Rummanah Aasi
Description: Jeremiah is the world’s biggest baseball fan. He really loves baseball and he knows just about everything there is to know about his favorite sport. So when he’s told he can’t play baseball following an operation on his heart, Jeremiah decides he’ll do the next best thing and become a coach.
  Hillcrest, where Jeremiah and his father Walt have just moved, is a town known for its championship baseball team. But Jeremiah finds the town caught up in a scandal and about ready to give up on baseball. It’s up to Jeremiah and his can-do spirit to get the town – and the team – back in the game.

Review: Soar is a fun book that combines sports, friendship, and hardships with a resilient and inspiration main character. Jeremiah has been through and continues to have obstacles in his way. He was abandoned as a baby, but adopted by a loving and adoring single father. Jeremiah lives and breathes baseball and dreams of one day to become a professional baseball player. His dreams, however, are shattered when he is diagnosed with a severe heart condition, had to get a heart implant at just 12 years old, and has to avoid any and all activities that requires his heart to pump faster. It is very easy to Jeremiah to pout and sulk about his limitations, but always takes things in stride. Soon after he and his single father move to a town that is something of a baseball capital, the entire community is shaken by the death of a beloved school baseball player-and a town scandal that is revealed in the aftermath.
 Jeremiah finds himself playing the sport that he loves-just not as a player but as a coach and instilling pride and motivation into bringing baseball back to the local middle school, reviving a lackluster team, and ends up stealing the hearts of the entire town. It is hard to not like Jeremiah as his enthusiasm and charm are contagious. I just would have liked to get to know more back story to the secondary characters such as Franny and her autistic brother. Overall, Soar is a great summer read with the baseball season underway and will be enjoyed by sports fans and non-sport fans alike.

Rating: 4 stars 

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

If you like this book try: New Kid by Tim Green, The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochran
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.
Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.
  When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Review: If you are looking for a romance that has depth then I would highly suggest picking up Letters to the Lost. Despite its heavy topics and angst, what sets this book apart from other heavy issue driven romances are the great, full dimensional characters.
 Declan and Juliet are two teens that live in two separate social circles at school. Declan is the notorious bad boy with a "I hate the world and the world hates me" attitude. He is quick to lash out and act out, mainly because that is what people expect him to do and he uses his anger as a shield to protect himself. Declan is a prickly character at first glance but once we get to know his real side his actions become understandable. Like Declan, Juliet is also hot tempered and gives the air of a prima donna who seems to have everything at her finger tips. She is working her way through her loss of her famous mother who is a photographer and whom Juliet idolizes. The author does a fabulous job describing Juliet's grief by commenting on the photographs her mother took which revealed both devastation and hope in a single picture. What neither Declan nor Juliet knows is that they both share a connection of grief, guilt, and loss of a loved one and it is that connection that brings them together as they swamp anonymous letters and emails.
  I loved how the book used the pen pal narrative structure in this book. As Declan and Juliet exchange letters and emails, they allow each other to be vulnerable, honest, and most importantly flawed. It is through these various communications that we see their character and relationship grow whether it is each individual recognizing they are being judgemental or irrational or encouraging each other to step outside of their comfort zone and do something that scares them. Essentially, without realizing it Declan and Juliet become each others confidant and support network making their relationship more intimate. I know some readers have argued that there is hardly any romance in the book since there isn't a lot of physical contact between Decland and Juliet, but I would disagree. I liked how their relationship was built emotionally first and physically second. While Declan and Juliet could have found out a lot sooner about their pen pal identities I appreciated that they didn't reveal themselves until they were ready. 
 I also appreciated that the adults in the story also played an important role. Declan's mother and his stepfather shape Declan's behavior patterns. Declan's mother is passive and childlike yet is desperate to reconnect with her son and let go of guilt that also plagues her. Declan's stepfather also expects the worst of Declan, but he does truly care for his family. Similarly, Juliet's father seems to be the bubbling ordinary man but hides a quiet inner strength and her mother who in Juliet's eyes is perfect in every way imaginable is just human. In addition to the fleshed out adult characters, I absolutely loved Declan's best friend Rev who is always by his side and tells Declan frankly when he is being a jerk. Rev has a rough back story, but I'm sure he will also have a hopeful ending too in his own companion novel.
 Don't let the angst stop you from picking up this book. This book grabbed my attention right from its opening paragraph and I had a very hard time putting it down. As much as I loved Kemmerer's Elemental series and the Merrick brothers, Letters to the Lost is her best book so far. The book is very likely to be on my best book list for this year.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of underage drinking and some strong language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Rummanah Aasi

  Last year I composed a summer reading list for myself to help me work through my TBR pile. I had great success with the list and ended up finishing about 80% of the books on the list! I am hoping that I will as successful or even more so this summer. Here is my list in no particular order.


A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab - I really enjoyed the first two books in the Darker Shade of Magic series (reviews coming soon!) and I can't wait to see how this series wraps up.

The Others series by Anne Bishop - An urban fantasy series that all of my trusted blogger friends have loved.

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Brackman - A contemporary title that has been recommended to be by coworkers and students at my library.


Again I had the hardest time with creating this portion of my list!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas- I have read nothing but rave reviews for this book.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli- I loved Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda and I'm really looking forward to this companion novel.

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas - I was completely sucked into this fantasy series especially with the epic cliffhanger in the second book. I have avoided reviews and spoilers of this book. I can't wait to dive in and see what happens next.

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah- This is timely contemporary that has been on my radar ever since it was a tiny blurb.

Middle Grade/Childrens

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh- A collection of diverse stories that has received awesome reviews.

Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail- A contemporary retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac that sounds super cute.

Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan - Of course summer would not be complete without a book by Rick Riordian!

This is just a small sampling of book that are on my reading list. I'm hoping to tackle these before I attend the ALA Annual Conference in June where I'm sure I will get a ton of galleys that I will also add to the 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

Description: Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe.
  Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise.

Review: With ten books in the series, the Mercy Thompson series is still going strong. Silence Fallen is different than the earlier books in the series but it still maintains it trademark action, humor, romance, and suspense. Unlike the other books in the series, Silence Fallen primarily takes place in Europe and it was fun to step outside the Tri-Cities. Briggs does a good job in providing enough details about the new setting's history and folklore to make the countries come alive. I'm being vague on purpose as to avoid spoilers.
 Silence Fallen refers to Mercy's removal from her pack and from Adam. While I missed several my favorite pack members, it was nice to get Mercy on her own. This book really examined Mercy's fear of abandonment and showed how incredibly resourceful she is as a survival. Where many of us would cry and given in to our fears, Mercy doesn't have many "woe is me" moments but rather keeps a cool head and thinks things through rationally although she may not necessarily have control as to what comes her way.
Silence Fallen also has a different narrative structure than the other Mercy books. The story is told in two different timelines and switches point of views between Mercy and Adam. Mercy is still written in the first person point of view whereas Adam's point of view is written in the third person. While I understood the rationale of having two timelines I felt it disrupted the story for me mainly because the chapters for Mercy were a bit too long and then it would quickly switch to Adam's timeline. Had the chapters been a bit shorter it might have flowed better. The other thing that was jarring for me was Adam's point of view being written in the third person, which made it less intimate. While his perspective was a nice surprise and added to the story, I would have liked to get inside his head a bit more. It was also nice to get back to the vampires. I forgot how tricky they can be! Overall, Silence Fallen is another great installment of the Mercy Thompson series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and some language. Suitable for mature teen readers and adults.

If you like this book try: Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs, Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews, Others series by Anne Bishop
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.
  Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Review: The best way I could describe The Bone Witch would be a mash-up between fantasy and Memoirs of a Geisha. While an original concept, I had a really hard time getting into this book. It read as a very long prologue as this is clearly the first book in a series. 
 Tea is an asha, known for performing, fighting, and magic. Ashas are revered for their talents yet treated as outcasts and feared by their kingdoms. Tea stumbles upon being an asha when she accidentally raises her dead brother Fox. The narrative is split into two timelines. The past timeline details Tea’s early training as an asha and the future timeline shows a hardened, cynical Tea on a lonely beach raising monsters and planning war, relating her past to a nameless bard. I didn't mind the back and forth timelines as they were easily to distinguish the two and I also found the world building confusing but fascinating as the author combines several Asian influences into her book. I also liked the concept surrounding the heartglass which dictates a person's emotions and intentions. 
  The book is very slow pace and I mostly skimmed much of it as it could not hold my attention. We are told in the beginning about a dark force descending upon Tea's people, however, we don't hear of it until the last 100 pages in the story where all the action seemed to happen all at once. There is surprisingly very little magic performed in the book which I found disappointing. I also found some of the secondary characters such as Fox and Tea's mentor to be much more interesting than Tea herself. Tea was stubborn and headstrong and there were a few times she came across as very young. I really liked Chupeco's debut novel, The Girl from the Well, and I will keep an eye out for what she writes in the future, however, I struck out with this new series and don't plan to continue it.

Rating: 2 stars

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

If you like this book try: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen's #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on topeven if it means bullying others. Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

Review: In this charming graphic memoir Hale reflects on her elementary school years and focuses on childhood friendship. As a child Shannon feels lost. She does not quite fit in at home, being the middle child between two older and two younger siblings. Shannon also feels a bit lost at school with not finding friends her own age until she meets her first friend Adrienne who Shannon attaches to pretty quickly. As we all have experienced, childhood friendships are mercurial and changes quite frequently. When Adrienne moves up on the social ladder and becomes more popular she leaves Shannon behind and joins the "the group"'s ringleader Jen. Shannon remains on the outer fringes of the "group" where mean girl Jenny is determined to keep Shannon there by spreading rumors and bullying her. Eventually Shannon does find friends in sixth graders Zara and Veronica who show Shannon that being yourself and being nice is the key to popularity.
 I like how the book is divided into sections titled with the name of a friend or frenemy: Adrienne, Jen, Jenny, Zara and Veronica, and Shannon's oldest sister Wendy, whom she imagines as an angry bear. It was very easy to empathize with Shannon’s painful experiences of being left out, teased, and bullied. While there are dark moments for Shannon, readers will rejoice whens he learns how to find real friends, avoid toxic ones, and stands up for herself. There is also a brief mention of Shannon developing mild OCD and undiscovered anxiety which contributed to her stress and frustration with making friends. Hale also does a good job in showing how Wendy also faced similar setbacks on finding friends too and eventually bonded with Shannon.  
   The illustrations are vibrant and the characters leap off the page. There is a nice balance between   humorous and sensitive depictions of the young characters’ wide-ranging emotions that work well with the text. Real Friends will be a hit with fans of Raina Telgemeier’s and Cece Bell’s graphic memoirs.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Rummanah Aasi
I didn't anticipate doing another WOW post this week but there so many great books coming out this summer and fall that I'm very excited about. Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of two books, one adult and one YA: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld and Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley.

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Publish date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins

I found this book while attending a library webinar and after reading its description I knew I had to read it. 

“Where are you, Madison Culver? Flying with the angels, a silver speck on a wing? Are you dreaming, buried under snow? Or—is it possible—you are still alive?”

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight-years-old by now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as “the Child Finder,” Naomi is their last hope.

Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl, too.

