Rummanah Aasi

 As I promised last week, here are my favorite books of 2017. As a quick disclaimer, these books may not all be 2017 releases but I did read them in 2017. Currently, I am wrapping up my 250th book of 2017 by finishing up The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which is my public library's classic book club pick. I'm glad I joined this club because I don't think I would have lasted this long with Brothers K without any support. It is very dense and difficult book but there are lots of things to discuss. Without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2017 ranked according to the interest level. 

Favorite Adult Book

I read a quite a few adult titles that I enjoyed in 2017, but none of them really made a lasting impression other than Katherine Arden's debut fantasy novel, The Bear and the Nightingale. The writing is exquisite and the characters are definitely memorable especially the main female protagonist, Vasilisa, who is unapologetically herself. I can not wait to continue her adventures in this fabulous series.

Favorite Children/Middle Grade Books

 I always try to fit in some children and middle grade reads into my yearly reading challenge. This year I read quite a few that I loved. 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill was the Newbery Award winner of 2016 and I am so glad I made time to read this book. It is an original fairy tale woven with a story on love, family, and friendship. It was very easy to get lost in this book. 

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins is an adorable and humorous picture book featuring a curmudgeon bear who becomes the unlikely parent to a flock of geese. 

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt is a very slim book that caught me by surprise. I was not prepared for the emotional punches this book contained. It is very reserved where the unspoken holds more power than what is written down. It is my favorite book on the Caudill book list of 2017.

Refugee by Alan Gratz is a very timely book that will help young readers understand the various reasons people leave their countries in search of a better life. I will be reviewing this book shortly.

Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail is a book that took me by surprise. It is a modern retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac featuring a diverse cast of tween characters. I loved the adaptation and the strong focus on friendship. The cute romance is an additional bonus. 

Favorite YA Books

Young Adult books dominate my reading pile because I work for teens as a high school librarian and I thoroughly enjoy reading and recommending them. This year I seem to have really enjoyed reading realistic/contemporary fiction the most with a smattering of historical fiction and fantasy.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han is the perfect conclusion to one of my favorite contemporary romance series. Lara Jean has grown from an awkward, shy, homebody teen to a girl who confidently makes her own decisions. If you haven't read any of Jenny Han's books and have been meaning to, I highly recommend To All the Boys I Loved Before series. I will be reviewing this one shortly. 

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennet is a wonderful, summer contemporary romance that I could not stop reading. I am a big movie fan so when I heard this book features a cinephile and a You Got Mail romance, I had to read it. It has a fabulous cast of diverse characters and it did not disappoint at all. I will be reviewing this one shortly.

Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios is a heart wrenching novel about an uhealthy relationship. Written from the point of view of a teen who finally got out of an abusive relationship, this is a raw and candid novel that teens and adults should both read. 

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo finishes an excellent YA fantasy duology that features a diverse cast of misfits who succeed to do the impossible. It has incredible world building, plot twists, and writing that will completely capture your attention. 

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera is a bittersweet tale of love and loss. If you are looking for an emotionally cathartic read, pick this up. It left me with lumps in my throat for much of this book.

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer is much more than your typical teen romance with a You Got Mail premise. It is a story of two teens who must forgive others and themselves. Yes, there is angst but there are also wonderful, flawed, three dimensional characters that you want to embrace. I can not wait to read its companion novel, More Than We Can Tell, which releases in March 2018.

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung is an underrated gem of a book that struck a strong chord within me. It continues to stay with me long after I finished it. I really wish more people would read this book. 

Now I Rise by Kiersten White is the second book in the Conqueror's Saga series that went beyond my expectations. Now I Rise shows the best, worst, and nuanced side of human nature. The complex politics and drive for power allow great and good people to commit terrible acts. The book is bursting with diversity in its multi-ethnic cast, strong LGBTQ representation, and wide range of religious diversity.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon is the first book in 2017 that I read in one sitting. It is an incredibly sweet romantic comedy that wonderfully explores the Indian culture. I think it would make an excellent movie and I can wait to read more from this author.

Favorite Graphic Novels/Manga

Orange by Ichigo Takano is a manga that does a terrific job depicting mental illness and the power of great friendships. Though you have to suspend your disbelief a bit on the time traveling aspect which I didn't really quite understand, it is the characters and their interactions that make this manga series shine. 

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui is an eye opening graphic novel memoir that explores the immigrant experience as well as one family's ordeal in the Vietnam War.  

Honorable Mentions

The following books are the ones that left a lasting impression on me that I would also highly recommend reading:

Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Geekerella by Ashley Poston
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie
Rummanah Aasi

 I would like to wish you all a very Happy Holidays! I hope you all have a safe and wonderful tiem with friends and family. I know this time can be hectic for many of you so be sure to also practice some self-care. If you are traveling, safe travels! Stay tuned to next week when I will post my favorite books of 2017!
Rummanah Aasi

