Rummanah Aasi
  Hope is a Ferris Wheel is about a girl named Star who is unique, determined, and spunky who maintains her optimism and hope despite the large obstacles that she has to overcome. Please note this is a review of the advanced reader's copy of the book provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

Description: Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson’s poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future.

Review: Star Mackie is a quirky fifth-grader overflowing with hope. She really wants to make friends, but that seems like an impossible goal to achieve at her new school since she is teased for living in a pink trailer and having strangely layered blue hair. Her goth sister and closest ally, Winter, fuels Star’s hope of one day connecting with the father she has yet to meet.
  Inspired by her Winter, Star starts a school club in order to make friends, and along the way she develops a fascination with Emily Dickinson’s poetry and declares that to be the club’s focus. Star does everything she can to make the club work, and slowly her club develops an audience. When Star learns the shocking truth about her own family, Dickinson’s poetry helps her understand her crazy world and accept who she is.
  I had a hard time getting into Star's story. The plot meandered quite a bit and I was wondering where the story was going after finishing the first of the book. Star is adorable and delightful narrator, but quite often the secondary characters, particularly those who are vocal at her after school club steal the spotlight. I like how the inclusion of poetry added depth to the story, but Star sometimes come across as too naive as readers grasp her epiphanies two steps before she does.I also liked how Star's family's financial and domestic situations are not commonly found in most children books and are handled sensitively. Though Star faces many obstacles, the author never resolves to cloak her story into sadness but always shows Star being optimistic. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of teen pregnancy in the novel, but it is not explicit in detail. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Almost Home by Joan Bauer, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, Because of Win-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Rummanah Aasi
 Love Letters to the Dead is a book that may not be enjoyed by everyone due to its different, stylistic structure. The book is entirely comprised of letters written to dead celebrities. Personally, I never felt I had a close connection to celebrities so the letters in this book didn't really work for me, but I still felt the emotions the book's protagonist, Laurel, was trying to portray. Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy I received from the publisher via Netgalley. Love Letters to the Dead will be pushed on May 5th, 2014 by Farrar Straus Giroux.

Description: It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was—lovely and amazing and deeply flawed—can she begin to discover her own path.

Review: Laurel loved and admired her older sister May. Everything Laurel knows about high school, she learned from her older sister, who tragically died at a very young age. Laurel has to start freshman year on her own. After getting an assignment to write to someone who's died in her English class, Laurel doesn't hand her letter in but keeps going. The book is structured as a journal in letters to famous dead celebrities such as Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, Judy Garland, and others. Laurel uses the letters to talk about both the past and the unfolding present, confide in her own mixed feelings of anger, hurt, and grief, as well as focusing on the friends she makes, who are also struggling with the problems that played a role in May's life and death.
 Although Dellaria writes beautifully, the letters at first seem a fresh and unique idea, I felt it got repetitive.  Laurel's pervading melancholy feels one-note at times, and the letter format can get wearying, especially when Laurel tells the recipients about their own careers, the epistolary equivalent of expository dialogue. Actually after the fifth or sixth letter, it didn't really matter to whom Laurel addressed her letters to and the letters seemed more like journal entries which dragged the book in the middle for me. I also felt that the secondary characters weren't fleshed out as I would like them to be. There is a second story line featuring a same sex romance, while nicely handled didn't really hold relevance to the story.
  While the book has a strong ending and features an event that is both shocking and heartbreaking as we get to relive the night Amy died, I felt it was too rushed. Overall, Laurel and her friends' struggles and hard-won successes are poignant, and seeing Laurel begin to forgive herself and May is extremely moving. Fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower will be drawn to this frank story about loss, grief, and forgiveness.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and underage drinking and drug use throughout the novel as well as allusions to sexual abuse and attempted rape. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobosky, Without Tess by Marcella Pixley, All rivers flow to the sea by Alison McGhee
Rummanah Aasi
 Stephanie Kuehn's Charm and Strange won the William C. Morris Award for the Best Debut YA Novel last year. I haven't heard much of this book before it won the award, but I wanted to check it out and see what I missed. Charm and Strange may appear to be a slim and quick read, but it packs an emotional punch that will you leave you emotionally bruised for quite some time. 

Description: No one really knows who Andrew Winston Winters is. Least of all himself. He is part Win, a lonely teenager exiled to a remote boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts the whole world out, no matter the cost, because his darkest fear is of himself. But he's also part Drew, the angry boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who, one fateful summer, was part of something so terrible it came close to destroying him.