As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

Told in the alternating voices of Naomi and a deeply imaginative girl, The Child Finder is a breathtaking, exquisitely rendered literary page-turner about redemption, the line between reality and memories and dreams, and the human capacity to survive.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Publish Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Random House/Knopf Books for Young Readers

 I really enjoyed Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon and would love to read more from her. Judging by the book's premise with letters and a second chance romance I think I will also really this book too. 

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

Review: Though a slight book, Nina LaCour's We Are Okay is able to address all of the levels of grieving and a spot-on voice of Marin, a teen who is unable to face her past. After completing her first semester of college, Marin stays alone in the dorms over break. She would much rather be alone, isolated even with the threat of a snowstorm looming, rather than return to San Francisco, where bad memories and pain lurk. Marin's best friend Mabel comes to stay with her and over the next few days tries to coax Marin to return to San Francisco wither her. As Marin slowly opens up, we learn more about her life. Her mother, a surfer, drowned when Marin was just a toddler. She has an absentee father who she never knew. Marin was lovingly raised by her grandfather yet he also held up walls between them. After painful events where Marin felt loss and betrayal, Marin packs up and runs away.
 I really liked how LaCour took advantage of her settings and created distinct emotions associated with them. In San Francisco there is warmth, memories filled with people who held personal relationships with Marin. In New York there is isolation, cold temperatures, and loneliness. I also really liked Marin as a character too. She is introspective and introverted and the story reflects her personality as there is very little plot in the book and the narrative emphasizes Marin's internal dialogue and musings on literature and art. Along with coping with grief, Marin is also dealing with her complicated relationship with Mabel who may be more than just her confident and best friend. Though the book deals with loss it does thankfully end on a hopeful note as Marin begins to face her problems and let others help her instead of pushing them away.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, The Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Rummanah Aasi
 I am so far behind in my reading! I have a long list of books that I need to read during Summer Break and I really hope I can finish all of them. Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of two books, one adult and one YA: How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry and Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Publish date: May 19, 2017
Publisher: Orion Books

I first saw this book while attending a library webinar and I knew I had to read it. It sounds perfect for any bibliophile on a breezy summer day.  

Everyone has a story . . . but will they get the happy ending they deserve?

Emilia has just returned to her idyllic Cotswold hometown to rescue the family business. Nightingale Books is a dream come true for book-lovers, but the best stories aren't just within the pages of the books she sells - Emilia's customers have their own tales to tell.

There's the lady of the manor who is hiding a secret close to her heart; the single dad looking for books to share with his son but who isn't quite what he seems; and the desperately shy chef trying to find the courage to talk to her crush.

And as for Emilia's story, can she keep the promise she made to her father and save Nightingale Books?

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden
Publish Date: May 30, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury

 This historical fiction book has been receiving stellar reviews. I am also curious to learn more about this little known Civil War tragedy.

When Mariah and her young brother Zeke are suddenly freed from slavery, they set out on Sherman’s long march through Georgia during the Civil War. Mariah wants to believe that the brutalities of slavery are behind them forever and that freedom lies ahead. When she meets Caleb, an enigmatic young black man also on the march, Mariah soon finds herself dreaming not only of a new life, but of true love as well. But even hope comes at a cost, and as the treacherous march continues toward the churning waters of Ebenezer Creek, Mariah’s dreams are as vulnerable as ever.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jean-Michael Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe's vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat's own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn't always have to be neat or clean--and definitely not inside the lines--to be beautiful.

Review: Radiant Child won the prestigious Caldecott Award last year for the best picture book for children. In this vibrant, colorful, energetic picture book we learn about the biography of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist that I was not familiar with before picking up this book. We are introduced to the artist's childhood and early career. Born in Brooklyn with a mixed heritage of Puerto Rican and Haitian, Basquiat loved art at an early age and was encouraged to pursue his dream of being a famous artist by his equally artistic mother. The artwork mirror's Basquiat’s signature style of eclectic pieces that weirdly work together. At first glance the illustrations can be chaotic and too busy until you take your time and dissect the layers. The illustrations also highlight some of Basquiat's trademarks such as the golden cartoon crowns, eyeballs, and vehicles scattered everywhere. Though we do get a glimpse of his mother dealing with mental health issues, there are no mentions of the troubles with addiction and early death that I found out after doing some research after reading this book. Considering it's a book for children, I think the writer made a good decision in having the book end with Basquiat achieving his dream and quotes of people talking about his work. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention that Basquiat's mother was taken away to a facility in order to get treatment for her mental health issues. Recommended for Grades 1-5.

If you like this book try: A Splash of Red by Jennifer Bryant, Frida by Jonah Winter, Colors of the Wind by J.L. Powers

Description: Louis Braille was just five years old when he lost his sight. He was a clever boy, determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read. Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him. And so he invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. A system so ingenious that it is still used by the blind community today.

Review: Six Dots is a pictorial biography on the Louis Braille's life. As a child, Louis Braille was curious and energetic. Sadly, an accident blinded him in one eye and he lost his other due to a spread of infection. Though Louis learned to navigate daily life, he missed the knowledge gained through reading, and applied to the Royal School for the Blind, where books with raised letters provided a slow and unsatisfying alternative. When he was introduced to a French military code written in patterns of dots, Braille wondered if this would be a more suitable alternative to the raised letters and if it could be expanded into an actual language. Though I liked the way the book was written, I thought it was a bit too text heavy for young readers. I would have liked an inclusion of actual Braille in the book instead of the simple diagram of the Braille alphabet on the endpapers. Still, I think this is an important read based on the life of a very worthy inventor.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-3.

If you like this book try: Who was Louis Braille? by Margaret Frith

Description: Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr's stunning stone images illustrate the story.

