Rummanah Aasi
  Like many of Kristin Cashore's fans, I was impatiently waiting for the release of Bitterblue. I wanted to know what happened to the adolescent who fought tooth and nail to survive. I also was super curious what happened to Katsa, Po, Fire, and a whole slew of characters that I've grown to love in this series. Though Bitterblue takes place after Graceling, I would highly recommend reading Graceling and then Fire before tackling Bitterblue as a lot of important plot events and reoccurring characters reappear and have important roles in Bitterblue not to mention that the world of the Graceling realm is incredibly intricate.

Description (from Goodreads): Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.
  Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Review: Like Graceling, Bitterblue takes place in the Seven Kingdoms, where Queen Bitterblue rules over the realm of Monsea. To your ordinary landscape of castles, villages, mountains, and kingdoms comes a unique layer of fantasy. There are people who are born with a grace, an extraordinary ability (some may call it superhuman) to perform a task, which can range from a expert fighter to a lie detector. People with graces have two different eye colors. People either embrace their grace or run away from it. Bitterblue's father, King Leck, had an awful grace that he used to rule his kingdom with an iron fist. After eight years after his death, the kingdom is in rumbles and his eighteen year old daughter, Bitterblue has fully become the Queen of Monsea.
  We are immediately told from the stark and direct opening line of the first chapter that we are on a  journey in search of truth. Though she was technically a queen at the age of 10,  Bitterblue begins her responsibility as a ruler. Unlike Katsa and Fire before her, Bitterblue doesn't have a grace to rely on. She must use her instinct, intellect, and struggle in earnest to find her way through the fog of secrets hidden within her kingdom. Cashore expertly weaves mystery, suspense, and revelation into her story. Some reviewers have commented on the slow pace and the circuitous route that Cashore took her characters to find the truth, but I loved the slow burn plot and found the story utterly absorbing.
  While Bitterblue may lack the action sequences or the focus of romance unlike Graceling and Fire, it is a story about reconstruction. The enemy isn't a physical being, but rather an idea and memory. How do you rebuild a kingdom where trust, loyalty, and the truth have been so manipulated? There is a tangible cloud of confusion that inhabits each and every corner of the kingdom— the nature of the terrible depravity of her dead father, Leck; the condition of her court and her subjects; the true identities of her companions; the ciphers (which were so compelling that I had to reread them to figure out the clues hidden inside) she must recognize and solve.    
  There’s also an element of romance in Bitterblue, but not the sole focus of the story. Bitterblue does fall in love for the first time, and it is unconventional. Here, as in her previous novels, Cashore handles sexuality in a very unique way that stays true the personality of her characters rather than the how they are suppose to be because they are a lord or a lady.    
 What I find interesting with the Graceling Realm trilogy is that the books don’t form your conventional trilogy. Though similar characters may appear, the events aren't sequential but rather interlocking that span well over fifty years, which is why I recommend that you read Cashore's previous books to enjoy Bitterblue to its fullest.  
  I absolutely loved how the theme of power comes a full circle in Bitterblue. Since Bitterblue is not responsible for or needs to watch her limits of extraordinary power, that doesn't make her powerless. Bitterblue's struggle is to accept her obligation of having power and using it correctly in order to rule her kingdom. She is forced to embrace her station with limitations and all. She must come up with her own system of law virtually from scratch.
  Bitterblue is high fantasy at its best. While Bitterblue and company may live in a far removed world from us, they all deal with very real issues which is why they are very appealing when it comes to their stories. Cashore creates a mesmerizing world of complex characters where good and evil may be on the same flip of the coin. I'm already determined to do a reread of all three books just to uncover new gems that I might have missed the first time when Bitterblue comes out in paperback.          I can't recommend Bitterblue highly enough for readers who love strong female characters that carve out a future for themselves. It's nice to have a series where begin a female isn't seen as a weakness but rather different aspects of the gender is celebrated.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images, some language, and sexuality which is implied and not explicitly described. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, Star Crossed by Elizabeth Bunce, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Study series by Maria V. Snyder
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. Today I'll be reviewing the sixth volume of Nana.

Description (from back of the book): Nana Osaki's band Blast is taking off in a big way--from sold-out club dates to a record label waving a contract at them. But the Trapnest menace still lurks, stealing away everything she cares for. Trapnest took her boyfriend, and even though Ren is back in her life, his band still comes first. And now her trusty sidekick Nana K. is being lured away by Trapnest's bassist. But this time, Nana O. won't give up without a fight!

Review: What happens when two bands who share a past collide? Drama! Volume 6 of Nana solely focuses on relationships, those that are developing at a very fast pace and others that starting to show a bit of fraying. Nana O. is thrilled to have Ren back in her life, but his band comes first. She refuses to attend to his sessions in fear of her fierce competitiveness taking over. She is reluctant to get closer to Ren because she knows how devastated she will be when he goes away. She does sense a distance in Nana K. though as she starting acting weird in asking her of Trapnest's whereabouts.
    Nana K. is worried that she may be labeled as someone who is 'easy' after her own night stand. As much as she would like to keep her one night stand a secret, everyone finds out as Trapnest's bassist reveals the information nonchalantly and claiming that Nana K. was virtually begging him to sleep with her. None of the characters like the Trapnest's bassist playboy ways. They all feel that he is not good for her and is taking advantage of her being a big fan of the band. I'm also getting a sense that Nana K., herself, isn't sure of what is going on with her and the bassist, as they virtually have no communication between one another besides nightly visits. Nana K. is hoping she's not just someone to make a bed warm, because that's not what she wants. She wants to be in a loving relationship. She finds herself in a weird love triangle as Nosbu stands up for her and finally declares that he has feelings for her. He is now on a mission to prove that he is better than the playboy bassist. I really hope that Nosbu is the better person for her.
  Meanwhile Shin and the leader singer of Trapnest seem to have gotten together. At the moment, the relationship seems to be purely physical. I'm wondering how long this 'relationship' will last. We also find out that the same lead singer use to be in a serious relationship with Yasu from Blast until they went their own separate ways to pursue their careers.
 The promise of a big music label for Blast means that both Nanas are not spending much time together. Dark tones and serious rhetorical questions are asked by both which makes me think that these best friends may break apart. Good thing I have the next volume on hand to see what happens next!

Rating: 4 stars

Word of Caution: Strong sexuality, some language, and crude humor. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Nana Vol 7 by Ai Yazawa
Rummanah Aasi

 With less than three weeks before the new school year begins, I wanted to do something fun before things get out of control. I decided to join some awesome bloggers and read a fun book while participating in Don't Fear the Reaper Read-along, which is celebrating the upcoming release of Fourth Grave beneath My Feet, the fourth book in the Charley Davidson series. I've heard great things about this series and I can't wait to read it. Many thanks go out to Christy of Love of Books, Lila of Babbling About Books and Stuff, Jen of In the Closet With a Bibliophile and Heidi of Rainy Day Ramblings for setting up this read-along!

