Rummanah Aasi
  After reading some heavy books, I needed something light to read. I picked up The She-Hulk Diaries, which I thought would nicely blend chick lit with superheroes. For the most part, the book succeeds and I had a fun time reading it.

Description: Saying there are two sides to Jennifer Walters's personality is an understatement. When she hasn't morphed into a 650-pound, crime-fighting, hard-partying superhero, she's a single lawyer trying to get her act together. Hilarious and action-packed, The She-Hulk Diaries tells her story, as she juggles her intense legal career by day with battling villains and saving the world by night. Maybe bad guys will stop trying to destroy the planet so she can have a real social life and even meet a guy who isn't trying to take over the universe.

Review: The She-Hulk Diaries a light book that you can enjoy when you want to put your brain in rest mode. There are no large epiphanies or flowery descriptions in the book, but rather you will have a fun time as if you were hanging out with friends. I really enjoyed the humorous writing style. It was informal, friendly, and read quickly since it was composed mainly in a diary format. It didn't take me long to snicker and giggle while reading this book, especially with the back-and-forth banter between Jen and her best friend, Dahlia. There are many "geek culture" references that I spotted and enjoyed, from Skyrim to LARPing, and the science-themed lyrics penned for Jen's ex-lover's band Fringe Theory are outrageously fun.
  The characters for the most part are dimensional, diverse (culturally and racially, too!), relatable, and likable. I loved Jen, Dahlia, and Genoa from the start, and appreciated the depth of the other characters. She-Hulk aka Shulky was also a delight in that she also had her own personality and came to life on the pages. The villain, though, was very easy to identify and didn't take me by surprise.
  While I appreciated the fact that Jen is a smart heroine and more than capable of fighting her own battles, in the court room and as She-Hulk, I was bothered by the fact that majority of her personal goals and much of the novel is focused on finding a PFLOML (That's "Potential Future Love of My Life") or mooning over an ex who's unexpectedly back in the picture. Though I like a romance (this one features a very hilarious and awkward romance) it felt forced in this story and it didn't quite move beyond infatuation/lust for me.
  If you're looking for a fun book to help cleanse out your genre palate, give The She-Hulk Diaries a chance. It won't necessarily blow you away, but it will leave a smile on your face. 

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni, The Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones, Bridget Jone's Diary series by Helen Fielding
Rummanah Aasi
 I've never been much of a fan of talking animals in books, but every once in a while I make an exception. The 2013 Newbery Award winner, The One and Only Ivan, has such terrific characters that it almost made me forget they were animals!

Description: Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
  Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Review: Inspired by a true story, The One and Only Ivan is a haunting and bittersweet tale of friendship told from the perspective of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who has been confined to a small "domain" of concrete, metal, and glass for 27 years at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Joining Ivan are Stella, an aging female elephant, and Bob, a feisty stray dog.
  While other animals perform, Ivan makes art, watches TV, and offers melancholy assessments of their situation. I felt terrible for Ivan and his "home" was claustrophobic. Ivan doesn't mince words about his environment and his dislike of the animal keeper who doesn't really care for the animals, especially when Stella dies from neglect. Ivan's bleak perspective changes with the arrival of the extremely cute Ruby, an inquisitive baby elephant. Ivan wants to uphold Stella's dying wish of helping Ruby escape from their confinement and be free.
  The chapters of the book are brief and read much like free-verse poetry. The extra line space between the paragraphs emphasis the contrast between Ivan and humans communicate. Ivan's words of sparse but direct while the humans of the story use much more words to express what they mean. Applegate gives animals a personality of their own and effortlessly anthropomorphize them until the reader forgets that they are animals. Although Ivan's role in the events leading to their rescue reads as too human, readers will be left rethinking our relationship to animals as well as the power of friendship and courage.

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

If you like this book try: Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm a bit behind in some of my YA reviews. Below are my reviews of The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman and Crash into You by Katie McGarry. Please note that these reviews are based on the advanced copies provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

Description: They called it the killing day. Twelve people dead, all in the space of a few hours. Five murderers: neighbors, relatives, friends. All of them so normal. All of them seemingly harmless. All of them now dead by their own hand . . . except one. And that one has no answers to offer the shattered town. She doesn't even know why she killed—or whether she'll do it again.
 Something is waking in the sleepy town of Oleander's, Kansas—something dark and hungry that lives in the flat earth and the open sky, in the vengeful hearts of upstanding citizens. As the town begins its descent into blood and madness, five survivors of the killing day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself. Jule, the outsider at war with the world; West, the golden boy at war with himself; Daniel, desperate for a different life; Cass, who's not sure she deserves a life at all; and Ellie, who believes in sacrifice, fate, and in evil. Ellie, who always goes too far. They have nothing in common. They have nothing left to lose. And they have no way out. Which means they have no choice but to stand and fight, to face the darkness in their town—and in themselves.

Review: I was completely out of my reading comfort zone when I was reading The Waking Dark. I'm not a big contemporary horror fan. I prefer Gothic atmosphere with the potential threat looming above the characters rather than see a person ripped to shreds with blood gushing for all to see. I've debated on picking up The Waking Dark for quite sometime but after reading some fabulous reviews, I got intrigued by the plot and thought I would give it a shot.
  The Waking Dark is a book for someone who has a sensitive stomach for violence and gore. Wasserman holds nothing back by bringing horrific situations to the citizens of this sleepy town in Kansas from a senseless mass shooting in a convenience store to a teen killing a baby. While I was appalled and felt uneasy by the violence in the novel, I was interested in the introspective horrors that the teens of this story deal with unfit parents with mental instability and homophobia, just to name a few, and this is what prevented me from not finishing the story. I liked reading from multiple perspectives, but there were just too many in this book without any smooth transitions between the two which made it a bit difficult keeping track of who is who. The book lost its steam for me when we are given the reason behind the violent acts that took place in the town. I felt the twist had a M. Night Shyamalan-ish ending that was suppose to be clever but it came off as a bit silly. Still I would recommend this book to Stephen King fans for both teens and adults.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: Strong violence, including attempted rape, and strong language. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Under the Dome by Stephen King, Scowler by Daniel Kraus

Description: The girl with straight As, designer clothes and the perfect life-that's who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private-school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy parents and overbearing brothers...and she's just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker-a guy she has no business even talking to. But when the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can't get him out of her mind. Isaiah has secrets, too. About where he lives, and how he really feels about Rachel. The last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a rich girl who wants to slum it on the south side for kicks-no matter how angelic she might look. But when their shared love of street racing puts both their lives in jeopardy, they have six weeks to come up with a way out. Six weeks to discover just how far they'll go to save each other.