Review: Stepping Stones is a heartbreaking and timely picture book depicting the plights of Syrian refugees who are forced to leave their homes and start their life over in a new country. The text is simple yet direct, written in blank verse and in dual English and Arabic. What steals the spotlight in this book is the the artwork, stone-collage illustrations created by Syrian artist Badr, who arranges the stunning, tactile creation of people formed entirely of rocks and pebbles (enlarge the book cover to get a sense of what I'm talking about). On every spread, a round pebble hovers over the refugees, providing light, like the moon or sun, as well as hope. I would highly recommend getting this book simply for the art itself. This is a unique picture book that I hope will open eyes, create empathy and understanding.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None, but young readers will need background information about what is happening in Syria and about refugees. Recommended for Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side. And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.
  Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?
  For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her. And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself. As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Review: The Crown's Game was one of the most hyped books of 2016. I kept seeing it everywhere on the blogosphere and on booktuber's channels. I did a pretty good job dodging these titles, but alas curiosity got the best of me again. The Crown's Game did not wow me at all and despite its cool premise, it left me wanting more. 
 In an alternate 19th-century Russia, the tsar can call upon the abilities of an enchanter. Normally, only one exists at a time. In the rare case that two are born, they must compete, because Russia's inherent magic will allow only one to remain alive. Vika is an expert at controlling the elements and has been training her whole life to serve her country, unaware that another enchanter exists. Nikolai, best friend to the tsar's son, Pasha, has been training with his mentor explicitly for the Crown's Game. When the game begins, Vika and Nikolai take turns showing off their magical prowess for the tsar, creating wonders that get more powerful with each turn until the Crown Game finally begins.
 I didn't care for any of the characters in the Crown's Game and I found them so bland, one dimensional for my tastes. Furthermore Nikolai and Pasha seemed interchangeable to me until the author would point out their different social statuses. I expected Vika and Nikolai to have some suspicions about one another, but to my dismay they quickly became friends and starting to fall for one another. The "magic show" felt like I was watching a Disney montage instead of both enchanters displaying their strengths. Also it was so obvious that Nikolai, Vika, and Pasha would form a love triangle. Overall I felt very bored for most of the book and was further disappointed when the author seems to find a loop hole into her own premise of how only one enchanter can survive. Needless to say I will not continue this series.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: Infidelity and child born out of wedlock are mentioned in the story. There is also a scene at a bar. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Having no experience in romance, the vibrant Ninako curiously explores the meaning of what "love" really is, and is surprised to feel a colorful range of emotions as she grows closer to the school heartthrob, the quiet yet gentle Ren, who also happens to be involved in a longtime relationship. With every intention of keeping her head held high, Ninako prepares to face the mental pain of this one-sided love that she had allowed to take root, facing a series of trials that would either contribute to her growth as a headstrong woman, or break her as it did with other girls. However, is this really a one-sided love? Or had something been silently sown in the most hidden part of Ren's heart?

Review: Strobe Edge is a sweet, straight-forward shoujo manga. It is relatively short compared to standard manga series, completing at ten volumes. The focus of Strobe Edge is examining all the emotions that surround the concept of love, both familial and romantic. Readers familiar with shoujo manga will immediately recognize its familiar tropes: a budding romance between the dashing yet aloof hero, the sweet, flighty heroine who eventually wins the hero over by her quiet strength and generous heart, and large doses of unnecessary drama until the happily ever after ending. Unlike other shoujo mangas that I've read, Strobe Edge has surprisingly very little drama, but it is full of heart and emotions. 
   Ninako begins to develop a crush on Ren, one of the most popular and cutest boys in school, after he notices her when he accidentally breaks her cell-phone charm and then replaces it. This generosity from the school's otherwise silent "pop star" distracts Ninako from Daiki, the boy who's been there all along, and makes her start becoming more aware of what love should feel and look like. As the story progresses, Ninako evolves from being a stereotypical shoujo heroine into someone who gains maturity and clearly articulate her feelings with honesty and passion. Unlike her female classmates who fall for Ren because of his physical looks, Ninako falls for Ren for his acts of kindness, his quiet and shy personality that others claim is his arrogance. Of course happily ever after is a long road for Ninako, as she discovers that Ren has a girlfriend and is committed to her. Instead of finding ways to sabotage Ren's relationship, Ninako finds a way to turn her unrequited love into friendship and never wavers for her love for Ren until the opportunity presents itself. Through the secondary characters and their relationships, we see how love can be successful and disastrous as well as how they envisioned on what love is suppose to look like which I found to be interesting.
  The illustrations of Strobe Edge has the typical manga look with characters that have large eyes, crazy hair colors, and pointy hair, but the panels are filled with life and action. The best parts of the book are the closeup, wordless panels that the author creates that allow the physical features of the characters to emote and tell the story where words seem to fail them. Overall this manga is a sure winner for readers who seek a cute romance with very little drama and angst. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some crude sexual humor and minor language. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this series try: L-DK series by Ayu Watanabe, Say I love You series by Kanae Hazuki