Below is the discussion schedule:

Discussion Schedule
August 2nd: Chapters 1-5 hosted by Love of Books
August 9th: Chapters 6-10 hosted by Babbling About Books and Stuff
August 16th: Chapters 11-15 hosted by In the Closet With a Bibliophile
August 23rd: Chapters 16-20 hosted by Rainy Day Ramblings
August 30th: Special Guest post with Darynda Jones and Prize Winners 
Questions for Chapters 1-5 can be found on Christy's blog or on any of the hostess's blogs. I hope you can join us in all the fun!
Rummanah Aasi
  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has been a popular book at my public library for quite some time. I had planned on reading it when it was listed on the ALA's Alex Award, a resource that I often use when I'm stumped to read for adult fiction. I was excited and curious to read the book after hearing such enthusiastic responses to it. Unfortunately, this book wasn't for me.

Description (from the publisher): The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Cirque des Reves and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway - a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love - a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Review: I have no idea who wrote the above description for The Night Circus, but the book I read had none of the epic selling points. No huge duel, no sweep off your feet romance, and while there were a myriad of characters I wasn't able to tell if they were extraordinary or not because they went in and out of the story at arbitrary times.
  I read The Night Circus for a book club that I recently joined. It was met with plenty of positive reviews except from me. I didn't love it or hate it but was rather confused as to why everyone seemed to get something out of the story which I did not. I couldn't get comfortable with the story nor the characters. It was as if I was looking through a misty window that failed to clear up no matter how much I try to wipe it down while trying to see what was outside.
  After much thought, I think I understand why this book didn't work for me. I really do think your enjoyment of the book depends on what type of learner you are. Why does it matter? Well, The Night Circus is written entirely in third person omnipresent with an occasional interludes of a second person narrative. The book heavily relies on visuals. The book is almost entirely composed of description. While I thought the description is very cinematic and beautifully done, as a reader I felt immediately alienated. You already begin the book knowing that you're an outsider, a spectator of the events that unfold in front of you. You can only watch from a distance but not touch or come any closer. After a few lovely passages, the narrative became contrite, dull, and indulgent. I don't mind great imagery, but I'd rather have imagery to support the novel instead of becoming the novel. The writing style severely impaired my reading ability and I really had to push myself to finish it. I had already spent a few hours reading it, what more could a couple of more do to actually finish it?
   As someone as a visual and auditory learner, none of the characters became three dimensional people to me. I never got a chance to hear their own voices. I knew about them without really getting to know them per se. Sure, I could tell you who they are superficially, but they didn't mean anything to me as a reader. I can also tell you want the games were about, but I thought the whole point of it was long winded and frankly, boring. With the exception of timer periods noted at each chapter which I really didn't understand their significance because we are told virtually nothing about what is happening outside of the circus, there weren't many context clues, to give me much sense of the character's personalities. I felt the book could really have been written at any time period.
  People who I've talked to who didn't like the book often say it's because they don't care for the fantasy genre, but for me it's not the genre that bothers me. Perhaps if I listened to the story instead of reading it, I might have liked it a bit more. I know that the book rights have been bought by Summit Entertainment but there's probably going to be a lot of tweaking with the plot and pacing for the story to have action. In the case of The Night Circus, maybe just maybe the movie might be better for me than the book.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, a small non-explicit sex scene, and disturbing images. Recommended for teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Art of Disappearing by Ivy Pochoda, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanne Clarke, Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm a bit behind on my picture book reviews. All of the picture books that I have reviewed today are listed on the Monarch Book Award list, a list comprised of picture books that are selected by librarians, teachers, and readers themselves. If you would like to view the Monarch Book Award list, please go here.

Description: At night under a full moon, a child operates a barber shop with a monstrous clientele.

Review: If you're kids are fans of the movie Monsters Inc., they are sure to love Even Monsters Need Haircuts. This charming offbeat story is about a young boy who assists his father at his father's barbershop. At night, the young boy becomes the barber and offers his services to monsters of various kinds. The young boy's version is quite different: the photos are flipped to portraits of various creeps, and his equipment is a mite strange, too: The rotting tonic, horn polish, and stink wax go on the counter. Each monster presents a different challenge when it comes to getting a simple hair cut. The drawings are soft and the monsters appear child friendly with less emphasis on claws, teeth, etc. Even Monsters Need Haircuts is a fun story to share during and after Halloween.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K-2

If you like this book try: Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauser

Description: Mom keeps adopting stray cats, but when cat number five arrives, Dad takes a surprising stand.

Review: That Cat Can't Stay wonderfully weaves humor, rhyming text, and funny illustrations to create a wonderful reading experience. Poor Dad is not a cat person nor is he a match for clever Mom, a cat lover who manages to finagle not one, not two, not three, but FOUR cats into the household. One by one she brings them home and uses different tactics to convince her husband to keep them. Each time Dad goes through a very long explanation of why the can't stay, but Mom is able to come with a story of all the horrible things that could happen to the kitty if he/she aren't looked after, which makes him feel guilty. I think what makes this book great are the large, exaggerated illustrations, especially of Dad's long diatribe. The watercolor illustrations gives the book a warm, fuzzy feeling, and the ending is just priceless! A great read for pet and non-pet lovers.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K-3

If you like this book try: Me Want Pet by Tammi Sauser

Description: When a busy family's activities come to a halt because of a blackout, they find they enjoy spending time together and not being too busy for once.

Review: Instead of zeroing in on not having electricity, Rocco's simple story reminds us how easily out of touch we have become with new distractions such as our phones, computers, etc. The story begins with a family of four who live in a duplex and their typical night. The younger child would like to spend sometime playing a board game and goes to each member of her family, however, each person is busying doing something else and says later. Things come to an abrupt halt when all the lights go out. After some reflection, the family reconvenes and enjoys one another company.  The book, which won the Caldecott Award last year, has simple illustrations that reflect the laid back, summertime feel to the story. It's a nice reminder to have that the spirit of togetherness can be enjoyed  together with or without the lights on. Great bedtime reading for a soft summer night.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K-2.

