Rummanah Aasi
 Today I have two mini-reviews of books that I received from the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Description (from Goodreads): It just figures that the love of Lindsey Water's life isn't alive at all, but the grim reaper, complete with a dimpled smile and Scottish accent. After transporting souls to heaven for the last 300 years, Aiden MacRae has all but given up on finding the one whose love will redeem him and allow him entry through the pearly gates. Torn between her growing attraction to Aiden and heaven's siren song, Lindsey must learn the hard way whether love really can transcend all boundaries.

Review: Between has a really cool premise about being torn between the afterlife and the present day. Being in the between, a place sandwiched in the middle of earth and heaven where new memories and a second chance of life could be made. I was really looking forward to meeting Aiden, the Scottish hottie grim reaper and curious to see where his and Lindsey's relationship goes. Unfortunately, the book left me unsatisfied and wanting more.
  Readers annoyed by insta-love would be completely frustrated with Between as there is a heavy dose of it in the story. Lindsey dies in a car wreck, is whisked away by Aiden to this "between" place on her way to heaven. After what seems like a brief 5 minute panic, she doesn't seem overly concerned about being dead. She's sad, sure, but not sad enough to miss the fact that Aiden is goregeous and lusts after him. Normally, I could handle insta-love but this was too fast for me. Another thing that annoyed me about Lindsey and Aiden's relationship is the inconsistency of chaste love. One minute Aiden refuses to touch Lindsey because she is still a virgin and in the next few scenes they are skinny dipping and getting hot and heavy. There wasn't really a development of their relationship at all to give us a better groundwork to how they work as a couple.
  Though we are given Aiden's history, which addressed an important and heavy concept that should have added complexity to his character, but unfortunately it came across a bit too heavy handed and preachy for me. I couldn't really feel sorry for Aiden at that point and it bothered me for much of th story.
  Despite these issues, I was still engaged in the book's plot. Just when I thought things were getting interesting, the book ended. It was as if there was a beginning of the story and its end with no middle. Overall, it was a decent read and I would recommend it to those who can't get enough of paranormal romances.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong sensuality in the book and a small non-descriptive sex scene. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Hell Transporter by Cyndi Tefft, Pinelight by Jillian Perry, Forbidden by Megan Curd

Description (from Goodreads): Every teenager wants to fit in, and Christian Pearson is no different. He is a phenomenon on the athletic field and in the classroom, but a terrifying accident on a fishing trip with his grandfather changes Christian's life forever. As he enters his freshman year of high school, Christian hides a secret that he plans to take to his grave. When the Pearson family moved from the city to the sleepy town of Red Oak, Iowa, before his freshman year of high school, Christian hoped for a smooth transition to small town life. Being the new kid in school has been a blessing and a curse. Most of the boys in Christian's class view him as a threat, so Christian struggles to fit it, but as an outcast, his secret is safe. When three freshmen, all from the same family, start school a week late, Christian senses something different about these new students. He reaches out to "The Three" seeking some semblance of friendship in his new hometown. When "The Three" confront Christian about the secret he hides, Christian is faced with a huge problem. Will this secret cost Christian his friends, his family, his freedom, and even his life?

Review: I loved the concept behind The New Phenomenon, where child phenomenons had special powers that are developed at certain periods of their lifetime. The book, however, only touches on the idea superficially and left me wanting to know more about the kids and how their powers are created.
  For the most part I liked the characters, especially Christian who is a sweet, courteous, smart, and a great football player. Besides these traits and his love for S.E. Hinton's books, I didn't really connect to him. In fact a lot of the characters, who had the strong potential to be fascinating feel one dimension in The New Phenomenon. The book seemed to be more plot driven with some great moments of suspense and tension, however, the Raabe told more of the story rather than show it.   
  Raabe for the most part is successful in blending in the daily trouble of an adolescent (i.e. bullying, peer pressure, girl troubles) with the touch of paranormal/science fiction bent to it. There was a bit of a romance, which I thought was cute and sprung up a bit too quickly for me, but not enough to derail male readers into reading this book. I did find it to be a fast read and for the most part enjoyed it. Raabe has the potential to create a really great story here. If there was a little more attention given to the characters and fleshing out of the concept of superpowers, this book would have soared.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is a teen party where underage drinking takes place.

If you like this book try: Hidden Talents by David Lubar, Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman, Code Orange by Caroline B. Cooney
Rummanah Aasi
  It may come as no surprise to those who know me, but I am an introvert. For many years I thought it was a personality flaw that needed to be fixed as I was told by many that quiet people do not get ahead in life. Truthfully no matter how much I tried, I couldn't be something that I'm not. Susan Cain's Quiet affirmed that I'm actually normal and gave my introspection and love of solitude the legitimacy it deserves.

Description: Demonstrates how introverted people are misunderstood and undervalued in modern culture, charting the rise of extrovert ideology while sharing anecdotal examples of how to use introvert talents to adapt to various situations.

Review: We all heard the terms extrovert and introvert before. We may even have taken personality tests to see which category fits us the best or even know before hand. Our society leans towards those who are amongst many things assertive and socially active while the quiet ones are deemed to be in some ways defective or need fixing as a plethora of self help books will tell you. Susan Cain's bestselling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking revisits the widely discussed dichotomy of personalities, but better yet she explains the how the trend of extrovertism came to be and why being an introvert is not a flaw.
  In the highly readable and enjoyable book, Cain defines the terms extrovert and introvert broadly. She even gives examples on how each individual who falls into either category succeed. What I loved about this book is how Cain gives excellent portraits of a number of introverts and shatters misconceptions. For example, she notes, introverts can negotiate as well as, or better than, alpha males and females because they can take a firm stand, listen, ruminate, and draw out important questions about the case. The breaks between psychological discussion with real life antidotes and situations is what brought Quiet to life. There were many moments where a light bulb clicked on when I read passages as to why I do the things I do subconsciously. To be honest, Quiet helped to reassured me that there was nothing really wrong with my personality and that it is okay not wanting to be super social and that for me sitting at home reading a fabulous book is just as good a weekend then going party hopping. Furthermore Cain also provides tips to parents and teachers of children who are introverted or seem socially awkward and isolated. She suggests, for instance, exposing them gradually to new experiences that are otherwise overstimulating.
   As you know I'm not a nonfiction reader as I don't gravitate to them naturally, but once in a while I come across a great title from which I learn something without feeling stupid. It's clear that Cain's research is diligent and she's passionate about the topic, but her voice never sounds condescending. I highly recommend picking this book up if your are at all curious about psychology or want a different, intelligent and absorbing read.

Curriculum Connection: Psychology

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for teens interested in psychology and adults.

If you like this book try: Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self by Rita Carter, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength by Laurie Helgoe
Rummanah Aasi
  All of the picture books that I have reviewed today are listed either on the Monarch Book Award list or the Bluestem Book Award list where books are selected by librarians, teachers, and readers themselves. I find these lists useful, particularly when I'm not sure where to start with such a huge selection of picture books. Today I've got a mixture of folktale retelling and a just plain.

Description: A young city boy, riding the subway, finds an abandoned book about redwoods. He finds himself in the very forest described in the book. After finishing the book, he leaves it for someone else to read.

Review: Out of the three picture books that I'm reviewing today, Redwoods surprised me the most. With a lackluster description, I was prepared for a snoozeworthy read and I was pleasantly wrong. Redwoods effortlessly captures a reader's absorbation in a book, where the rest of the world fades into the background. A young city boy riding the subway finds an abandoned book to read. The book happens to be about redwood trees. Soon, he transports himself into a fantastical forest surrounded by redwoods. As he wanders into the forest, he learns exciting details about the trees. The illustrations are wonderful and the little facts sprinkled, not just dumped into long, verbose paragraphs, within the book holds our attention. I actually learned a lot from this book. I would highly recommend it to kids who show an interest in nature or who just want to be awed about learning something new.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

Description: Retells the fable of a frustrated fox that, after many tries to reach a high bunch of grapes, decides they must be sour anyway.