Rummanah Aasi
 Description: Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.
  As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Review: Star-Crossed is a sweet coming-out story and a promising, chaste romance for middle grade readers that intertwines with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Mattie annoys her friends because she is constantly thinking and unsure of her actions. She finds herself having a crush on Elijah who shares her passion for reading, but that slowly disappears after a disastrous Halloween party. Soon she is inexplicably drawn to Gemma, a new student who seems perfect in every way. As the eighth grade play, Rome and Juliet, goes underway Mattie learns more about herself and Gemma. Mattie discovers that she really like her. Is it possible to like both boys and girls?
  The incorporation of Romeo and Juliet works really well in the book. Each chapter begins with a snippet from the play and it was really fun trying to see how that line fits into the context of our story. I also appreciated how the students tried to understand what Shakespeare meant and discuss some of the issues of the play (i.e. fickleness of love, impulsive behavior, secrets, etc). Those same issues were also mirrored in Mattie's life too. At times there was a bit too much Shakespeare with large chunks of the dialogue put into the story, which might deter some young readers from picking up this book. Though ultimately the Shakespeare play is a tragedy, Star-Crossed is far from one. Mattie has a supportive family, caring friends, a teacher who understands her, and a diverse cast of classmates that may be more tolerant of her sexuality. Though romance doesn't actually bloom between Mattie and Gemma, it is possible in the book's open ending. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene where a homophobic slur is used by a student but the teacher quickly addresses it. Mattie's best friend likes to use Shakespearean insults instead of foul language. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: George by Alex Gino, Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of two debut books, one adult and one YA: Salt Houses by Hala Alyan and Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali.

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Publish date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I first saw this book in a library journal and I knew I had to read it. I know it won't be an easy read, but I can definitely tell that it will be enlightening. 

On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s  future in a cup of coffee dregs. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel, and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967.   Salma is forced to leave her home in Nablus; Alia’s brother gets pulled into a politically militarized world he can’t escape; and Alia and her gentle-spirited husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly build a life with their three children.

When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again lose their home, their land, and their story as they know it, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. Soon Alia’s children begin families of their own, once again navigating the burdens (and blessings) of assimilation in foreign cities.   Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses is a remarkable debut novel that challenges and humanizes an age-old conflict we might think we understand—one that asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again.

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Publish Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Simon and Schuster/Salaam Reads

 This is a YA debut for the Salaam Reads imprint, which I am really looking forward to reading. This book tackles several important issues that are timely and important.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tight knit Muslim community think of her then?
Rummanah Aasi
Description: When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.
   To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Review: History Is All You Left Me is an emotional, cathartic punch in the heart. I mean that as a compliment. Griffin has lost Theo, his best friend and first love, twice: first temporarily when they broke up as a couple and second permanently when Theo dies in a drowning accident. The story is structured in two timelines, the history of before where we see Griffin and Theo fall in and out of love in a well developed romance and the now as Griffin narrates to Theo his heartbreaking journey through the grieving process, highlighted by disorientation, resentment, unhealthy relationships, and selfishness. 
  The dual narratives worked well in the book, balancing out the light moments with the dark ones. It is also clear to see how Griffin romanticized the history, downplaying the bad times. Griffin's love for Theo is all consuming, but it makes sense given how their relationship evolved from best friends and later to boyfriends. Both narratives are infused by Griffin's struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. Like the before timeline, Griffin's obsessive compulsive disorder is seen as a natural part of his life, but as we venture into the present timeline, it is clearly affecting his life and taken seriously by seeking treatment.
    The writing is raw and lyrical, never melodramatic. We see how each cast of the characters deals with romance and grief differently. The mysteries of what happened between Griffin's and Theo's best friend Wade in between the two timelines kept the pace moving for me. I would have liked to gotten to know more about Jackson. Like breakups in real life, grief is also messy, realistic, complex, and painful. We may not agree with Griffin's actions in jumping into unhealthy relationships, but we can understand what led him to them and identify with his confusion and denial. 
  History Is All You Left Me is a book where you will need tissues at hand. There were several moments where I had a lump in my throat and never once it did feel contrived or orchestrated by the author. It is a smart, profound character-driven read that will leave you drained yet hopeful until the last page.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, sex is alluded to and mentioned in the book, a character mentions having an abortion, and there is a small scene of underage drinking at a party. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle
Rummanah Aasi
Description: She's your new favorite. She's everyone's new favorite. And now she's joining the big leagues. Look out world, Kamala Khan is officially an Avenger! But will being one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes be everything she imagined? Or is life as a celebrity harder than she thought? But while saving the world is important, Jersey City still needs its protector too. A development company that co-opted Ms. Marvel's face for its project might well have more in mind for gentrification than just real estate. Can Kamala take down the evil suits destroying her home without ruining her personal life? Speaking of which, who exactly is that with Bruno? Get back on board and cling on, Kamala Korps, the ride is about to get wilder than ever!

Review: Volume 5 is possibly my second favorite Ms. Marvel comic after its debut volume. This fantastic volume incorporates everything that I love about this series, mainly a good balance between Kamala's civilian life and that of her being a superhero. In this volume Kamala's stress level is at an all time high. She is struggling to balance friendships, family, and superhero-ing, especially now since she is an official Avenger. Let's just say that it is not going well. I liked how this volume showed how Kamala despite her superpowers, ethnicity, and religious affiliation is like the ordinary person. We can easily empathize with her when her best intentions fall flat and nothing seems to be going right. Thankfully, this volume is not all about Kamala's angst but there is other light moments developing in this volume such as Aamir's wedding and Bruno starting a relationship which are both equally adorable. Like the other volumes of this graphic novel series, there are guest appearances that are fun to read. The writing remains strong though the illustrations are inconsistent as the illustrator tends to change.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and minor language. Suitable for middle grade readers and up.

Description: While CIVIL WAR II brews, the next generation of Avengers has bigger things to worry about - like a tri-state academic competition! As rival schools clash, Ms. Marvel's teammates Spider-Man and Nova are now her enemies! But when Kamala gets called to the real battle's front line, she faces a fight she can't embiggen her way out of. She's about to learn a valuable lesson: Never meet your idols! As war intensifies, tragedy strikes too close to home - and Ms. Marvel must choose between her heroes and her family. When friends become foes, Ms. Marvel struggles to put her life and Jersey City back together. Kamala will be forced to grow up fast and find her true place in the world. But will she be an international sensation...or a menace?