If you like this book try: Chirchir Is Singing by Kelly Cunnane
Rummanah Aasi
  I had originally planned on reading and reviewing Cathy Ostlere's debut novel, Karma, for my Southeast Asian Reading Challenge last year. Due to some glitches and a very busy schedule towards the end of 2011, I wasn't able to get to Karma until now. If you're looking for a great read about India, be sure to pick up Karma as it embraces the light and dark aspect of the nation's history. For full disclosure, I was provided a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Description (from the publisher): It is 1984, and fifteen-year-old Maya is on her way to India with her father. She carries with her the ashes of her mother, who has recently committed suicide, and arrives in Delhi on the eve of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi s assassination - one of the bloodiest riots in the country s history. Then Maya is separated from her father and must rely upon the help of a mysterious, kindhearted boy, Sandeep, to safely reunite them. But as her love for Sandeep begins to blossom, Maya will have to face the truth about her painful adolescence . . . if she's ever to imagine her future.

Review: After reading a slew of mediocre reads, Karma felt completely original and the captivating story sucked me in right way. This epic tale unfolds through the pages of alternating diaries from October 28th through December 16th, 1984. The deceptive simplicity of the passages contains many layers with its few words, unveiling a sometimes painful history, both personal and on a national level, beneath the story's surface.
   Fifteen-year-old Maya, half Hindu/half Sikh, has lived her entire life in rural Canada. Her family's religion and ethnicity set them apart from their community, but also from one another. Naming Maya signifies the tension between her parents, lovers who gave up their families, pride, etc for each other, but who have lived in different states of mourning and regret ever since. Her father insists on calling her a Sikh name, Jiva or "life," yet her mother defiantly calls her a Hindu name, Maya or "illusion," as an insult to her Sikh father. Maya begins her story in the typical fashion of a coming of age tale detailing her plight of fitting in with her surroundings.
 Heartache and loss lead Maya and her father back to India at the time of Indira Gandhi's assassination. You may or may not know but on October 31, 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in her garden by two of her Sikh bodyguards as revenge for the attack on the Sikh's holy "Golden Temple." This in turn led to riots where many (the numbers are not very clear) Sikhs were brutally murdered by Hindus to avenge Gandhi's death.
  Karma takes place during the riots where the city erupts in chaos. Through a sequence of horrifying events, father and daughter are separated, and Maya is left alone in a violent foreign country where she must rely on the help of strangers to reach safety. Maya's sense of otherness escalates dramatically as she is forced to consider it on virtually every aspect of her life as well as on a larger, broader scale. In her journal, she pours her uncertainties and her fears especially of never returning to her once mundane, peaceful world in Canada. She records the atrocities she has witnessed and her guilt of not helping those around her. 
   The middle diary belongs to blunt yet charming Sandeep, with whom Maya experiences love, tragedy, ancestry, and loyalty at an intimate yet physically innocent level. Sandeep is the balm of Maya's wounds yet he himself isn't immune by the riots. He too suffers from pain and it was interesting to compare how these two characters approached pain and sorrow differently. I loved how the romance between Maya and Sandeep quietly bloomed and didn't overtake the important introspection from the book. Their romance, which may or may not be doomed depending how you look at it, offers hope, even in its slightest glimmer.
  Despite its tome like appearance, Karma reads fairly quickly. The book's pace and tension compelled me to read quickly, but I did have to stop and reread a few passages to really appreciate the richness of the language, imagery, and the subtle meanings behind the surface of the words. Ostlere uses the verse format to her best ability in relaying an important story with just the right amount of words and emotions. There is nothing superfluous in the book. The various themes such as shame, retribution, war, religious fanaticism, the will to live, suffering, suicide, ignorance, not fitting in, love, loss, grief, second chances, and many more left me thinking for quite sometime after I finished the book. Part coming of age, part historical fiction, part self discovery, and part romance, Karma has something to offer for various readers. I'd highly recommend picking this one up in you are at all curious about India or Indian history/culture.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Asian Studies

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence, disturbing rioting scenes, language, and crude humor. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Keeping Corner by
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm really enjoying Ai Yazawa's blockbuster shojo manga Nana. Nana is the story of two young women, both from small towns, who meet on the bullet train and end up moving in together in Tokyo. Nana Komatsu is a small-town girl who has big city dreams of romance and leaving her old life (and self) behind, while Nana Osaki has come to Tokyo to try to find success as the singer of her (psuedo) punk rock band, Blast. 

Description (from back of the cover): Nana K. is going home--for an awesome TrapNest concert! She drags Nana O. along, convinced that somehow Ren will sense his ex-flame in the audience. But life is never that easy, and Nana O. isn't sure if she even wants Ren back. As for Nana K., is she prepared for TrapNest to come down off the stage and into her life, or will her fan-girl attitude land her in a heap of trouble?

Review: In the last volume we were left wondering whether or not Nana O. and Ren will get back together as well as if Nana K. will overcome her heartbreak of breaking up with Shoji. Nana O. is a hard girl to forget. Her looks and fashion sense are apart from many other girls. Nana O. is relieved to see Ren still wearing the lock necklace she gave to him, but she still feels unsure about their relationship. Could they reunite without having any weirdness between them? After much pushing from Yasu, who I think has a sliver of romantic feelings for Nana O., both Ren and Nana O. are forced to confront each other. We watch as how both characters become nervous meeting one another and we can't help but hold our breath to see what would happen when they meet face to face. With a sigh of relief and panels full of emotion, mostly spoken through eyes and body language we see Ren and Nana O. resume their relationship. Out of the relationships I've seen so far in the series, I think Nana O. and Ren have the strongest bond. Though they may speak few words to one another, you can easily tell by their body language how naturally they get along and what they have is truly special. I really hope this relationship lasts and becomes stronger. 
  Though she is thrilled that her best friend and roommate is happy, Nana K. feels a tinge of jealousy. She too wants the same-to feel loved by someone and to have a career that she loves. Like her love life, Nana K. has to restart her career after she gets fired from her secretary job for slacking off. Nana O. advises her to find something she truly loves doing so work won't be a chore for her. I also think the advice can be easily applied to relationships too. Unfortunately Nana K. doesn't take the wise advice and ends up having a one night stand with someone completely unexpected. Ashamed of what she has done, Nana K. lies to Nana O. about her night and I wonder how if that changes their relationship in the next volume.

Words of Caution: This manga is Rated T+ for smoking, language, and sexual situations. Recommended for mature teens and up.

If you like this book try: Nana Vol. 6 by
Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to The Reel Shelf, a new weekly feature here at Books in the Spotlight where I imagine what's on my favorite TV/Movie character's book shelves. If you have missed any of my previous Reel Shelf installments, you can find them all here. Today I'm spotlighting Tim Riggins from the fabulous and highly underrated television series Friday Night Lights. If you haven't watched the show, do it now. The entire series is now available on DVD.

Image and Quote from

All I wanted to do was come home.