Description: At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil. After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife.
  Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Review: There are some authors that write stories and there are other authors who are storytellers. Katherine Arden belongs to the latter category. While reading her mesmerizing debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, you actually feel like you are listening to an oral story while sitting next to a fire on a cold night. It is the perfect book to pick up and read this winter season.
  Combining history, mythology, and fairy tale, The Bear and the Nightingale takes place during medieval Russia where women had very few choices: become a wife who bears children and takes care of her household or become a nun dedicated to God. Vasilisa Petrovna refuses to do either much to the ire of her family, especially her religiously devout stepmother. Rebellious since birth, Vasilisa has always followed her instincts. Always escaping her confining home and banal household chores, she is at peace in the forest and conversing with spirits only she knows from folktales that she grew up with and know to be real. For the most part, Vasilisa's behavior is overlooked since she is the youngest child, but there is something alluring about her that her father refuses to acknowledge. The plot picks up when a charismatic priest comes to her father's village and clashes with the old customs, in particular of leaving offerings to spirits. Vasilisa knows that if this practice is stopped, the spirits will grow weak and be unable to defend the village when evil comes knocking. Soon crops and villagers begin to die. Vasilisa's unladylike behavior and refusal to follow the priest's teachings mark her as a witch in the villagers' eyes. Soon she finds that she is not the one who is bargaining with the devil.
 I found the clash between the organized religion and those of the spirits to be fascinating. I also loved the characters. Vasilisa is a strong female protagonist. She knows what she wants and refuses to bow down in front of societal expectations. Her beauty and charisma, for once, is internal and come from her strong self-confidence rather than physical appearance. There is a bit of a light romance simmering in the book, but for the most part is it about Vasilisa's coming of age. While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I was left wanting to know more about Vasilisa's older siblings who are mentioned in the first part of the book and have left a strong impression of her. I hope to learn more about them and continue with Vasilisa's adventures in the next book. I am so happy that this is only the beginning of a fabulous series.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images, nudity, and allusion to sex. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: 
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Review: I was not the biggest fan of the Grisha Trilogy, but I was fascinated enough by the world that Leigh Bardugo created that I wanted to pick up the Six of Crows duology. I am so glad that I did because it is fantastic and exceed all of my expectations. Six of Crows made my favorite list last year and the sequel, Crooked Kingdom is on my favorite for this year. If I could categorize Six of Crows, I would label it as a fantasy heist story. Crooked Kingdom still has the adrenaline rush, humor, and heart touching moments as Six of Crows, but it has a classic revenge story vibe to it. You definitely need to read Six of Crows before you pick up Crooked Kingdom in order to orientate yourself in the world and get to know the characters.
  Picking up where Six of Crows ended, a last-minute double-cross left Kaz and his gang in a tight spot. One of their team members is captured, they never got their money, and, thanks to their new companion, a highly sought-after Grisha, they are desperate to stay out of sight. This of course doesn't stop the ruthless and determined Kaz Brekker who comes with plan after plan to retrieve their lost member and swindle a vicious merchant out of his money and most importantly his reputation.
 Bardugo is so skillful with her world building that Ketterdam becomes a real place and character in the series and she does so seamlessly without resorting to info dumping. There were many times I was at the edge of my seat as Kaz got himself cornered and wondered how he would get out of it. Normally, I can easily see what characters will do, but in Crooked Kingdom I couldn't keep track of the twisty plot and finally just gave up to watch it all unfold. Like Six of Crows, the book is told from multiple point of views where each character gets to shine. The cast is diverse, brilliant, flawed, and incredibly endearing. We see these characters at their worst and their vulnerabilities shine through but also their best. While enjoying the roller coaster ride that is the plot, we see growth and redemption for these misfits.
 While Crooked Kingdom does tie up some loose ends, there are a few threads that are left tantalizingly open for a possible continuation in case Bardugo wants to return to this world. I really hope she does because I did not want this book to end. If you were lukewarm about the Grisha Trilogy like I was, I definitely urge you to pick up this duology. It is Bardugo at her best and I can't wait to see what she has up her sleeves in the future.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence and some strong language in the book. There are mentions of human trafficking including being sold to sex slavery. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Curse Worker series by Holly Black, Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima, The Reader by Traci Chee
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Wendy Davies crashes her car into a lake on a late summer night in New England with her two younger brothers in the backseat. When she wakes in the hospital, she is told that her youngest brother, Michael, is dead. Wendy — a once rational teenager – shocks her family by insisting that Michael is alive and in the custody of a mysterious flying boy. Placed in a new school, Wendy negotiates fantasy and reality as students and adults around her resemble characters from Neverland. Given a sketchbook by her therapist, Wendy starts to draw. But is The Wendy Project merely her safe space, or a portal between worlds?

Review: The Wendy Project is a new innovative retelling of Peter Pan that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. In this retelling Wendy is an ordinary teen who gets distracted and accidentally drives off a bridge with her brothers in the backseat. When they're rescued, Wendy is told John has survived, however, her youngest brother Michael's body cannot be found. He is presumed dead via drowning, but Wendy insists that he is alive and she saw him flying off into the sky holding someone's hand. While her family members grieve around her, Wendy is committed to finding out where Michael went. She can't be see shimmers of Peter Pan in a mysterious loner and known trouble maker Eben Peters who intends her school and catches his fancy. She also sees traces of Captain Hook in an officer who comes and questions her after her recovery. Concerned by Wendy's insistence that Michael is alive somewhere, her parents send her to a therapist, who encourages her to draw her feelings and creatively becomes the graphic novel we are reading.
   The colorful watercolor illustrations of Wendy's hopeful glimpses into magic and wonder of Neverland are striking against the cold, grey grief that overshadows her and her family. While I loved the contrast in this the graphic novel, I wasn't a fan of the artwork. The text was hard to read at times and came across as scribbles packed together though it lends to Wendy's journaling authenticity. I would have liked the panels to have more room to spread out. Instead of focusing on the themes of innocence, and immortality, The Wendy Project uses the classic tale as a kaleidoscope to convey Wendy's emotions of confusion, love, grief, and guilt.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is a teenage partying scene where underage drinking and drug use are depicted. There is also some minor language. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Curse of Addie McMahon by Katie Davis, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson
Rummanah Aasi

