Rummanah Aasi


Description: “Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.

Review: Blackthorn Key is a fun, quick read that will draw the interest of readers who like fantasy, historical fiction, and/or mystery. All of three of these genres blend and balance so well that it will hold reader's interest regardless of their reading niche. At the center of the story is an orphan boy named Christopher Rowe who is chosen for an apprenticeship to a kind and brilliant apothecary, Benedict Blackthorn. Christopher is a fun character who loves solving complex intellectual puzzles and concoct everything from healing potions to gunpowder. His skills are put to the test when Blackthorn is mysteriously killed, his shop ransacked, and suspicion falls on the young apprentice. The pace and story picks up as Christopher is on the run and pressed for time, his only assistance the help of his friend Tom, The plot is full of twists, turns, and ingenious codes and riddles. My favorite part of reading this book is trying to solve puzzles along with Christopher. Sands also does a great job in bringing England in the midst of Reformation to life in exquisite period detail, exploring the roots of modern science, medicine, and explosives. Christopher’s moral dilemma of what to do with a doomsday weapon is also heightens suspense and is a nice touch. Although the book does not end in a cliffhanger and things are resolved quite nicely, I am looking forward to reading more about Christopher's adventures in Sands' next book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some gory details about Blackthorn's death and mentions of public execution which was common in 17th century England. Recommended for Grades 4

If you like this book try: Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (Christopher Rowe #2) available Sept. 2016, Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, The Trap by Steven Arntson,



Description: Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother's mysterious death, he's lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers. One day, he's tracked down by an uncle he's never met—a man his mother claimed was dangerous. His uncle tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god. The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years. When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision. Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

Review: Readers of this blog already know that I am a big Rick Riordan fan, but I had a hard time getting through The Sword of Summer, which is the first book in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series. Riordan sticks with his formula of introducing teens who are ignorant of their demigod ancestry and are put on a epic quest. This time Riordan tackles Norse mythology as his subject, which is great and refreshing, however; I could see Riordan struggling to keep the violent myths PG and appropriate for his younger audience. The first third of the book was slow, but it started to pick up the face as the author and characters found their stride. The humor, which is usually what I look forward to in reading Riordan's books felt forced and I had a really hard time trying to connect with Magnus as a hero. I am hoping he will grow on me as the series continues, but he is certainly no Percy Jackson. I did appreciate the diverse cast of characters, especially the Muslim Valkyrie Samira.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is a lot of violence, both implied and discussed throughout the book.

If you like this book try: The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2) available October 2016, The Outcasts (Brotherband Chronicles #1) by John Flanagan,
The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott, Loki's Wolves by Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr
Rummanah Aasi

  I have been trying to compose a summer reading list for myself for the past two weeks. Foolishly, I started writing titles down that I wanted to read and soon found out that I basically want to read my entire library collection. So, I spent the next few days prioritizing my list and narrowed it down to less than 50 titles or so. I thought I would be fun to post my top 10 books on my summer reading list as an incentive to actually work on this list rather than get distracted by other new, hot off the press, shiny books. Here is my list in no particular order.


Adult


The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin- I really like the premise of this book. Some call it a mystery/thriller while others think magical realism. I have been avoiding reviews and wanting to know a whole lot of this book because I want to be surprised when I read it. 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - A critically acclaimed novel that explores immigration, race, and identity. The book is also on my school's summer reading list.




YA


I had the hardest time with creating this portion of my list! I'm going to cheat a little and list a couple of series as one title.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater- I'm probably one of the last people on Earth who has yet to read this series, but it is on my reading resolution of this year. Now that the last and final book, The Raven King, is out I thought this is the best time to do a binge read. 

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick- This is my teen book club pick for the month of July. It deals with mental health issues and it is most likely not going to be an easy read, but an important one.

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry- I have read nothing but rave reviews of this book. I know very little of the book, except that it is historical fiction and it is set in France.

The Wrath and the Dawn Duology by Renee Ahdieh- This is a fantasy romance loose retelling of the Arabian Nights. I had this one on my reading list for last year, but after hearing how the first book ended with a horrible cliffhanger, I decided to wait until The Rose and the Dagger came out.