Review: I've adored Isaiah from the moment he appeared in Pushing Limits and have been waiting for him to have his happy ending since his heart was broken in Dare You To. I was really looking forward to reading Crash into You and hoped that the melodrama was turned down a bit.
  The plot of Crash into You is pretty much the same as the previous novels in this series, focusing on the slices of life, coming of age of gritty, urban teens in the foster care who find love and an identity. Isaiah is the bad boy, with a heart of gold, who has a broken past as much as a broken present. His mother wants back in his life and he is staying with Noah to avoid his foster family. Monetary funds are running low to nothing so Isaiah participates in illegal street racing in order to cover rent for the apartment and food.
  On the other side of the spectrum is Rachel, the good, affluent girl caught in he middle of a controlling family. She suffers debilitating panic attacks, which she hides from everyone.  Everyone, including herself, perceives her as weak when she really wants to do her own thing, and step out of the shadow of her deceased sister who went too soon from cancer.
  I thought it was a bit too convenient how Isaiah and Rachel met. Their relationship, particularly from Isaiah's side, happened too quickly for my taste. I found it strange that at one moment Isaiah is still reeling from his unrequited feelings for Beth and then the next heartbeat he was thinking about Rachel. I would have preferred if we got see Isaiah and Rachel grow as characters separately and then come together. I did like the couple enough and their chemistry in places was very cute. I loved how they bonded and shared a passion about cars.
  Unfortunately, there is not much character growth as I would have liked for Isaiah. I didn't really learn anything new about him that I didn't know from the previous books. It took me some time to warm up to Rachel as her story was frustrating because I constantly wanted her to find her footing, step up to the plate, and start saying no to all the people asking her not only to lie in the dimensions of her family, but also lie to herself. I was glad when she did grow a backbone.
  As for the side characters, I really liked Abby and Ethan and would love to know more about them. I think they would make an interesting couple. I'm not entirely sure about West, Rachel's playboy brother, but I'm willing to know him beyond his reputation and will follow his story just to see what happens next.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

If you like this book try: Take Me On by Katie McGarry (will be released in May 2014), Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller, Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally
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. Volume 19 is filled with over the top silliness but it also shows character development in Tsukasa, a character that I don't particularly love but holds my curiosity.

Description: When Tsukushi is left homeless, she has no choice but to become a maid in the mansion of her one-and-off boyfriend, Tsukasa. Not only that, but she becomes his own personal maid! Her duties include the dreaded task of waking him up in the morning, a job normally left to three people. Then Tsukasa orders her to come to his room unseen at midnight, causing Tsukushi to panic. Will this pull bring them closer together or push them further apart?

Review: Romance takes the stage with this volume of Boys Over Flowers. Tsukushi and Tsukasa are in a very awkward situation. Now that Tsukushi's home is destroyed, she finds solace in Tsukasa's mansion but she refuses to be a burden on his family. She insists to work for the shelter and food, but she is not prepared to take on the role the senior housekeeper gives her: to be Tsukasa's personal maid!
  Interestingly enough Tsukasa does not want Tsukushi as his maid and puts up a fight to give Tsukushi another job. Tsukasa doesn't want Tsukushi to be treated as a servant and this is a real change in his behavior and attitude. The old Tsukasa we've met in the first installments of this manga would have relished the thought of bossing Tsukushi to do his bidding, seizing every opportunity to show his power and superiority. The new Tsukasa is less focused on stature and wants to show Tsukushi is that he is more than the average stuck up, spoiled rich boy and that is capable of being a serious relationship.
  It takes Tsukushi a while to notice the change in Tsukasa's behavior. She always expects the worst of him, but she does admit that he is really trying to change. She even likes the sensitive and playful Tsukasa, but will he remain this way? And if he is still persistent of wanting to be in a relationship with him, will she say yes?

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and crude humor. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol 20 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo


 Thank you all for participating in the Counting to D giveaway. Congrats to Melissa from Books and Things on winning the ARC to Kate Scott's Counting to D! Melissa, I sent you an email. Please reply with your contact information by the end of the day so I can ship the book to you. 
Rummanah Aasi
  Jojo Moyes is quickly becoming of the many authors that is constantly checked out at my library. Although she has been writing for quite some time, just recently she has appeared in the spotlight in the United States. I think what draws readers to her books are the wonderful relationships that she creates between her characters and the extra care she gives to her female protagonists. Though I didn't enjoy The Girl You Left Behind as much as I did Me Before You, I thought it was a decent read.

Description: In 1916, French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything - her family, reputation and life - in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.
  Nearly a century later and Sophie's portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting's dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened.

Review: The title of Moyes' latest book is the name of a fictional painting that serves as catalyst in linking two loves stories, one set in occupied France during World War I, the other in 21st-century London. In occupied France, Sophie is helping the family while her husband, an artist who studied with Matisse, is off fighting. I liked Sophie right away and admired her tenacity in standing up to the German occupiers and to her suspicious neighbors who believe she is a German sympathizer. Sophie's vibrant personality draws the interest of the new German kommandant in the village. It turns out that the German kommandant is also an art lover and notices the portrait of Sophie, drawn by her husband, which captures her essence and her husband's adoration. Arranging to dine regularly at Sophie's inn with his men, the German kommandant begins a cat-and-mouse courtship trying to lure Sophie in by providing her more food for her family and security, but Sophie resists. In what could be described as emotional blackmail, Sophie learns that her husband is being held in a particularly harsh "reprisal" camp and she must decide what will sacrifice for his freedom: "The Girl You Left Behind" or herself.
  Jumping to 2006, we are faced with a different moral puzzle also entangled in a relationship. Liv is a young widow who has been struggling financially and emotionally since her husband David's sudden death. In an attempt to move on, she meets Paul in a bar after her purse is stolen. The two have chemistry and he is the first man she's been drawn to since she was widowed. They spend time together and their relationship blooms but things turn tumultuous when Paul notices that the "Girl You Left Behind" portrait on Liv's wall and rushes away with no explanation. There is no doubt that Paul is as smitten as Liv, but his career is finding and returning stolen art to the rightful owners specifically Liv's portrait is what threatens them apart. Liv and Paul soon find themselves on opposite sides of a legal battle.
  My issue with this book lies with the under-developed and the off-pace of the story lines. While I found Sophie's story heartbreaking in the depictions of a squalled occupied France and was drawn to the details of this story, I found it to be slow. I couldn't tell if the German kommandant was actually drawn to Sophie as a person or how she was represented in the portrait. I would have liked to have a bit more moments shared between Sophie and her husband which would give the portrait a more prominent role.
 Interestingly enough I found Liv's story line had a better pace and I was able to support the romance between Liv and Paul, who were adorable together, the legal battle went on much longer than needed. I grew restless towards the end and found myself skimming some sections just to see what would happen to Liv and Paul's relationship.
  If you are looking for a book that has a bit more emotional intensity, I would suggest reading Moyes' Me Before You instead of this book. If you're interested in art and World War I history without having your heart ripped out, you might enjoy this one a bit more.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusion to rape, and sexual situations. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, The Eight by Katherine Neville
Rummanah Aasi
 I'm so excited to start reading this year's Monarch Award list this year. Many thanks to the librarians and teachers who composed this list! You can find this year's Master List for the Monarch Award here. Coincidentally, the first two books on this review are also featured on the list.