   It was really hard to choose one character from Friday Night Lights because the entire cast of characters are amazing. For me, Tim Riggins encapsulates everything that I love about the show. At first glance, it's easy to write off Tim as your typical frat boy/philanderer, but as the show evolves so does his depth. Tim comes from a broken home where both of his parents abandon him and his brother Billy in a haze of alcohol and drugs, leaving the boys to fend for themselves. While he may not excel at school, he is incredibly gifted and naturally talented to play fullback on his high school's football team. Though he may act as if he is nonchalant about the team and the sport, Tim needs the sport the most to help ground himself. Tim Riggins is a character that you want to slap upside the head and yell at because of his stupid mistakes. It's his puppy dog eyes and lazy smile that make you want to give him a big hug. Tim is a man of honor and loyalty and he is played by Taylor Kitsch. 

  Even though Tim isn't much of a reader himself, I think he would be interested in the following books. As always, if you see something that I've clearly missed please add them in the comments!

The Reel Shelf Presents Tim Riggin's Book Shelf

Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger- Return once again to the enduring account of life in the Mojo lane, to the Permian Panthers of Odessa -- the winningest high school football team in Texas history. Odessa is not known to be a town big on dreams, but the Panthers help keep the hopes and dreams of this small, dusty town going. Socially and racially divided, its fragile economy follows the treacherous boom-bust path of the oil business.In bad times, the unemployment rate barrels out of control; in good times, its murder rate skyrockets. But every Friday night from September to December, when the Permian High School Panthers play football, this West Texas town becomes a place where dreams can come true. With frankness and compassion, Bissinger chronicles one of the Panthers' dramatic seasons and shows how single-minded devotion to the team shapes the community and inspires-and sometimes shatters-the teenagers who wear the Panthers' uniforms. 

Underdogs by Markus Zusak- Cameron and Ruben Wolfe are champions at getting into fights, coming up with half-baked schemes, and generally disappointing girls, their parents, and their much more motivated older siblings. They're intensely loyal to each other, brothers at their best and at their very worst. But when Cameron falls head over heels for Ruben's girlfriend, the strength of their bond is tested to its breaking point.

 Catch by Will Leitch- Everything comes easy for Tim Temples. He’s got a sweet summer job, lots of love from the ladies, and parties with his high school buddies. Why does he need to go to college? Then Tim falls hard for Helena—a worldly and mysterious twenty-two year-old. Their relationship opens his eyes to life outside the small town of Mattoon, Illinois. Now Tim has to choose: Will he settle for being a small town hero, or will he leave it all behind to follow his dreams?

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson-  High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background—average student, average looks, average dysfunctional family. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy—and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in the school, in his family, and in the world.

I'll Be There by Heather Goldberg Sloan- Sam Border wishes he could escape. Raised by an unstable father, he’s spent his life moving from place to place. But he could never abandon his little brother, Riddle.
Riddle Border doesn’t talk much. Instead, he draws pictures of the insides of things and waits for the day when the outsides of things will make sense. He worships his older brother. But how can they leave when there’s nowhere to go? Then everything changes. Because Sam meets Emily.
  Emily Bell believes in destiny. She sings for her church choir, though she doesn’t have a particularly good voice. Nothing, she feels, is mere coincidence. And she’s singing at the moment she first sees Sam. Everyone whose path you cross in life has the power to change you—sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in ways greater than you could have ever known.

Bleachers by John Grisham- High school all-American Neely Crenshaw was probably the best quarterback ever to play for the legendary Messina Spartans. Fifteen years have gone by since those glory days, and Neely has come home to Messina to bury Coach Eddie Rake, the man who molded the Spartans into an unbeatable football dynasty.
   Now, as Coach Rake's "boys" sit in the bleachers waiting for the dimming field lights to signal his passing, they replay the old games, relive the old glories, and try to decide once and for all whether they love Eddie Rake--or hate him. For Neely Crenshaw, a man who must finally forgive his coach--and himself--before he can get on with life, the stakes are especially high.

Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp- In a small Oklahoma town, one star linebacker must decide what kind of man he wants to be--both on and off the field.
Welcome to Kennisaw--where Friday night high school football ranks right up there with God and country, and sometimes even comes in first. This year, the Kennisaw Knights are going for their fifth straight undefeated season, and if they succeed, they'll be more than the best high school team in the eastern Oklahoma hill country--they'll be legends.
  But the Knights' legacy is a heavy weight to carry for Hampton, linebacker and star of the team. On the field, he's so in control you'd think he was able to stop time. But his life off the field is a different story. His father walked out on him and his mom years ago, and now his mom has a new boyfriend every week. He's drawn to a smart, quirky girl at school--the type a star athlete just isn't supposed to associate with. And meanwhile, his best friend and teammate Blaine--the true friend who first introduced Hampton to football back when he had nothing else--is becoming uncomfortably competitive, and he's demanding Hampton's loyalty even as Hampton thinks he's going too far.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis- The bestselling author of "Coach, Moneyball" and "Liar's Poker" delivers a multidimensional story that traces the upbringing of a young boy through to young adulthood, all through the lens of sports and his community of support. 

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally- What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn't just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that's just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university. But everything she's ever worked for is threatened when Ty Greeen moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he's also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan's feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart's on the line?

Pop by Gordon Korman- After moving to a new town, Marcus strikes up a friendship with Charlie Popovich, a former pro football player. As the two grow closer, Marcus learns that Charlie has early onset Alzheimer's disease as a result of suffering head injuries during his career. Marcus is willing to risk everything to help his new friend. 

Split by Swati Avasthi- Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret. He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret. At least so far.
  Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. First-time novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again?

Raider's Night by Robert Lipsyte-The pressure is on. At Nearmont High School, football stars are treated like royalty, and Matt Rydek has just ascended to the throne. As co-captain of the Raiders, he's got it all, or so it seems: hot girls, all the right friends, plenty of juice to make him strong, and a winning team poised to go all the way. If he can keep his eye on the ball now, his future will be set, with a full ride to a Division One school, a shot at the pros, and most important his dad off his back. But when the team turns on one of its own, should Matt play by Raiders rules, or should he go long alone?

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach- My name is Felton Reinstein, which is not a fast name. But last November, my voice finally dropped and I grew all this hair and then I got stupid fast. Fast like a donkey. Zing
Now they want me, the guy they used to call Squirrel Nut, to try out for the football team. With the jocks. But will that fix my mom? Make my brother stop dressing like a pirate? Most important, will it get me girls-especially Aleah? So I train. And I run. And I sneak off to Aleah's house in the night. But deep down I know I can't run forever. And I wonder what will happen when I finally have to stop.

