Rummanah Aasi
Description: It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell's possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland's dying body through the rift--back into Black London.
   Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games--an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries--a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
  And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Review: A Gathering of Shadows is a great follow up to A Darker Shades of Magic. It takes place 4 months after Kell and Lila saved the world with big changes. Now Lila has wormed her way onto a pirate ship called the Night Spire and sailed away from Red London with an enigmatic and mesmerizing pirate named Alucard Emery in search of an adventure and a new beginning. Lila has been transfixed in learning all she can about magic and how to hold/manipulate it. Meanwhile Kell is still dealing with the consequences that nearly took his life and that of his adoptive brother Rhy.
  Like the previous installment, the plot is a slow build until the upcoming magical tournament called the Essen Tasch which reminded a lot of Goblet of Fire tournament except the adult version where magicians fight to the death. Of course there is a lot of treachery and deception that occur in the background as all of our characters meet together.  Schwab expands the world beyond Red London and we learn different facets to our characters.
   I have to say that I really fell for Alucard Emery who reminded me a lot of Sturmhond from Bardguo's Grisha Trilogy, a character that has many layers beyond the rakish captain facade. There is mention that Rhy and Alucard has a romantic history and Kell is not a big fan of Alucard so I'm really curious to learn more about this couple. There is also a slight undercurrent of romantic tension between Kell and Lila that continues to spill over in this book though both of them will vehemently deny their feelings for one another. Overall I enjoyed this book a bit more than the first book since it contained the tournament which was a lot of fun to read about. There is a nasty cliffhanger so be sure to have the third book, A Conjuring of Light, on hand when you are done to make sure all your favorite characters are safe. This is a really fascinating world where magic can both be a blessing and a curse depending on how the characters use it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, crude humor, and some strong violence. Suitable for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Rummanah Aasi
Description: After losing out on a spot on the local deaf team, William practiced even harder—eventually earning a position on a professional team. But his struggle was far from over. In addition to the prejudice Hoy faced, he could not hear the umpires' calls. One day he asked the umpire to use hand signals: strike, ball, out. That day he not only got on base but also changed the way the game was played forever. William “Dummy" Hoy became one of the greatest and most beloved players of his time!

Review: I never heard of William Hoy before picking this book up. What a remarkable story! Born in 1862, William Hoy could neither hear nor speak, but he loved and breathed baseball. Despite his disabilities, he was incredibly athletically gifted and became an outstanding major league baseball player during the late nineteenth century. It is said that he and along with other players are credited in creating a system of hand gestures as signs that are still used in baseball today. The illustrations remind of the old Popeye cartoons that are fun to look at and share the book's uplifting vibe and feel good message. This is a great story for baseball and sports fan to read. It would also work as a good read-aloud with younger readers.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Preschools to Grade 3 readers.

If you like this book try: Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick


Description: Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements.

Review: I Dissent is an informative picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The book traces the Justice's achievements as an intelligent, ambitious young girl to her position on the Supreme Court with an emphasis on dissenting in the face of inequality that Gingsburg faced as a Jewish woman. While the book does talk briefly about Gingsburg's social life, the focus for the majority of the book is her law career. The text is easy to understand sentences intended for its audience. The whimsical illustrations make the subject approachable and the use of bold typography highlight words such as protest, object, and dissent make the text come alive.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Ruth Bader Gingsburg by Heather Moore Niver


Description: "Pinkalicious" meets National Geographic in this nonfiction picture book introducing the weirdest, wildest, pinkest critters in the animal kingdom! 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: Young readers who are fascinated by animals or weird things will absolutely love Pink is for Blobfish. Rather than focusing on a region or behavior, this book of weird creatures is uniquely organized by color. The color of choice is pink and the creatures featured in the book are from cute, cuddly, princessy and other adjectives associated with pink. Most of the creatures listed where foreign to me from the ugly, flesh-colored blobfish and the bristly hairy squat lobster to the delicate pink fairy armadillo, I mistook as feather duster. Each creature baffled me as I flipped through this book. A two page spread is dedicated to each animal which features a full-color, close-up photo of the creature with an approachable paragraph describing some of its key features, a fascinating fact, and an at-a-glance rundown of basic facts. The comical tone makes book inviting in case the book's title and cover doesn't grab your little reader instantly.

Curriculum Connection: Science

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for K-Grade 4 readers.