Review: Charm and Strange is a taut, dark, and disturbing psychological tale that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go until the shocking ending. Andrew Winston Winters is not okay. He is estranged from his family, withdrawn from his boarding-school classmates, and a little too curious about the ravaged body of a hiker just discovered in the nearby Vermont woods. The book has two story lines that slowly and shockingly converge into one. In present-tense narration, Win says he is a werewolf, condemned to change at the full moon and endanger others. Readers are left to wonder if he really did kill the hiker and whether or not to believe in Win's animal like impulses. Alternating past-tense chapters flash back to Win’s childhood as volatile Drew. Normally I would have a hard time with the narration switching back and forth in time, but the author masterfully focuses her to capture the minute details of one brief but life-changing moment: a single night during an outdoor party for Win; a visit to his grandparents during his tenth summer for Drew. The different narrations allows the reader to ponder what happened to Win/Drew that made them act this way. As the novel progresses, the carefully constructed boundaries between Win’s and Drew’s separate and distinct personas and memories begin to blur. My mind went to the dark place as I guessed at the terrible reality behind the unreliable narratives before Kuehn’s final reveal in hopes that I would be wrong, but the truth Andrew has been hiding from his classmates, readers, and—most importantly—himself is shattering, heartbreaking and gut wrenching. Kuehn tackles brutal issues of sexual and psychological abuse (as well as its aftermath head-on without softening the blow, but it also gives us a glimmer of hope that Andrew Winston Winters is a survivor and will be okay. Though this is a difficult read, Charm and Strange is hard to put down.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking and drug use as well as allusion to sexual abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Identical by Ellen Hopkins, Bait by Alex Sanchez
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. Tsukushi and Tsukasa have broken up, but they still have feelings for one another. Can they overcome big obstacles in order to be truly together?

Description: Tsukushi struggles to understand her feelings for Tsukasa, her on-and-off boyfriend, and he struggles to try and not destroy Tokyo. Will the man who came between them step aside? The meddlesome F4 try their hand at forcing Tsukushi and Tsukasa together. All the while Tsukasa's mother's spies are hot on their trail!

Review: After reading a few filler volumes where nothing happens besides Tsukushi and Tsukasa whine and pine for each other, Volume 26 is full of surprises. Tsukasa builds up his courage to fight for Tsukushi. Tsukushi is still hanging out with the new guy in order to keep her promise to Tsukasa's crazy mother, Kaede, from being far away from her son. In a beautiful three to four page spread, we find Tsukasa meeting Tsukushi and the mysterious guy as they aboard the bus as Tsukasa shows all of his vulnerabilities to  Tsukushi just by his body language, his facial expression, and of course his plea to be with him. Tsukushi, to say the least is shocked, but boards the bus anyway! I couldn't believe it and was so angry at her, but thankfully, she stops the bus and runs to Tsukasa. Finally after being so miserable, these two are a pair, but her comes the tricky part: they have to keep their relationship a secret as Tsukasa has found out that his mother has hired spies to track every move he makes.
 There are plenty of sweet and funny awkward moments between our main couple, especially as they try to keep their relationship a secret from the F3.  The F3 and company are so tired of seeing Tsukasa and Tsukushi miserable that they come up with a devious plan of their own to get these two together by kidnapping them and sticking them in a room of their own! This plan leads to more funny and sweet moments, but my favorite is Tsukushi finally telling Tsukasa that she loves him in front of everyone. It is the first time she has said those three words aloud to him!
 Along with the developments of Tsukushi and Tsukasa drama, there is a subplot brewing between Yuki and Sojiro, one of Tsukasa's best friends and member of the F4. In a previous volume, Sojiro helped Yuki get back at her cheating and good for nothing boyfriend and Yuki has started to have a crush on him. In this volume we see that for Yuki, it's more than a crush but can see win the heart of a well known playboy who might not give her what she wants? I guess we'll find out in the next volume. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is minor language, some crude humor, and a scene of underage drinking. Recommended to teens.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol 27 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
Rummanah Aasi
  I have very fond memories of my parents telling me stories from the Arabian Nights during bedtime. Of course the stories were told in a G rated fashion and lead me to read various editions of the One Thousand and One Nights as I grew older. There is no official version of the One Thousand and One Nights as the stories were told orally for many generations. Acclaimed Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh has selected nineteen of these stories, some of which I never read before, and translated them from Arabic into modern English, and knitted them together into an utterly captivating short story collection.