The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta- Award-winning author Melina Marchetta reopens the story of the group of friends from her acclaimed novel Saving Francesca - but five years have passed, and now it's Thomas Mackee who needs saving. After his favorite uncle was blown to bits on his way to work in a foreign city, Tom watched his family implode. He quit school and turned his back on his music and everyone that mattered, including the girl he can't forget. Shooting for oblivion, he's hit rock bottom, forced to live with his single, pregnant aunt, work at the Union pub with his former friends, and reckon with his grieving, alcoholic father. Tom's in no shape to mend what's broken. But what if no one else is either? An unflinching look at family, forgiveness, and the fierce inner workings of love and friendship, The Piper's Son redefines what it means to go home again. 

Stick by Andrew Smith-  Fourteen-year-old Stark McClellan (nicknamed Stick because he’s tall and thin) is bullied for being “deformed” – he was born with only one ear. His older brother Bosten is always there to defend Stick. But the boys can’t defend one another from their abusive parents.
   When Stick realizes Bosten is gay, he knows that to survive his father's anger, Bosten must leave home. Stick has to find his brother, or he will never feel whole again. In his search, he will encounter good people, bad people, and people who are simply indifferent to kids from the wrong side of the tracks. But he never loses hope of finding love – and his brother.

Next Man Up by John Feinstein - An up-close look inside an NFL powerhouse, from the only writer in America who players and coaches would trust with their secrets. 

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt - The story of a young marine’s return from war in the Middle East and the psychological effects it has on his family. 

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen- There's an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on - and off - the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy - including the most innocent bystanders.     When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school's salvation. Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

Crackback by John Coy- When Miles Manning, a successful high school football player, discovers his teammates are using steroids--and one of them is his best friend--he's faced with a tough decision: Is he willing to do what it takes to win? Football is his life, and his family, especially his dad, is pinning its hopes on him. It's a lot of pressure for a high school junior to bear. This gripping look into the world of high school boys and athletes--and their struggle to be the best--is provocative and searingly honest. 
Rummanah Aasi
  If you are in the mood for a humorous, action-packed thrilled ride filled with mythological and paranormal creatures alike, you should definitely pick up the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. There are currently four books out in the series thus far with more books to follow. I've yet to become disappointed with this series.  
Description (from Goodreads): Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is worse than a blowhard and a bully—he’s ruined countless lives and killed scores of innocents. After centuries, Viking vampire Leif Helgarson is ready to get his vengeance, and he’s asked his friend Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, to help take down this Norse nightmare.
   One survival strategy has worked for Atticus for more than two thousand years: stay away from the guy with the lightning bolts. But things are heating up in Atticus’s home base of Tempe, Arizona. There’s a vampire turf war brewing, and Russian demon hunters who call themselves the Hammers of God are running rampant. Despite multiple warnings and portents of dire consequences, Atticus and Leif journey to the Norse plain of Asgard, where they team up with a werewolf, a sorcerer, and an army of frost giants for an epic showdown against vicious Valkyries, angry gods, and the hammer-wielding Thunder Thug himself.

Review: Unlike Hounded and Hexed, Hearne turns a bit more introspective, dark, and serious in Hammered, but still retains its spectacular humor and action. Though we've traveled and battled alongside Atticus, we didn't get a chance to know him on an intimate level. Throughout the series thus far, we have been given glimpses into his long lived life. We know that he is capable of overcoming many obstacles and has been successful in being the oldest druid alive. In Hammered, we are introduced to the human Atticus who has made mistakes, loved and lost people he's cared for. Atticus's saddness becomes your own thus making you all that more connected to him. 
  For me the draw of the Iron Druid series has always been the perfect balance of Atticus's character. He’s a guy’s guy, who tries to think logically and long term without going crazy. He is blunt and honest, never to hide his emotions. He may not have all the answers and he does make mistakes along the way. He is fiercely loyal (especially to his wonderful, screen stealing irish wolfhound Oberon. Love him!) and a man of his word. Atticus is someone you want to have your back in times of trouble. Despite his very, very old age, he retains his humanity. 
  Since Atticus has promised Leif and a few others he meets along the way to finally kill Thor, Atticus is warned by none other than Jesus (over beer, fish & chips) to be reconsider, warning him that his move to the Norse god will have serious repercussions. Determined to keep his promise no matter the cost, partly out of a code of honor and partly out of pride, Atticus sets his path. He organizes his affairs in Tempe, Arizona, and set sails for a tumultuous odyssey. I have to say that I had two thoughts running through my head while reading Hammered. My first thought: I kept asking Atticus (yes, I know he's not real but still) whether or not he was really sure he sure about him committing
deicide. My second thought: Why would you want to hurt this face? I did have to remember that I was meeting a completely different, unlikable Thor in Hammered who took satisfaction is causing people pain for no real reason. Hearne does a great job in giving a glimpse into the lives of those whose that Thor has hurt, especially Leif, which not only make you step back and view the actions and very some huge surprises but truly feel their anguish and anger. 
  Hearne continues to do a great job in exploring the theme of power, particularly with the mythological gods as the issue of keeping power in check versus behaving like spoiled little children. Questions of what makes us truly human, to the choices we tend to make shape our lives and the effects. It's very easy for Atticus to go down the dark road of a god complex, but he has learned the hard way of balancing his powers. We do, however, see how others deal with this same situation through Thor and Lief.
   Just a heads up, there is a slight, kinda big cliffhanger at the end of the book. One part of the plot arc has finished while another one leads to the next book. Overall, a very enjoyable read.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, some language and sexuality in the book. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Tricked (Iron Druid Chronicles #4) by Kevin Hearne, The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman,  Child of Fire by Harry Connollly
Rummanah Aasi
 One of the highly anticipated children/middle grade book of the summer is Rick Riordan's The Serpent's Shadow, the third installment of his Kane Chronicles series. With his trademarks of adventure, mythology, action, and a dash of romance, The Serpent's Shadow is a delightful read and a great conclusion to the series.

Description (from the publisher): He's b-a-a-ack! Despite their best efforts, Carter and Sade Kane can't seem to keep Apophis, the chaos snake, down. Now Apophis is threatening to plunge the world into eternal darkness, and the Kanes are faced with the impossible task of having to destroy him once and for all. Unfortunately, the magicians of the House of Life are on the brink of civil war, the gods are divided, and the young initiates of Brooklyn House stand almost alone against the forces of chaos. The Kanes' only hope is an ancient spell that might turn the serpent's own shadow into a weapon, but the magic has been lost for a millennia. To find the answer they need, the Kanes must rely on the murderous ghost of a powerful magician who might be able to lead them to the serpent's shadow . . . or might lead them to their deaths in the depths of the underworld.