Description: Illustrations that resemble a silent film tell the story of a plump mama goose who is invited to dinner by a hungry fox while her babies try to warn her that it is a bad idea.

Review:  A picture book by one of the rock stars of children's picture books is guaranteed to be crowd pleasing. Willems's That Is Not a Good Idea! doesn't disappoint. The book is a homage to the silent movies as it uses its conventions—exaggerated facial expressions, telling body language, and, of course, blacked-out dialogue pages cut into the story. The setup is classic featuring a cunning and sly fox trying to entrap an innocent naïf duck. The three-piece-suited, top-hatted, grinning fox catches the eye of a sweet, old babushka-wearing duck. Dinner! he thinks and asks if she’d like to go for a stroll in the deep, dark forest to his kitchen, where he’s making a pot of soup that’s missing only one last ingredient. At each step of the way, a chorus comprised of an increasingly frantic litter of chicks warns "That is really, really, really, really not a good idea!" By the time the story reaches its peak, the suspense increases and you can practically hear the pot boiling. You can bet kids will be squirming with tense glee, primed for a classic Willems gotcha! that turns the whole thing on its head for the poor, unsuspecting fox. That Is Not a Good Idea! is a quick read that kids will want to read over and over again. It's also a great pick for a group storytime.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Outfoxing the fox by Friederike Rave, Hattie and the fox by Mem Fox

Description: Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: We quit!
   Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown. Blue needs a break from coloring all that water, while Pink just wants to be used. Green has no complaints, but Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking to each other. What is Duncan to do?

Review: The Day the Crayons Quit had me chuckling right from the front page. Duncan has one simple desire: to draw with his crayons. When he reaches for his box he doesn't find his favorite crayons, but instead of crayons, he finds a stack of letters listing the crayons' demands in this humorous tale. Some examples include: an overworked red crayon who has been laboring even on holidays and doesn't get a break. An exhausted grey who is burnt out from coloring expansive spaces (elephants, rhinos and whales) and poor black wants to be recognized as a color-in color. This anthropomorphized union of crayons amicably requests workplace changes in hand-lettered writing, explaining their work stoppage to a surprised Duncan. With a little creativity and a lot of color, Duncan saves the day! Jeffers's illustrations are playful and energetic, done in a combination of pencil, paint and crayon. The drawings are loose and lively, resembling just how a young Duncan would draw. With few lines, he makes his characters effectively emote and capture the crayons' conundrum. The Day the Crayons Quit is a comical and fresh look at crayons and color. Young readers may not see their ordinary box of crayons the same again after reading this book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades PreK-1

If you like this book try: A day with no crayons by Elizabeth Rusch, Monsters love colors by Mike Austin

Description: A wordless picture book about the inspiring friendship that develops between a bluebird and a young boy.

Review: Bluebird is an abstract picture book, rich with symbolism and themes that I think would be best suited for middle to upper elementary readers. Younger readers could easily read this wordless story but I'm not sure if they would understand the emotional impact that the author wants his readers to have by the end. Readers follow a bluebird as it flies past a New York City skyline filled with cones, pyramids, and rectangular prisms. Vertical lines are punctuated with stylized circular trees, heads, iris shots, clocks, etc. The sky and bird are indeed blue, but the lonely boy with the large, round head is dark gray; shades of gray comprise much of his world. Readers and the bluebird observes how the little boy is bullied and mocked as he enters school. Afterward, the bluebird befriends the lonely boy by playing hide-and-seek, share a cookie, and sail a toy boat together. Attentive readers will catch the subtle deeper layer of the book as conflict arises when they enter Central Park, which is ominously and purposely dark, and bullies attempt to steal the boat. When one of them hurls a stick, the bird blocks it and falls, lifeless. As the child cradles his friend, the background brightens and a brilliantly colored flock lifts the pair into the clouds, where the creature fades from view as the boy waves good-bye. Cynical readers will wonder what was the point of the bluebird's friendship if it only dies in the end? I, myself, thought this book beautifully provides a platform to talk about aggression and bullying with young students as well as the importance in teaching students the importance of empathy and hope.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2-5

If you like this book try: One by Kathryn Otoshi
Rummanah Aasi
  There are a plethora of books written about World War II and much of them tell the same exact story. Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire takes a look into the female soldiers of World War II and brings their stories to life by focusing on friendship, loyalty, and defining what it means to be brave.

Description: Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.
 When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
  As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
Review: Code Name Verity is historical fiction at its best from a seemingly unreliable narrator, a strong friendship and wonderful historical detail at its core. When the story begins, Julia is an unnamed prisoner, who is formerly a wireless operator for the British and held captive in France by a seemingly sadistic Nazi interrogator. In exchange for small bits of freedom, she "sold her soul" and is giving pieces of code in exchange for her life. While most readers can predict the outcome of Julia, we do have flickers of hope that she will be freed as we see small glimpses of humanity of her enemies.
  Wein excels in making a war story feel human. Interspersed with the story of Julia's fierce fight for survival is a different tale: that of how she came to be in France and of her friendship with Maddie Brodatt, a British civilian pilot. The friendship between these two women are unlikely as they are from two different social classes and it happens very quickly. As Julia tells their story, she also reveals small bits of her attempts at survival and escape. In the second half of the book, Maddie narrates, telling of her desperate attempts to rescue her friend and revealing both the truth of what happened to each of them, and the truth of Julia's bravery.
 Code Name Verity is a hard book to review in that I personally liked it and can appreciate the complex layers of the story and its characters, however, I didn't love it. The military jargon and the abrupt insertion of the author's voice made me lose my focus and concentration of the book and distanced myself emotionally. I'm almost embarrassed to say that I didn't cry at all while reading this book when I know others have. Perhaps I should have tried listening this one on audiobook instead of reading it and my opinions might have changed. Nonetheless I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction and especially learning about World War II. I think it would make a wonderful bookclub book and discussion.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Scenes of torture, war violence, and language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, Daniel half human by David Chotjewitz, Soldier X by Don Wulffson,

Description: While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that's in store for her?

Review: Rose Under Fire is a companion to Code Name Verity and could easily be read as a standalone. Our protagonist this time is an American female pilot named Rose Justice, who ferries Allied planes from England to Paris. The first quarter of the book, which begins in 1944, describes Rose’s work, both its dangers and its highs. We also get to meet characters from Code Name Verity, especially the fiery Maddie. Unlike the other soldiers who know first hand how horrific war is, Rosie is very naive and idealistic. Her perspective and her flowery descriptions change drastically when she is captured and quickly shipped off to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp in Northern Germany. The horror of the camp, with its medical experimentation on Polish women who called themselves rabbits is ably captured and gut wrenching. Yet, along with the misery, Wein also reveals the humanity that can surface, even in the worst of circumstances. Unlike some readers, I didn't have a problem with the diary format though it does get a bit clunky in places. I thought this one was much more introspective and personal than Code Name Verity because we are only following Rose. I also appreciated the fact that Rose isn't a perfect character but frail and may not always do the right thing in dire situations. Though the tension is different than in Code Name Verity, it is still palpable and highly readable.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Torture scenes, strong war violence, and some language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, Flygirl by Sherri Smith
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. A new romance story arc is slowly forming in the next few volumes of Boys Over Flowers albeit with some obstacles and awkward moments.