Middle Grade/Childrens


The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan- The Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan was a great and eye opening read about the human rights of albinos in Tanzania. Now Sullivan turns her eyes to child labor in the cocoa plantation in the Ivory Coast. 

Booked by Kwame Alexander- I loved the Crossover by Kwame Alexander which is a fantastic blend of sports, family, and poetry. 







Graphic Novels/Manga


No. 6 by Atsuko Asano - This is my first foray into a dystopian manga. I hope to watch the anime after reading the manga.

The Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash- This is a graphic, coming of age memoir that received great reviews. It was also on my reading list for last year, but I ran out of time.




This is just a small peek into my reading list. Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think of them? What is on your summer reading list? Let know in the comments below. 
Rummanah Aasi
 The Serpent King is the best book that I've read so far in the month of May. It is possibly my favorite book by a debut author so far this year. The book has rich characters, thought provoking subjects, and a setting of rural Tennessee that is not seen frequently in YA.


Description: Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

Review: The Serpent King is a lyrical coming-of-age novel about three teens who are trying to escape poverty, abuse, and prejudice that follow them like shadows in their rural Tennessee town. The book is told in three, distinct, and unforgettable point of views. All of the main characters are outcasts in their own rights, but their alienation made them best friends and an incredible support group.
  Dill is burdened with carrying the name of his grandfather and father who are both known for their notoriety. His grandfather in his grief became mad and his father, a Pentecoastal minister, was publicly shamed and arrested for child pornography. Dill feels that he will inevitably follow the same bleak path as his elders. He is bullied in school and his overbearing mother feels that he is partly responsible for his father's arrest since Dill had a computer in the house and furthermore, he should work and focus on his faith in order to help her pay off his father's legal bills rather than pursue his dream of being a musician and going to college. Dill's only life line to sanity is through his best friends Lydia and Travis.
 Lydia is considered the lucky one out of her friends. Her parents support and love her unconditionally. She is also financially well off compared to Dill and Travis. She has big dreams of working in the fashion world and is the creator of the super famous fashion blog called Dollywould, a salute to her idol Dolly Parton. Lydia is a bit of a cultural snob and can't wait to leave her provincial town to start her new life in New York City. 
  Travis has a mixture of both of Dill's and Lydia's worlds. Travis has a very intimidating physical presence, but he is really just a giant teddy bear. His geeky devotion to Game of Thrones-esque fantasy series is contagious and his only escape from his abusive father. 
  I loved each of these characters for different reasons. I really empathized with Dill's existential crisis and his ultimate fear that he would never leave his town. I also appreciated the open discussion of whether or not college is even an option because of financial strains and Dill's mother not valuing education. I think we all assume that college is the next step after a teen graduates from college, but that is not always the case. I will say that I was initially worried how the book would handle religion considering how prevalent it is in Dill's life, but the author showed both religious fervor as well as Dill questioning his faith which felt real and not heavy handed. Though Lydia annoyed me at times for being judgemental, I admired her ambition and her desire for her friends to reach their own potentials. I also adored Travis, who is full of light, love, and laughter.
  The Serpent King is very much a character driven novel. The pace is a bit slow, but I didn't mind as I got to spend time with each of the characters. While the themes are dark and hard to read sometimes, there is hope and lighter moments that will lift you up. There is a bit of romance in the book but it is slow burning and takes a bit of a back seat to the characters' self discovery. Definitely pick this book up if you are in the mood for an absorbing, beautifully written realistic fiction read.  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language including homophobic slurs, a scene of underage drinking, scenes of physical, verbal, emotional, and alcohol abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Looking for Alaska by John Green
Rummanah Aasi
 I really enjoyed reading Tim Federle's middle grade novels. His books had warmth, humor, and depth about a boy trying to pursue his dream on Broadway. When I heard the author was going to write his debut YA novel, I had high expectations. While there is still humor and warmth in the book, I still felt like it was missing something.

Description: Quinn Roberts is a sixteen-year-old smart aleck and Hollywood hopeful whose only worry used to be writing convincing dialogue for the movies he made with his sister. Of course, that was all before—before Quinn stopped going to school, before his mom started sleeping on the sofa…and before the car accident that changed everything.