Description: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned -- from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
  Enter Mia Warren, an enigmatic artist and single mother, who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
  When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Review: In Ng's sophomore novel, Little Fires Everywhere, she returns with her critical eyes on suburbia, privilege, and motherhood. The opening chapter opens up with the burning of a home of an seemingly perfect family in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Shaker Heights is an idyllic suburb where residents are happy with the status quo and are resistant to change. Unwelcome change comes barreling into the Richardson family when Mia, a boho, charismatic, and mysterious artist moves in with her teenage daughter Pearl become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents.
  Mia and Pearl live a very different life from the Richardson family. Unlike the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four teen children who live in a big house with white picket fences, Mia is an artist who makes enough money for them to get by and are constantly on the move whenever inspiration hits Mia for a new art project. With the juxtaposition of these two families, we get to see how class and money affects them as well as the mother-child relationships, especially as Mia and Pearl intertwine their lives with the Richards, albeit Mia reluctantly and Pearl eagerly. 
  The book is quite quiet as we observe how these characters interact with one another. It is told through various points of views and it takes it time slowly developing the different bonds between the characters. I really appreciated how the teens and adults are both given enough page time and attention. Many times in adult fiction the children are brushed aside, but they are really important to the story. I liked Pearl for the most part as the everyday girl. I could understand how she wanted to mimic her lifestyle to that of the glamorous neighbors, but I also wished that she had her own personality. Out of the Richardsons, I felt most connected to Moody, the middle child who was reserved and kept his feelings towards Pearl to himself mostly. I also liked Izzy for her tenacity and determination to always stand up for what she believed in but at times she was a bit much.
  The book's pacing picks up when "little fires" are sparked and set fire to the Richardsons'  secure, stable world and how they do or do not adjust their worldviews. A particular fire is when Shaker Heights is the center for a public, legal custody case of a Chinese American Baby. Overall, Little Fires Everywhere is enjoyable and insightful read. It would make a good book club pick as there are plenty of themes to discuss such as loyalty and betrayal, honesty and trust, and what does motherhood mean.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, fade to black sex scenes, teen abortion, and underage drinking discussed in the book. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran, Night Road by Kristin Hannah
Rummanah Aasi

Description: When Jack meets his new foster brother, he already knows three things about him: Joseph almost killed a teacher. He was incarcerated at a place called Stone Mountain. He has a daughter. Her name is Jupiter. And he has never seen her.
 What Jack doesn’t know, at first, is how desperate Joseph is to find his baby girl. Or how urgently he, Jack, will want to help. But the past can’t be shaken off. Even as new bonds form, old wounds reopen. The search for Jupiter demands more from Jack than he can imagine.

Review: Orbiting Jupiter is a quiet tale that packs an emotional punch to the gut. The writing is simple with short sentences and short chapters, however, the characters' silence and appearance give this story its impact and power. I had my heart gripped in a vise when I read this book and it didn't ease up until the bittersweet ending. There were moments when I had tears in my eyes and I had to set it aside but the story would not let me go.
 Sixth grader Jack has a new foster brother, Joseph, who has a troubled past. Joseph has a history of trouble: he attacked a teacher, was incarcerated at an infamous juvenile detention center, and has a
s a baby daughter named Jupiter whom he’s never seen. It is through Jack's eyes that we observe Joseph who is removed, quiet, and not easy to warm up to. He hates people touching him or walking behind him. It is clear that he has had a traumatic childhood. At school, Joseph is bullied by both students and teachers alike, who presumed that he is nothing but trouble. Joseph, however, is incredibly intelligent and a nice person once he thaws. Soon Joseph begins to warm and open up to Jack's family as he grows to love the daily routine of farm life and learns what it means to be loved in a family. Jack's family may be complete, but Joseph’s single-minded desire to parent his daughter leads to strife and tragedy.
  In less than 200 pages, Schmidt unfolds his complex and heartbreaking story naturally. We don't learn Joseph's story until he is ready to tell it. We watch as Joseph's heart soars when he finally finds security and then plunge into darkness when it's snatched away from him. We too wonder where the angels are when horrible things happen to good people. While the writing is restrained, there are so many things to unpack from this book. I loved the foils and mirrors of male relationships from friendship and familial. This book really gets to the heart of what makes a family and in particular what makes a good father.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to physical abuse and sexual assault. There is also mention of teen pregnancy. Recommended for strong Grade 6 readers and up.

If you like this book try: A List of Cages by Robin Roe, The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone. As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

Review: Mindy McGinnis's The Female of the Species has been on my reading pile since it's release in 2015. It sat on my pile for almost two years now, not because my interest in it has waned but rather I needed to be in the right head space to read it and appreciate it. This is a book that many people will be uncomfortable reading and for a good reason. It is an unflinching, brutal, and thought provoking look at rape culture, its insidiousness, and repercussions. After reading this book I had several emotions swirling in me such as heartache and anger, but most importantly I wanted to discuss it with someone.
  McGinnis transports the reader to a cage-like, small, impoverish town in Ohio where everyone knows everyone and people have rarely left. Teens seeking to escape their provincial lives turn to drinking, drugs, and sex. The book is told in three distinct voices of teens who struggle with sexual violence, both together and individually. Alex, Jack, and Peekay are three high school seniors looking ahead to life beyond high school. Alex is known as the girl whose sister Anna was raped and murdered. Jack is the golden boy who is blessed with looks, brains, and athleticism. Peekay, (real name Claire) a nicknamed dubbed by her classmates because she is the preacher's daughter, is the everygirl though she strays from her religious upbringing but still believes in the goodness of others. All three teens are haunted by the memory of Anna's murder and their outlook on life change as their relationships with each other shift.
  Alex is a fantastically complex character and the book's foundation. She does not fit neatly into any boxes and her ambiguous morality makes her compelling and flawed. When Anna's murderer walked free because of 'contaminated' evidence, she took the law into her own hands. She stalked and killed her sister's murderer and skillfully evaded any legal repercussions. Alex has become a vigilante (serial killer?) and protector of girls who have been victims of sexual abuse and unwanted sexual advances. So, is Alex a hero? An anti-hero? A villain? I don't know and I keep going in circles in my head, but I really loved her. Her voice is mature and she is keenly aware of her own actions and surroundings. It is very easy for McGinnis to isolate her protagonist to an isolated, cold-hearted killer, but she does humanize her by developing a friendship with Peekay and a romance with Jack.
  Unlike Alex, Peekay is a forgettable, ordinary girl for the most part. It is through her eyes that we see how girls illicit violence, with words instead of fists, upon one another or on themselves, whether it is through slut-shaming others and measuring themselves in sexual currency- where having a male openly and lasciviously gaze at your body is equivalent to self confidence. Peekay finally becomes a more three dimensional character when she comes in contact with Alex who helps her change her outlook, but she still keeps silent when she becomes a victim of attempted sexual assault due to shame. Her friendship with Alex brings the much needed light into this dark suspenseful story.
  Similarly to Peekay, Jack is probably the weakest character out of the three. Through his voice, we are given the male perspective where girls are constantly sexualized and objectified. Overall he is a good guy who tends to make his decisions with the lower half of his anatomy and struggles to make the right decisions. I didn't buy into his romantic relationship with Alex. It still struck me that he wanted Alex because she was an exotic and unattainable object. Like Peekay, he too begins to look closely at his actions and how he speaks as he becomes closer to Alex.
  The Female of the Species is not a perfect book. I had unanswered questions and had to suspend my disbelief on the absence of police officials for majority of the book. The book, however, does ask the reader to look closely to the behaviors that our society has normalized and quietly accepted. Some readers might feel that the topics of sexual abuse and assault are heavy handed in the book, but I disagree. It is treated with sensitivity but also portrayed with the necessary weight and power. This book should make your stomach churn, should make you angry, and should make you want to change our society. It is timely, important, and would make a terrific book discussion with mature teens. Despite my discomfort in reading it, I am glad that I did.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the book. Brief strong violence including attempted sexual assault, murder, and animal cruelty are mentioned in the book. Strong sexual content and underage drinking and drug usage are also mentioned thorough out the book. Recommended for mature teens only.