Description: Gathered and passed down over the centuries from India, Persia, and across the Arab world, the mesmerizing stories of One Thousand and One Nights tell of the real and the supernatural, love and marriage, power and punishment, wealth and poverty, and the endless trials and uncertainties of fate. They are related by the beautiful, wise, young Shahrazad, who gives herself up to murderous King Shahrayar. The king has vowed to deflower and then kill a virgin every night--but Shahrazad will not be defeated by the king's appetites. To save herself, she cunningly spins a web of tales, leaving the king in suspense each morning, and thus prolonging her life for another day.

Review: For those of you unfamiliar with the Arabian Nights, the over arching story is this: Ever since the king was outwitted by his lusty, philandering wife, he commands that he must marry a virgin woman a day and after their wedding night, the woman would be killed before she came to harm the king and his kingdom. Vizier’s daughter Shahrazad volunteers to marry this brutal king but in order to save her own life and the other young women of her kingdom she spun tales that lasted for one thousand and one nights. In this collection of nineteen short stories, al-Shaykh retells them to celebrate her ­rediscovery of the Arab classic’s stylistic artistry, portraying a complex society, and its stunning female characters in particular who are far from passive and fearful, quite aware of their social limits, yet full of will and intelligence and wit. For al-Shaykh, as for Shahrazad, stories are matryoshka dolls, nesting within one another and casting ghosts and shadows in all directions. Here, Shahrazad first tells the traditional tale of the fisherman and the jinni, and then brings together at the impressive home shared by three beautiful sisters, a porter, three dervishes, and three merchants. Over many hours, each character tells multiple stories for different goals in a context of ever-shifting personal and power relationships. These stories are like a jig saw puzzle, leaving the reader to wonder how do they connect. The stories themselves pulse with love, lust, magic, and moral ambiguities; while is a strong undercurrent of terrible violence that underscores moments of pure beauty. I thought it was very interesting to read these stories from the lens of both the Western and Eastern culture. The stories can be hilarious, horrifying, touching, enlightening, or revelatory, which reminds us of why we have been utterly fascinated and continue to be so by the One Thousand and One Nights.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are sexual situations and strong violence throughout as well as some language. Suitable for Adults only.

If you like this book try: Sharaz-de : tales from the Arabian nights written & illustrated by Sergio Toppi, Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Complete Fairytales of Hans Christen Andersen,
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine!



  The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Publish Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher:  Doubleday Children's Books

I'm a big fan of both Holly Black and Cassandra Clare so I'm really excited for them to write a Middle Grade series together. 

From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a riveting new series that defies what you think you know about the world of magic.

From two bestselling superstars, a dazzling and magical middle-grade collaboration centering on the students of the Magisterium, an academy for those with a propensity toward magic. In this first book, a new student comes to the Magisterium against his will -- is it because he is destined to be a powerful magician, or is the truth more twisted than that? It's a journey that will thrill you, surprise you, and make you wonder about the clear-cut distinction usually made between good and evil.
Rummanah Aasi
 I really enjoyed reading Hope Larson's Mercury and was really looking forward to her take on the female superhero. Unfortunately, Who is AC? is as intriguing as Mercury, but it does have strong female characters which can be hard to find in superhero comic books.

Description: Meet Lin, a formerly average teenage girl whose cell phone zaps her with magical powers. But just as superpowers can travel through the ether, so can evil. As Lin starts to get a handle on her new abilities (while still observing her curfew!), she realizes she has to go head-to-head with a nefarious villain who spreads his influence through binary code. And as if that weren't enough, a teen blogger has dubbed her an "anonymous coward!" Can Lin detect the cyber-criminal's vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?

Review: Hope Larson is known for her magical realism graphic novels, but with Who is AC?, she adds superhero into her list. Lin is a teen, an aspiring author who has just moved to a small town. She becomes a superhero,  activated by mysterious cellphone messages and visited by a "dispatcher" who nags her until she suits up. Her nemesis is a shadowy villain who possesses a glamorous rich girl in order to snare a boy named Trace.
  Readers of superhero comics will find lot of familiar things in Lin's story, however, there are many subplots that are left unexplored and gives the book an unfinished feeling. Larson's dialogue is also a bit uneven, veering into cliche superhero lingo, but also clever and comical such as Lin disguised as her alter ego asking for a performance review after she deflected a robbery.
  Pantoja's heavily inked lines hew closely to manga conventions with action-packed panel sequences, big eyes, and outsize expressions. Oddly, it's the teens' relationships with their parents that are most nuanced and memorable rather than the action sequences. Who is AC? is brimming with strong, independent girl characters, but it leaves much to be desired. I think the book could really benefit from a sequel to get deeper into the story and the characters. As a standalone, however, it doesn't really stick in the reader's mind.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language including crude humor as well as violence found in a PG movie. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Foiled by Jane Yolen
Rummanah Aasi
 I've been interested in Greek Mythology for as long as I could remember. When I came across Kerry Greenwood's Delphic Women which retold the myths of Jason and the Gold Fleece, the Trojan War and its aftermath from the point of view of the important female characters, I knew I had to read them. Greenwood makes the myths come alive and provides a different spin on characters who were once thought to be weak and one dimensional.

