes that she would leave him alone. He insists that she has no feelings for him and that she is projecting what she feels for Shin on to him. Reira gets angry and says that no matter who she loves, he will always be the first one on that list. In response, Takumi says that the only way for Reira to be with him is to regulate herself as one of his many mistresses. Reira immediately accepts, which shocks both Takumi and myself. I've never been fond of Takumi and Reira as a potential couple, but Yazawa manages to make us care for them by showing how their relationship has evolved since being introduced to one another as kids. Though it is clear that Reira's feeling for Takumi have never wavered from love. She sees the best in him. Contrastly, Takumi fluctuates between caring and even possibly loving Reira but has always used her as an instrument to get ahead. Perhaps now he's willing to open himself up to Reira.
  What makes the Reira, Takumi, and Shin love triangle interesting is that Takumi is the one who separated Reira and Shin not because he had feelings for Reira but he was afraid that this relationship would bring scandal to the band since Shin is technically a minor. Now that Reira is willing to be his mistress, Takumi is afraid of himself and what he might do. He is clearly attracted to Reira since they kissed passionately a few times and I have no doubt they would have gone further if they weren't interrupted by their assistant manager. Unsure of himself, Takumi actually advises Shin to get back with Reira and hopes that Shin would return to Reira so he doesn't have to think about Reira anymore. I was thrilled to see Shin refusing to rush back to Reira and saying that he has to get his priorities straight. With Shin out of the picture, Takumi and Reira have full reign and I just know things are going to be messy.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: While there isn't strong language or sexual situations in this novel, there are mature themes discussed. I would still recommend this series to mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: We Were There by Yuuki Obata, Nana Vol 20 by Ai Yazawa, Honey and Clover by Chica Umino, Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa

Rummanah Aasi
 Ever since I've seen the beautiful cover of Vessel and read the intriguing premise of the book, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of the book. Often times beautiful book covers had led me astray, but Vessel did not. Brilliantly riveting and completely unique, Vessel, is one of my favorite fantasy reads from 2012.

Description (from Goodreads): Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. The goddess will inhabit Liyana’s body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But Liyana’s goddess never comes. Abandoned by her angry tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.
   Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. For the desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.
  The closer she grows to Korbyn, the less Liyana wants to disappear to make way for her goddess. But she has no choice: She must die for her tribe to live. Unless a trickster god can help her to trick fate—or a human girl can muster some magic of her own.