Description: When the Makino family's finances hit rock bottom yet again, they decide to move to the countryside so Tsukushi's father can earn a living as a fisherman. Poor Tsukushi is left behind in their apartment to try her hand at independent living. A few guests stop by, one most unwelcome--Tsukasa's mother! Tsukushi stands up to the domineering woman, effectively declaring war. Then a housewarming gift from the F4 wreaks havoc on the apartment, leaving Tsukushi homeless! Will anyone take her in?!

Review: Volume 18 was a fun read full of awkward moments for Tsukushi and Tsukasa. Tsukushi's family is once again in financial peril. Her parents have decided that they and Tsukushi's younger brother will move to a fishing village in order for Tsukushi's father to get a job. When Tsukushi insists she joins her family, her parents refuse and tell her that she must continue her schooling and indirectly keep Tsukasa interested in her. It's frustrating how Tsukushi's parents view Tsukasa as their panacea for their financial troubles without even caring how he treats their daughter, but I like how Tsukushi refuses to let anyone solve her own problems.
  Meanwhile Kaede, Tsukasa's domineering mother has found out that Tsukasa's engagement is broken and visits Tsukushi to remind her that she is worthless and no good for Tsukasa. Tsukushi is a moment full of rage, accepts whatever challenges that Kaede wants to give her and indirectly gives Tsukasa hope that she does care for him in more of a love interest way.
  On a high for standing up to a new bully, Tsukushi spends a few blissful days making over her parents house. When the F4 visit her, they are shocked to see how "simple" Tsukushi lives and orders her brand new furniture as a homecoming gift, which is incredibly thoughtful except the furniture is so heavy that it breaks the floors of her house making it unlivable. Now Tsukushi is homeless and running out of choices until one very unlikely solution arises: live in Tsukasa's house. Will Tsukushi accept the invitation? And under what terms is she to live in the Tsukasa's mansion? Find out in the next volume of Boys over Flowers!  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is mild language in this volume. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol 19 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
Rummanah Aasi

Blackout (T.O.E. Trilogy, Book 2)
Release Date: March 19, 2014
Centrinian Publishing Ltd

Summary from Goodreads: What was shall no longer be. Was was not shall now become.

Despite having the protection of the talisman and the Legion, a reforming force of warrior angels and elementals, guarding his every move, things are not looking good for Charlie Blake. Tasked with the responsibility of saving mankind, finding the four diamonds to restore the talisman is all he can think of, but when his prophetic visions start to invade his reality and he suddenly can’t distinguish the dream world from the real world, the pending extinction of mankind becomes the least of his problems. Everyone assumes Charlie’s dormant powers are activating, until he starts showing symptoms of a deadly disease.

With his nemesis, Gaddis, threatening the lives of his loved ones, he faces a race against time to locate Raphael’s Stone, the air diamond, before an imminent pandemic destroys civilization. As he ventures into dangerous lands once again, he unearths shocking revelations about his past life that forces him to question his allegiance. With no one to turn to for answers, he can’t help but wonder if his purpose is truly to save mankind.

Excerpt from Blackout:

Charlie’s eyes shifted back and forth between Derkein and the knife. Derkein had a look in his eyes he didn’t recognise. This wasn’t the man he had moved in with. He wasn’t the man who was soon to become his adoptive father. This was an impostor.

‘My father always said everything happened for a reason,’ Derkein said, ‘but he never met you. What good is immortality if I’m stuck in one place?’ He stopped and dropped his arm by his side, the knife slipping out of his grasp and landing with a clunking noise on the marble floor.

Charlie stopped, leaving a few inches between him and Derkein, who was standing with a guarded stance. Charlie couldn’t help but wonder who was more afraid of whom.

‘You’ve left me to rot in this god forsaken world for the rest of my life, so forgive me if I seem a tad ungrateful,’ Derkein went on in a flat tone. His blank expression left no room for interpretation. ‘If I have to rot in hell, I don’t see why I should have to suffer alone.’

Charlie didn’t see it coming. Derkein lunged at him, grabbed him by the arms, and thrust him backwards. Charlie waited for the collision of his back with the conservatory door, but the impact didn’t occur. Instead, he found himself falling and landing hard on his back in darkness. The only source of light came from the kitchen ahead of him where Derkein was standing.

‘Why do you look so surprised?’ Derkein asked. ‘What did you expect was going to happen when you resurrected me, or did I not deserve the common courtesy of a conscious thought? I’m not like you. I’m not like them. Tell me, Charlie. What am I, exactly?’

Charlie rose up into a sitting position. He didn’t have the answers Derkein was seeking. ‘I’m sorry.’ The words barely escaped his mouth.

‘Yeah. Me too.’ In the blink of an eye, Derkein and the kitchen vanished, leaving Charlie in complete darkness. He sat in the empty silence, waiting. It wasn’t until he heard his rapid breathing that he realised panic had overcome him. Charlie scampered to his feet and charged ahead of him, ramming into the hard, rough texture of a brick wall.

‘Derkein!’ he yelled, pounding the wall with his fists. ‘Derkein, please –’


Charlie felt a crawling sensation move down his spine as a shrill voice echoed around him. With his palms braced against the wall, he remained still as the voice slowly faded. He held his breath as silence invaded the space once again. When the voice didn’t return, he made a move to the right, running his hand over the wall as he searched for the door.

Within seconds, he felt a tingle of cold air on the back of his neck that made him jump, and he released his breath. He spun around, shifting his head left and right, but his eyes couldn’t penetrate the darkness that surrounded him.

He reached up towards his neck and froze. The rhythm of his heart accelerated as he moved his hand over his chest in search of the familiar touch of the two silver rings he had become so accustomed to over the past five years, but the chain wasn’t around his neck. Although he couldn’t see anything, he suddenly felt as though the darkness was closing in on him, compressing his lungs as if attempting to stifle him.

A spotlight appeared a few feet in front of him, and his heart stopped. He gulped down the lump forming in his throat as he stared at the figure submerged in the light, dangling about two feet off the ground.

About the author Alecia Stone

Alecia Stone is a full-time writer who spends most of her days with her head in a book. She loves anything and everything paranormal - the stranger the better. Her fascination with all things supernatural sparked her obsession with books, particularly young adult fantasy fiction, which she has never grown out of. She graduated with a BA in Film & TV and has worked in television for a short period of time before branching out into storytelling.

When she's not writing, she enjoys watching movies and travelling. Blackout is the sequel to the Amazon bestselling YA fantasy novel Talisman Of El. She currently lives in the UK with her family.