Description: Medea, Princess of Colchis, is a priestess of Hecate, Three Named, Lady of Phantoms. She is the custodian of the wood in which the Golden Fleece is hung. She alone can tame the giant serpent which guards the grove. And then Jason and his Argonauts come along, and she falls catastrophically in love. She helps him steal the Golden Fleece ans sails with him to claim his throne. And that's when things go wrong... and she must attempt to reclaim her humanity through abandonment, murder, grief and heavy seas.

Review: The story of Medea is not a feel good bedtime story. It is a story of a woman's rage that is so strong, she even killed her own children to make a point. Needless to say, Medea isn't a heroine girls aspire to be, but Greenwood transforms this notorious female character into someone we can sympathize and root for. Medea is a feminist retelling of the Medea and Jason and the Argonauts myths. In many renditions of these stories, Medea doesn't have a voice to share her feelings and point of view. In Greenwood's version of the tale, Medea has a strong voice that can not be ignored and it is contrasted with a fictional member of Jason's Argonauts named Naupolis.
 Greenwood's Medea is a priestess of Hecate and a princess of Colchis, in what will become the modern-day Republic of Georgia. She has learned well the teachings of her tutor, the sour Trioda, and is used to a good deal of freedom as she roams the area, always accompanied by her two black hounds. Greenwood spends a lot of time discussing Medea's upbringing which I found fascinating as Medea struggles to learn what it means to become a woman and the double standards of gender. From Argonaut Nauplios' narration, we learn of the difficulties faced by the heroes who accompany Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, his ticket to reclaim his rightful inheritance. After harrowing adventures, the Argonauts arrive in Colchis, where Medea's father, Aetes, sets Jason impossible tasks to acquire the fleece. It is through Nauplios' character that we see what makes a man of honor even though he may appear as a mere mortal man.
  To my surprise and disappointment, the Golden Fleece myth is only a few pages and goes by quickly. Jason as you can imagine is not seen in a good light. He is a person who has no backbone and can not make a decision to save his life. One is left to wonder why he was even picked for this dangerous quest and made a demigod. Greenwood follows the overall Golden Fleece myth with Medea instantly falls in love with the charismatic Jason and secretly helps him when he promises to marry her and be forever faithful. The best and biggest surprise is how Greenwood handles the end of her story. Though it is a drastic change in what we know of the 'original' myth, it works really well and emphasizes on all themes Greenwood touches upon in her story.
  It is clear that Greenwood has done her research thoroughly in every aspect of life in Ancient Greece. The setting and lifestyle isn't glorified but rough, messy, and full of injustices. The pacing of the book is a bit uneven and the prose is a bit clunky at times, however, I found myself really enjoying the Medea-centric parts of the story. I would recommend this book to readers who are serious about Greek Mythology and are interested in learning to read these myths from a feminist angle.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence and sexual situations throughout the book as well as language. Recommended for mature teens and adults who enjoy and are serious about Greek Mythology.

If you like this book try: Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin
Rummanah Aasi
 
Description: Serving justice . . . and lunch!Lunch Lady can sniff out something rotten like no one else—and there's definitely something rotten going on in the library. The usually friendly librarians have become cold and secretive. Even Dee can't seem to crack a smile out of them. What darkness may lurk in the hearts of librarians? Lunch Lady is on the case! And Hector, Terrence, and Dee are along for a wild ride!

Review: The Lunch Ladies graphic novel series is so much fun to read! When not serving up lunches to students, Lunch Lady escapes to her secret kitchen crime lab to lead the life of a crime fighter. Using an assortment of lunch-themed gadgets (created by her lunch serving sidekick Betty), she is definitely a quirky superhero and one you would have not picked to be a superhero, which makes this series fun. Tipped off by the "Breakfast Bunch" (three students who discovered Lunch Lady's crime-fighting alter ego and work as team with her in Book 1), she attempts to foil the plans of the evil "League of Librarians," who seek to destroy all video games. Gasp! The black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations have splashes of yellow in nearly every panel. The clean layout, featuring lots of open space, is well suited for young readers and those who are new to the graphic novel format. We get to see and know more about the Breakfast Bunch in this second volume, especially Dee, who asserts herself as the strong-willed leader of the group. There are plenty of winking references to book fairs, read-a-thon enrollment, and librarians all in good fun and they fit nicely in with the storyline. With its appealing mix of action and humor, Lunch Lady is a clever, entertaining series that should have wide appeal.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grades 2 readers and up.