Review: I guess you're never to young to develop a snarky attitude. Palatini and Moser have taken a dry Aesop fable and gave it a entertaining make-over that delights the eyes and ears of the reader while still retaining the purpose of the story. The proud and clever Fox eyes the grapes hanging from a vine high in a tree and thinks that he can get them easily. He repeatedly chants: "I am sly. Clever. Smart. After all, I am a fox." So, armed with paper and pencil, he draws his master plan filled with complex equations and recruits various animals around the tree to get the grapes. After repeated failed attempts and refusing to hear his recruits advice, the fox loses interests in the grapes and declares them "lousy, rotten, stinkin' grapes." Moser's wonderful watercolor illustrations of the doubting animals executing Fox's convoluted plans are rich in humor. My favorite illustrations involve Bear, especially with him napping in the background. The animals are silhouetted against plenty of white space, with the grapevines and tree dominating each large spread. Many reviewers have commented on the fox's plan being too complex and the story deviating from the story, but I would argue that this retelling of the story would invite active participation from the readers and storyteller. Kids are much more perceptive than we give them credit for and I'm sure they would immediately pick up on Fox's flaws.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Clever Beatrice by Margaret Willey, Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka

Description: Max wants to be an artist like Arthur, but his first attempt at using a paintbrush sends the two friends on a whirlwind trip through various media, with unexpected consequences.

Review: The story revolves around a rocky friendship between Art and Max.  When we first meet Arthur, he is creating a formal portrait of a stately reptile, one of several reacting to the unfolding drama in the desert. Frenetic Max dashes into the scene; he also wants to paint, but doesn't know where to start. Art suggests Max to start with painting a picture of his friend, " could paint me." Max's literal response yields a more colorful Art, but the master's outrage causes his acrylic armor to shatter. His texture falls in fragments, leaving an undercoating of dusty pastels vulnerable to passing breezes. Each of Max's attempts to solve Art's problems leads to unexpected outcomes, someof them humorous and others thought provoking about what one would define as art. 
  I have mixed feelings about Art and Max. I really enjoyed reading the thought provoking exploration of the meaning of art and the creative process, but without some substantial art background or knowledge, the book isn't as nearly entertaining. I know I missed out on a lot of references to several important artists while I did pick up on a few like Jackson Pollock, but that being said I think the book will resonate with some kids who are confused when some mistakes or marvels are judged differently by others. I would like to revisit Art and Max and give it another shot since there is so much to uncover in the book. I think in order to full appreciate this picture book is to closely read it and absorb all the little details.  

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, The pencil by Allen Ahlberg, The dot by Peter Reynolds
Rummanah Aasi
  There has been a slew of gossipy historical fiction YA reads. I've seen this wave come and go, but I think with the popularity of Downton Abbey (is it January yet?), there seems to be a more of a demand. Gossipy historical fiction is a guilty pleasure of mine and which is why I picked up the aptly titled Gilt by Katherine Longshore.

Description (from Goodreads): When Kitty Tylney's best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII's heart and brings Kitty to court, she's thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. No longer stuck in Cat's shadow, Kitty's now caught between two men--the object of her affection and the object of her desire. But court is also full of secrets, lies, and sordid affairs, and as Kitty witnesses Cat's meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head.

Review: Gilt recounts the short life and times of King Henry VIII's fifth and youngest wife, Catherine Howard, as seen through the eyes of her best friend Kitty. When Cat is selected to be one of Anne of Cleves' ladies-in-waiting, she soon catches the king's eye, and soon to be the next chosen wife of the King. Cat rescues her plain friend Kitty, more as an effort to retain her self confidence and have someone loyal to her in a threatening environment, to attend her in her chambers.
  Although the book tries to give the reader the wide scope of the royal court, only Cat and Kitty are fully realized characters, which is kind of a shame since I really didn't care for either one of them. Cat Howard has always acted as if she was queen. She was the queen bee and the self declared connoisseur of all womanly desires (wink wink nudge nudge). She even liked to call herself the Queen of Misrule in the Duchess of Norfolk's maidens' chamber (a rather tongue in check nickname) to make her status more official. I couldn't find any redeemable qualities in Cat at all. She's usually depicted as a naive young girl who was carried away by and emotions, but in Gilt she clearly knew what she was doing and enjoyed the rush of excitement in doing something forbidden and trying to see if she couldn't get caught. Anyone with a brain cell would know the path she chose is incredibly stupid and could only lead to death and humiliation.
  We also get a close-up examination of Cat's personality through Kitty's unique position of attending her best friend. Kitty's identity is solely based on her connection to Cat as she has no royal connection ties to the court. She relies on Cat's favoritism in order to push away her self doubts and low self confidence. I liked Kitty best when she clearly admits her own short comings and catches the so-called indestructible Cat's flaws. It is a shame though that most of these little nuggets of truth are buried in mumbles and under the breath.
  It also is through Kitty's eyes that we get a broad scope of the royal court, however, the author seems to focus on the safe, domestic setting of the court rather than the affairs and politics that shaped the Tudor time period. Unfortunately, the time period doesn't really come to life with these broad strokes. The suspense of Cat's plan and what lead to her demise is extremely subdued. I think I had an edge on reading Gilt as I already knew of Catherine Howard's demise and stupidity by watching The Tudors (Jonathan Rhys Meyers plus Henry Cavill equals a win!), but I as a reader reading Gilt, I didn't get that surprise or suspense. As a result, Gilt doesn't have much of a punch as a gossipy historical fiction or romance read as the cover implies (The cover of Gilt does absolutely nothing for me and I wish I wouldn't have to look up the model's nostrils everytime I see it). Readers looking for more juicy details of the Tudor time period are better off looking at some of Phillippa Gregory's books and other readalikes. Do give the book a chance if you're curious about the status of women in the Tudor period.
Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: Sexual and crude humor, strong sexuality that is regulated off the page. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby, Luxe series by Anna Godbersen, The Other Boylen by Philippa Gregory, The Unfaithful Queen by Carolly Erickson, and Ladies in Waiting by Laura L. Sullivan
Rummanah Aasi
  It's time for Manga Mondays! 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 love is constantly entangled with music, heartache, and happiness. After looking for information about the author, I realized that I was misinformed about the Nana series. The series is not complete, but put on hold as the author recuperates from an illness. Presently, there are no volumes published after volume 21 which is where I got confused. I apologize for the misinformation.

Description: Nana K. hasn't had a real reunion with Nana or the rest of Blast since she moved in with Takumi, and Shin and Reira's joint birthday party seems like the perfect chance for a get together. Takumi, however, is furious at his fiance for crashing the event. Once again Nana K. , and she is forced to choose Takumi over Nana one more time. But was this Hachi's last chance to get back in Nana's life?