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Rummanah Aasi

 I am happy to be part of the Getting a Life, Even if You're Dead Blog Tour! Today author Beth Watson is here to discuss her favorite memories of Paris, France. If you are in the mood for a paranormal romance, check out the book Getting a Life Even if You're Dead and be sure to fill out the rafflecopter below this post!

My Most Memorable Moments in Paris by Beth Watson

My love affair with Paris began long before I indulged in my first pain au chocolat at a sidewalk café, or strolled along the Seine at sunset. Growing up, I studied French in high school and college, watched French movies, and lived vicariously through books set in Paris. I never dreamed one day I’d be writing books set there, including, Getting a Life, Even If You’re Dead. I first visited Paris during college when I studied at the Sorbonne University. The following are my top five most memorable moments from my first visit to the City of Love.

1) Climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I climbed the 669 steps to the Eiffel Tower’s second platform, enabling me to enjoy the view along the way. I then took an elevator to the top where I headed straight for a phone rather than admiring the view. I called my mom, so she could share the experience with me. After our conversation, I spent an hour gazing out at all the sites I would visit during my upcoming summer.

2) Saying bonjour to my French pen pal. My high school French teacher hooked me up with my pen friend, Richard. We exchanged numerous letters and carried on a few phone conversations--mostly in English--at Christmas time. My first week in Paris, Richard traveled down from Normandy to meet me. I still remember sitting on the steps of my dorm building, watching him walk over from the metro, marveling at the fact that I had a French friend. My friend Glorianne and I spent a weekend in Normandy visiting his family.

3) Speaking French with the locals. Before meeting Richard, I had my first conversation with a French native. I had completed two years of college French, yet after a shopkeeper assisted me I replied, s’il vous plaît (please), rather than merci (thank you). We both laughed about it. They appreciate you making the effort to speak French, even if you don’t always get the words right.

4) Attending Swan Lake. Having grown up in a small town, I didn’t have access to the performing arts scene. I remember attending Swan Lake at the Opéra Bastille--a modern opera house--and thinking, Wow, I’m at a ballet in Paris. The only thing that could have made the experience even more memorable would have been if the ballet had been performed at the Palais Garnier, which opened in 1875, and was the inspiration for The Phantom of the Opera. That is my favorite building in Paris.

5) Meeting the Mona Lisa. The first time I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, I was shocked at how small the painting is for being the most famous painting in history. I was fortunate that at the time I could get close enough to view every paint stroke. Now, a wooden railing prevents you from getting within five feet of her. I visited every major and obscure art museum that summer, which started my love affair with art. You will often find art featured in my books.

About the Author

When Beth isn’t traveling for her job as an event planner, or tracing her ancestry roots through Ireland, she’s at home in Wisconsin working on her next novel. She enjoys bouncing ideas off her husband Mark, and her cats Quigley, Frankie, and Sammy. Connect with Beth: Website, Twitter, Goodreads,and  Facebook 

About the Book

If you died, could you live with your regrets?

When Kendra’s mother drags her to a creepy Paris cemetery for work, the last person Kendra expects to see is Amber, her best friend who moved away three years earlier. Amber helped Kendra through a dark time, and Amber’s departure was just one more loss for Kendra. Amber was Kendra’s confidante but it turns out Amber failed to share her biggest secret: she was dead.

Amber never planned to disclose her true identity to Kendra, but a boy’s life is at stake. Amber is suddenly unable to connect with troubled kids and she needs Kendra to console Pierrot, a despondent boy who holds the answers to the suspicious death of his brother, Loic. Although Loic needs closure to cross over, the truth about his death might impact everyone’s future, including Kendra’s, since she has fallen for Pierrot, the mysterious boy and murder suspect.

But dead or alive, there is no going back.

Getting a Life, Even if You're Dead is available for only $0.99 during the blog tour. For your chance to win giftcards from Amazon and Barnes and Nobles, enter the giveaway below. 


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Rummanah Aasi
  There are many great graphic novels for younger children. Cammuso's Knights of the Lunch Table series has been highly recommended by readers and I thought to give the series a shot. I really enjoyed the first book in the series.

Description: Artie King's hopes for easing into life at Camelot Middle School are dashed when he opens mysterious locker filled with useful, wonderful items and is pulled into a do-or-die dodgeball game that pits Artie and his friends against the school's toughest kids.

Review: Cammuso's Knights of the Lunch Table is a fun graphic novel series that I think many young readers would enjoy. Artie King’s first day at his new middle school is terrible: his nasty older sister ensures he misses the bus; a couple of geeky kids are friendly and become his new friends, but the school bullies smell a new victim. Not to mention that the principal is evil and is just looking for ways to hand out detentions and dire warnings left and right behind her horn-rimmed glasses.
 The action and humor starts rolling when Artie boasts that he’s a dodgeball pro and can beat the "Horde" the school's nastiest bullies and undefeated dodgeball team—except Artie stinks at dodgeball.
  Kids familiar with King Arthur legends will like finding all the clues nicely sprinkled in the graphic novel such as the mysterious locker, a helpful stranger named Merlyn (who turns out to be Artie’s science teacher and guidance counselor). Kids unfamiliar with the Arthurian legend will also enjoy the classic tale of the underdog achieving the impossible. Cammuso’s text is witty and his illustrated panels are energetic and attention grabbing. I also appreciated that that his cast of characters are multi-ethnic. I will definitely be reading more of this series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2-4.

If you like this book try: Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce, the Amelia Rules series by Jimmy Gownley
Rummanah Aasi
 I'm a big fan of the Bard and I am always excited to read a new retelling or adaptation of his plays. Both Anyone But You and Still-Starcrossed touch upon the famous play, Romeo and Juliet. While Anyone But You attempts to retell the famous play, Still Starcrossed is a more interested about the play's aftermath.

Description: These violent delights have violent ends...
Gigi Caputo is fed up. A vicious act of vandalism has dealt another blow to her family's proud pizza heritage, and the Montes--owners of a rival Italian restaurant--are clearly to blame. The hostility goes far beyond bragging rights for best pizza in Chicago. The Montes have been bent on destroying Cap's for four generations. Even if it means putting herself in harm's way, Gigi's determined to get to the bottom of the feud. Instead, in a secret encounter with Roman Monte, the very boy whose relatives have brought her family such grief, she finds both danger and love at first sight. If the daughter and son of these two warring families fall for each other, can it be anything but a recipe for disaster? Slowly, Gigi and Roman learn that their story is fatefully linked to the summer of 1933, when two twelve-year-olds, Benny and Nick, hop the turnstile at the Chicago World's Fair. The most stunning wonder of the fair is Stella, who innocently causes a lasting rift between the two boyhood.