Review: Siblings Carter and Sadie Kane are once again trying to save the world from the forces of Chaos. The giant Chaos snake Apophis and his rebel magician allies are on the rise and hungry for power. Luckily, Carter and Sadie Kane are back, prepared to the best of their abilities, and ready to fight Apophis and restore Ma'at, the order of the universe.
  The Serpent's Shadow has a lot to offer it's readers. Though filled with expected action-pack excitement, there is a lot of character growth for the big cast of characters. The story like the previous two installments are told in alternating and enjoyable voices of Sadie and Carter. The dual narrative allows Riordan to focus on both genders as well as solidify the siblings as individual characters, highlighting her/his strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities. Though we've watched the Kane siblings prove they are more than capable of taking a lead role in restoring Ma'at, there is a bit of a hesitation that each feels. I really felt I got to know each of the characters on a more personal level in this book than I did in the last two books and I think a lot of it has to do with the characters growing up and maturing.
  Riordian deftly executes the theme of duality throughout the series: the battle of order versus chaos, living an ordinary life versus taking the risks to fail and become extraordinary, and perhaps much more touching-being protected and sheltered by parents versus stepping out of their parents shadows and becoming their own person. I thought that the theme was brought to a full circle with this book. We witness first hand the obstacles the Kanes and their allies face with the lots of twists and turns in the story. Although adults are present in the book and hold important roles, they take the backseat and let the kids drive, sort out their own problems. The line between friend and foe are blurry at best, especially when the ghost of an ancient psychotic magician is willing to offer help.
 The Serpent's Shadow is a rousing adventure with plenty of magic and food for thought. There are hints to future stories featuring other gods and I'm curious if Riordan will combine the Percy Jackson's gang with the Kane's, which could be really exciting. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, English

Words of Caution: There is PG rated violence which happens mostly off the page. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: The Ank of Isis by Christine Norris, Children of the Lamp series by Philip Kerr or The Secrets of the immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott
Rummanah Aasi
 I've always had trepidations when it comes to reading high fantasy. I often get too overwhelmed by the rich, complex world building and a wide variety of characters from different backgrounds which why I had to pause and wait to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a film before diving back into the books. While Rachel Hartman's debut fantasy series is high fantasy, I can't help be drawn to the characters and the world.

Description (from the publisher): Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high. Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered-in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

Review: Dragons have always been fascinating fantasy creatures that have captured our imaginations for quite some time. Hartman proves dragons are more than flying beasts who can spit fire. The Kingdom of Goredd has had a rocky peaceful treaty amongst between human and dragon kingdoms for forty years. The defamed treaty is on the verge of collapse and  tensions are high with an influx of dragons, who reluctantly shape-shift to their lessen human forms, arriving for their ruler Ardmagar Comonot’s anniversary. The anniversary comes at an ominous time when Prince Rufus is found murdered in the fashion of dragons (i.e. his head has been bitten off) and things reach a fever pitch as dragons and humans being pointing figures at one another.
    I was absolutely enthralled with Hartman's world building in Seraphina. The world seems to be heavily influenced by the Renaissance. The arts, philosophy, learning, and religion are given great importance in the society. Instead of believing in one deity, the people of Goredd believe in a variety of saints. There is a rigid social hierarchy amongst the citizens of the kingdom. Humans are the rulers while dragons are second class citizens, and the quitl are virtually the untouchable.
  In addition to the social order, the dragonlore of Seraphina is very tangible and easy to understand. The dragons only understand logic and order. Emotions are considered one's greatest weakness. Love, in particular, is viewed as a disease that must be avoided at all costs. I loved how throughout the book humans and dragons are trying to understand one another though they refuse to work together as each believes they are the superior creature who ought to rule.
  Our heroine Seraphina, a gifted and secretive court musician, bridges the gap between humans and dragons. I found Seraphina extremely likable. She desperately tries to go unnoticed as the investigation of Prince Rufus's murder draws close. Seraphina knows that her real identity must never be revealed since she is considered an abomination by her society. Her plight throughout the book is finding her own place in her world and trying to educate people about their prejudices to the different races without revealing herself. Some readers have called Seraphina cold, but I thought she was very resourceful (one can argue manipulative), smart, courageous yet vulnerable at the same time. Her emotions made sense to me after learning about who she is. 
  In addition to Seraphina, the secondary characters are important and fully realized as they represent different parts of society. Out of the many secondary characters, my favorite is Orma who reminds me in some ways as Snape from the Harry Potter series. Though he has no malice towards Seraphina, he struggles to identify with his human emotions, especially when he shape-shifts from dragon to human.  
  Though marketed as a fantasy, Serphina could work as a political thriller, murder mystery, bittersweet romance, and coming-of-age story. Since Seraphina is the daughter of high esteemed lawyer and a worker at the court, she is fully aware of the investigation. When Prince Lucian Kiggs asks for her help with the murder investigation, she has no choice but to become involved, even if Kiggs’ acute perceptiveness is a danger to her. The romance is slow burn and for once I didn't want to hit the love interest with a frying pan for being overly alpha.
  The only flaw that I can see preventing readers from fully enjoying Seraphina is its slow plot. The first hundred pages moves very slowly but I didn't mind too much as Hartman establishes her intricate world, but I know I was a bit surprised by the lack of action in the first half of the book. Once political intrigue started to develop, I thought the book moved much faster. Soon I found myself involved with the characters and waiting to know what would happen next. Though this is the first book in a series, I'm happy to say there isn't a cliffhanger but I'm eagerly awaiting to see how the story progresses.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Dragondrums by Anne Caffrey, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Dragon's Bait by Vivan Velde Vande, Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey, Alanna series by Tamora Pierce
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. Today I'll be reviewing the latest volume of Vampire Knight.

Description (from back of the book): The Vampire Hunter Society has imprisoned Aido in order to interrogate him about Kaname’s connection to Sara Shirabuki. Meanwhile, Yuki wants a fresh start with Kaname, but circumstances arise that may force them apart.

Review: Volume 14 continues with the dark, moody, and thought provoking overtones of the last volume. Throughout the story we are asked how we see our main cast of characters, especially the evasive and mysterious Kaname. Through Yuki's eyes, Kaname has always been a sympathetic and admirable character. As the higher echelon of pureblood vampires, he is most revered and feared. He has shown Yuki kindness and protection when she was younger while displaying snippets of his vulnerability. 
   Unlike Yuki's rose tinted version, I see Kaname as a walking contradiction. He seeks forgiveness, but punishes without a second thought. He provides Yuki options but only after he has manipulated the situation and even her memories. He would like Yuki to see him as her equal, but he always carries an air of self righteous that purposely places him above all others. I feel deceived by Kaname every time I think I should give him a chance. I don't understand his actions, especially when it comes to punishment because it seems so arbitrary especially in this volume. He takes action against those that are hardly a threat, but yet turns a blind eye to Sara Shirabuki and finding out who killed the pureblood that attended his soiree.
  Kaname isn't the only one evolving as a character. Aido, who is continually used as a comic relief, becomes much more serious in this volume. His loyalty to Kaname, even undergoing torture by the Vampire Hunter society, is unparallelled. His devotion, however, is strongly tested as this volume ends. I'm curious to see where Hino takes his character and I hope that he gets a storyline of his own. 
 In addition to Aido's new character growth, Sara Shirabuki is becoming a serious threat. Like the previous villain before her, she is also a pureblood vampire who is trying to form a race that will submit to her wishes. She uses her demure appearance to get close before she strikes. In a lot of ways, she and Kaname share a lot of similarities.
  Our heroine Yuki is still confused about everything that is happening. Her ties to Kaname, who is suspected to help enable the new pureblood threat, gets her arrested by the Vampire Society. Yuki's arrest can only mean more beautiful artwork demonstrating the agonizing tension with Zero. Speaking of Zero, I wish he had more presence in this volume. Though a man of a few words, we can easily identify his feelings written all over his face for Yuki though he adamantly says he doesn't have any. We also know that he is physically weakening due to his self imposed diet. I hope he has a bigger role in the next volume.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence, but most of it happens off the page. Rated T for teens.