If you like this book try: All the Rage by Courtney Stevens, What Girls are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri's mom avoids these questions--the topic of India is permanently closed.
  For Pri, her mother's homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she's ever dared and find the family she never knew.

Review: Priyanka “Pri” Das is a talented artist who loves to make comics. She is a bit of a loner and outsider. She wants to know both why her deeply religious mother left India for California so abruptly years ago and her father’s whereabouts, but Pri's mother is very cryptic about her past and refuses to speak of India. When Pri discovers a mysterious pashmina tucked away in her mother's forgotten suitcase and wraps it around her shoulders, she is transported to an imagined, romanticized India. These panels burst with vibrant colors in contrast to the banal black and white images of her everyday life. In the magical India Pri has a talking elephant and peacock who serve as Pri's and the reader's tour guides and introduce us to the country's festivals, foods, and fashion, but Pri knows this isn't the realistic version of India, which is hinted by a ghost shaped woman who appears in the background. In order to find the answers to Pri's questions and see the real India, she will have to travel to India, where she learns about women’s choices—especially her mother’s—and living without fear.
  This is a well written debut graphic novel, but it left me wanting more. I appreciated how the portrayal of Indian culture was well balanced. The inclusion of Hindi words worked naturally in the text though it would have been a good idea on expanding the glossary on how to pronounce the words. Since I am familiar with Hindi already, I didn't not have a hard time understanding the words but for readers who are not familiar with the Hindi language might have some trouble. While the graphic novel touches upon classic themes of bicultural and immigrant conflicts, it also talks about women's roles and their constraints in the Indian culture. Although a lot can be inferred from the panels, I would really have liked if this topic was explored further and we got to see more ways on how the magical pashmina's influences a wide range of women in the graphic novel. I also wondered if Pri's mom was aware of the pashmina's magical abilities and if so, why did she hide it? A character like Pri is rarely featured in children and/or YA books because she is the daughter of a single mother, a family structure that is rarely represented and looked down upon in shame in the South Asian culture; another topic that could have been covered more thoroughly in the book. Though a bit lacking in some aspects, Pashmina is a welcoming addition to diverse graphic novels and I look forward to reading more from this creator.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Rummanah Aasi
  Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! I'm taking a slight detour from the upcoming book releases. Today I want to talk about the upcoming book to movie adaptations that I can not wait to see. I will try to add the release date information if it is available.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle is one of my childhood favorites. I remember reading it and being blown away by it in fourth grade. I also developed my first book boyfriend crush on Calvin O'Keefe. The cast of the movie is stellar and diverse: Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Zach Galifianakis, and Michael Pena just to name a few. I hope to find some time to reread this classic before the movie comes out. The movie comes out on February 3, 2018.

I would be surprised if you haven't seen the trailer yet, but here is it down below in case you missed it:

Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli was one of my favorite debut novels from 2015. Funny, moving, romantic, and emotionally wise, this book will make you sigh in content and have a huge smile on your face when you are finished reading the last page. Though the movie has changed its title to Love, Simon, it has a wonderful diverse cast: Nick Robinson, Keiynan Lonsdale (aka Wally West from the Flash), Alexandra Shipp, Josh Duhamel, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. Though there are aspects of the trailer that have some fans nervous, Becky has told us to trust the film. The movie comes out on March 16, 2018.

I have watched the trailer several times and it just makes me smile. My favorite part is the end. Check out it below:

To All the Boys I Loved Before series by Jenny Han is also one of my favorite YA contemporary romance series. It has wonderful characters, an interesting plot, and the right balance between romance and an coming of age novel. Like Simon, this book will turn your frown upside down. If you have always wanted to try reading any of Jenny Han's books and don't know which book to pick up, I highly recommend this series. The news of this movie adaptation was a complete surprise to me. I had heard nothing of it until the last book in the series, Love Always and Forever, Lara Jean was published. The movie also has a diverse cast and stars: Noah Centineo, John Corbett, Israel Broussard, Janel Parrish, Lana Condor, and Anna Cathcart.

There is no trailer at the moment nor a release date but it will be sometime in 2018 as the movie is in post-production. I can't wait!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is the most talked about YA book and debut novel of 2017. I would be shocked if it did not receive any accolades from the book community and does not appear on any of the best book lists. I have not read this book yet due to the big hype machine, but I do need to sit down and read it because I think the topic is timely and incredibly important. The movie has a great cast: Amandla Stenberg, Anthony Mackie, Regina Hall, and Common.

There is no trailer at the moment nor a release date but I will definitely will be looking forward to it when it comes to the theaters.

Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness was one of the few dystopian reads that I actually enjoyed during the dystopian reading trend. I liked the first book, Knife of Never Letting Go, but I didn't finish the other books in the series. The movie is currently in production and it stars: Tom Holland (aka Spiderman/Peter Parker) and Daisy Ridley (Rey from Star Wars). The movie is set to be released on March 1, 2019 so I have plenty of time to read and finish this series.

Rummanah Aasi

Description: An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

Review:  Jason Reynolds' latest YA book is a fast but powerful read. It reminded me of a cross between the equally moving John Singleton's movie, Boyz in the Hood, and the Christmas Carol. An odd combination that really works in this book. Unlike Reynolds past novels, Long Way Down is a novel in free verse, a format that perfectly captures the one minute and seven seconds snapshot of Will Holloman, the protagonist, taking an elevator.
 The story is set off by a chain reaction caused by a gunshot and the death of Will's brother Shawn who was killed while going on an errand for his mother. Will relays the Rules on how he is suppose to react to the murder: don't cry, don't snitch, and always get revenge. Will then proceeds to take Shawn's gun to kill his brother's killer and enters an elevator, but is he ready to take the next step and commit murder? As Will descends the seven floors of his building he is met with seven people at each floor who all are from his past and have been killed by the same cycle of violence that Will’s about to enter. He’s properly freaked out, but as the seconds tick by and floors count down, each new occupant adds new complexity to what seemed like a simple situation and pushes Will to examine his plans for that gun.
 Reynolds’ uses his words carefully and meticulously knowing that he has a limited time and space to tell his story and they also echo like gunshots and their impact is loud and visceral. In a short amout of pages his able to give us individual stories of the people in the elevator and gives us reasons as to what lead to their demise, their own personal choices or their surroundings that lead them to poverty, gang life, or simply injustice. The format and the fast pacing will work well with reluctant readers and there is a lot to discuss regarding themes and novel structure for advance readers too. The book ends on an open ended question, but I hope that Will makes the right choice. Long Way Down is a timely and personal look at the gun violence that is plaguing our lives today.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Drug dealing, gun and gang violence are mentioned in the book. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Monster by Walter Dean Myers, When I was the greatest by Jason Reynolds, How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
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 books, one adult and one YA: By the Book by Julia Sonneborn and I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman.

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn
Publish date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Gallery Books

I am usually wary of Jane Austen retellings, but this one sounds like a promising modern retelling of Persuasion, which is my favorite Austen novel. 
   Anne Corey is about to get schooled. An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancé—shows up as the college’s new president.
   Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
Publish Date: March 27, 2018
Publisher: Viking Books/Penguin Teen

 I always look forward to reading a book by one of my auto-read authors.  This book seems to focus on friendships and empathy. I think we all have felt lost at some point in our lives.

Around the time that Freya loses her voice while recording her debut album, Harun is making plans to run away from home to find the boy that he loves, and Nathaniel is arriving in New York City after a family tragedy leaves him isolated on the outskirts of Washington state. After the three of them collide in Central Park, they slowly reveal the parts of their past that they haven't been able to confront, and together, they find their way back to who they're supposed to be.
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Four months ago: Sara Zapata’s best friend disappeared, kidnapped by the web of criminals who terrorize Juàrez.

Four weeks ago: Her brother, Emiliano, fell in love with Perla Rubi, a girl whose family is as rich as her name.

Four hours ago: Sara received a death threat…and her first clue her friend’s location.

Four minutes ago: Emiliano was offered a way into Perla Rubi’s world—if he betrays his own.

In the next four days, Sara and Emiliano will each face impossible choices, between life and justice, friends and family, truth and love. But when the criminals come after Sara, only one path remains for both the siblings: the way across the desert to the United States.

Review: Disappeared is an intense thriller and an eye opening read. The novel chronicles the lives and decisions of the Zapata siblings. The story is told in dual perspectives and are both equally suspenseful and  nail biting as Sara and Emiliano are constantly faced with making tough decisions and the line between right and wrong is unclear. 
 The book kicks off with Sara Zapata's best friend, Linda's disappearance and being an another victim of human trafficking. Sara, a rising-star reporter at Juarez, Mexico's El Sol newspaper, is determined to find her and shine a light on Juarez's missing and murdered girls, the Desaparacidas. Sara is a terrific investigator with a very strong moral compass and she is dismayed when she discovers that the Mexican State Police has a deep connection to sex slavery. As she pursues the truth and writes her findings in El Sol, she receives numerous death threats that puts her family in danger, but Sara has an obligation to her best friend and to the families of the Desaparacidas. 
  We follow Sara's younger brother Emiliano in the second story line. Emiliano is an entrepreneur with great people and business skills. If given the opportunity, he can become a very successful businessman. He is networking and trying to make a better life for their family and be considered worthy of his wealthy girlfriend. Above anything Emiliano does not want to become his father, who abandoned his family in order to pursue his dreams in the United States while leaving his struggling family behind. When Emiliano is tapped to undertake a new business venture that will financially secure his family and his place in his girlfriend's life, Emiliano must decide is the comfortable life worth his soul.
  Disappeared is an emotional and complicated thriller. It really reminded me of the movie Sicario which takes the viewer behind the scenes of the drug cartels in Mexico. The book takes place over the course of seven harrowing days and includes betrayal, desperate escapes, a dangerous trek across the desert in order to cross the border into the United States. I appreciated that Stork did not shy away from the intricate and pervasive corruption in Juarez as the city tries to rebuild itself after the horrifying aftermaths of drug cartels. The lines between right and wrong are constantly blurred throughout the book. Making the 'right' decision can bring you constant pain and danger and the 'wrong' decision can bring you security and comfort. Both Sara and Emiliano have a very hard time making decisions for themselves given their loyalty to their family and friends. The book also provides readers a reason why immigration is such an important topic and so complex. Though the book ends on a hopeful and open note for the Zapata siblings, I don't think we are done from hearing them yet. I would like to know what happens next and what path has their decision taken them.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, underage drinking, and mentions of drug cartels and human trafficking in the book. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
Rummanah Aasi
Description: On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina's monstrous winds and surging water overwhelmed the protective levees around low-lying New Orleans, Louisiana. Eighty percent of the city flooded, in some places under twenty feet of water. Property damages across the Gulf Coast topped $100 billion. One thousand eight hundred and thirty-three people lost their lives. The tale of this historic storm and the drowning of an American city is one of selflessness, heroism, and courage—and also of incompetence, racism, and criminality.