Review:  On the surface, Vessel is a fantasy novel about a girl whose destiny is thwarted and must now find  her own way to help her people, but it can also be read as a parable about one's rite of passage to adulthood. Liyana, like everyone else in her clan, has accepted her tribe's way of life, their beliefs and traditions. She fully accepts her responsibilities of becoming a vessel allowing her goddess to possess her body in order to save the lives of her clan from the Great Drought that has plagued their land. Though she does not want to die, Liyana is fully aware that her one sacrifice can save many and isn't that a good reason enough? Despite a flawless summoning dance with a pure heart and intention, the goddess Bayla doesn't come as expected and thus puts everything that Liyana has been taught and told into question for the first time.
  The world building of Liyana's world is astounding. I applaud the author for going outside of the Euro-centric box for the setting of her novel. The idea of gods using human bodies as their vessels may be completely off putting, but Durst crafts compelling folktales that not only enhance her premise but draws you into her story. Take for example how the idea of Vessels came to be: A thousands of years ago, the people of the turtle made the desert their home and divided into several clans. As you can image living in a desert isn't very easy and many people died in the harsh climate. Those souls of the first dead wandered around our world until they found the Dreaming, i.e. the afterlife, where they remained and could not rest in peace because they saw how their people suffered in the desert. And so the souls of the dead ancestors, using the magic of the Dreaming, created the Gods – one for each clan. And now, every hundred years they send the Gods’ souls to walk around their people so they can help them survive and the only way for the gods can come to their clan is through the bodies of a vessel, a person who has connections to the Dreaming and to magic. It is this set up that makes us understand why it is extremely vital that these vessels must believe that the desert clans cannot survive without the magic of their Gods and they must die so that the clans can carry on living, but can these statements be upheld?
 As the story progresses, we not only discover why the gods are absent, but also meet vessels and of course the gods themselves. The vessels themselves are of various faiths: there are those who are blind followers, devout believers of their Gods, and even those who do not want to die or even care about their Gods. The Gods are also depicted in a similar fashion, some are benevolent while others who see their vessels as just an object to be possessed. Although we get to see a lot of the various gods throughout the story, the better developed deity is Korbyn who balances the desires of the gods and the vessels quite nicely. I found myself fascinated with these characters and I couldn't help but wonder if the gods even needed the bodies of the vessel to work their magic? Aren't gods suppose to have unlimited power? 
  The premise of Vessel lends itself to great discussions about tradition, faith, destiny and survival. The presence of the Emperor, a young, charismatic leader, brings a bit of politics to the table as well: should all the peoples unite against a common enemy? Or should they fight for their independence no matter what? What sacrifices are you willing to make as a leader and to whose benefit? There is no easy solution to these questions and as such none is presented here.
  There is also an incredible amount of importance given to stories and storytelling within this world. The tales refer back to how we use myths and stories to make sense of our world, but are they suppose to be taken as truths or lessons? And if so, what lessons are you suppose draw from them?
    In addition to the incredible premise and masterful world building, the characters are phenomenal: our protagonist Liyana, the big-hearted trickster god Korbyn, the other vessels Pia, Fennick, Raan, and the mysterious Emperor himself. Liyana is a heroine that I instantly loved and it was so hard to see her being tested constantly in so many ways throughout the book. Right from the start, she is abandoned by her clan (but given the tools to survive by her loving family) and abandoned by her goddess. Though it was very easy for her to given up hope and accept her fate, she fights to stay alive. Even when she is joined by the trickster god Korbyn, Liyana remains calm and in control, grounded in her own sense of self and always remembering her job as a vessel. While some readers disliked Liyana for being so practical, I loved this about her. I'm so tired of reading heroines who make stupid decisions to put themselves in harm or who are recklessly impulsive. Liyana thinks things through, evaluating different situations and then takes logical steps. I also loved how her perceptions of both her world and herself change over the course of the novel. The once fatalistic Liyana now clings stubbornly to her desire to live along with coming to terms of her faith.
  The other vessels are brought to life and given depth. Fennick is the stubborn and brawny warrior with a heart of gold. Pia is the beautiful and ironically blind songstress who is a spoiled princess at first, but a true pure and perceptive soul.  Korbyn is the beguiling trickster who never fails to charm us with his charismatic personality and who also comes to care for Liyana as more than just the vessel for his beloved Bayla. Raan is the fiesty and the realist of the group and serves as the catalyst to Liyana's own personal growth. Raan is the only one that voices her defiance of being a vessel, who questions why she must die and plays an important role during the book's pivotal climax. The mysterious Emperor is an interesting leader who is a foil to Liyana's own leadership skills. While I did like learning about the Emperor, I wished he was a bit more fleshed out which prevented me from giving this book a five star rating. 
   Like the plotting, the romance of Vessel is complicated yet satisfying as feelings and relationships shift throughout the story. While the romance angle is present, it does not overwhelm Liyana's important journey. Thankfully, she remains a level headed, intelligent heroine who doesn't give up her senses because of a good looking boy. The pace of the book gradually increases as you learn more about Liyana's world and her true limitations. If you put aside the fantastical premise, Liyana's eye-opening journey, both literal and metaphorical, is something that any reader can identify. Vessel is a fabulous book that wraps up nicely in the end, leaving us a bit disappointed about not being able to revisit Durst's wholly original and utterly memorable world.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and sensuality. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Seven Kingdom series by Kristin Cashore, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Rummanah Aasi
 Wild is one of my quick picks for an adult nonfiction read. It is a powerful, blazingly honest, inspiring memoir of woman who took herself out of her personal hell by tackling a solo, monumental journey into the wildness which proves that no matter how dark things can get you do have enough strength to carry on.
Description (from Goodreads): At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Review: Wild is an unsentimental memoir of the author's three-month solo hike from California to Washington along the Pacific Crest Trail. Following the death of her mother, Strayed's life quickly disintegrated. Family ties from her siblings and stepfather melted away. Feeling emotionally numb, she dived head first into infidelity and drug use, which resulted in a divorced from her decent husband and best friend. For the next four years, her life quickly spiraled into darkness and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Strayed is very frank about her flaws and her writing is very candid, which is what drew me to her story. Her dark days will resonate with others who shared a similar event(s) in their own lives, but her means to find peace within herself may be a bit far fetched but not impossible.
  While waiting in line at an outdoors store, Strayed read the back cover of a book about the Pacific Crest Trail. Initially, the idea of hiking the trail became an abstract idea, something that might be listed on someone's bucket list, but then it quickly became a goal. With absolutely no backpacking experience whatsoever, being woefully under-prepared for the wilderness, out of shape and carrying a ridiculously overweight pack, the author set out from the small California town of Mojave, toward a bridge crossing the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border. Many would call her decision to be idiotic and impulsive and they would be right in many ways as she suffered aches, pains, loneliness, blistered, bloody feet, persistent hunger, and suspicious people along the way. Personally, I cringed when she made several decisions that could have easily been deadly yet I couldn't help but admire the author's tenacity of sticking to her goal when there were several times she could have easily stopped. I found a small part of myself connected to her plight and her conversational tone engaged me throughout her story. Strayed discovered a new found sense of awe; for overcoming her limitations along with gaining her inner and physical strength while hiking the PCT. She is stunned by how the trail both shattered and sheltered her as she released all her emotional baggage along the way.
  Some readers have found that Wild is a book filled with self pity and wallowing, but aren't most memoirs just that? If you're looking for a book talking about the wonders of hiking and the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild will surely disappoint you as there is not much discussion to be found. If you are in the mood for a candid and an inspiring narrative, Wild may work for you.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: This book contains strong language, drug use, and frank discussion of sex. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Into the Wild by Jon Krauker, Claiming Ground by Laura Bell, A Blistered Kind of Love: One Couple's Trial by Trail by Angela Ballard, Cactus Eaters by Dan White
Rummanah Aasi
 Wonder by R.J. Palacio has been one of the most popular middle grade book released in 2012. I really think it is a strong contender for the Newbery Award. It has already received several starred reviews along with strong reading recommendations from libraries as well as booksellers.