Review: Volume 13 is filled with drama. Lots of things happening all at once. I actually had to read slowly so I wouldn't miss anything. Shin and Reira are having a joint birthday party as their birthdays are a few days apart.  On the surface, this setting is suppose to be a happy occasion with great food and friends, but like the whole series, there are complex, dark undersides that lurk beneath the party decorations.
  Takumi is furious with Nana K. for "crashing" the birthday party or in his view a perfect opportunity to schmooze and network. As you may recall, Nana K. was personally invited by Reira and only came because of her loyalty to Shin, the youngest member of Blast, which was all unknown to Takumi. Takumi and Nana K. have a fight. There was a moment where I thought Nana K. grew a spine and told her caddish fiance to back off and that thing were over. Unfortunately, that passed as quickly as a blink of an eye. After several frustrating volumes, Nana K. finally admits that Takumi is not right for her, but she is afraid of being alone and due to her fear of him abandoning her at any moment, she submits to him and becomes his puppet.
  Meanwhile Nana O. and Ren can't tolerate a big crowd. They both sneak off into their own room. Nana O. is annoyed that many now think of her as only "Ren's fiance". Though she loves Ren, she hates to have her own individual identity removed. Nana O. is unaware of Ren's drug use. In the previous volumes, we get a hint that Ren has been dabbling into drugs with his occassional use of pot, but now he's getting into serious drugs (cocaine? heroine?). It is unclear, however, if the drugs are requested by him or provided to him by his music label.
  Another person spiraling down is Nobu. Poor Nobu can't get over Nana K. Their awkward meeting, which is beautifully drawn with close-ups and my favorite part of this volume, got me all choked up. Though he is heartbroken and can't rid of the "what ifs" that haunt him at night, he really wants Nana K. to be happy even if her happiness doesn't include him. After seeing Nana K. for the first time since they split up, Nobu literally launches into a relationship with Asami, the porn star, who isn't all that different from Nana K. Asami is clearly the rebound girl and I don't have any hope that their "relationship" will last.
  Like Nobu, Shin and Reira are seductively playing with the danger zone. With Shin barely being a legal adult, his relationship with Reira is really, really bad idea especially if the press got hold of his past being a male escort and age. Takumi has advised Shin to stay away from Reira, but of course emotions over ride logic. I hate to admit that I can see Takumi's logic, but he is right. So now, Takumi has enlisted Nana K.'s help to try to separate Shin and Reira. Whenever Nana K. is involved in an important task, things don't go well at all. I have no idea what her plans are, but I know it won't be good.
  Despite all of these ongoings, we get a tiny glimpse into a possibly budding romance between Miu, an actress who suffers from severe depression, and Yasu. I'm thrilled for a Yasu romance storyline as I think he's a fabulous character who is always reliable, smart, and solid. I have no idea what will happen next in Nana, but it is always an emotional rollercoaster and I wouldn't like it any other way.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong sexual content, crude humor, some drug references, and some language. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Nana Vol 14 by Ai Yazawa
Rummanah Aasi

I will be joining with hundreds other bloggers in the Bloggiesta event co-hosted this year Bloggiesta is co-hosted by 1st Daughter over at There's a Book and Suey from It’s All About Books. Originally created nearly four years ago by Natasha of Maw Books, we want to make sure to give her a huge thank you for starting such a fantastic event! Bloggiesta occurs twice a year and it allows bloggers to hang out together while doing some maintanece on their blogs, participating in some mini-challenges, networking with other bloggers. Bloggiesta this fall is taking place on September 28th through the 30th. You can sign up for the event here. This is my first year participating!

Goals I'd Like to Accomplish for Bloggiesta

  1. Update all review index pages on blog and on Shelfari account
  2. Create a separate page for picture books only
  3. Update Resources page.
  4. Clean up and update blogging labels
  5. Create a list of discussion post topics
  6. Create a list of TV/Movie characters for Reel Shelf feature
  7. Reading advisory book lists for a variety of topics (i.e Halloween, Winter Break reads, etc.)
  8. Update Review Policy
  9. Prepare author interview questions for October and November
  10. Schedule blog posts for the rest of this month and October.

Just a quick note that my regular scheduled posts for next week will not be disrupted. Most of the maintence will happen behind the scenes. Hope you all have a great weekend and join in on the fun!

Rummanah Aasi
Husband and wife team, Ilona Andrews, has delivered another engrossing and thrilling read set in the Kate Daniels World with Gunmetal Magic. Kate, our main heroine for much of this series, steps aside so her best friend, Andrea, can work out some issues.

Description (from Goodreads): After being kicked out of the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, Andrea's whole existence is in shambles. She tries to put herself back together by working for Cutting Edge, a small investigative firm owned by her best friend. When several shapeshifters working for Raphael Medrano--the male alpha of the Clan Bouda, and Andrea's former lover--die unexpectedly at a dig site, Andrea is assigned to investigate. Now she must work with Raphael as her search for the killer leads into the secret underbelly of supernatural Atlanta. And dealing with her feelings for him might have to take a back seat to saving the world...

Review: Gunmetal Magic takes place between the closing events of Magic Slays and the short story Magic Gifts. Andrea is Kate's best friend and side-kick. She is an integral character like majority of the secondary characters in the Kate Daniels series. In Gunmetal Magic we get to see all aspects to Andrea- the good, the bad, and the ugly- as the authors flesh out her character.
  We are use to seeing Andrea take action, loving her job in the Order of the Knights of Meriful Aid, and offering her sage advice to her best friend. In Gunmetal Magic, Andrea has hit rock bottom. She is fired from her job when her employer found out that she is a beastkin, a rare breed of shapeshifters, she broke up with her boyfriend, Raphael, and now lives in fear of repeating the abuse she receieved as a child when she was brought up in a clan. Andrea wants to start over, but only on her terms and with her being in charge. I loved Andrea in this book as much as I loved her in the Kate Daniel series. She is definitely a friend that I would want to have and I can see why Kate loves her. She is smart, extremely witty, but very guarded. It takes Andrea a long time to get comfortable in her beastskin and realize that it's not a flaw in her character but something to be proud of. Though we might not know exactly what it feels like to be in her shoes, we can empathize with her insecurities.
 Gunmetal Magic is very much plot driven as Andrea refuses to deal with her emotional turmoil for majority part of the book. Her relationship with Raphael, a character who I thought balanced her well, is antagonistic at best as each lash out from being suddenly dropped from each others lives. Though separated for majority of the time in the book, their sexual tension is still high. It's clear that both still have strong feelings for one another. Before this book, I like many other readers, were scrambling to figure out what happened that broke Andrea and Raphael apart as both seemed to be very much in love. In this book, we get answers and a more clearer understanding of how both characters feel. While I loved the action scenes and the humor to keep me on my toes, I really felt the absense of the emotional warmth I'm use to getting when I read about these characters. While things end up well, it doesn't feel as satisfying as it should. Nonetheless the book provides us with new questions about the structure of the Pack's order and what might happen next in Andrea's life. Gunmetal Magic is another exciting story that will help ease the waiting period for the next Kate Daniels book to come out.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong violence, some language, and sex is implied. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Bloodsong series by Cat Adams, Mercy Thomspon series by Patricia Briggs, Fray or Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 graphic novel series by Joss Whedon, Chicagoland Vampires by Chloe Neil, Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones
Rummanah Aasi
 I find reading banned or challenged books to be like a treasure hunt of some sort. You are given a person's (or persons') reasons for objecting the book and then you can read it with their lens. Sometimes you can kind of see where the objection is coming from while other times you can't seem to make a logical connection. Three Wishes by Deborah Ellis hasn't stirred much controversey in the U.S. but it is one of top challenged books in Canada.

Description: Deborah Ellis's enormously popular Breadwinner trilogy recounted the experiences of children living in Afghanistan; now Ellis turns her attention to the young people of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After visiting the region to conduct interviews, she presents their stories here in their own words. Twelve-year-old Nora, eleven-year-old Mohammad, and many others speak directly about their lives - which prove to be both ordinary and extraordinary: They argue with their siblings. They hate spinach. They have wishes for the future. Yet they have also seen their homes destroyed and families killed, and live amidst constant upheaval and violence.This simple, telling book allows young readers everywhere to see that the children caught in this conflict are just like them - but living far more difficult and dangerous lives. Without taking sides, it presents an unblinking portrait of children victimized by the endless struggle around them.