If you like this book try: What Makes a Monster? by Jess Keating
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
 
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
 
The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not? Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Review: I finished When Dimple Met Rishi in one sitting, something that is very rare for me to do. This romantic debut novel wonderfully explores the culture of the sub Indian continent and more importantly what it means to be a first-generation teen from an immigrant family. Dimple and Rishi come from a similar background though they share clashing perspectives on their culture. Both teens are ready to embark on their adventure to college and being independent. In a traditional South Asian culture this is also a time to start thinking about marriage and settling down so it is not a big surprise to find Dimple's and Rishi's parents set an arranged-marriage plan in motion, but it backfires big time—or maybe not?
  In the alternating voices of her two protagonists, Menon explores themes of culture and identity with insight, humor, and warmth. I absolutely loved Dimple and Rishi for being unapologetically themselves. Too often I read about characters from my similar background who try to embrace another culture and dismiss their own without understanding it. Dimple and Rishi may not see eye to eye on certain aspects of their culture but accept it as part of themselves without sacrificing their life choices and expectations.
 Dimple loves coding and is so excited to win Insomina Con, a competitive six-week summer program at San Francisco State focused on app development, with her creative and lifesaving app. She dismisses her mother’s preoccupation with the Ideal Indian Husband and a concentration of being presented as an Indian beauty. Dimple wants to be respected for her intellect and talent. I love the fact that Dimple is described as an average teen who has unruly hair and wears glasses. Finally, a YA character that resembles regular teens! I could definitely relate with her frustrations of her mother constantly comparing her to others.
  Rishi is an obedient son who is responsible, a romantic and a dreamer who believes in destiny, tradition, and embraces his culture full on. He is perfectly fine with settling down and starting a family, which is why he brought his grandmother's ring to give to Dimple at Insomnia Con except she has no clue of his or both sets of their parents' intention. Rishi is on his father's path to study computer science and engineering at MIT even though his real passion for comic book art is a hidden one. When both attend the convention and are assigned to work together, things get tricky. It is so much fun watching Dimple and Rishi become friends, drop their walls of defense, and navigate their   swoonworthy connection. I also appreciated the fact that the conflict is an internal one for both characters instead of superfluous drama. When Dimple Met Rishi is a heartwarming, authentic, empathetic, and often hilarious, delightful read. It is my favorite contemporary romance read so far this year and I highly recommend it.  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and crude sexual humor. There is also a small fade to black sex scene in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Born Confused by Tanuja Hidier Desai
Rummanah Aasi
When I was at the ALA Annual Conference, I talked to the Penguin Random House representative who spoke highly of DC's new imprint called the Young Animal which was created by Gerard Way, the leader singer of My Chemical Romance. I asked the representative about the imprint's targeted audience and content which he suggested were appropriate for teens. I wanted to find out for myself and asked for his suggestion on where to start. He told me he is a big fan of  Shade, the Changing Girl by Cecil Castellucci. When I saw it was an advanced copy was available for review on Netgalley I thought I would try it. Shade, The Changing Girl, will be published on July 18, 2017.


Description: Far away on the planet Meta, Loma's going nowhere fast. She's dropped out of school, dumped her boyfriend and is bored out of her mind. She longs to feel things. That's where her idol, the lunatic poet Rac Shade, and his infamous madness coat come in. Loma steals the garment and makes a break across galaxies to take up residence in a new body: Earth girl Megan Boyer.
  Surely everything will be better on this passionate, primitive planet with a dash of madness on her side and this human girl's easy life. Only now that she's here, Loma discovers being a teenaged Earth girl comes with its own challenges and Earth may not be everything she thought it'd be. Megan Boyer was a bully who everyone was glad was almost dead, and now Loma has to survive high school and navigate the consequences of the life she didn't live with the ever-growing and uncontrollable madness at her side. Not to mention that there are people back on her homeworld who might just want Shade's coat back.

Review: It did not take me long to figure out that this graphic novel is not for me nor would it appeal to my students. The plot is pretty simple despite its non-linear narrative structure. Loma, a birdlike alien creature, is bored on her planet and desires adventure so she dons on a madness coat and turns into a spirit that inhabits the body of Megan, a comatose high school queen bee. Loma is disheartened to find out that Megan was a mean girl that pretty much everyone hated. Loma tries to amend Megan's wrong meanwhile Megan's parents and friends are more shocked about Megan acting like a real human being with emotions and empathy rather than her weird alien powers.
 Despite the colorful and vibrant illustrations of the graphic novel, I was bored throughout reading it. The plot was just okay and the characters failed to pique my interest. I didn't get a good grasp on who Loma is before she inhabited Megan. I also couldn't drum up any sympathy for Megan who was a big bully that took a lot of drugs and ended up drowning. I also didn't feel there was a lot of depth to the story despite the trope of using the high school setting as a metaphor of explaining the tumultuous time of puberty. Plot points that didn't really connect where casually explained by the weird things happening in the story instead of an actual explanation.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, underage drinking and drug use. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: After doing a little research I found out that Shade, The Changing Girl, is a new take on the original graphic noel series Shade, The Changing Man, by Peter Milligan
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