Description (from Goodreads): I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.
  August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

Review: I think I did a disservice to reading Wonder after I read Sharon Draper's phenomenal Out of My Mind, one of my favorites from 2012. Both books have a similar theme of children being ostracized by their peers due to their disabilities. Out of My Mind is a grittier and realistic portrayal of the hardships endured by the main character while Wonder has a much more upbeat tone.
  Wonder is the story of a boy named August Pullman's, commonly called Auggie among his family and friends, first year at school. Auggie is a ten-year-old boy born with a facial anomaly that has required him to undergo countless operations, which have restored his physical features normally. His physical deformity has instantly made him an outsider with the outside world. Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents, but now they feel it is time for him to be acclimated with normalcy and thus enroll him in middle school. Wonder is book about journeys. Of course it highlights Auggie's personal struggle, but it is also shows his family's journey of slowly loosening their grip on Auggie and trying to be hands off as much as possible even though it breaks their hearts to see him in so much pain.
  Auggie's story is surprisingly told from six different perspectives. Auggie's point of view is a lot cheerier than I expected. He knows he is being isolated by his peers and how frightening he can look, but he doesn't let these problems drag him down too much. He is a lot more stoic than I could imagine being at that age. To be honest, I didn't feel like his point of view was realistic and had a bit too much of an after school special tone to it though I do admire his optimism and I can sympathize with him.
  In addition to Auggie, we also have his older sister Via, her boyfriend Justin, her friend Miranda and Jack and Summer, two kids August befriends at school. We clearly have both male and female perspectives as well as varing ages ranging very young to older teens, but I thought all these voices very much sounded a lot alike. While I liked knowing what the outside of Auggie, I felt that some points of view didn't really add to the story.
  Like a lot of readers, the only voice that struck a chord with me is Auggie's sister, Via. Funny enough, the voice that got to me the most wasn't August's but his sister Via's. Some may call her selfish or petty, but her plight of always living in the shadow of her little brother made her real to me. I felt her voice with nuanced with guilt and shame for wanting attention from her parents and giving her brother a reality check. Hearing from Via made her a real, memorable, three dimensional character. I kind of wish the author had used only her voice and juxtaposed it with Auggie throughout the story, the book would have been stronger and the tone would have been a bit more balanced. 
  In general, the writing is kept simple, fitting and true to the ten-year-old responsible for most of the narration, but I did cringe with the heavy use of the word "dude" which really got on my nerves. I think that's just a personal pet peeve as I hear it every day at work. The parents were just a bit too nice and the villains were a bit too obvious and well, mean.
   I don't think Wonder is a perfect book, but I do believe it would lend itself to some great discussion. I would highly recommend it especially for parents looking for a bright, upbeat contemporary novel for young readers.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: This is a relatively clean read. There are some incidents of bullying and there is a brief mention of seventh graders smoking, but nothing that you wouldn't see on TV. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Angel in My Pocket by Ilene Cooper, Firegirl by Tony Abbott, Larger-than-life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall
Rummanah Aasi
 Stormdancer, the first book in the Lotus War series and Jay Kristoff's debut novel, has garnered many starred reviews from review journals. The reaction from readers has been all over the spectrum from the worst book to the favorite book read in 2012. For me, Stormdancer falls somewhere in the middle of those polar opposites.