Review: Three Wishes is a hard and uncomfortable read not due to the book's writing style, but of the unflinching, honest, and often times bleak accounts of how war takes a toll on the lives of young people between the ages of 8 and 18. Instead of looking toward their futures with optimistic eyes, these kids really don't know whether they are going to be alive tomorrow. Instead of doing what we would call normal kids activities such as playing in the streets, they're lobbing rocks at soldier's and dodging tear gas and bullets.
  Presenting both sides of the conflict, Israeli and Palestinians kids talk openly about the conflict. Each narrative is prefaced with a short historical or personal background description providing a point of reference for the sentiments expressed. Anger, despair, and fear ripple through the story where you can see the constant cycle of violence takes their tow. Ellis effectively remains absent, serving as chronicler for these ordinary kids in traumatic circumstances. The three wishes range from being a doctor to wishing the war to end to simply wanting to grow old (something which I never considered as a wish). Along with the text, there are black-and-white photos of the narrators and of scenes in Ramallah and elsewhere where the children are from are included. Three Wishes is a heavy read, but it's a really good presentation of a confusing, complicated historic struggle told within a palpable and perceptive format.

Rating: 4 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, Current Events

Reasons why it was banned/challenged: In 2006 in Ontario, Canada, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) urged public school boards to deny access to this children’s non-fiction book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to students in the elementary grades. The CJC said that Ellis had provided a flawed historical introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that some of the children in the book portrayed Israeli soldiers as brutal, expressed ethnic hatred and glorified suicide bombing. The effect on young student readers, the CJC said, was "toxic."
Update: Although the Ontario Library Association (OLA) had recommended Three Wishes to schools as part of its acclaimed Silver Birch reading program, and although schoolchildren were not required to read the book, at least five school boards in Ontario set restrictions on the text:

a) The District School Board of Niagara encouraged librarians to steer students in Grades 4–6 away from Three Wishes and to tell parents that their children had asked for the book.

b) The Greater Essex County District School Board restricted access to the book to students in Grade 7 or higher.

c) The Toronto District School Board restricted access to the book to students in Grade 7 or higher and withdrew the book from school library shelves.

d) The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board refused to stock the book and refused to provide copies to students who asked for it.

e) In 2005, before the CJC made its views about Three Wishes public, the York Regional District School Board also withdrew the book from the Silver Birch program.

Protests by the OLA, The Writers’ Union of Canada, PEN Canada and the Association of Canadian Publishers failed to persuade the school boards to repeal their restrictions. Source: Freedom to Read

Words of Caution: The objection to Three Wishes is clearly politically motivated. It's interesting that only one group presented in the book raised objection to the book. Yes, Israeli soldiers where depicted at times to be brutal, but how would you describe someone who demolished your house and kicked you out on the streets? The Palestinians people were also depicted as suicide bombers and terrorists, but there is no objection to this particular part of the book. Yes, attacks were discussed more passionately in some of the childrens' lives because they experienced the attack first hand-either they knew the person directly responsible or had loved ones who died. Without giving the situation context or understanding the other's thought process, it's easy to misconstrue their feelings. I'm not saying what the childrens are advocating is right, but that's what they think and perhaps this is the place where we can start to change hatred into peace and understanding.
  As a librarian and educator, I find it offensive to imply that anyone would blindly give this book to a child without providing them enough information about the topic. The book presents an opportunity for discussion, which what I personally think is the objective of writing this controversial book. There are not that many good books written on this topic for children and young adults. Furthermore, I'm not entirely sure what the CJC means by Elli's book not being accurate. You can't write a nonfiction book without real sources and authority. The book does have bibliographical references. I would definitely recommed this book for Grades 5 and up who've learned about this region in their classrooms.

If you like this book try: Samir and Yonatan by
Rummanah Aasi
  Pushing the Limits has been all around the blogosphere in the last few months. With a slew of book giveaways, author interviews, and other tidbits, it is hard to not hear about the book. I have to admit that I was skeptical about picking this book up, but after pasing a 50 page test read I eventually finished it and actually really liked it. As a note, this review is based on the advanced reader's copy provided by the publisher, Harlequin Teen, via Netgalley.

Description: Rendered a subject of gossip after a traumatic night that left her with terrible scars on her arms, Echo is dumped by her boyfriend and bonds with bad-boy Noah, whose tough attitude hides an understanding nature and difficult secrets.

Reviews: Pushing the Limits is a very unusual reading experience for me. There were many reasons why I normally would not like this book: an extreme overdose of issues (i.e. death, grief, foster care, mental illness, high school gossip, etc) along with a heavy current of teen angst, insta-attraction turned into love, a fairly predictable plot, and repetitive phrases that you would have fun counting on your fingers. Despite these flaws, I got sucked into Echo and Noah's story.
 McGarry sets up an intense contemporary romance that delves into the psychological difficulties of two teens who fall in love. Echo and Noah are desperately seeking normal, a goal they both feel is unattainable until they meet one another. Echo can't remember the night her mother apparently tried to kill her. She wears long sleeves and gloves to hide the awful scars left on her arms from that night. She has lost her brother and confidant in the Afghan war and lives with her obnoxious, controlling yet emotionally distant father and step-mother who once was her babysitter. I liked Echo right from the start. She has a good mix of flaws and strengths. She is smart but doesn't have the confidence to confront her once so-called friends after that terrible event. She knows what she doesn't want and what isn't good for her, but yet she dreams to be the girl that everyone once remembered.
   Like Echo, Noah is also a troubled teen. Noah lost his parents in a fire but saved his two younger brothers. All three brothers all are in foster care with different families, but Noah has been separated from his brothers and is determined to gain custody of them when he turns 18. Noah is a well known player whose only interactions with girls is regulated to the back seat of a car or a bed. Normally, I would find Noah appalling but I could tell right away that his bad-boy attitude is a front. He is terrified to make connections, build relationships because in his experience they only end in heartache. His character comes to life when he talks about his brothers and his determination to get full custody of them and to become once again a family. Noah reminded me a lot of Will from Good Will Hunting and that's maybe because I pictured him to be a younger version of Matt Damon.
 Echo and Noah meet and are instantly but secretly attracted to each other. Both see Mrs. Collins, an experienced psychologist, as their school counselor, and neither wants to trust her. I applaud McGarry for making Mrs. Collins a fully realized adult who knows what she is doing. She isn't a bumbling ditz nor a clueless adult trying to regain her lost teenage years by working in a high school. She is aware of Echo and Noah's problems. She realizes what makes Echo and Noah tick and slowly works with them even though both teens view her as a hindrance.
 Told in alternating chapters for both Echo and Noah, the story slowly uncovers the teens' secrets and builds to resolutions for both. I have to say that I was more invested in Noah's story and the scenes involving his brothers made me teary eyed several times. I also was very curious to find out what really happened on that terrible night with Echo. The pacing is done quite well and it moves quickly. If it wasn't for my busy work schedule, I could have easily read it in one sitting despite its 400 pages length. I would read recommend this book to readers who enjoy contemporary romance, but some may not like the issues weighing down the story. I think readers who give Echo and Noah a chance could be easily persuaded just like me. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong language, drug use, underage drinking, crude humor, and heavy make-out scenes. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf, Leaving Paradise by Simon Elkeles, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Rummanah Aasi
It's time for Manga Mondays! 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 love is constantly entangled with music, heartache, and happiness.

Description (from Goodreads): Nana K. tells herself that she's got her eye on the future and her life with Takumi, Trapnest's bassist, but she just can't let go of the past and her friendship with Nana and the rest of Blast--especially Nobu. And the tangle gets thicker when Nana K.'s wedding has to be postponed in favor of Nana and Ren's nuptials. Can Nana K. handle another delay in her happily-ever-after?