Review: In this slim graphic novel Brown is able to recount the horrifying events of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005. Instead of focusing on individual stories, we are given a journalistic approach to the natural disaster. Told chronologically from the hurricane’s seemingly benign origin in West Africa, the story follows the storm almost hourly, revealing every misstep along the way that resulted in so much unnecessary loss and devastation. By the time Katrina passed over New Orleans, more than 1,400 people were dead and hundreds of thousands had fled the city. 
  The text is clear and easy to read, relying exclusively on data and statistics interspersed with quotes from residents, rescue crews, journalists, and news reports and not skirting away from the controversial incompetency of the government. There were many new to me facts that I learned in this graphic novel. The haunting imagery with its monochromatic panels, hits you viscerally as you hear from people who are battling oppressive heat and fear. There are pages that are wordless because the illustrations can only capture and convey the horrors that people suffered. Spare but gets the point across. I only wished that the graphic novel dug deeper into the issues that Hurricane Katrina raised to the surface and which unfortunately continues to rear its ugly head with Hurricane Maria.

Curriculum Connection: English, Science, and Social Studies

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are images of bodies floating in water that may be too much for sensitive readers. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld
Rummanah Aasi

 I would like to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all have a safe and wonderful holiday full of food, family, and friends. I will be taking a blogging break this week and will returned to normal scheduling the following week.
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up -- and she hasn't looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It's a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious... and hopelessly in love with her boss.
 But when fate brings Flora back to the island, she's suddenly swept once more into life with her brothers -- all strapping, loud and seemingly incapable of basic housework -- and her father. Yet even amid the chaos of their reunion, Flora discovers a passion for cooking -- and find herself restoring dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour: a café by the sea. But with the seasons changing, Flora must come to terms with past mistakes -- and work out exactly where her future lies...

Review: Flora dreamed of escaping her life as a farmer's daughter in a small village on Mure Island, a wish her mother supported and encouraged. When her mother died and her family needed her the most, she left mom and burnt all of her bridges.
  Three years later, Flora is working as a paralegal for a prestigious law firm in London. She should be having the time of her life, but her job is anything but exciting (unless you think filing to be an engaging activity), majority of her coworkers are unfriendly and don't understand her. She is also secretly harboring a gigantic crush on her boss, Joel, a handsome, cold, and aloof man who treats everyone with disdain.
  When Joel takes on a new client who wants to build a resort on Mure Island, Flora is immediately hired and sent to home to try and bring the locals on board. Of course Flora is reluctant to return and doesn't want to confront her past, her bitter family, and most of all her grief. After discovering her mother's journal, a hand written recipe book, she starts cooking and in doing so begins to heal the wounds of the past. 

 I always love the journey that the heroines of Jenny Colgan's books go on and the Cafe by the Sea is no exception. I did, however, had a time getting into this book unlike her previous ones. It took me some time to warm up to Flora mainly because she felt too whiny at first, but once she returns to Mure I began to see her in a new light. I loved her family's dynamic, particularly her relationship with the mercurial brother Fintan, which is the book's strongest asset. 
  The romance, however, fell completely flat for me. There are two contenders for Flora's heart though by the reading the book's synopsis you know who she will be with in the end.  I was not a big fan of Joel though I wanted to know more about his past. His character developed felt rushed one dimensional. I also felt his sudden epiphany of Flora was too insta-love for me. The second 'contender' was the warm Charlie who also was underdeveloped and very much felt like a third/fourth choice. I guess the real romance is between Flora and her home at Mure, where she finally found a place where people understood her and she found her calling with making food and helping people. Pick this up if you are looking for a read where family, food, and culture play a larger role than the romance.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, crude sexual humor and innuendo, and fade to black sex scenes. Recommended for adults and mature teens. 

If you like this book try: My Not So Perfect Life by Sophia Kinsella, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Some people think pink is a pretty color. A fluffy, sparkly, princess-y color. But it's so much more. Sure, pink is the color of princesses and bubblegum, but it's also the color of monster slugs and poisonous insects. Not to mention ultra-intelligent dolphins, naked mole rats and bizarre, bloated blobfish. Isn't it about time to rethink pink?

Review: Pink is for Blobfish is the perfect nonfiction pick for younger readers. They will be drawn to this book because it is weird and gross. Each creature is given a two-page spread with a  full-color, close-up photo of the creature with an approachable paragraph describing some of its key features, a fascinating fact, and basic features. There are many animals that I had never heard of before I read this book. I also enjoyed the author's comical voice throughout the book too. If you are struggling to get to younger readers to read nonfiction books, I would highly recommend this one.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Glow: Animals with their own night-lights by W.H. Beck

Description: Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews got his nickname by wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high. A prodigy, he was leading his own band by age six, and today this Grammy-nominated artist headlines the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest.Along with esteemed illustrator Bryan Collier, Andrews has created a lively picture book autobiography about how he followed his dream of becoming a musician, despite the odds, until he reached international stardom.

Review: Trombone Shorty is an energetic and lively picture book autobiography of a contemporary multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Troy Andrews. The picture book is also a love story to Andrews' early years growing up in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. Andrews yearned to become a musician like those in his family and the artists he saw perform all over New Orleans. He was so passionate about his dream that he and his friends made their own instruments out of recycled materials, played in the streets, and marched with bands. When one day he found a battered, discarded trombone bigger than he was, Andrews finally had a real instrument to play, and he practiced day and night, acquiring the nickname Trombone Shorty from his older brother. Trombone's defining moment was the time the great Bo Diddley pulled Andrews on stage to play with him during the New Orleans jazz festival. Collier's illustrations are incredible and using a variety of materials from watercolor, pen and ink, and collage artwork to complement the book's motion and rhythm of Trombone's music. Each spread offers a visual panoply of texture, perspective, and angles, highlighting the people and the instruments. While Andrews's continue to play, he will gain new admirers after reading this book.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Louis Armstrong: A King of Jazz by Pat McKissack, Before John was a Jazz Giant: a song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weatherford

Description: What do you do when you see a spider?

a. Lay on a BIG spidey smoocheroo.

b. Smile, but back away slowly.

c. Grab the closest object, wind up, and let it fly.

d. Run away screaming.