If you like this book try: Vampire Knight Volume 15 by Matsuri Hino, Black Bird series by Millennium Snow series by Bisco Hatori
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm trying to experiment with different genres for my Middle Eastern Reading Challenge. I started out quite strong in children's literature. There is not much out there in the YA realm and the adult fiction/nonfiction realm can be tricky especially when it comes to politics and searching for a balanced book. I took a chance with two contemporary women writers from the Middle East, one from Palestine and the other from Egypt, who both focus on women's roles in their respective countries. I did like one of a little better than the other, but I still think I could do better than both of them.

Description (from Goodreads): A young woman is instructed by her boss to write a letter to an older man. His reply begins an enigmatic but passionate love affair conducted entirely in letters. Until, that is, his letters stop coming. But did the letters ever reach their intended recipient? Only the teenage Afaf, who works at the local post office, would know. Her duty is to open the mail and inform her collaborator father of the contents—until she finds a mysterious set of love letters, for which she selects another destiny.
  Afaf has lived in shame ever since her mother left her father for another man. And in this novel, her story is followed in turn by another: the story of a woman who leaves her husband for someone else, to whom she declares her love in a letter…The chain of stories that make up this singular novel form a wrenching examination of relationships and their limits—relationships tenuous, oblique, and momentous.

Review: When I started this book I was under the impression that it was a single love story, but I could not have been more wrong. This slim book is made up of dark, bleak, and depressing vignettes. In the course of her work, an increasingly isolated woman writes letters to a man she's never met that go from professional to personal; "I wanted to offer him the essence of my existence," she says. Intimate correspondence also informs "The First Measure," the teenager Afaf, who leaves school to work in the post office for her father, reading, and sometimes altering people's letters (changing "Palestine" to "Israel" among other edits). A married woman falls in love with the physiotherapist she visits for treatment and finds her new feelings overwhelming her conservative life. A woman's devotion to physical fitness fails to ameliorate her increasing horror and disgust with the world around her. A shy man who has failed in his university studies and works in a supermarket looks longingly at a woman on a public bench and thinks of the few women he has known.
  I'm not exactly sure how these vignettes connect. With the exception of Afaf and her family, we aren't given any names to any of the other characters. I was lost in trying to figure out the "he" and "she" were the same people in each story. The writing is poetic and the characterizations were interesting, but the book fails to provoke any thought once I finished it. I actually thought I was better off in reading pieces of the book instead of the whole thing.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are mature themes regarding sexuality, religion, and gender issues. Recommended for adults interested in modern Middle Eastern literature.

If you like this book try: The Consequences of Love by Leila Aboulela

Description: Bodour, a distinguished literary critic and university professor, carries with her a dark secret. As a young university student, she fell in love with a political activist and gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Zeina, whom she abandoned on the streets of Cairo. Zeina grows up to become one of Egypt's most beloved entertainers, despite being deprived of a name and a home. In contrast, Bodour remains trapped in a loveless marriage, pining for her daughter. In an attempt to find solace she turns to literature, writing a fictionalised account of her life. But then the novel goes missing. Bodour is forced on a journey of self discovery, reliving and reshaping her past and her future. Will Bodour ever discover who stole the novel? Is there any hope of her being reunited with Zeina?

Review: I had better luck with Zeina than Shibli's book. The books begins with Successful literary critic Boudour is writing a novel about circumstances that made her abandon an infant, Zeina, when she was a young college student. Later, Boudour married and raised another daughter, Mageeda, a successful writer who feels curiosity and jealousy toward Zeina, now a musical phenomenon and her unknown stepsister. As Boudour tries to rewrite her life and recover her stolen novel, she becomes increasely aware of the unequal gender roles and expectations in the Egyptian society.
  I was really invested in the first half of the book. I thought the characters were multi-faceted and I kept waiting for the big secret of Zeina's identity to be revealed. I didn't mind the switch back and forth from past to present as Boudour essentially writes her memoir. It's when the second half of the book turns into a harsh commentary of the Egyptian society where men repeatedly betray women. Actually, I can't even recall a decent male character in the entire book. It's clear that the author is upset about the double standards found in the Egyptian culture, but the author does quote in length (i.e. almost five pages worth) from the Qur'an that illustrate this entrenched nature of this behavior, which I found was a bit excessive. I guess at some point the book shifted from reality to dreamlike qualities, but I really couldn't pinpoint that out to you. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: Strong sexual themes throughout the book including attempted rape as well as some strong language. Recommended for adults interested in modern Middle Eastern literature.

If you like this book try: Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea ; translated by Rajaa Alsanea and Marilyn Booth
Rummanah Aasi
  Thanks for your kind wishes while I was away at vacation. I had a blast and it was much needed, but the re-entry back to the real world can be harsh. I don't know about you but summer is going too fast for me. Before I know it, the chaos of school registration will be here. Yikes!
  I avoided reading Bloodrose, the last book in the Nightshade series, because it received a polarized fan response. I know major plot spoilers were revealed online, but that just fueled my curiosity. I had to know why so many people were upset. Unlike the first two books, Bloodrose was my least favorite in this series and there were quite a few things that bothered me in the book.

Description (from Goodreads): Calla has always welcomed war. But now that the final battle is upon her, there's more at stake than fighting. There's saving Ren, even if it incurs Shay's wrath. There's keeping Ansel safe, even if he's been branded a traitor. There's proving herself as the pack's alpha, facing unnameable horrors, and ridding the world of the Keepers' magic once and for all. And then there's deciding what to do when the war ends. If Calla makes it out alive, that is.