If you like this book try:  Lunch Lady and the Author Vendetta (Lunch Lady #3), Knights of the Lunch Table series by Frank Cammuso
Rummanah Aasi
The Everneath series by Brodi Ashton was my favorite YA paranormal romance reads that I've enjoyed in a really long time. While weaving familiar Greek myths into its overall plot arc, it brought a refreshing story to a genre that is usually filled with cookie-cutter character and plots. I have been looking forward to reading the series conclusion Evertrue after the jaw dropping ending to Everbound. While I was happy with the way the series ended, I didn't feel this was the strongest book in the series.

Description: Now that Nikki has rescued Jack, all she wants is to be with him and graduate high school. But Cole tricked Nikki into feeding off him, and she’s begun the process of turning into an Everliving herself... which means she must feed on a Forfeit soon — or die.
  Terrified for her survival, Nikki and Jack begin a desperate attempt to reverse the process using any means possible. Even Cole, who they expected to fight them at every turn, has become an unlikely ally — but how long can it last? Nikki needs to feed on Cole to survive, Cole needs Nikki to gain the throne in the Everneath, Jack needs Nikki because she is everything to him — and together, they must travel back to the Underworld to undo Nikki’s fate and make her mortal once more. But Cole isn’t the only one with plans for Nikki: the Queen has not forgotten Nikki’s treachery, and she wants her destroyed for good. Will Nikki be forced to spend eternity in the Underworld, or does she have what it takes to bring down the Everneath once and for all?


Review: Evertrue was a disappointing read for me. Unlike the previous two books in this series which I read compulsively, I found myself putting the last book down because I felt the pacing of the story and the characters that I've come to love felt off. Evertrue picks up two weeks after the events of Everbound and focuses on Niki's mission to destroy the Everneath. Thanks to Cole’s trickery, Niki is an Everliving and dying unless she feeds. Nikki is adamant that she would rather die than live at the expense of human forfeits, but her plans are in direct conflict with Cole’s, who still hopes to persuade her to join him in overthrowing the current queen of the Everneath and ruling it herself.
  One of the many things that bothered me about Evertrue is that the characters do a complete 360 degrees from their personalities. Cole, the trickster and possibly the most interesting villain I've read thus far, suddenly and conveniently turns vulnerable and nice in this book. I kept thinking this was a trick up Cole's sleeves and I was waiting for the "Gotcha! moment" when his evil plan was unveiled, but it didn't come and I was scratching my head in confusion. Also the lovable Jack, Niki's best friend and boyfriend, didn't get a chance to shine in this book. While we do get a few adorable flashbacks with him and Niki, Jack has morphed into the Hulk and he seems to be present only when his physical strength is needed. Niki, who I liked in the previous books, was also problematic for me. She wasn't nearly as strong as the other books but came off as a bit more whiny and accepted death, but I gave her some slack because, well, she is dying. 
  My other issue with Evertrue is that the plot was not strong enough. There were many lulls between the action scenes and problems were solved too easily. Even the showdown battle with the Queen was anticlimactic. Nonetheless there were things that I did enjoy about the book. I did like learning more about the Everneath and the author does a great job in bringing this mythological place alive. Overall, I found Evertrue the weakest book in this series and while I was happy with the end result, I felt it could have been written much stronger and better. I look forward to seeing what Ashton writes next.

Rating: 3 stars


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

If you like this book try: Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman, Abandon by Meg Cabot, Goddess Test by Aimee Carter, Shadow Prince by Bree Despain
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. Tsukushi and Tsukasa have broken up. Tsukushi and Tsukasa both have feelings for one another, but can they overcome big obstacles in order to be truly together?

Description: Tsukushi has an on-and-off romantic entanglement with a hothead named Tsukasa. Tsukasa has a sketchy relationship with his even more hotheaded mother, named Kaede. Kaede has found ways to destroy her son's relationship with Tsukushi, but the couple still has lingering feelings about one another. Now a new person has entered Tsukushi's life, but will he remove Tsukasa from her life once and for all?