Review: The Shade of Magic series is a great introduction to fantasy for readers who may not be too comfortable with the genre. It is fast paced adventure that is quick to get into with a great, medium-sized cast of characters with an easy to understand world and magic system. It is also a great teen to adult crossover book. 
 In A Darker Shade of Magic we are taken to a series of interconnected Londons ruled by magic--or the lack of it. Long ago, the doors between worlds were open, and anyone with magic could travel from one to the next. Now the doors are closed, and only a chosen few called Antaris, designated by two different eye colors, have the power to travel between Grey London, a world without magic, Red London, a world suffused with it, and White London, a world where magic is scarce, coveted and jealously guarded. Black London is a city consumed and dangerous. 
 Our main protagonist is Kell, an official royal messenger who carries important documents to the rulers of the three Londons and a confidant to the royal prince. Kell also has a guilty pleasure that always seems to land him in trouble: he is an unofficial smuggler who has the itch to collect artifacts from other worlds. During his latest "shopping spree" Kell accepts a dangerous relic, something that shouldn't exist that kicks off a great chase and adventure in our story. 
 Kell is very much an "every-man" type of character. He isn't particularly striking with the exception of his eye colors and being an Antari. He has no recollection of his parents though he is fiercely devoted and loyal to Rhy, the unabashedly flamboyant prince who regards him as a brother. Kell and Rhy's bromance is fantastic and it was a pleasure watching these two interact. 
 In my opinion the book really didn't take off for me until I we traveled to Grey London where we met a cunning thief named Lila who steals the artifact for Kell and who equally intrigues and infuriates him. Lila is an unconventional heroine who refuses to play the damsel in distress card and quick to draw her knives. She is clearly street smart and fiercely independent. 
 Schwab has created three distinct and memorable Londons in this book, but really her characters run the show. The plot moves at a brisk pace and there is hardly any time to be bored. Though I would have loved a bit more character development, I really enjoyed the start of this series. Fantasy fans will love this fast-paced adventure, with its complex magic system, thoughtful hero and bold heroine.

Words of Caution: There is some language and some strong violence. Recommended for Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2), for a darker fantasy that also contains parallel worlds check out Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Rummanah Aasi

Description: After experiencing a series of dangerous—and frankly, humiliating—trials at Camp Half-Blood, Apollo must now leave the relative safety of the demigod training ground and embark on a hair-raising journey across North America. Fortunately, what he lacks in godly graces he's gaining in new friendships—with heroes who will be very familiar to fans of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series.

Review: The Dark Prophecy is the second book in the Trials of Apollo series in which the Greek god Apollo has lost his powers and immortality and has been brought to Earth as an acne ridden American teenager. While the Dark Prophecy is a quick, fun read it is also a transitional book in the series. Apollo must work with other demigods, prominent in Riordan's Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series, to help save Meg and other characters from a dark demise.
 I still find Apollo highly amusing from his self absorbed "woe is me" haiku poems that preface each chapter. I like that his human side is allowing him to see his own flaws and become a stronger person and character. While there are no particular myths that this series retells there are stories that are closely with Apollo that are interwoven in this series. I also appreciate Riordan's attention to diversity in his works as Apollo openly discusses his bisexuality plus meeting lesbian parents, and we meet demigods from various ethnicities and races throughout the series. It is not until the last few pages that a cryptic prophecy is revealed which clearly sets up the next book in a series. If you are interested in seeing why Riordan is super popular, I would highly recommend picking up the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series first as it sets up the foundation for his later series and gives you a sense of Riordan's trademark humor, action, and mythology retelling. I'm really looking forward to seeing where Riordan takes Apollo next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing scenes in the book and some of the stories mentioned in the book are quite violent. Recommended for Grade 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Olympians: Apollo by George O'Connor graphic novel, The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan (Trials of Apollo #3 coming in May 2018)
Rummanah Aasi