Review: Reviewers have commented on the middle book syndrome of a series, where virtually nothing really happens in the second book until the last few chapters that connect to the book that we really want, which is (in most cases) the third and final book. Some readers can tolerate a filler book as long as the series ends well (i.e. how the reader wants it to end). Personally, I think the book's best ending is what feels true to the characters and things don't necessarily have to be spelled out. With Bloodrose, however, I felt as if I got a half baked ending.
  Without giving us a moment of a quick recap, Bloodrose immediately starts where Wolfsbane ends and our characters are forced to make decisions. The war between Keeper and Guardians is inevitable where characters will either survive or die. The love triangle fraught with tension must be solved. Fractured packs must now come back and work together for a possible future that will change everyone's lives for better or for worse.
   The draw of Nightshade for me has always been Calla, a female alpha pack leader, who wrestles trying to carve out an identity for herself while fighting expectations of what she is suppose to do as dictated by her werewolf culture. While she is an alpha by title, she is not guaranteed to hold power like her male counterpart, just being female limits her abilities. I've always liked Calla. I admire her tenacity in facing difficult scenarios, her willingness to change how her world views a female alpha, and her endless love and loyalty for her pack. In Bloodrose, I felt like I lost that Calla that I loved and she was replaced by a whiny, wishy-washy girl who placed herself first ahead of her everyone else. This is clearly demonstrated on how Calla approached the love triangle. Calla claims to feel torn, however, it's pretty clear who she has chosen to be with. What I don't understand is how she was willing to string both guys along with heavy make-out and/or bedroom scenes.
  I've been puzzled by the love triangle in the Nightshade series. If you look closely at the love triangle from the point of view of romance, it falls apart and there really isn't one. If you look at the love triangle as a symbol of pre-destiny vs. freewill, and independence vs. dependent in terms of power it becomes a bit more interesting. I'd like to delve in this aspect a bit deeper, but I can't since it involves huge spoilers.
  My biggest disappointment in Bloodrose is not seeing more of Ren's character development. I would have been fine with his destiny if I got to know him on a deeper level. I know he was far from perfect and possibly not a great match for Calla but I wanted to give him a chance. So I was really upset that Ren never rose to his full potential in Bloodrose. While he does accomplish large goals, he also loses so much in the book while Shay seems to gain everything and everything came so easy to him. Things were definitely unbalanced.
  Bloodrose is a bittersweet ending in more ways than one. I was taken aback on how many people do not survive in this book. Some of the deaths were truly heartbreaking that happened within a few short sentences.There wasn't much of a mourning for these characters, which is surprising considering who died.  I was not thrilled about any of the deaths and I did have to close the book to get over my grumblings before I could pick it up again.
  Cremer is a talented storyteller and I did find it hard to put the book down because there were plenty of actions scenes and great moments in the book, but I'm not happy with some of the concluding threads in the book. I can understand where the characters and author are coming from, but I felt many of them were a bit too rushed and/or abrupt to make any lasting impression. So I guess the big question is whether or not to read Bloodrose. Honestly? I don't know what to tell you. I really don't. The only advice I can give you is this: be prepared for the book to possibly not end the way you would like it. If you're okay with that and like these characters enough to get some closure, then read it. If not, then skip it. It's been a few months since I read Bloodrose and I still feel ambivalent about it.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, some language, heavy make-out scenes, and allusion to sex.

If you like this book try: Dark Divine series by Bree Despain, Raised by Wolves series by Jennifer Barnes, Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause
Rummanah Aasi
  Thanks to Jane Wesman Public Relations, Inc., I have a great opportunity to tell you and give you a chance to win what Kirkus Reviews calls "a wry autobiography [that] traces the tragicomic odyssey of a Polish-American Jew whose search for identity equally embraced both self-reliance and absurd humor" (Kirkus Review, Feb. 15, 2012).

Stealing the Borders is a witty survivor story about a boy who grew up experiencing German bombs, chills of Siberia, and life in a refugee camp. - Then came the real test - the chaotic streets of New York. As he had no schooling till the age of 16, Rais developed an extraordinary instinct for survival and an uncanny perspective that allows him to see the wry side of every situation. Laugh with him, as you read the inspiring story of his escape from war-torn Europe and eventual success in the United States. Don't try to tell him he had a deprived childhood he's convinced it was a privilege! Follow his hilarious antics in his warm and touching autobiography. - He stole the border, he'll steal your heart.


Jane Wesman Public Relations, Inc. have been exteremly generous to provide me two (2) copies of Stealing the Borders to giveaway to two (2) lucky winners. Since I have the book in  hand, this giveaway is open to U.S. addresses only. To enter, simply leave a comment with your name/alias along with an email so I can contact you if you win. The giveaway will run until Saturday, July 28th, 2012 at 11 PM EST and the winner will be announced on my blog on Sunday, July 29th, 2012. Good luck to everyone who enters!

Rummanah Aasi
Just a quick note: I will be on vacation when this review posts. I may not or may not have internet access during vacation, but I will play catch-up with your blogs and comments when I get back. 

 Most stories that I've read are generally about people competing with others, but Derek Kirk Kim asks us a different question: what if the person you're trying to up is actually yourself? What kind of person do you want to be and if you saw future self, how would you embrace yourself? All of these philosophical questions and more are discussed in the part coming of age/fantasy, romantic comedy graphic novel called Good As Lily.

Description: Following a strange mishap on her 18th birthday, Grace Kwon is confronted with herself at three different periods in her life. The timing couldn't be worse as Grace and her friends desperately try to save a crumbling school play. Will her other selves wreak havoc on her present life or illuminate her uncertain future?

Review: Grace Kwon's friends throw her a surprise 18th birthday party with a picnic in the park. There they meet a strange vendor who refuses to sell them ice cream, but sells them a pig-shaped pinata instead. When it finally breaks after falling on Grace's head, she learns that it's empty much to her disappointment. Later that night, when she returns to the park, she meets a little girl, a young woman, and an old woman who look eerily like her. It turns out that all of them are named Grace Kwon at different parts of her life, a six year old toddler, a woman in her twenties, and an elderly woman. Now Grace must deal not only with the philosophical concept of encountering her past and future selves, but also with the day-to-day chaos that they create. Each of Grace's selves are dealt well for the most part as the child stealing snacks, the senior citizen smoking cigarettes, and the young woman hitting on Grace's drama teacher. I would have liked the three selves interact more with Grace herself but they are kept at a distance. Grace, the teen, is naturally confused and exhausted seeing her past and future go out of control. The black-and-white pictures are simply drawn, but manage to convey all the emotional highs and lows of this story. The title refers to a subplot so small that readers might not recognize the reference until they've finished the book and taken some time to digest it. Part coming of age, part magical realism, and part romance, Good as Lily has different things to offer different readers.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

 If you like this book try: Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim
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