Review: Vol 12 has an unique chapter opening in any of first eleven volumes of this series. We are given a brief glimpse into the future where some of the main characters are present while some are notably absent. I'm now extremely curious to see how this future comes to be and what happened between our present time to the first chapter of this volume. In hat seems to be typical  Yazawa fashion, the tone is bittersweet and it carries throughout the entire volume.
  The last volume ends with the possiblity of a reunion between Nana K. and Blast. I was really excited to see how the whole Nobu and Nana K. meeting the first time after a very messy break-up turns out as well as have this great group of friends revert back to the good old days. Yazawa slows the pace for the actual meet-up and cleverly builds suspense as the time to meet comes closer. The band dons on clothes and wigs to conceal their identity while Nana K. is starting to have second thoughts about really attending. She in fact tells Nana O. while sobbing that she'd only come if Nobu isn't present. Watching Nobu's reaction to the news broke my heart. He's clearly not over Nana K., but is willing to do anything to make her happy. I think the main reason why Nana K. doesn't want to see Nobu is because of her illogical decision to stay with Takumi (who I hate with a passion). She's clearly not convinced she made the right choice nor am I. I keep hoping that something or someone will knock some sense into her and she realizes that she is going to ruin her life
  After the fireworks, the next big event in the volume is Nana O. accepting Ren's proposal for marriage. Unlike many engagement announcements which is filled with excitement, Nana O.'s engagement seems completely orchestrated by the music labels of both bands. Ren and Nana O. have to do a media conference, and fill out official marriage licenses in front of their respective managers. I thought it was interesting that Nana O. has the exact same engagment ring as Nana K. and I'm sure we're set up to see how both of these marriages match-up as the story progresses. Blast and Nana K. are happy for Nana O, but now Takumi always thinking as a businessman wants to delay his marriage so that Ren could marry first since their news will most likely increase the sales for both band's albums. 
  Volume 12 ends in a some what of a cliffhanger as a joint birthday party for Shin and Reira is underway. Nana K. has been interestingly invited by Reira not Takumi. I guess the fireworks was a precursor to the actual reunion between all memebers of Blast and Nana K.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong sexual content, crude humor, some drug references, and some language. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try:  Nana Vol 13 by Ai Yazawa
Rummanah Aasi

I'd like to thank Ms. Simon for taking the time to introduce her main character, Jamie, to my blog readers and to allow me to giveaway a copies of her book. Thanks to all of you who entered the giveaway! The winners, listed below, were selected by and confirmed. Congrats to Kimberly and B!
Rummanah Aasi
  While I love a good love story with a happy ending, there is a part of me that is drawn to the darker, subdued romance found in tragic love stories. There is something captivating and realistic about a love that could have been. Tiger Lily is an enthralling and haunting story of a girl who may be obscure in other retellings of Peter Pan, but now leaves an eternal mark on those who meet her in this novel.

Description (from the Publisher): Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn't believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.
Peter is unlike anyone she's ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland's inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she's always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.
    With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it's the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who's everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

Review: Thanks to Barrie's bittersweet classic tale of Peter Pan and the many different film adaptations of his book, we are always expecting Neverland to be a magical place full of fun, danger, and adventure. What is hidden behind the scenes is the mud that accompanies the white sandy beaches and gorgeous sunsets, the mosquitoes, and croc-infested swamps. Anderson's enchanting book, Tiger Lily, opens our eyes to every light and dark aspect of Neverland where the good guys don't always win and love does not conquer all.
  Though the novel is dark, it still retains its lyrical beauty through exquisite descriptions and searing honesty that goes straight to your heart, which our heroine, Tiger Lily, perfectly embodies. Neither a traditional girl associated with femininity nor a boy, Tiger Lily is cursed to never be accepted. It's not that no one cares for her, but they are puzzled as to which label to give her. She refuses to change herself even if it would make things easy on her. She has long battled bullying from the children and elders of her tribe of not quite being accepted. After one transgression too many, she is told she must marry Giant, a violent oaf who mistreats her whenever the chance presents itself. It is only natural that Tiger Lily would fall in love with a boy who reflects her emotions and have him be Peter Pan, someone who she must avoid at all cost.
  With a clever narration choice, Anderson has Tiger Lily's story told by Tinkerbell's point of view. In this rendition of Peter Pan, Tink is unable to speak but we can hear her thoughts. Having Tinkerbell as the narrator, we accomplish many things at once. Not only are we are able to hear it on a very personal level and get a close look at all the characters individually whilst having a wider scope than normal 1st person allows, but it's also a reflection on the tension and metaphor in this post-colonial fable. Before reading Tiger Lily, I was honestly at a lost of who she is and whether or not she is a real character in Barrie's story. I actually had to look her up and there's not that much information about her, except for the one line in the Disney's Peter Pan. I really think that's a reflection of the narrative choice. Tiger Lily also touches upon other important issues that brim to the surface such as wilderness and civilization, gender and power, time and change. These themes are discussed but they aren't forced or repetitive. Tiger Lily is not just an ordinary love story, which is something I extremely admire about it. 

  Like Tiger Lily, Peter is also hard to identify. While he may physically look young and characteristicly known for his reckless behavior and irresistible charm, there is a vulnerability to him too. He is lost, unsure of his purpose in Neverland and not suited to guide the Lost Boys though he refuses to give up the leadership role. I think one of the most touching scenes in Tiger Lily shows how the Lost Boys take care of a small infant, which really exemplify their concerns.
  The villains in this story are as complex as everyone else. Anderson offers new and interesting interpretations for familiar characters. James Hook is a sad, old man who came to Neverland on dreams to pursue eternal youth, but has failed in his mission. He has since then descends into alcoholism and his obsession with Peter Pan is actually a reflection of his own self hatred. Although Hook is the star villain, I couldn't help but become memorised by Smee who murders those he admires for their strength and beauty but then mourns their deaths. It's almost as if he's trying to absorb his victims goodness into himself.
  I initally gave Tiger Lily 4.5 stars when I finished reading the book, but after reflecting on it and writing this review I realized that's doing this book a diservice. Intoxicating, dangerous, and emotional, Tiger Lily's tale isn't easy to forget. Yes, it is melancholy and while it may not bring a happy contented sigh after we close the page, we have to remind our selves that Barrie's tale didn't have a happily ever after either and a happy ending would undermined all important character growth.  

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is a hint of sexual assault that takes place of the page. There is also a few disturbing images in the book. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Lament by Maggie Stiefvater, Ash by Malinda Lo, Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon
Rummanah Aasi
  Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne is a series that you should definitely check out if you are in the mood for a humorous, action-packed thrilled ride filled with mythological and paranormal creatures.  Many thanks to publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of the book so I can provide my readers with an honest review.

Description (from the publisher): Druid Atticus O'Sullivan hasn't stayed alive for more than two millennia without a fair bit of Celtic cunning. So when vengeful thunder gods come Norse by Southwest looking for payback, Atticus, with a little help from the Navajo trickster god Coyote, lets them think that they've chopped up his body in the Arizona desert. But the mischievous Coyote is not above a little sleight of paw, and Atticus soon finds that he's been duped into battling bloodthirsty desert shapeshifters called skinwalkers. Just when the Druid thinks he's got a handle on all the duplicity, betrayal comes from an unlikely source. If Atticus survives this time, he vows he won't be fooled again. Famous last words.