Review: I didn't care for the Marvel Civil War tie-in in this volume except meeting the awesome Miles Morales aka Spiderman, but I did love the overall theme of various types of action-mainly taking a totalitarian/aggressive approach of nipping things at the bud when you can only anticipate things happening and give up free will/choice or take another completely different route? Wilson plays this scenario out as Captain Marvel and her agents have created a device that can anticipate crime before it is happening ala Minority Report. Things don't turn out right and leaves Kamala shaken to her core. Her symbol of standing up for good is changed in her community and her beliefs of being a superhero are challenged. I loved how Wilson incorporated Kamala's family flashbacks to the India-Pakistan partition, a bloody time period and the biggest human migration noted in history, showing how Kamala's mother's actions and emotions at that tumultuous time mirror Kamala in present day. The motif of going back to your roots in order to gain perspective also works well in this volume as Kamala goes to Karachi, Pakistan, to visit family and put Ms. Marvel aside only to learn why she needs to be Ms. Marvel.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and minor language. Suitable for middle grade readers and up.

If you like these books try: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Thor: The Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron, The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Che Taylor loves his younger sister, Rosa. But he’s also certain that she’s a psychopath— clinically, threateningly, dangerously. Recently Rosa has been making trouble, hurting things. Che is the only one who knows; he’s the only one his sister trusts. Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and very good at hiding what she is and the manipulation she’s capable of.
  Their parents, whose business takes the family from place to place, brush off the warning signs as Rosa’s “acting out.” Now that they have moved again—from Bangkok to New York City—their new hometown provides far too many opportunities for Rosa to play her increasingly complex and disturbing games. Che’s always been Rosa’s rock, protecting her from the world. Now, the world might need protection from her.

Review: Che and his family have moved from Australia to the United States. Though he is far from happy with the move, Che has a few priorities on his mind on how he would like to start a fresh start. On his mind are two simple tasks: find a new boxing gym and keep the world safe from his sister Rosa. For almost as long as she's been alive, Che has known that something is not right with his sister. Rosa is different from other children. She is cold, callous, fascinated by pain, and has no and does not understand empathy. Rosa does however know how to play people, using her sweet demure visage and her innocence as a weapon. As we learn through some startling events, Rosa is a threat to all those around her, whether or not her parents see it. When their lives collide with old family friends, Che struggles to keep Rosa in line at the same time as he's experiencing his first love. 
  I had high hopes for My Sister Rosa, but was ultimately let down and felt underwhelmed by it. I would not categorize the book as a thriller but more of a psychological character sketch as we see Che record his conversations with Rosa in order to present it as evidence to his parents that Rosa needs professional help. We do get eerie moments with Rosa but the slow pace and Che's rumination of whether or not his sister is evil got boring and repetitive. I also found the twist at the end to be forced and undeveloped. Despite my issues, however, I did appreciate the wide variety of nuanced and complex diverse characters in the book which was done really well. The author also tried to touch above a variety of subjects such as religion and social status but it wasn't explored as much as I would have liked.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusion to a masturbation scene, and a semi-explicit sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn, Slice of Cherries by Dia Reeves
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Jen just wants a normal lesson with her cabin, teaching Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley the basic survival skills needed without any supernatural intervention. But when a blizzard hits camp, Jen finds herself separated from the girls and in more trouble than ever... until a mysterious taxidermist swoops in to save the day. Who is she and what is her relationship to Rosie? Join Jen as she finds a way back to her girls, and a way to save the day!

Review: Lumberjanes continues to be an enjoyable read where female friendships are celebrated and take center stage. This graphic novel series is a fun mash-up between traditional camping experiences and fantasy. In this volume we get more backstory as how the camp started, the camp director Rosie, and the mysterious Bear Woman we met in the last volume. We also learn what it means to be a Lumberjane, a person who drops everything in order to help their friends in a time of need, as our young Lumberjanes get together and put their combined skill set in use as they try to save their camp counselor Jen after she disappears.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

Description: Excited for the annual Bandicoot Bacchanal, Ripley recruits her friends to help her get ready for the dance. But before the Lumberjanes know it, something mysterious begins to bubble to the surface of the lake near camp! Will the Lumberjanes be able to bring peace to the lake in time for the Bacchanal?

Review: My favorite part of this volume is learning about the families of our favorite Lumberjanes and how they met one another, which sets the stage of our story. Unlike the other volumes in this series, there is one main plot point that we are following which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In this volume we are zeroing in the flaw of April who likes to control things and we see how her attempts affects others. We also find out that there are mermaids in the lake near camp, which really isn't all that surprising considering all the other wacky/supernatural/fantasy things that happen in this series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like these books try: Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley, Ms. Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson, Foiled by Jane Yolen
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Solimar Castro Valdez is eighteen and dazed with optimism when she embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives on her cousin's doorstep in Berkeley, CA, dazed by first love found then lost, and pregnant. This was not the plan. But amid the uncertainty of new motherhood and her American identity, Soli learns that when you have just one precious possession, you guard it with your life. For Soli, motherhood becomes her dwelling and the boy at her breast her hearth.
  Kavya Reddy has always followed her heart, much to her parents' chagrin. A mostly contented chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house, the unexpected desire to have a child descends like a cyclone in Kavya's mid-thirties. When she can't get pregnant, this desire will test her marriage, it will test her sanity, and it will set Kavya and her husband, Rishi, on a collision course with Soli, when she is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya's care. As Kavya learns to be a mother--the singing, story-telling, inventor-of-the-universe kind of mother she fantasized about being--she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else's child.