If you chose b, c, or d, then this book is for you! (If you chose a, you might be crazy.)

I’m Trying to Love Spiders will help you see these amazing arachnids in a whole new light, from their awesomely excessive eight eyes, to the seventy-five pounds of bugs a spider can eat in a single year! And you’re sure to feel better knowing you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being fatally bit by a spider. Comforting, right? No? Either way, there’s heaps more information in here to help you forget your fears . . . or at least laugh a lot!

Review: In this informative and amusing book the author is trying to overcome her arachnophobia with detailing accurate information about a wide variety of spiders from their various anatomy and capabilities in a humorous tone. I didn't mind that this book wasn't overly filled with facts, but I did like how it was presented in a scrapbook fashion with cartoon drawings, scrawls, and random lettering. Occasionally there are black splotches for when the author's phobia gets to her despite her good intentions of wanting to like spiders. Any book that manages to be entertaining while being informative is a winner for me.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Disgusting Creatures by Elise Gravel
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.  Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
 Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.

Review: In Nic Stone's ambitious and timely debut novel, Dear Martin, the reader is placed in the shoes of an African American boy confronting racial inequality and establishing his own identity in our world. Dear Martin is a coming of age novel that feels more like a series of vignettes. Stone presents several hard hitting topics ranging from affirmative action, identifying masculine identity within the African American culture, and also tackling racial stereotypes of African Americans in different episodes of Justyce's life and provides no easy answers.    Justyce is an African American teen caught between two worlds. He is too 'white' for his black friends. His private school education, honor roll GPA, outstanding test scores set Justyce apart. To his white friends, Justyce is an outlier and despite his academic success from his own hard work, some of his classmates believe his race gets an unfair advantage over them. Through a series of journal entries, Justyce attempts to figure out his place in the world by exploring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Stone goes a great job in depicting what it means to be an African American male in today's time. She explores privilege and race relations while also tackling the 'thug' representation and the victims of social injustice. The story's climax comes when a violent altercation between a retired white police officer and his best friend that puts Justyce in the spotlight.
  Dear Martin is a slim book that is well written and fast paced without sacrificing depth which makes it a great read for both reluctant and advanced readers. While the book offers a lot of different paths Justyce can take to become a man, there is a serious absence of the voice of African American women in this story. I wished Justyce's mother and his girlfriend were as three dimensional as the male characters. Overall Dear Martin is a powerful read that will make you think long after you finished it. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, including racial slurs, underage drinking and drug use in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Rummanah Aasi
Description: A new Iron Age begins! From the violent streets of Chicago, an armored hero rises! Clad in her own Iron Man suit, Riri Williams is ready to show the world what she can do as the self-made hero of tomorrow. Her technology just might change the world forever — if she survives that long! But is she ready for all the problems that come with stepping into Iron Man’s jet boots? Problems like her first big villain. And the other guy running around as shell-head. And the laundry list of criminals looking to destroy Tony Stark’s legacy. Oh, and all the super-teams out to recruit her! As Riri’s adventures go viral, it’s time to claim an alter ego of her own — welcome to the Marvel Universe, Ironheart!

Review: I have mixed feelings for Ironheart. I enjoyed reading it and was thoroughly entertained but I still wanted more. Ironheart continues the trend of having diverse characters in the Marvel Universe. Riri Williams is an incredibly intelligent, funny heroine who is from the South Side of Chicago. I loved her spunk and personality though I felt her origin story wasn't strong enough and that's mainly due to Riri's lack of page time in the comic. We don't see much of Riri as a regular teen before she is Ironheart. Bendis uses the old comic trope of a violent incident sparking the hero, or in this case, the heroine to become a superhero. Riri's stepfather and her best friend are killed in a drive-by shooting. While the murderers are harrowing, it didn't make sense to me as to why Riri would be more devastated by losing her best friend rather than her stepfather and again I think this due to the lack of development of these relationships with Riri. I would have also liked more scenes with Riri and her mother.
  The graphic novel's structure also felt disjointed. There were many flashbacks woven into the story that did not transition well into the overall story arc. I also felt some of the flashbacks were unnecessary. I haven't been keeping up with the Marvel Universe via graphic novels so I'm not sure where Ironheart is located on the world's timeline but in this graphic novel Tony Start is dead though his hologram which he programed himself is very much alive. I wasn't quite sure how this hologram worked since he felt more human. Despite playing the role of a mentor, Tony took over the graphic novel leaving Riri to play the supporting character.
 Despite these flaws in Ironheart, I thought the artwork in the graphic novel were excellent. The great drawings and color make the graphic novel pop and so eye catching. I was also pleasantly surprised by Pepper Potts having a stronger role rather than just being Stark's love interest and coworker. I would have loved to see more of her in the graphic novel. Overall Ironheart was an entertaining graphic novel but my expectations for it were much higher.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and PG-13 violence in the graphic novel. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spiderman collection by Brian Michael Bendis
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida, makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss, a beloved, admired, successful, and very married Congressman, and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn't take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late-night talk show punchline; she is slut-shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.
   How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everyone you've done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity.