Review: Now that Atticus and company have complete one plot arc, we are now poised for the next one. We switch our focus from Norse mythology to Native Amerian mythology in Tricked, where Coyote as you might have guessed plays a very large plot of the book. I know some readers complain that Hearne veers off from his plot and does a crash course in mythology, but as someone who loves mythology I don't mind it a bit.
  Tricked is filled with a series of consequences after the major turning events that transpired in Hammered. The book is not as heavy on the gods or action, but strengthens the relationship between teacher, lovable dog/sidekick, and Druid apprentice. The humor as always is top notch and one of the best things that I love about this series.
 As the series progresses, we gain insight as to what it must feel like to live several millenias like Atticus. His vulnerability shows which is not to say makes him weak, but reminds us that his life isn't all fun and games. He too has suffered loss and is hesitant to move forward especially with building relationships to anyone in fear that he would lose them. I thought it was interesting that Atticus didn't always save the day, but his trainee and Oberon, his adorable dog, also pitch in and even help save Atticus's life.
 In an interview, which took place at the "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" read-along, Hearne mentioned that there is a start of a love interest for Atticus. There is a glimpse of this new budding relationship, but it is very subdued. I'm guessing as these characters grow, there may be more development in this aspect of the story. So readers looking for a full blown romance will be disappointed. As a fan of Atticus, I'm happy to know that the potential of romance is there. Overall, Tricked is a solid continuation of Iron Druid Chronicles and I'm looking forward to reading the next book, Trapped, very soon.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong violence, some disturbing scenes, and language. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Trapped (Iron Druid Chronicles #5) by Kevin Hearne, The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman,  Child of Fire by Harry Connollly
Rummanah Aasi
 I'm not a big biography or memoir reader, but I am attracted to stories that go beyond the every day occurences of ones life. Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat is an award winning and critically acclaim biography that takes place in the Middle East and is written for young adults. No matter how much I read about the Middle East, I always seem to learn more. The memoir is an enjoyable, insightful, and quick read that inspires hope. I think it should be read by young adults as well as adult readers.

Description: A memoir in which the author describes her childhood as a Palestinian refugee, discussing her family's experiences during and after the Six-Day War, and the freedom she felt at learning to read and write.

Review: With simple yet incredibly moving sentences, Barakat transports us from the comfort of our own homes to a hostile, foreign environment. It's the first night of the 1967 Six-Day War, which pitted Israel against the Arab nations of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. It ended with the Israeli occupation of the Sinai and Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank (Source: Six-Day War. (2012). In World History: The Modern Era. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from
  Three-year-old Ibtisam and her family are uprooted from their home in the middle of the night, where the toddler hunts frantically for her lost shoe, loses her family as they join the throng of anxious Palestinians fleeing Ramallah into Jordan. Our hearts race and we become extremely anxious until the family is reunited after several desperate hours. With moments of harshness, stark reality comes this beautifully written memoir of the author's childhood on the Israeli-occupied West Bank. We learn first hand about what it's like to live in the backdrop of war and cultural displacement. The family endures poverty, separations and frequent relocation. Despite these hardships life seems to go on, by turns surprising, funny, heartbreaking and rich with possibility.
  In an overcrowded Jordanian school-room housing refugees, Ibtisam discovers Alef, the first letter of the Arab alphabet, and thus creates an intimate relationship between reading and writing, which allows her to spread her wings and imagination. Barakat and her brothers are courageous and curious, but they are not perfect by any means. Like all children, they find themselves in troubles, have their mischief ways to assert their strong wills in defiance of the authorities that govern their lives. While reading Tasting the Sky, I never felt as if the book was politically motivated, but rather a coming of age autobiography that focuses on family, culture, and identity in the part of the world is almost always misunderstood.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing war images and allusion to attempted sexual assault. There is also a chapter that talks about male circumcision that is important to the culture. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: The Flag of Childhood: Poems From the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye, A Little Piece of Ground by Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples
Rummanah Aasi
  Can't get enough of the paranormal romance genre? Or are you wishing that this genre will disappear and never come back? Both lovers and loathers of teen paranormal romances will love the satricial take on the genre featured in Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan.

Description (from the publisher): Just because Mel lives in New Whitby, a city founded by vampires, doesn't mean she knows any of the blood-drinking undead personally. They stay in their part of town; she says in hers. Until the day a vampire shows up at her high school. Worse yet, her best friend, Cathy, seems to be falling in love with him. It's up to Mel to save Cathy from a mistake she might regret for all eternity! On top of trying to help Cathy (whether she wants it or not), Mel is investigating a mysterious disappearance for another friend and discovering the attractions of a certain vampire wannabe. Combine all this with a cranky vampire cop, a number of unlikely romantic entanglements, and the occasional zombie, and soon Mel is hip-deep in an adventure that is equal parts hilarious and touching.

Review: Typical paranormal romance heroines yearn to become immortal like their romantic counterparts, but Mel is not one of them. She loves being human and that's exactly how she would like it to be. While she might not exactly have her own life figured out, she is always available to help her best friends, Cathy and Anna, with their problems. Mel takes comfort in her routine. She even indulges in Cathy's passion for history, ruins and her romantic notions of anything old in general; that is, until Francis Duvarney, a vampire, enrolls in their high school.
  Vampires are not uncommon in Me's town. In fact they are out publicly and regarded as a legally tolerated minority while some may see them as a tourist attractions. Vampires can hold jobs such as teachers, police officiers, etc. Vampires don't bother Mel as long as they stick to their side of the community and are far away from her and her friends. Francis, with his mesmerizing good looks, old fashion manners, arrogance, and British accent is irresistible to an old soul like Cathy. Meanwhile, Anna sees Francis as an unbearable reminder of the collapse of her parents' marriage. Mel is stuck in the middle and determined to help Cathy and Anna. She has a set plan: prove that Francis is up to no good and she thinks she can take on the risk of venturing into the city's terrifying vampire district, the school's rat-infested basement, or even the arms of a cute guy who actually wants to become one of the dark ones.
  The highlight of Team Human is its humor, an affectionate jab of the paranormal romance genre while makes its own niche in the same genre. Humor is not an easy task to accomplish in writing, but it comes across so effortlessly and naturally in Team Human. I laughed out loud in several parts, particularly of the back and forth conversation about Francis between Cathy and Mel.  The prose is also sprinkled with clever allusions and snark, while highlighting some of the reasons why characters and readers are attracted to paranormal romance. In addition to the laughs, the book also celebrates love on a much broader scale as it features crushes and spouses, parents and children, brothers and sisters, families born and created, and, above all, friends tested and true. There is also a sad side of the story as Anna's family story unravels. I'm also extremely grateful to find an Asian American heroine who isn't regulated to the flat, secondary character but rather a headstrong protagonist that you can't help but root for. If you are looking for a story filled with heart, humor, and can stand the sight of vampires in yet another teen book, be sure to pick up Team Human.

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: Paranormalcy by Kirstein White, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, Vladmir Chronicles series by Heather Brewer, Fat Vampire by Adam Rex
Rummanah Aasi
It's Monday and time for Manga Mondays! 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. I'm about half way through Nana, the widely popular manga series, and am a bit sad to see it end.

Description (from back of the volume): With the tabloids still out for blood, Nana O. and her Blast bandmates move into a weird dorm building run by their agency. But they've barely got enough time to settle into their new digs because their crammed schedule has them running from music studio to TV interview. The stress of band life and dealing with a disintegrating Ren have started to take their toll on Nana O. If she collapses now, will she ever get back up?