Description (from the publisher): A DYING LAND
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.

The hunters of Shima's imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun's hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima's last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he'd rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

Review: I really wanted to love Stormdancer. It had everything that I was looking for in a great read: a fantastic world, a wholly original story, and a strong female protagonist who I could root for throughout the book. Unfortunately, it took a lot of patience and setting the book aside, forgetting about it and then picking it up to actually find the compelling aspects of the story.
  Stormdancer is a laborious read. The first half of the book is seeped in fantastic world building. Shima Imperium is a kingdom inspired by feudal Japan. It is a unique society woven from Japanese culture and history along with the author's imagination of steampunk machinery. Living standards are rough. Pollution and drug addiction, both of which runs the empire, proliferate under the rule of a corrupt shogun who seeks to win an admittedly nebulous war. I loved the world building in Stormdancer up to a certain point. Everything is described in minute detail from the story's setting to the clothes that people wear to the types of weapons warriors carry, which slows down the story's pace to a mere crawl. I had to bookmark the glossary, found in the back of the book and a hint that was pointed out to me by some friends, so I could figure out what words, deities, etc meant as there is hardly any context given to them in the text. Many times I would find Japanese words that are used frequently in the story but are never defined. I also found some words that aren't Japanese at all, which I had to look up. I wish the glossary was thoroughly created so it could help alleviate my frustrations with the book. For the most part, I think my experiences reading manga kind of helped build a vague foundation of Shima Imperium, but I still had to wrap my head around the world. The story is told mainly through third person narrative and finally picks up the slow pace when it turns its attention on the various characters in the story.
  Our protagonist, Yukiko is a strong willed teen forced to take care of her father at a tender age of 16. Yukiko has an antagonistic relationship with her father, a once revered warrior who now spends his time in a drug induced state in order to forget the horrors of his past. Through small glimpses of flashbacks, we are lead to believe that her father is the person responsible of driving her mother and brother away. We instantly feel Yukiko's isolation and anger. We become protective of her, but her survival and perceptive skills assure us that she can do fine on her own. Though she is aware of the flaws of her society, she isn't sure of the corruption's inception and extent nor does she know what her life is outside of keeping a watchful eye on her father. She is gifted (or cursed?) with an ability which the shogun's guild would punish with death if it is discovered: She can commune with animals. Her courage, fears, and skills are put to test when the Emperor commissions Yukiko's father and his crew to catch an elusive arashitora, a creature part-eagle and part-tiger. Yukiko's quest to survive becomes more challenging. Failure to find the arashitora means the end for Yukiko and her father. Indeed, death looms around every corner as Yukiko meets defectors, rebels and others too scared to oppose the shogun. After discovering startling truths about her family, she quickly becomes the face of rebellion.
  While Yukiko is a fabulous character whom I would love to know more, her character growth isn't smooth. It starts and stops when additional world building weeds itself in between. There were many times when I had to skim over the descriptions in order to keep my momentum going. I loved the moments where Yukiko and the arashitora form a special bond that grows at a realistic pace. Important themes central to the characters' motivations and key character relationships are surprisingly summed up in just few sentences, which left me completely unsatisfied. The book ends just when I found myself getting comfortable with the story.
  By the time I was finished with the book, I felt like I completed an arduous task, however, I didn't feel the satisfactions of completing it. While there is no dangerous cliffhangers lingering, there are plenty of unanswered questions.  I'm still conflicted about recommending this book and I'm not sure if I'll be continuing the series, especially if the dense and overwhelming world building continues. Stormdancer perhaps is one of those few books that might work better on film or even a graphic novel as its  visuals are incredibly important to the story. It's just too bad that the great characters have to take a back seat. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusion to a few sex scenes, and strong violence. Recommended for strong Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve, Eon by Alison Goodman, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
Rummanah Aasi
Manga Mondays is a meme hosted by Alison at Alison Can Read where bloggers can share their passion for reading mangas. It's a great place to get new manga titles to try and to meet new bloggers. At the moment, I've got sucked into the world of Nana where music is the back drop and fuels the characters' passions and where love and heartbreak go hand in hand.