Review: Despite the cheery title, Lucky Boy is a heart wrenching novel that humanizes the issue of illegal immigration. This timely book is told from two point of views of women who come from very different ethnic and socioeconomic differences though they both struggle with motherhood and the meaning of family. Their lives are intersected by one little boy and I'm hesitant to call him 'lucky' given the horrible circumstances that surround him. 
  Soli is an undocumented Mexican immigrant determined to start a new life in America. During her treacherous journey across the border, she ends up pregnant and single. Without other options, Soli lands a job cleaning houses for a well-to-do white family. Soli has an extremely hard time raising her son, Ignacio, without calling attention to herself. In a parallel story, Kavya is a non-traditional Indian daughter who has failed to live up to her mother's expectations. Kavya is desperate to start a family, but she is unable to conceive. Her tunnelvision of having children push her and her husband Rishi apart until they decide to adopt. Soli and Kavya's stories intersect when an accident puts Soli in police custody, Ignacio is taken away from her by social services and placed in foster care; Kavya and Rishi, are then selected as Ignacio's foster parents. 
 It was heartbreaking watching Soli being ripped away from Ignacio. My heart ached for both of them. We also learn of Soli's horrible treatment while she is placed in a detention center for undocumented immigrants. She undergoes physical abuse as well as being continually raped by one of her guards who is there to "protect her".
  I also felt for Kavya and Rishi as they try to learn how to become parents and how they fall in love with baby Ignacio. The heartbreaking journeys of these two women, bound by love of the baby boy, are the center of the novel. All of the characters are drawn complexly and the relationships depicted are nuanced. The expectations of what "happily ever after" should look like and the reality is also nicely explored throughout the book. Along with the heartache, there are moments of hope and light that are full of great depth and insight. Though the ending maybe be a bit melodramatic, I found it completely engrossing and would recommend it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, mention of rape and molestation, and sexual situations. Due to mature themes, I would suggest this book to mature teen readers and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Secret Daughter by

Rummanah Aasi
 I was both very excited and nervous when Simon and Schuster launched an imprint called Salaam Reads, a variety of books will be published "to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works." Books about religion are very tricky to write. Some come off as preachy and heavy handed. So it was with trepidation that I read Amina's Voice the first book published by Salaam Reads. Thankfully, it was a great book to debut and I really enjoyed it. Many thanks to Simon and Schuster and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of Amina's Voice. Amina's Voice is now available in bookstores and libraries near you.

Description: Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Review: Amina's Voice is a delightful middle grade that focuses on the universal story of self-acceptance and the acceptance of others. Amina Khokar is a Pakistani-American tween who is navigating the troubled waters of junior high. Amina is musically gifted, a talent that only her family and close friends know. She bonds with her best friend, Soojin, with having weird names that no one can pronounce and similar family traditions. Amina is now worried that her friendship with Soojin might be on the rocks. Now that Soojin is about to be granted citizenship, she is thinking about leaving her Korean name and adopting a much easier to pronounce American name, which Amina has mixed feelings about. Amina is also unsure of Soojin being close to Emily, whom Amina distrusts and feels unworthy as friend given how she ill treated her and Soojin at the beginning of the school year. 
  In addition to the worries of school, Amina is also dealing with family issues. Amina's family is hosting her strict, conservative Muslim uncle, who is visiting Wisconsin from Pakistan and who will surely comment on her family's lifestyle in the United States and point out all of their flaws like not speaking Urdu at home or playing music at home. In addition to these mounting problems, Amina's parents sign her and her brother up in a competition to recite the Quran at their local mosque. Stage-fright-prone Amina prepares for the competition. The vandalism of the local Islamic Center and mosque further heightens the turmoil in this timely coming-of-age story. 
  What makes Amina's Voice work is the balance between ordinary problems like those of school and friendship and of religion and culture. Amina's responses to both problems are emotional and honest. We watch her grow, learn from her mistakes, and become a better person as realizes that she misjudged Emily. Confronting her preconceived notions is again reinforced on a larger scale as her community comes together in response to Islamophobic vandalism. The author also gracefully addresses the difficulty of reconciling individual beliefs with those of others, especially those you love, as well as the complications that accompany the merging of cultures.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a small scene in which Amina's brother is peer pressured into smoking a cigarette.

If you like this book try: In a similar vein that balances ordinary teen drama with religion and culture try Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (recommended for Grades 7 and up).
Rummanah Aasi
 I absolutely loved Jeff Zentner's debut novel, The Serpent King, and I could not wait to read his new book Goodbye Days. Many thanks to Random House and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of the book. Goodbye Days is now published and available at bookstores and libraries near you.

Description: One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts. The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash.
  Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions. Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend.
  Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?