Review: Volume 25 is a small book filled with melodrama. Tsukushi and Tsukasa are in their own separate little worlds. It is unclear if Tsukushi is actually dating the new stranger we met in Volume 24 or putting on appearances in front of Tsukasa, but my guess it is the latter. There is a really interesting juxtaposition between the stranger and Tsukasa. Both feel entitled to be with Tsukushi yet they come from two completely different backgrounds. The mysterious loner guy is working class who Tsukushi could relate to, but his attitude that love isn't real makes Tsukushi pause and think. Ultimately, the stranger shows Tsukushi just how much she cares for Tsukasa. 
 Meanwhile Tsukasa continues to brood and be aloof. His friends try to get him to forget Tsukushi or even open up, but he doesn't. Shigeru, his one time fiancee, sits down with him and tells him to not give up on fighting for Tsukushi if he really loves her. I was surprised that Shigeru though it's obvious she has feelings for Tsukasa that are only one sided inspires Tsukasa to man up and get Tskushi back. I really hope Tsukasa takes Shigeru's advice because I really need Tsukasa and Tsukushi to be together again! I can't deal with another volume of these two whining. 
 
Rating: 3 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 26 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
Rummanah Aasi
"As specimens go, they always get excited about me. I'm a good one. A show-stopper. I'm the kind of kid they'll still enquire about ten years later. Fifty-one placements, drug problems, violence, dead adopted mum, no biological links, constant offending. Tick, tick, tick. I lure them in to being with. Cultivate my specimen face. They like that."  
  Jenni Fagan's Panopticon is a book completely out of my comfort zone, but thoroughly intrigued me with quotes such as the one above. I knew when I picked this book up that I would face some of these issues:
  • This book isn't appealing, entertaining, fun read.
  • This book isn't going to be about a girl who beats, stands up to the system.
  • This book wouldn't have a happy ending or even closure.
  • This book wouldn't have characters that I would like or could even support.
So, you're probably wondering, why bother? Well, I listened to an author interview on NPR and was really interested in learning about how other countries deal with hard pressing issues such as foster care. While I didn't love this book as much as others, I definitely learned a lot from it.


Description: Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car. She is headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais’s school uniform is covered in blood. Raised in foster care from birth and moved through twenty-three placements before she even turned seven, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Now a counter-culture outlaw, she knows that she can only rely on herself. And yet despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, she greets the world with the witty, fierce insight of a survivor.
  Anais finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon – they form intense bonds, and she soon becomes part of an ad hoc family. Together, they struggle against the adults that keep them confined. When she looks up at the watchtower that looms over the residents though, Anais knows her fate: she is an anonymous part of an experiment, and she always was. Now it seems that the experiment is closing in.

Review: Jenni Fagan's Panopticon is not for the faint of heart, especially if you don't like books that are gritty, dark, and you are offended by strong language and drug usage. The Panopticon is centered on the philosophical institution of corrective behavior created by an English philosopher in the 18th century.


The concept of the circular and open design prison is to allow a single watchman to observe
inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether they are being watched or not. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behavior constantly. In Fagan's book the Panopticon is a reference to Scotland's temporary holding pen for foster children who are waiting for their next foster home.
  Anais Hendricks is unlike any character I've met before. She is full of contradictions and her story broke my heart into tiny shards. Anais has been a foster child since she was a toddler. She doesn't remember her parents and comes up with her own birth stories, fantasizing that she is a lost rich heir waiting to be found or a child of French artists who met a tragic end. The blurb of the book is a bit misleading, leading readers to believe it's more of a mystery of what occurred the night that Anais was found bloodied and hauled off the police after her foster mother is found stabbed to death and a police officer has been brutally assaulted. Though we are given clues about that night and there is an ongoing investigation, things are left hazy either due to Anais's high on drugs and eventual blackouts or maybe she just doesn't want to talk about it. I'm not really sure, but honestly I found myself less intrigued by the mysterious night and more enraptured by Anais's ad hoc family of lost children, who come alive in Fagan's story and their own heartbreaking back stories are revealed. The book is really a slice of Anais's life in the foster care system in all its messy and ugly pieces from children committing suicide when they reach adulthood and can no longer be in the system, dying from AIDS after working as a prostitute to earn wages, etc.
  It took me a while to get into The Panopticon, for two reasons. One reason is that the book is written in a Scottish dialect. I didn't always understand the slang and I had to read the dialogue aloud the first few times just to get adjusted to the dialect. I wish there was an audiobook available for the book, but I couldn't find one. The second reason is that I could only take the intense subject matter for only a few pages but then I had to put it down. I did find the book well written and eye opening, but I'm honestly not sure who I would recommend it to perhaps readers who enjoy intense stories and like stories set outside of the U.S.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: Strong language and drug usage throughout the book. Sexual situations and violence including rape. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh , White Oleander by Janet Fitch, Brewster by Mark Slouka
Rummanah Aasi
 Today I would like you all to meet Kitty Hawk, the heroine of Iain Reading's young adult mysteries. Kitty has been described as a cross between Amelia Earhart, Nancy Drew and Pippi Longstocking. If you are fond of quirky heroines who are incredibly curious and have a knack in getting into all sorts of trouble, be sure to check out Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold! Below is an excerpt from the book that was kindly given to me to share with you all by Book Publicity Services. Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold is now available on Amazon.