Description (from the back of the volume): Things aren't looking good for Blast. Shin, under extreme stress from the band's rising success and his relationship with Reira, seeks out reconciliation wherever he can. Reestablishing ties with his own family turns out to be a horrible failure, and before he can connect Nana with her unknown little sister, Shin gets arrested! Is this the end of Blast?!

Review: I can clearly see why many readers would be incredibly frustrated with Nana. Nothing is simple and all the relationships that I would like to be over and done with continue, which infuriates me to no end. The two story lines, one from the future and one from the present, still remain and are cleverly placed with enough teasers to capture our attention.
In the future, Nana O. remains in hiding and singing in some remote pub in England according to the latest Japanese paparazzi photos. From what I gather in the bleak monologues, Nana O. has lost all hope. She is extremely depressed and quite possibly suicidal. Blast is no longer though the band mates still remain incredibly close. Nobu has partnered with his family business and running a club for aspiring musicians while Shin is a famous actor. It's unclear what Yasu seems to be doing, but it's possible that he picked his law degree back up. Nana K. seems have gone into a fashion business and she seems to have another kid.
  Meanwhile in the present, Blast is all set for their first tour and they are ready to prove everyone that they are not just a manufactured one hit wonder. Things seem to be falling into place until Shin routinely shows up late for rehearsals and then suddenly is missing causing ripples of panic and frustration for his band. After a frantic search, Shin found in jail and is arrested. When we hear of Shin's arrest, we also find out through his texts that he has reached out to Nana's half sister's best friend and has requested her to meet and tell Nana O. everything about her family.
  Like many of the side characters, I adore Shin. He and Nana O. share many similarities. They are both ostracized by their family, believed to be unloved and strongly attach themselves to others in order to feel whole. Now that Shin has lost his anchor with Reira, he is struggling to not only make a connection somewhere, but trying to find his purpose in life. The one good thing about this arrest is that it will hopefully give him some time to re-evaluate things and grow-up.  Due to Shin's fiascos, Blast's tour is in jeopardy. The agency cancels the tour all together and I have to say that's a bit extreme. Now I'm left with several unanswered questions: Will Nana O's dream of becoming Japan's most famous rock star dream end or is she willing to leave her band and start a solo career? Will Nana O's half sister's best friend make it to Nana O and tell all about the family that she has never known? What drove Nana O. away from her friends and is it at all possible for a happy reunion? I guess the only way to find out is to read the next volume! 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution:  Language, sexual situations, and crude humor. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: We Were There by Yuuki Obata, Nana Vol 19 by Ai Yazawa, Honey and Clover by Chica Umino, Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm a big fan of Sherlock Holmes so anything remotely related to 221B Baker Street and I'm instantly interested. This is the reason why I picked Secret Letters by Leah Scheier. Though I did have a few issues with the book, I did enjoy it for the most part.

Description: Inquisitive and observant, Dora dreams of escaping her aristocratic country life to solve mysteries alongside Sherlock Holmes. So when she learns that the legendary detective might be her biological father, Dora jumps on the opportunity to travel to London and enlist his help in solving the mystery of her cousin's ransomed love letters. But Dora arrives in London to devastating news: Sherlock Holmes is dead. Her dreams dashed, Dora is left to rely on her wits--and the assistance of an attractive yet enigmatic young detective--to save her cousin's reputation and help rescue a kidnapped heiress along the way.