Review: An innocuous text asking when his friends will pick him up from work upends Carver's life and snatches his three best friends away from him. Mars, distracted by replying to the text, crashed into a stopped truck, killing himself and Carver’s two other best friends, Blake and Eli. Now Mars’ father, a judge, has called on the district attorney to open an investigation and weigh charges of criminally negligent homicide against Carver. 
  While I didn't care for the suspense of whether or not the investigation will happen and what will happen to Carver, I did understand why this plot device was used in the book, which is not to trivialize the horrible car crash. I think it helped the reader to contextualize Carver's emotions and inner turmoil. Needless to say Carver is mess. He is riddled by guilt, feeling responsible for his friends' loss, and friendless. The investigation amplifies these emotions and stress, causing Carver to have panic attacks, which send him into therapy. 
  Zenter does a wonderful job in creating empathetic, flawed, and diverse characters. Once again it is his characters that are the highlight of the book. I liked Carver and did not find him whiny. He is introverted and it is clear that his friendship with Mars, Blake and Eli brought him out of his shell as we see in his flashbacks. I also loved his close bond with his sister. It's very rare in YA that we have solid sibling friendship/bonds. Carver's friendship with Jesmyn, Eli's girlfriend, felt natural and awkward as they are both dealing with their grief. Carver's growing attraction to her and the possibility of being more than friends with Jesmyn also felt real. 
  My favorite parts of the book, however, is the actual Goodbye Days as Carver attempts at atonement by spending the day with his friends' loved ones. Each Goodbye Day brings Carver's friends alive as he and their loved ones share memories and discover new aspects of the boys. While the Goodbye Days are met with mixed success, it helps Carver navigate his own grieving process and feeds his subconscious desire for punishment. I also appreciated the inclusion of therapy and medication where Carver talked to and open up with his therapist because it is important to show teens that mental health and getting help is not something to be ashamed of. Goodbye Days is a poignant, realistic read that made me choke up a few times with emotions. While I didn't love it as much as The Serpent King, I would really recommend picking it up.   

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, crude sexual humor, drug abuse and child negligent is mentioned in the story. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Looking for Alaska by John Green
Rummanah Aasi
 Many thanks to First Second Books and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks. The Stone Heart will be released on April 4, 2017 in bookstores and libraries near you.

Description: Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.
  To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he's stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

Review: The Stone Heart builds upon the fabulous and intricate world building of the first volume, The Nameless City, and provides an action-packed sequel that focuses on intrigue and politics. Unlike the first volume that discussed prejudices and history with a more upbeat tone, this second volume is darker with lots of bloodshed.
  After thwarting an assassination, Kai and Rat's friendship has inspired the General of All Blades to change his politics. Instead of reinforcing the strong discrepancies and inequalities of the many citizens in the Nameless City, the General of All Blades moves forward with Kai’s father’s unprecedented plan for a council to give all that city’s peoples, natives and conquerors alike, a say in its governance and future. Many Dao conservatives, especially Erzi who feels ruling the Nameless City as his birthright, strongly objects to the creation of this council and takes drastic actions to prevent it from happening.  With the Dao Empire suddenly thrown into chaos and with their lives in danger, Kai, Rat, and Kai’s injured father seek refuge among the monks of the Stone Heart, but Erzi finds them soon enough as we learn that he is indirectly being steered by the enigmatic, stealth Mura’s quest for vengeance against the monks. The monks hold a powerful weapon and whoever welds it will seal the fate of the Nameless City. 
  Those who enjoyed the first volume of this series will not be disappointed with this sequel. The plenty of action sequences and plot twists had me turning the pages quickly. There are some lighter moments in the book that balance the darker tones. I appreciated the addition of new characters and I can't wait to learn more about them in the final volume of this graphic novel series. An author's note clears up the confusion regarding the author's inspiration is welcomed and a great addition to the volume.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some violence in the book, however, most of it take place off the page. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Fullmetal Alchemist series by Hiromu Arakawa and Avatar: The Last Airbender by Gene Luen Yang
Rummanah Aasi

Spring Break will start in 1 day for me and I can't wait. The weather outside is anything but spring-like with snow on the ground and temperatures in the 30s in the Chicagoland area all week long. I really hope it warms up for Spring Break! I am always asked for reading recommendations for Spring Break so I thought I would make a blog post about it. Below are some of my suggestions of books that I loved for children, young adult, and adult readers. I hope with this variety that I can find something for everyone!

My Childrens/Middle Grade Picks:

Realistic Fiction:  Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart - A heartwarming story about two marginalized tweens that tackles gender identity and mental health.

Best Man by Richard Peck-  An adorable, funny, and insightful coming-of-age story that traces the milestones in Archer Magill's life from first to sixth grade while deftly addressing a variety of social issues.

Ghost  by Jason Reynolds- A quick and engaging read in which a tween longs for a better life.

Historical Fiction: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk- My favorite children's book of 2016 that reminded me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Fantasy: A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd - A delightful, inspiring, and heartwarming book where words have magic.

Mystery: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein- It reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl's classic children book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory minus the creepy and weird Willy Wonka. Instead of a candy factory, the setting here is a futuristic and an awesome library.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Tunage - The star of the book is the quick-thinking, precocious, sassy, and incredibly lovable Mo LoBeau along with fabulous cast of secondary characters in this modern-day mystery set in a small North Carolina town. Mo has an unique childhood.

Graphic Novels: There are so many great graphic novels out. I would highly recommend checking out Princeless by Jeremy Whitley, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks,  and the Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson which can be easily read by middle graders.

Picture Books: Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol,
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown, Blackout by John Rocco, and Journey by Aaron Becker

My YA Picks:

Realistic Fiction: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Lucy and Linh by Amy Pung, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Fantasy: Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Paranormal Romance: A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Science Fiction: We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, and The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

Thriller/Suspense/Mystery: The Agency series by Y.S. Lee, The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting, The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Historical Fiction: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, And I Darken by Kierstin White

Graphic Novels: March trilogy by John Lewis, Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, Strobe Edge manga series by Io Sakisaka

My Adult Picks:

Thriller/Suspense/Mystery: House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, The Fever by Megan Abbott, Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke

Paranormal/Urban Fantasy/Fantasy: One Thousand and One Nights by

Contemporary Literature: Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sankana, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan, In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

Historical Fiction: Before I Met You by Lisa Jewel, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Cove by Ron Rash

Graphic Novels: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, The Monstress by Marjorie Lu

Nonfiction: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore,
The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, 
Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs, The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

I'm going to be taking a blogging break next week, but I would love to hear what are you are planning to read for Spring Break and what would you recommend?
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