Review: Young Jane Young reminded me of a 21st century adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter and it was particularly interesting to read when sexism is openly discussed in our current events. Aviva Grossman's story is not very different from that of the notorious sex scandal featuring Formal President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. A young, naive 20 year old woman, Aviva Grossman, is caught in affair and sex scandal with a prominent Congressman. She details her affair on a blog though she doesn't include names it is easily to infer who she writes about. Like the real life Lewinsky, Aviva is hounded, slut shamed, and forever marked by the sex scandal.
  Though the novel isn't original in its concept, its narrative structure gives us a panoramic point of views of how the scandal has affected several women's lives in its five sections. The first part is narrated by Aviva's fiercely independent mother, Rachel Shapiro, who is dipping her toes into online dating after being divorced for quite some time. She is also tainted by association by her daughter's actions when a reasonable date turns disastrous and mentions the scandal not realizing the subject is Rachel's own daughter. Rachel recounts how the debacle came about and how her daughter disappeared from her life 13 years ago.  The second part is narrated by Jane Young, a single mother who is trying to establish a new life by being a wedding planner and eventually setting her sights on a political office though the internet footprint of the past continues to loom over her life and threaten her candidacy. The third section is narrated by the precocious Ruby, who is trying to survive middle school with minimal battle scars, and suddenly discovers her mother has not been honest with her.  The fourth section is told from the Congressman's wife, many years after the sex scandal. The fifth and final section of the book ends as a "Choose your own adventure" ending where the reader gets to decide the fate of Aviva Grossman. 
  I did find the book to be a quick read and worthy of discussion though I often felt that it skimmed the surface of sexism and the permanence of social media. Though it does tackle our culture's obsession with scandal and betrayal, I was hoping more from some of the point of views such as the Congressman's wife (who in my opinion was a thinly veiled Hillary Clinton type of character). I wanted more depth with the book theme's and a little less wink-nudge-did-you-see-what-I-did- there? humor. While the choose your own adventure section of the book was unique, I would much rather have preferred to go back to Aviva's own voice. Overall, Young Jane Young is an entertaining, timely read that will foster a lot of discussion.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

If you like this book try: Attachment by Isabel Fonseca
Rummanah Aasi
Description: When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.
   But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse

Review: Little and Lion is one of my most anticipated books of this year mainly due to the exploration of various forms of identity: race, religion, and sexuality. Colbert delves into each of these forms while also centering on the relationship and bond between siblings.  
    Suzette was sent to boarding school when her bookish older brother, Lionel, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Suzette, whose nickname is Little, is now back in Los Angeles for the summer and hopes to strengthen her distant relationship with Lionel. With Suzette back home, Lionel confides in her that he’s going off his medication. Fearing that to divulge his secret will ruin any chance of rebuilding their bond, Suzette promises to stay loyal to her brother even though she knows he is making the wrong decision and feels responsible for her brother’s well-being. 
  I really liked Suzette and Lionel's modern family. Suzette and her mom are African Americans who have converted to Judaism while Lionel and his dad are white and Jewish. These cast of characters, especially Suzette, often show how hard it is for anyone to be perfectly labeled and put into a neat box. Through sporadic flash backs interspersed between the present tense, we see how Lionel and Suzette were always close before Lionel’s diagnosis and the turning point in their relationship.
   While the book's main focus is Suzette dealing with the dilemma of her brother's mental health, Suzette is also trying to figure herself out. She is conflicted in expressing herself especially at her boarding school where she is not only grappling with a homophobic act that exposed her relationship with her roommate named Iris and made their relationship status as complicated, but also hiding the fact that she is Jewish. Now at home her identity is further complicated as she is attracted to Emil Choi, a warm, biracial (black/Korean) boy and family friend with Ménière’s disease, and a crush on Rafaela, a pansexual Latina—whom, unexpectedly, Lionel is also falling for. While I thought Suzette's relationship with Emil was sweet and well developed, I was not a fan of the potential love triangle with Rafela. In my opinion Rafela didn't really add much to the story besides being a plot device. I was hoping Suzette's bisexuality would be explored without having/teasing a love triangle trope.
   Lionel's mental health is well addressed without any sugar coating, romanticized, or miraculously solved by being romantically involved with someone. Colbert does show Lionel's frightening behavior pre- and post diagnosis as well as how mental health affect not only those battling with the disease but also others around them. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some strong language, underage drinking and drug use, and a couple of fade to black sex scenes in the book.

If you like this book try: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Meet Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully time-tabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.       Then everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living--and it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Review: I wanted to pick up Gail Honeyman's debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, when journals began to make it a readalike suggestion for A Man Called Ove which I read and enjoyed over the summer. This is one of the rare times when a readalike suggestion is actually accurate. Like A Man Called Ove, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has the knack to make you laugh and cry all at the same moment.
  Eleanor Oliphant has built routine in her utterly solitary life that mostly works. During the week, she works, eats pizza, and drinks booze. While this may seem banal and repetitive it is Eleanor's inner monologue that is cranky, hilarious, deadpan, incredibly observant, and irresistible that makes this book a pleasure to read. Eleanor Oliphant has something to say about everything- from commuting on the train, getting a manicure, and associating getting a makeover in a story with surgery. I loved Eleanor's voice from the start. Sure, she can be a curmudgeon but I suspected there was serious trauma that occurred in her life given the various clues sprinkled throughout the book and the chilling phone calls with her mother which caused her to act this way.
  While her social awkwardness makes her the butt of jokes for her colleagues and alienates herself, Eleanor's life begins to change when she is genuinely befriended by Raymond, a lanky, easy going guy from her IT department. It is through her friendship with Raymond that we get to see Eleanor's vulnerable side and her craving for human contact (not just physically). Eleanor attempts to change her solitary life in order to pursue a romantic crush on a local musician. Though the crush is unrealistic, unrequited, and heartbreaking to watch, it finally tips Eleanor over to seek help for her mental illness and trauma as she realizes she's never had anyone to care for her in life. We watch her dangerously collect painkillers and tries to poison herself with alcohol. Thankfully she does seek help with Raymond's help. We also discover what happened in her childhood that shaped her this way. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is funny, heartwarming, and heartbreaking in equal measure and I would definitely recommend it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some strong language and allusions to emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in the book. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: A Man Called Ove by Frederick Brackman,
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