Review: Secret Letters is a promising debut from Leah Scheier. The plot and characters are an ode to the great English detective, Sherlock Holmes. Though we don't get the opportunity to meet Sherlock in this book, his influence is thoroughly shown throughout the book.
  Dora is a natural born detective. Her deductive skills are much like her supposed famous biological father who she never knew. She is a feisty character who is clearly beyond her time. Strong, smart, and very stubborn, Dora is constantly trying to fight down the gender barriers that confine her and to prove to herself that she is capable of becoming a detective. For the most part, I liked Dora though I can't suspend my disbelief that she is the daughter of Sherlock Holmes mainly because I don't see Holmes becoming a melodramatic person because it defies his logical persona. I am aware, however, that there are other series in which Holmes is married but there is enough character and plot growth to accept this change in his personality. In Secret Letters, we aren't really given much information about Holmes besides his untimely death. Regardless, I thought it was interesting trying to compare Holmes trademark characteristics with Dora. Both can easily see through the surface and their intuitive, deductive skills are certainly what I most like about them both.
  In addition to Dora, I also liked Peter, a former apprentice of Holmes but now working with another freelance detective. He offers Dora the services of his Mentor to help them to find the person that is blackmailing Dora's cousin. Shrouded with a mysterious and tragic past and oozing charm, Peter definitely fits the potential love interest bill. He is attracted to Dora's passion of investigating and can relate to her sense of loss. The dialogue and budding romance between Dora and Peter was nice to read an I thought they had pretty good chemistry.
  Despite the enjoyable characters, I was really disappointed with the lack of a Victorian setting. Though they are descriptions of clothes and mannerisms, I didn't feel as if I was transported back in time. I thought the setting and the time period were not as detailed as I expected them to be. The plot was pretty steady and suspenseful albeit a bit predictable. Overall, Secret Letters is a decent Victorian mysteries but I've read better ones.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: While not depicted, there are discussions of women who are pregnant out of wedlock. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer, The Agency series by Y.S. Lee, Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
Rummanah Aasi
 Thanks to a fabulous read along, I got introduced and addicted to the Charley Davidson series. I've a few books behind as I just finished the second book, Second Grave on the Left, when the fourth book was just released this past Tuesday. Luckily, I grabbed the third book from the library and am anxiously waiting for book four to become available.

Description: Charley Davison, a part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper, teams up with best friend Cookie to track down Cookie's friend, Mimi, who has been missing for five days, but the clues lead them to uncover a more sinister plot. Meanwhile, Reyes Alexander Farrow,Charley's mysterious love interest, is busy hunting down Charley to protect her from some scheming demons.

Review: Ms. Jones successfully avoids the sophomore slump and middle book syndrome with the second book in the Charley Davidson series. Our favorite sexy, sassy, and snarky grim reaper has found herself tangled in three messy cases to solve along with sorting out her messy and complicated love life to boot.
With the first book, I had to find a reading rhythm which is why I found the first half of the book a bit slow, but once I got hooked it went smooth sailing. I didn't have this problem with Second Grave on the Left. The mystery had enough suspense to keep me reading instead of feeling a bit bored. Charley and Cookie are working on a new case, trying to solve the mystery behind Mimi's disappearance. Soon a simple kidnapping becomes much more series as secrets from the past come out slowly out of the wood-works. In the meantime, Charley is also trying to find the sexy and stubborn Reyes. There was much more suspense and action in this book which equally matched the trademark humor. I do still have a slight problem with the abrupt transitions from one story line to the other, but I hope this issue will become less of a problem with more books that Ms. Jones writes.
  Reyes, the sexy, tortured, love interest is even more mysterious and infuriating than he was in the first book when we knew nothing about him other than his smoldering looks. Though I find myself a bit weary of him and his hidden secrets, you can't help but be drawn to him like a moth to a flame. He is on par with Ethan Sullivan from the Chicagoland Vampire series as one of the most insufferable hero and I'm honestly not sure if that's a compliment. I'm more of a Team Garrett gal myself. While I can understand his objective, I not really on board with some of his choices in this book particularly towards the end.
  We are also learning more about Charley and her abilities as a Grim Reaper. She is clearly much more powerful than she realizes and I can't wait to find out more about what she can do. I like how we are learning more about her as she is learning about herself. Though the main mystery is nicely solved, we are also given a good dose of family drama and heart ache. There are many unanswered questions left and I'm really curious to see how Charley handles all the obstacles ahead of her.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, crude humor, some strong violence, and a few sexual situations. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Third Grave Dead Ahead by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson #3), Accidental Friends series by Dakota Cassidy, Peper Martin series by Casey Daniels, Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson, and the Chicagoland Vampire series by Chloe Neill
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