Review: Volume 11 starts a second story arc and kicks off with the characters plagued by self doubt including and not limited to relationship doubts. Nana K. is kept to the background while Nana O. is uncomfortably on stage. As Blast begins to kick off their promotion of their first single, Nana O.'s panic attacks start to become more alarming. She is beginning to feel insecure of her singing as her music producer tells her that he can fix her flaws using computers and mixers. Added to that pressure is the distance of both Ren and Nana K., both of whom Nana O. has developed strong attachments to.
  Similarly, Ren seems to be tearing at the seams. He has lost his passion for Trapnest. I don't think he is starting to hate music, but rather he's getting burnt out from all the financial aspects of being in a band. He feels trapped by the band's responsiblity and yearns for the freedom to do what he really wants, which is to make music freely. He distance himself from Nana O. because he can't comfort her while he is also unsuccessfully dealing with his own band issues. He seems how musters up the courage to ask Nana O. to marry him, believing she is the only anchor that can hold him up. Like in typical manga fashion, we are still waiting for an answer from Nana O.
  Meanwhile Blast seems to be rolling with the punches with their music label. They are now living in a dorm run provided by Gaia Records. Their dorm is in a shady area next to a place called a "lover's quarter" building. Is it a residental building for porn stars? Prostitutes? I'm not really sure, but we are introduced to two characters, a porn star and the other a supposed small actress (or is she? what is she up to?), both seem to be interested in Nobu. Nobu, however, is still heart broken over Nana K. 

  After a few "downers" of an ending, Volume 11 ends with a hopefully note as Blast plans on reuniting with Nana K. at a fireworks festival.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong sexual content, crude humor, some drug references, and some language. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Nana Vol 12 by Ai Yazawa
Rummanah Aasi

I'd like to thank Ms. Cho and Jane Wesman Public Relations, Inc. for allowing me to introduce and giveaway a copy of their books to my readers. Thanks to all of you who entered the giveaways! The winners, listed below, were selected by and have been confirmed.

Winners: Alison from Alison Can Read and Heidi from Rainy Day Ramblings!

Winner: Heather from Buried in Books!

Rummanah Aasi
 I've been really curious about Hemlock ever since I found out it was about a murder mystery featuring werewolves. I've read a few good paranormal mysteries and hoped that I could add Hemlock to that last too. Despite a few troubled spots, I would add it to that list.

Description (from the Publisher): MacKenzie and Amy were best friends, until Amy was murdered. Not only is Mac being haunted by Amy in her dreams, an extremist group called the Trackers has come to Mac's hometown of Hemlock to track down Amy's suspected killer: a lone, white werewolf.

Review: Ever since a white werewolf killed Mackenzie's best friend, Amy, she's been having vivid and extremely disturbing nightmares. Amy's obscenely rich boyfriend, Jason, has gone off the deep end. He has completely shut down, succombed to alcohol as a way to get numb, and is continually seeking fights to alleive his aggresion. And their other friend, Kyle, who use to be carefree is now scarcely seen.
Mac, Kyle, Jason, and Amy were inseparable best friends, but after Amy's death they each feel guilty for the death of their best friend and hold themselves responsible. To make it up to Amy, they each are determined to find her killer though they might have different ideas to go about solving the murder mystery. For example, Jason turns to the Trackers, a furvent anti-werewolf vigilante group, who have come to Hemlock to round up anyone with Lupine Syndrome (which is how one transforms to a werewolf) to be permanently interned in a government-run "rehabilitation camp."  You would think that Mackenzie would fully throw her support behind the Trackers, however she knows that not all werewolves are bad in fact one adult affected by the disease cared for her while her dead-beat dad abandoned her. be The symbolism between werewolf hunt and war propaganda is made very clear.
  Despite likeable characters, attuned dialogues that doesn't scream teen-speak and pretty good set up for a murder mystery plot, the book seems to abandon its genre in favor of your typical paranormal romance. Mac is the center of a love triangle though she seems to favor one love interest over the other. For me, the romance was a bit lackluster. Apparently both Kyle and Jason have been in love with Mac for a very long time, but I feel like that came across. There was no tension between any of these characters as Mac was pretty adamant that both of these guys were friends. I have to say though I'm a Kyle girl. Jason just seemed to try too hard.
  While the murderer is identified through a series of events that lead to a predictable confrontation, I was really upset that nothing came of it. Normally when you read a murder mystery, the story arc completes with the culprit identified, trialed, and jailed but Hemlock leaves this door open along with other storylines to the next volume in the planned trilogy.
  For the most part, I would have to say that I enjoyed Hemlock, look forward to see what happens next, and would recommend it, but I would first see if your library has the book before purchasing it at a bookstore.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, disturbing and violent images, and crude humor. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison
Rummanah Aasi
 I had a blast in joining the Don't Fear the Reaper read-along where we discussed and read the first book in the Charley Davidson series called First Grave on the Right. I would like to once again thank the awesome blogging hostesses who arranged everything.

Description (from Goodreads): Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life...and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.

Review: The last few weeks of August are one of the most stressful work days for me as I prepare for school registration for the entire high school. It is those weeks that I come home emotionally, physically exhausted, and so wired up that I can't go to sleep in fears of all the wrong things that could happen the next day. I needed a good distraction to let me escape from my anxieties and place me into another world. Thankfully Charley and company came to my rescue and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
  First Grave on the Right straddles the line between the paranormal romance and urban fantasy genres as it contains elements of each. I would definitely recommend picking this book up if you're unsure if paranormal romances may be your cup of tea. The book is hilarious, at times steamy, and extremely fun. One of the reasons why this book clicked for me is because of its leading heroine, Charley Davidson.
  Charley Davidson is someone who I would love to have as a best friend. She is extremely witty, armed with snappy comebacks that I wish I could think of on the spot. She is loyal to her friends and genuinely cares for others. Unlike many heroes and heroines who are gifted with supernatural or paranormal abilities who often lament on their uncalled for responsibilities and their relentless monologue of "Why me?", Charley embraces being a Grim Reaper though she may not exactly know the extent of her powers. While fierce, Charley makes mistakes and gets her butt served back to her, but she is resilient, vulnerable, and human which makes her that much easier to relate to as a reader. Mrs. Jones said Charley is a mash between Lorelai Gilmore from Gilmore Girls and Buffy, which is exactly how I would describe her.
  The plot of First Grave on the Right is fairly straight forward. Charley works as a PI and consultant for the Albuquerque, N.Mex., police department in addition to her grim reaper stature. As the grim reaper, she escorts the recently departed "into the light." In her dreams, she's haunted by a "dark, seductive stranger," whose warmth suggests he's something "not dead." In the real world, Charley helps her APD detective uncle, Bob Davidson, investigate the fatal shootings of three lawyers who were representing a client accused of murder. When she’s not helping ghosts with the ultimate closure, Charley is trying to figure out who her sizzling-hot dream lover is. To add to that confusion a person from the past, Reyes Farrow, suddenly reappears at very strange times.
 The romance sizzles though I still can't make heads or tails of my feelings for Reyes. He's definitely a dark, tortured alpha male, but I would like to know more of him. I do, however, really like Garrett, Charley's coworker who unfortunately is the brunt of all of Charley's snarky remarks. While he may at first deserved some snarkiness, I think he's realized how stupid he is and should get a break. He is obviously hot for Charley though she's completely clueless about it.
 Of course the book is not without its flaws. I did find the first half with the lawyers murders a little boring. It's not until the mention of Reyes and the mystery of his character kicked in that I felt drawn into the book. I would have liked more interaction between Charley and her family as well as her best friend named Cookie. I could deal with these flaws and still found the book to be fun and entertaining. I'd definitely recommend this series to take on a vacation. I do plan on continuing the series and hope to catch up by October so I can read the fourth Charley Davidson book when it releases.  

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: Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson #2), Accidental Friends series by Dakota Cassidy, Peper Martin series by Casey Daniels, Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson
Rummanah Aasi
  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: When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the poor animals are left on their own to swim the chilly waters. Staggering onto a nearby island, they soon win over the wary townspeople with their kind, courageous ways. So well do the critters blend in that when the greedy circus owner returns to claim them, villagers of all species conspire to outsmart the bloated blowhard.