Enter: Geoff, Quinn’s best friend, who insists it’s time that Quinn came out—at least from hibernation. One haircut later, Geoff drags Quinn to his first college party, where instead of nursing his pain, he meets a guy—okay, a hot guy—and falls hard. What follows is an upside-down week in which Quinn begins imagining his future as a screenplay that might actually end happily—if, that is, he can finally step back into the starring role of his own life story.


Review: Quinn has sequestered himself inside his bedroom for six months after his adoring older sister is killed in an automobile accident the day before Christmas break. Quinn is grieving the best way he can by eliminating everything and anything that reminds him of his sister and that horrible day, including his smart phone that holds his sister's last text message to him moments before her accident; a ban on writing screenplays, Quinn's passion and project that he loved collaborating with his sister, and avoiding any conversation that revolves around his sister. It is not until his best friend, Geoff, who persuades Quinn to go to a party that prods Quinn to change things around.
   Despite his tragic circumstances, Quinn is a very likable character and I warmed up to him quickly. His humor is wry, witty, and self depreciating without being malicious. He does genuinely want to get out of his dark slump, but isn't sure how to do so. Quinn's love for the cinema is quite evident from movie trivia to mentally writing emotional scenes with him as the main character as if they are a screenplay in the movie of his life. I found the screenplay style quite clever, allowing us to get the first person point of view, but also zooming out enough to see how the situation plays out with the other characters involved.
  The relationship between Quinn and Geoff is fully fleshed out. Their bromance is sweet, filled with humor, and felt authentic. I just love the anticlimactic moment where Quinn comes out to Geoff as being gay and Quinn being a bit disappointed that Geoff didn't make it a big deal about it. I just wished the relationships with the other characters where also fully realized. While I felt sorry for Quinn about his loss, I didn't get the full emotional impact as I had hoped. My main problem was that I didn't have a good grasp of Quinn's sister through the few moments in which she is remembered and discussed. I wish there were more moments with her. I also wanted to learn more about Quinn's mom who uses emotional eating as her source of comfort. There is also a light romance in the book as Quinn meets his first boyfriend, Amir, a college student at the party. Where there are a few cute moments between the couple, I didn't really feel their chemistry at all.
  The Great American Whatever is a fast read and while it has some serious moments in the story, it is whimsical, wry, and funny, which is a refreshing take on the "grieving novel". I just wished there was a bit more depth to the story. In many ways it reminded me a lot of Becky Albertalli's terrific debut novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda, which is in my opinion the better and stronger novel. Still I look forward to reading what Tim Federle writes next.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking, crude humor, and an allusion to sex and masturbation. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Rummanah Aasi
I apologize for the lack of posts this week. The school year will be ending in less than three weeks and I am trying my best to handle it all. Unfortunately, that means blogging has been on the back burner, but I hope to have more posts up next week. *Fingers crossed*

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I found some really interesting adult reads that I'm really curious about. Let me know in the comments what book(s) you can't wait to read.





A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install 
Publish date: May 10, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark


 This book was originally published in the U.K. last year, but it will be released soon in the U.S. It has the whimsical, charming feel that reminded me a lot of The Rosie Project. I also like that it crosses a lot of different genres. 

What would you do if you found a robot in your back garden? For 34-year-old Ben Chambers the answer is obvious: find out where it came from and return it home, even if it means losing his wife in the process. Determined to achieve something for once in his life, Ben embarks on a journey that takes him and the endearing robot, Tang, to the far side of the globe...and back again. Along the way Ben begins to change, subtly at first, and then in ways that only become clear on his return to the house he's always lived in.



The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
Publish date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Redhook


 I haven't read a good thriller in a while and the description for this book caught my eye right away. 


Listen.
All the world forgets me. First my face, then my voice, then the consequences of my deeds.
So listen. Remember me.

My name is Hope Arden, and you won't know who I am. We've met before - a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit - you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .





Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Publish date: May 24, 2016
Publisher: Doubleday


 This book looks like it has a lot to offer. From its description alone, 
it has a combination of thriller, fantasy, historical fiction, with a dash of horror. I've also read quite a few glowing reviews for it. 

An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.

An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie—knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and cold hearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.
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