Review: Anything But You is a clunky retelling of Romeo and Juliet that left me wanting more. The story is set Chicago's Little Italy and finds Gigi (nickname for Julietta) Caputo and Roman Monte falling hard for each other despite the generations-old feud between their families. Though the Montes' latest prank threatens to destroy her family's restaurant business and send them packing to Peoria, Gigi can't deny the power of first love. Together, she and Roman set out to uncover the truth behind the war and to heal old wounds so that they can be together.
  The book has a promising premise, but the novel never successfully rises to meet it. The story line of Gigi and Roman lacks chemistry and romance. I didn't believe these characters were so head over heels for each other at all. It only came across as a crush and the characters of Gigi and Roman lack depth. They actually spend little time with each other and their part of the story moves too quickly. I actually found myself skimming their parts and being sucked into the families history of how the feud began. I would rather have preferred if the authors stuck to the families history rather than switching back to present day.
 Alternating between the two story lines and time lines were not very smooth and as a reader it took me a long time to distinguish the two. The book has all of the requisite people and parts, but it ultimately lacks a heart and soul. It has many cliches and the story, while happy compared to the original, feels contrived. Readers looking for a great romance will be disappointed here and would be better off skipping this one.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: Some language and some crude humor. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Romeo's Ex by Lisa Fiedler, Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper

Description: Romeo and Juliet are gone. Will love live on? Despite the glooming peace that's settled on Verona after the recent tragedy, Montagues and Capulets are brawling in the streets. Faced with more bloody battles, Prince Escalus concludes that the only way to truly marry the fortunes of these two families is to literally marry them together. Everyone is skeptical, but none more so than the pair selected, for the most eligible Montague bachelor is Benvolio, Romeo's best friend, still anguished by the loss of his companions, and the chosen Capulet maid is Juliet's older cousin Rosaline, the girl Romeo first loved and whose refusal of Romeo's affection paved the way for bloodshed. Contrary to their late cousins, there's no love lost between Benvolio and Rosaline, yet they forge a bond to end the renewed feud not only to escape their forced betrothal, but to save their lives and the city of Verona itself.

Review: To my delight and surprise, I really enjoyed this fast-paced, captivating, and fascinating homage to the Bard's best-loved plays. Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo, and Juliet have all perished by the sword or by poison, and yet the houses of Capulet and Montague still rage against each other. Prince Escalus, desperate for peace in his city, determines that the only way to end the bloodshed is for a marriage to take place between the households. Rosaline, niece to Capulet, who once rejected Romeo, and Benvolio, nephew to Lord Montague, are the chosen for the marriage but they have no interested in marrying each other and resolve to end the violence without approaching the altar.
  While Still Star-Crossed uses the same characters, themes, and the back-drop of the original, Taub manages to forge her own story filled with intrigue and romance. Rosalind and Benevolio who are minor characters (especially Rosalind who is only mentioned by Shakespeare) is fully developed as three dimensional characters. I loved watching these two characters bicker with each other about their disgust of the prospect of marriage to each other and slowly develop friendship and mutual admiration turned to love. The progression of their romance was nicely developed and I was thrilled to not find insta-romance.
  The secondary characters in the story are quite good too. Escalus and Friar Lawrence, though less important, are believably complex. The period details of costume and custom greatly enhance the story's realism, and the quick-moving action will keep readers both alert and entranced. Taub does use the Shakespearean language of "thou" and "wherefore" are sprinkled throughout the book might annoy some but I actually liked the anachronistic way the narrative was written. As an added bonus, you will find other Shakespeare characters from other plays star in guest roles. Still Star-Crossed is one of the best Shakespearean retelling I've read and I highly recommend it as a stand alone read or serving as a back-door introduction to the original. I really look forward to reading what Taub writes next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some violence, crude sexual humor, and a scene of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine, Romeo x Juliet Ombinus by COM (and the anime of the same title is great too!), Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors
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. In Volume 17 of Boys Over Flowers, romance is clearly in the air albeit with some obstacles and awkward moments.

Description: Tsukushi and Tsukasa get some quiet time together after they escape the mess of his birthday party, but this quiet can't last for long. Tsukasa's feelings for Tsukushi have at long last been made clear, but Tsukushi is more confused than ever about her feelings about him. Meanwhile, Tsukasa's domineering mother, Kaede, is brewing up plans to keep them apart forever, and she might have found just the thing to do it when she introduces him to his new fiancee!

Review: Love triangles in mangas can be a strange thing. Some love triangles are like novels that take the entire series to figure out which pair will win and others featured in Boys Over Flowers are thankfully short-lived and entertaining. In an effort to split up Tsukushi and Tsukasa, Kaede, Tsukasa's over bearing mother, arranges Tsukasa's marriage without any warning and suddenly he has a fiancee named Shigeru.
  Shigeru is a stark contrast to Tsukushi. She immediately picks up her responsibilities to be a fiancee much to Tsukasa's chagrin. Tsukasa has eyes firmly set upon Tsukushi but since she is not fighting for him, he tries to forget her and dates Shigeru though it's very clear that the relationship is only one-sided. It was hard to see Shigeru try so hard to get Tsukasa's attention and I felt bad for her.
  Volume 17 kicks off the romance of the series which has been playing quietly in the background. For the first time Tsukasa feels awful for his bad temper and apologizes, which is a huge step for him. Similarly Tsukushi finally feels a void and is actually jealous of the time that Shigeru is spending with Tsukasa. The romance between Tsukushi and Tsukasa have been uneven and at many times one-sided, however, I definitely see a shift to mutual attraction as Tsuskasa continues to grow as a character. By the end of this volume, misunderstandings are cleared and a new path is cleared for a potential Tsukasa and Tsukushi relationship, but will they take it?

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, crude humor, and implied nudity. Recommended for teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol 18 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
Rummanah Aasi
  I've had a terrible run of adult reads lately. Books that had lots of potential for being a great read have crashed and burned. I'm afraid I am in a reading slump with these reads. Does anyone have any great adult fiction or even nonfiction reads that you can't put down and have been recommending nonstop? If so, please let me know!

Description: Pride and Prejudice was only half the story...
 In this irresistibly imagined below stairs answer to Pride and Prejudice,the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Review: I had very high expectations for Longbourn. It was the coveted ARC at ALA this spent summer and has received several starred reviews from journals such as Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. Unfortunately, for me, I couldn't match my enthusiasm for this book like the other reviewers.
  Longbourn is marketed as Pride and Prejudice meets Downton Abbey story. While the Bennets do appear in the story, their lives unfold in the background much like the grown ups in the Peanuts comics and when one of the rare times they do appear it is to berate the servants. The light, comedic tone of Pride and Prejudice quickly turns to somber and bleak with very little bright moments. The spotlight of Longbourn is firmly fixed on the small servant staff that the Bennets employ and their own personal plights and herein lies the fatal flaw of the novel for me.
  While the novel is well written, Baker fails to make the servants interesting characters and come alive. Baker spends more time in creating horrible situations for her characters and ways that they could suffer than actually fleshing them out. While I did sympathize with a few, I wasn't attached to them as I should be and I really didn't care all that much for what was happening to the servants. I was also taken aback on how negatively the Bennets are portrayed. While I understand there has to be a difference stated between the employer and employee, there was a bitterness that is usually associated with a wealthier employer. If you recall, the Bennets are only a middle class family and they only employ a very small serving staff. I had a hard time believing that progressive thinkers such as Mr. Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett would rebuff their servants so severely.
  Readers who haven't read Pride and Prejudice will not feel lost with this story as it follows a skeletal outline of the original novel's plot, however, I think they will fail to realize the impact of the scandalous ways of the smarmy Mr. Wickham. Due to my disinterest, I thought the pacing was quite slow but perhaps someone who is more invested into the story would not find fault with the pacing. Would I recommend Longbourn? Well, that's a difficult question to answer. If you're looking for a happy spin off of Austen's classic, look somewhere. If you enjoy melodrama and are okay with lack luster characters, give Longbourn a try.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are inferences of sexual situations and attempted rape. There is are also some graphic war violence descriptions along with punishment of slaves. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: An assembly such as this by Pamela Aidan, The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon,