Prologue: Back Where The Entire Adventure Began

As soon as the engine began to sputter, I knew that I was in real trouble. Up until then, I had somehow managed to convince myself that there was just something wrong with the fuel gauges. After all, how could I possibly have burnt through my remaining fuel as quickly as the gauges seemed to indicate? It simply wasn't possible. But with the engine choking and gasping, clinging to life on the last fumes of aviation fuel, it was clear that when the fuel gauges read, "Empty," they weren't kidding around.
The lightning strike that took out my radio and direction-finding gear hadn't worried me all that much. (Okay, I admit it worried me a little bit.) It wasn't the first time that this had happened to me, and besides, I still had my compasses to direct me to where I was going. But I did get a little bit concerned when I found nothing but open ocean as far my eyes could see at precisely the location where I fully expected to find tiny Howland Island—and its supply of fuel for the next leg of my journey—waiting for me. The rapidly descending needles on my fuel gauges made me even more nervous as I continued to scout for the island, but only when the engine began to die did I realize that I really had a serious problem on my hands.
The mystery of the disappearing fuel.
The enigma of the missing island.
The conundrum of what do I do now?
"Exactly," the little voice inside my head said to me in one of those annoying 'I-told-you-so' kind of voices. "What do you do now?"
"First, I am going to stay calm," I replied. "And think this through."
"You'd better think fast," the little voice said, and I could almost hear it tapping on the face of a tiny wristwatch somewhere up there in my psyche. "If you want to make it to your twentieth birthday, that is.  Don't forget that you're almost out of fuel."
"Thanks a lot," I replied. "You're a big help."
Easing forward with the control wheel I pushed my trusty De Havilland Beaver into a nosedive. Residual fuel from the custom-made fuel tanks at the back of the passenger cabin dutifully followed the laws of gravity and spilled forward, accumulating at the front and allowing the fuel pumps to transfer the last remaining drops of fuel into the main forward belly tank. This maneuver breathed life back into the engine and bought me a few more precious minutes to ponder my situation.
"Mayday, mayday, mayday," I said, keying my radio transmitter as I leveled my flight path out again. "This is aircraft Charlie Foxtrot Kilo Tango Yankee, calling any ground station or vessel hearing this message, over."
I keyed the mic off and listened intently for a reply. Any reply. Please? But there was nothing. There was barely even static. My radio was definitely fried.
It was hard to believe that it would all come down to this. After the months of preparation and training. After all the adventures that I'd had, the friends I'd made, the beauty I'd experienced, the differences and similarities I'd discovered from one culture to the next and from one human being to the next. All of this in the course of my epic flight around the entire world.
Or I should say, "my epic flight almost around the entire world," in light of my current situation.
And the irony of it was absolutely incredible. Three-quarters of a century earlier the most famous female pilot of them all had disappeared over this exact same endless patch of Pacific Ocean on her own quest to circle the globe. And she had disappeared while searching for precisely the same island that was also eluding me as I scanned the horizon with increasing desperation.
"Okay," I thought to myself. "Just be cool and take this one step at a time to think the situation through." I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, slowing it down and reining in the impulse to panic. Inside my head, I quickly and methodically replayed every flight that I'd ever flown. Every emergency I'd ever faced. Every grain of experience that I had accumulated along the long road that had led me to this very moment. Somewhere in there was a detail that was the solution to my current predicament. I was sure of it. And all I had to do was find it.
Maybe the answer to my current situation lay somewhere among the ancient temples of Angkor in Cambodia? Or in the steamy jungles of east Africa? Or inside the towering pyramids of Giza? Or among the soaring minarets of Sarajevo? Or on the emerald rolling hills and cliffs of western Ireland? Or on the harsh and rocky lava fields of Iceland?
Wherever the answer was, it was going to have to materialize quickly, or another female pilot (me) would run the risk of being as well-known throughout the world as Amelia Earhart. And for exactly the same reason.
"It's been a good run at least," the little voice inside my head observed, turning oddly philosophical as the fuel supplies ran critically low. "You've had more experiences on this journey around the world than some people do in their entire lifetime."
"That's it!" I thought.
Maybe the answer to all this lies even further back in time? All the way back to the summer that had inspired me to undertake this epic journey in the first place. All the way back to where North America meets the Pacific Ocean—the islands and glaciers and whales of Alaska.