Review: With vibrant pictures and a rhyming text, Van Dusen brings a story based on true historical events to life. The first half of the book was surprisingly dark as it describes how the ship ran off course when an animal filled steamship en route to Boston is wrecked in a storm. The troupe of circus animals escapes bad treatment and disaster, finding its way to an island off the coast of Maine. The 1800s residents are surprised to find zebras eating their gardens and alligators lounging on woodpiles. Thankfully, the second half is much more optimistic when a tiger saves a toddler from a blazing shed and the animals and the humans work together to avoid the cruel circus owner who is on the hunt to reclaim his animals. It was also fun spotting the hiding animals on a few pages.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K-1st grade.

If you like this book try: Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson, Sometimes I like to Curl up in A Ball by Vicki Churchill

Description: In this variation of the old tale of the ant who gathers food for winter, and the grasshopper who does not prepare, there is an unexpected ending.

Review: At first I was a bit confused with this retelling of the famous Ant and Grasshopper Aesopp tale. Everything was following the traditional fable with the ant working dutifully and saving up for the cold winter while the carefree and irresponsible grasshopper seemed more at easy planing his fiddle. Suddenly there's a new twist as the Ant feels bad for Grasshopper and offer his assistance. The author is able to add another layer displaying empathy and friendship in this version but I thought it comes across a bit clumsy. Personally, it's the Grasshopper's fault for being stupid and irresponsible so Ant's unnecessary guilt shouldn't be taken advantage of but I do see him taking the higher road.  The watercolor-and-colored-pencil scenes show the two creatures first in their opposite worlds and then standing off. The use of colors also play upon the emotions of the characters. Overall, I thought this one was an okay read but not really remarkable.

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: Three Pebbles and a Song by Eileen Spinelli, Ant and Grasshopper by Graham Percy.

Description: A little boy named Clemente learns about his namesake, the great baseball player Roberto Clemente.

Review: Who says that biographies have to be boring? Perdomo's biographical account of the famous and well loved Puerto Rican baseball pioneer through witty text and illustrations that exude passion. The child narrator, whose father is president of the Roberto Clemente fan club, was named in honor of the great player, and little Clemente can tell you just about everything there is to know about the man, from his childhood to his staggering statistics. More important, the boy's mother reminds him, were Clemente's off-field heroics as a staunch family man, battler of racism, and humanitarian; he tragically died in a plane crash bringing relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Bits of Spanish are gracefully sprinkled into the narrative to give it a culture feel. Clemente! is more than your everyday biography and it might spark a new baseball fan in the little ones. I definitely learned a lot after reading this one.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended by Grades K and up.

If you like this book try: The Babe and I by David Adler or Me, Frida by Amy Novesky.
Rummanah Aasi
 I was really excited to read Unraveling after reading several glowing reviews on the book from fellow awesome bloggers Maja at The Nocturnal Library and Heidi at Rainy Day Ramblings. When I found a copy of the book on my library's shelf I couldn't wait to check it out and see what the fuss was about.

Description (from Goodreads): Two days before the start of her junior year, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit by a pickup truck and killed—as in blinding light, scenes of her life flashing before her, and then nothing. Except the next thing she knows, she’s opening her eyes to find Ben Michaels, a loner from her high school whom Janelle has never talked to, leaning over her. And even though it isn’t possible, Janelle knows—with every fiber of her being—that Ben has somehow brought her back to life.
   But her reincarnation, and Ben’s possible role in it, is only the first of the puzzles that Janelle must solve. While snooping in her FBI-agent father’s files for clues about her accident, she uncovers a clock that seems to be counting down to something—but to what? And when someone close to Janelle is killed, she can no longer deny what’s right in front of her: Everything that’s happened—the accident, the murder, the countdown clock, Ben’s sudden appearance in her life—points to the end of life as she knows it. And as the clock ticks down, she realizes that if she wants to put a stop to the end of the world, she’s going to need to uncover Ben’s secrets—and keep from falling in love with him in the process.

Review: Readers looking for a science fiction read that doesn't read as science fiction and wouldn't mind a romance in their story would most likely enjoy Elizabeth Norris's debut novel, Unraveling. Those who enjoy the science fiction genre with a capitol "S" and "F" will walk away disappointed. I, as a reader, fit in the latter category.
  The synopsis of Unraveling sounds great and it reminds me of one of my favorite science fiction TV shows, Roswell that blends teen angst, romance, and science fiction really well. The book opens with a terrific attention grabber as Janelle is brought back to life by loner Ben Michaels after being hit by a pickup truck two days before the beginning of her junior year. Unfortunately the book seems to come apart slowly after this event.
  Ben has not only given Janelle another shot at life, but a reason to stay alive, a feeling which Janelle hasn't felt in a really long time. Her mother has withdrawn into total bipolar uselessness. Her X-Files--obsessed, FBI-agent father is fabulous when he spends time with Janelle and her brother, but he works insane hours, so ultimately it is Janelle who holds the family together. For the most part, I liked Janelle. She is smart, a good student, and knows how to take care of herself and others. She is also plagued by a  dark traumatic incident in her past of a sexual nature that haunts her. While I understand her frustration and the burden of taking care of her family instead of just being an teen, her whining got old fast. I also didn't appreciate how she blamed her mother for her mental illness. It is not as if her mother chose the disease or wants to have her maniac ups and downs. Despite this issue which really bothered me, Janelle was a pretty likable heroine.
  Ben Michaels is also your average nice guy/love interest. He is one of the good guys who is sensitive, caring, saves Janelle on multiple occasions, and has the trademark of floppy hair which he is constantly running his hands through and the obligatory crooked smile (has anyone else noticed that every love interest in YA has the same physical features and habits?). He, of course, has dark secrets and hides his intelligence under a stoner/loser persona. Ben was an okay guy, but I couldn't help but crinkle my noise whenever he appeared because Janelle constantly talked about how he smelled like gasoline, a scent which I don't like at all. 
   I didn't mind the generic Janelle and Ben, but the mystery and science fiction aspect is what made me lose interest really quickly. As I mentioned, Janelle's father is a top notch FBI agent who likes X-files (hint hint) and apparently leaves extremely top secret files with easy passwords lying around home for his teenage-sleuth wannabe daughter to hack into without any problems. Really? I had a tough time buying that. things get a little better when Janelle learns that people are turning up melted--including the person in the car that hit her. And there's mention of a countdown to an event that could destroy the Earth. Could there be a connection? I waited and waited to read the reasoning about the burnt bodies and Ben's ability but when the real reason came I couldn't help but think "Why?" Ben's healing ability is given a ludicrously vague explanation, and the potential Earth-ending event is made only barely more credible.
  Needless to say that the book's plotting isn't its best strong suit. While Janelle and Ben's relationship teeters on the instant love and the "I've always loved you but you had no idea" see-saw, I thought they were cute together and for the most part complemented one another. I hate to say it but I definitely felt that the romance got in the way of the book's urgency of the world is going to end. Every time Janelle worried about her relationship with Ben, I wanted to shake her and say, "Remember the countdown? Yeah, the world is going to end in x amount of days. Can we skip the melodrama? Thanks."
  Unraveling is definitely for readers who can suspend disbelief much longer than I can and who isn't nit-picky on having logical answers or explanations. There are some cool action scenes and some sweet romantic moments in the book, but it didn't sustain me while I read. The book does wrap up in the end without any major cliffhangers, but it does leave room for a companion book which according to Goodreads will be out Summer 2013. I won't be continuing the journey. Clearly, Unraveling wasn't the right book for me but if you're still unsure of whether or not to pick it up be sure to check the much more positive reviews above.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking, allusions to sexual content, and strong violence. Recommended for Grades 8 and up. 

If you like this book try: Unbreakable by Elizabeth Norris (Unraveling #2) expected release date June 2013, Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci, Firestorm by David Klass  
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