Rummanah Aasi
  I'm excited to find out what the Monarch Reader Choice Awards for this year will be! I've thoroughly enjoyed reading and discovering new picture books. It's a common misconception that picture books are meant to be only simple stories that help children begin to learn to read, but the picture books that I've read and reviewed below all have powerful and deep messages that adults can benefit.

Description: When a huge black dog appears outside the Hope family home, each member of the household sees it and hides. Only Small, the youngest Hope, has the courage to face the black dog, who might not be as frightening as everyone else thinks.

Review: Black Dog is an adorable read about the timeless fable about facing your own fears. Small Hope, the youngest member of her family, ventures outdoors one snowy morning to confront a monstrous black dog that's been terrifying her parents and siblings. From each of her siblings and from her parents, we get an exaggerated interpretation of the dog. For the parents, the dog is more like a feral wolf and to the older children is it a dog that is bigger than a tank. In a striking and absorbing spread, Pinfold paints a tiny Small Hope gazing up at a dog the size of Mount Rushmore, its black snout looming malevolently. "Golly, you ARE big!" she says, unafraid. "What are you doing here, you guffin?" She takes off across the snowy ground with a rhyming taunt: "You can't follow where I go,/ unless you shrink, or don't you know?" The dog pursues Small Hope from spread to spread, shrinking as he goes, and the pair arrives home to find the rest of the family comically armed for battle with kitchen utensils. Pinfold's illustrations are crammed with quirky detail, which is not a bad thing. I spent more time looking at the illustrations because they were so elegant. The story stays focused while the pacing is strong, allowing for suspense but doesn't become too dark for younger readers. Better yet Small Hope is as charming and adorable as she is brave.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

Description: One magpie, lots of stuff, and a few friendly mice
show us that less is more. This innovative and spare picture book asks the question: When is MORE more than enough? Can a team of well-intentioned mice save their friend from hoarding too much stuff?

Review: Are you a hoarder? Can't get rid of anything? Then perhaps you need to take a few minutes and read Springman's More. A very simple, spare yet important tale about how is more. A bird has a bad habit of collecting things and bring it to its nest. The bird nest becomes to full and heavy, the weight causing it to collapse unless the bird remove things. With the help of a few friendly mice, the bird reduces its clutter and remains safely in his nest. Springman’s text is intentionally and effectively comprised almost entirely of quantity words such as lots, plenty, and much too much. The illustrations by Lies' are gorgeous and realistic, comprised of acrylic-paint and colored-pencil illustrations which are particularly impressive in detailed close-ups of the animals. One powerful image depicts the bird's greedy, sparkling eye reflected back in a mirror he’s acquired. For adults, it could be a message about consumerism and materialism, but I think kids will notice the bird's habit of amassing stuff.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Magpie's Treasures by Kate Slater

Description: A man drives his truck up to a cliff's edge. Unable to go any further, he opens the back door of his truck and a flock of birds flies out, but, as the man soon discovers, a small timid bird remains. Surprised and delighted, the man acts kindly towards the bird and an intimacy develops. After lunch, the man tries to show the bird that he should fly off and join his friends. The man's comic attempt at flight deepens the encounter between these two very different creatures. Soon the bird flies off and the man drives away, but in a surprise twist the bird and his friends return, and in a starkly lyrical moment we see them all experience something entirely new.

Review: In Zullo's Little Bird little things are noticed and important thanks to the spare, rustic cartoons in bright colors which unfolds our story. A truck driver, dressed in simple overalls, delivers a wealth of glorious birds from an enormous red van into the golden wild. All of the birds depart except for one tiny blackbird who refuses to leave. The trucker thinks the tiny bird can't fly so he offers flight coaching. The bird takes small steps, soaring in the sky for limited amounts of time and finally departs but returns with his original companions to pursue the van and lift the driver into the skies, where he, too, soon takes flight to change the world. Little Bird is quirky and while the art is simplistic, I didn't find it as appealing as the message behind the story. I'm not sure if the younger readers would understand the message so adults might need to provide context to the story, but it would be a good opportunity to talk about how one person can change the world.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

If you like this book try: If I never forever endeavor by Holly Meade, Every little thing adapted by Cedella Marley
Rummanah Aasi
  I've been very selective of author's and publisher's request for book reviews mainly because of time constraints. When I was given the blurb to Counting D, I knew I couldn't pass the opportunity to read it and I'm so glad that I took a chance on this book. I learned a lot from Counting D and I think readers will too.

Description: The kids at Sam’s school never knew if they should make fun of her for being too smart or too dumb. That’s what it means to be dyslexic, smart, and illiterate. Sam is sick of it. So when her mom gets a job in a faraway city, Sam decides not to tell anyone about her little illiteracy problem. Without her paradox of a reputation, she falls in with a new group of highly competitive friends who call themselves the Brain Trust. When she meets Nate, her charming valedictorian lab partner, she declares her new reality perfect. But in order to keep it that way, she has to keep her learning disability a secret. The books are stacked against her and so are the lies. Sam’s got to get the grades, get the guy, and get it straight—without being able to read.