All the way back to where this entire adventure began.


About the Book
   
Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold is the thrilling first installment in a new series of adventure mystery stories that are one part travel, one part history and five parts adventure. This first book of the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective Agency Series introduces Kitty Hawk, an intrepid teenage pilot with her own De Havilland Beaver seaplane and a nose for mystery and intrigue. A cross between Amelia Earhart, Nancy Drew and Pippi Longstocking, Kitty is a quirky young heroine with boundless curiosity and a knack for getting herself into all kinds of precarious situations.
   After leaving her home in the western Canadian fishing village of Tofino to spend the summer in Alaska studying humpback whales Kitty finds herself caught up in an unforgettable adventure involving stolen gold, devious criminals, ghostly shipwrecks, and bone-chilling curses. Kitty's adventure begins with the lingering mystery of a sunken ship called the Clara Nevada and as the plot continues to unfold this spirited story will have armchair explorers and amateur detectives alike anxiously following every twist and turn as they are swept along through the history of the Klondike Gold Rush to a suspenseful final climatic chase across the rugged terrain of Canada's Yukon, the harsh land made famous in the stories and poems of such writers as Jack London, Robert Service and Pierre Berton. It is a riveting tale that brings to glorious life the landscape and history of Alaska's inside passage and Canada's Yukon, as Kitty is caught up in an epic mystery set against the backdrop of the scenery of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Rummanah Aasi
  Many YA novels don't feature parents in a predominant roles in the story. Parents are either entirely absent or become like the teachers in the Peanuts comic strip who talk in gibberish. Corrine Demas's Returning to Shore is a refreshing realistic fiction book not about teen angst or high school drama, but rather a teen hoping to establish a connection with her estranged father during her summer vacation. Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy I received from the publisher via Netgalley.

Description: Her mother's third marriage is only hours old when all hope for Clare's fifteenth summer fades. Before she knows it, Clare is whisked away to some ancient cottage on a tiny marsh island on Cape Cod to spend the summer with her father--a man she hasn't seen since she was three.Clare's biological father barely talks, and when he does, he obsesses about endangered turtles. The first teenager Clare meets on the Cape confirms that her father is known as the town crazy person. But there's something undeniably magical about the marsh and the island--a connection to Clare's past that runs deeper than memory. Even her father's beloved turtles hold unexpected surprises. As Clare's father begins to reveal more about himself and his own struggle, Clare's summer becomes less of an exile and more of a return.

Review:  Returning to Shore is a quiet, lovely story about a young girl reconnecting with her estranged father during her summer vacation. The book does not have much plot, but it is rather episodic which works well for this story. Clare is less than thrilled with her mother's plan to have her spend three weeks on a remote island with her biological father, Richard, when he mother jet sets on a honeymoon with husband number three. Clare hasn't seen her father in twelve years, and they only speak on Christmas.
 Unlike her mother, Richard isn't much of a conversationalist, but he also doesn't ignore Clare's presence. Richard's quiet demeanor is his way to give his daughter's space to adjust to living with him. What I appreciated the most in this story is the gradual closeness Clare and Richard achieve which I found to be realistic. Both are concerned they are not enough for each other and through Richard's work preserving the nests and habitat of the endangered Northern diamondback terrapin they find common ground and slowly develop a friendship and eventually toward an honest and loving relationship. Saving the endangered Northern diamondback terrapin becomes an allegory for Richard and Clare's relationship. What I also enjoyed is finding out small clues about Richard's past and the real reason he and Clare's mother divorced.
  One big flaw that I found in the book are some obnoxious secondary characters who are walking cliches who believe they are entitled and ignorant of things around them. I groaned ever time they appeared in the story and had to speed read those parts until I got back to Clare and Richard. Overall, I do recommend picking up Returning to Shore if you are interested in reading more YA books that focus on teen parent relationships.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language and a scene of underage drinking as well as some mature themes. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Many Stones by Carolyn Coman, This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
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