Review: Counting to D is a refreshingly original realistic fiction novel for YA. I've read many YA books and I can only count on my hands on which feature a character is who struggling with learning. Many of us have heard of learning "disabilities", but I would strongly urge all of us to take out the word disability and replace it with the world difference. It is not a matter that the person can't complete the task of reading, which is the case of our narrator Sam, but she does it differently than the majority of the kids in her class.
    Sam is a compelling character and I loved her from the start. She's fifteen and counts by prime numbers or exponents of seven in her head when she's stressed, hides her dyslexia in fear of being labeled dumb by relying on her astonishing audio-graphic memory. Sam breaks the stereotype of those who those typically labeled with learning difference: she is not lazy, is passionate about learning, and is the top student in her class. She is the only sophomore who is taking four AP classes and doing wonderfully in all of them. Sam is also an ordinary teen who is trying to be comfortable in her own skin and tries to make new friends for the first time when her mom gets a job in Oregon and they move miles away from her two best friends. She even falls in love for the first time which I thought was adorable and was thrilled to find that the romance didn't overshadow her self realization.
  I learned a lot about dyslexia in Counting to D. I still believed in the old myth that dyslexia had to do with the order of the letters switched around. Sam explains that it is "the inability to comprehend the symbolic representation of sound" and "that makes it hard for my ears and my eyes to communicate." I never knew that and I didn't feel like explanations such as this one were info dumped. I actually began looking for more information The book also mentions some famous people who had dyslexia like Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Disney and Agatha Christie, all of whom I never knew had dyslexia. The issue is handled with sensitivity and seriousness.
  Counting to D is a quick, enjoyable, and enlightening read about self discovery. It reminds all of us to look beyond the labels we place upon ourselves as well as others and questions are commonly held definition of "being smart".

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Rules by Cynthia Lord, Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin, The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe


Since I enjoyed Counting to D so much. I would like to giveaway my ARC copy of the book to one (1) lucky reader! To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment with your name and an email address so I can contact you if you win. The winner will be drawn randomly via The giveaway is open to US and Canada only and will end Friday, February 21st, 2014 at 10 PM EST and the winner will be announced on Monday, February 24th
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm very happy to be part of the Counting to D blog tour! Today I have author Kate Scott discussing the stigma of learning disabilities and how we can change our preconceived notions. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my review of Counting to D. 

Enjoying the View from Holland by By Kate Scott

  The parent of a disabled child once explained her situation like planning for a trip. For nine months, she read all the guidebooks, studied the language, and made plans for the trip of a lifetime. She was headed to Italy, and it was going to be great. Italy was a wonderful place, and she was excited. Finally, after all her preparation, she arrived, instead, in Holland.
    There is nothing wrong with Holland. It’s also a great place. No worse than Italy, just different. But none of the guidebooks she read in preparation were of any help, so she had to reassess her situation. She had to learn a new language. It was overwhelming and a bit scary at first, but she soon fell in love with Holland and couldn’t imagine why she’d ever dreamed of traveling to Italy.
    I think this is what most parents of disabled children experience. My own mother, the parent of two dyslexic children, recounted this story a few times when I was a child. I’ve never been to Italy, and I have a hard time understanding why so many people keep dissing the Dutch.
   In addition to writing a book with a dyslexic main character, I am also dyslexic myself. Because dyslexia is a genetic condition, I have more dyslexic than non-dyslexic relatives. I’ve heard plenty of negative statistics that make dyslexia sound like a dismal condition. But every single dyslexic I know (and there are many) is well educated and highly successful. None of them would consider themselves to be disabled at all. Different, sure, but sometimes, different is good.
   Samantha Wilson, the main character in my YA novel, Counting to D, is a very bright dyslexic teenager. Experience has taught her that it is often far easier to maneuver life without reading than it is to actually read. Samantha has lots of coping skills that enable her to not only survive, but excel. This concept surprises many non-dyslexic people, but it’s obvious to every dyslexic I’ve ever met.
   There are some things that are very difficult for most dyslexics. For example, I endured almost 500 hours of private tutoring (paid for by my parents, not the public school system) in order to achieve a second grade reading level. My spelling is still atrocious, and I have no expectation of it ever improving. If you wanted to, you could call me disabled.
   Thankfully, I also have a very good memory. I am naturally gifted in math and science. I’m highly creative and have a very active imagination. I have excellent spatial awareness and pattern recognition abilities. I’m a licensed engineer, a small business owner, and a published author. In short, I’m your typical, everyday, run-of-the mill dyslexic.
 The term “thinking outside the box” is a cliché used to describe unique thinking. Every advancement in human history, every scientific discovery, every artistic masterpiece, every new idea has come from an individual looking at the world in a new way—“thinking outside the box.” Dyslexics are born outside the box. Personally, I’ve never figured out how to get inside the darn thing, nor do I want to.
   I’m sure Italy is a wonderful place. Lots of people love it there. But me, I’m happy here in Holland. And from what I can tell, being able to spell is totally overrated.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Kate. Curious to know more about Counting to D? Check out the book description below:

The kids at Sam’s school never knew if they should make fun of her for being too smart or too dumb. That’s what it means to be dyslexic, smart, and illiterate. Sam is sick of it. So when her mom gets a job in a faraway city, Sam decides not to tell anyone about her little illiteracy problem. Without her paradox of a reputation, she falls in with a new group of highly competitive friends who call themselves the Brain Trust. When she meets Nate, her charming valedictorian lab partner, she declares her new reality perfect. But in order to keep it that way, she has to keep her learning disability a secret. The books are stacked against her and so are the lies. Sam’s got to get the grades, get the guy, and get it straight—without being able to read.
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. In Volume 16 of Boys Over Flowers, Tsukushi can no longer ignore how Tsukasa feels about her, but she return his feelings?

Description: Tsukasa's 18th birthday doesn't go smoothly at all! Tsukushi is introduced to Kaede, Tsukasa's mother, by way of falling over a table and causing a scene. Kaede tells her to get out, but Tsukasa defends her by declaring that she is precious to him. Thus begins a three-sided war between the three most headstrong people you've ever seen! Tsukushi and Tsukasa get away for a while and spend some time on Tsukasa's boat, but they can't hide from Kaede forever.

Review: Volume 16 is filled with melodrama and hilarity. Tsukushi does not know how to make a great first impression. After being covered with food on her dress after her disastrous fall, she meets Tsukasa's mother, Kaede, a woman even the high society of Japan is afraid of. Kaede doesn't hold back her disgust about Tsukushi and doesn't miss a beat to insult and humiliate Tsukushi about her family's poor financial status. To everyone's shock, Tsukasa stands up for Tsukushi and in a loud, clear voice declares that he loves Tsukushi and that she is very dear to him. They leave abruptly for Tsukasa's yacht and spend sometime together while Kaede spends her time in concocting a plan to get rid of Tsukushi.
  While at the Tsukasa's yacht, Tsukushi finds herself confused yet again about her feelings about Tsukasa. How can he in one minute be the biggest jerk she ever met and in the next minute be incredibly sweet? It's the same question that I have as a reader. It's very easy to write Tsukasa off as a jerk, but he does have some great moments where you see a positive side of him and now you're confused as to what to think of him. I do like the ambiguity of his character and I can definitely understand why someone like Tsukushi who has a good head on her shoulders is confused about Tsukasa.
  As this volume closes, we get to see how truly manipulative Kaede can be in getting what she wants. She not only bribes Tsukushi's family to prevent her from spending time to Tsukasa but also brings another character into what could be the manga series's second love triangle! Will Tsukushi's feelings for Tsukasa become clearer? Will Kaede's plan of separating Tsukushi and Tsukasa be successful? We'll find out in the next volume!

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some crude humor and minor language. Recommended for teens and up.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol 17 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
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