Description: There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.
Caden is a Nice: the boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: the brooding, dark-souled guy who is dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose the Nice or the Bad?
  Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be—whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die. What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Review: The Love Interest was one of my most anticipated debut novels of 2017. I was super excited for a diverse spy novel that flips familiar book tropes. Sadly, despite a fantastic premise the book is a major let down and disappoints in many ways.
Caden is a spy. He's spent most of his life so far in an underground facility called the Love Interest Compound, being groomed physically and mentally to become a Love Interest for someone influential. His job is to woo the candidate and win her trust while also divulging her secrets to the Compound who will later sell the information to the highest bidder. The concept of the Love Interest Compound is really cool, but the world building is unfortunately undeveloped. I had many unresolved questions regarding its creation and purpose. I did find it interesting though that the institution goes as far as altering the Love Interest physical features with surgery to ensure physical attraction, which reminded me very much of the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, and tagging them with a tracker much like we do to our pets. After a very long time Caden has been chosen and pegged as a Nice, the nerdy-boy-next-door type. He is given a script and plays the role as Juliet's long lost friend. 
 Competing for Juliet's affection is bad boy Dylan, the boy who lingers in Caden's mind as first as a competitor and then to something more. Like Caden, Dylan is also given a script and a role to play as the mysterious brooder/rebel. Each of them must pursue Juliet, a girl destined to be the next great scientific mind. Whoever wins will live and share Juliet's secrets with the Love Interest Compound and whoever loses dies. 
 The first half of the book was decent and interesting as you follow Caden and Dylan in their individual roles. I was able to suspend my disbelief in Juliet embracing Caden as her long lost friend so easily considering how much her intelligence is emphasized. I would have liked a stronger focus on the development of Caden and Dylan's relationship. The author teeters on the "are they or aren't they?" for most of the book, but I didn't find it convincing mainly because Caden's sexuality, which the Love Interest Compound found interesting and important, is written off and tossed aside. The GLBTQ+ slant of the book is the main reason this book will draw interest, but sadly this is not developed and handled well at all. Instead of exploring sexuality, the boys are thrown into confusing make-out sessions and it is the main reason why I couldn't care for his relationship with Dylan or the push and pull of their attraction. The narrative is told entirely from Caden's perspective, and it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between what's actually going on and Caden's assumptions.
 It is the second half of the book where every thing goes down hill fast. We hardly hear of Juliet's scientific experiments which the Love Interest Compound wants. Caden's cover is quickly revealed and Juliet is surprisingly quick to forgive despite being lied to for over 200 pages (just how smart is she?), the book morphs into an action novel where the Compound must be destroyed. There are few subplots developed with the secondary characters that I didn't care for that were suppose to up the suspense. The ending and epilogue are rushed leaving lots of unanswered questions. Even after lowering my expectations for this book, I was severely disappointed and as a result do not recommend this novel.
 
Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, scenes of underage drinking, and some crude sexual humor. Recommended for Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: I would really pick up the Unknown Assassin series by Allen Zadoff instead.
Rummanah Aasi
  I was approached by Sarah at Publishizer regarding a book contest for inspiring writers with a focus on diversity and I wanted to share this great opportunity with you. Read the guest post below to find out more information about the contest and its $1,000 prize!



Putting the Readers Back in Charge of Publishing


  Imagine a YA publishing process without gatekeepers. One where editors and agents read the manuscripts that readers love, not vice versa. One where anyone with a knack for writing, a passion to succeed, and a little flair for self-promotion, has a fair shot at being published.

All too frequently, this isn’t the case. Books often get rejected for reasons beyond authors’ control. One editor turned down an ultimately successful book by saying, “The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level.” The book in question? The Diary of Anne Frank. Furthermore, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only about 10% of all YA books accepted for publication feature “multi-cultural content.” Clearly, there are some blind spots that need addressing in the publishing industry.

It’s with this vision in mind that Publishizer is launching its YA book proposal contest called Plot Without a Cause. Publishizer is a startup seeking to fill a hole in the publishing industry through crowdfunding.

 It works like this: You write the book proposal. You know the book proposal I’m talking about. The one you’ve been daydreaming about for years. The one that just popped into your head last week and you haven’t stopped thinking about since. The one for the manuscript that’s been dearly loved by you but maybe not so much yet by the publishing industry. That one. Then you register (for free!) on Publishizer’s website and post your proposal in the Plot Without a Cause section (again—for free!).

  Now this is when you’ll have to start hustling. Crowdfunding runs on pre-orders, so you had better start promoting that proposal. Reach out over social media, post on your blog, email your old roommates—whatever it takes to start building buzz. If you get the most preorders by the time the contest ends, you’ll win $1000 dollars. And if you don’t have the highest number of preorders, don’t worry—you’ll still be queried to major publishers who fit your proposal.

Previous Publishizer contest participants have gotten interest and landed deals with a variety of traditional publishing companies, including Harvard Square Books, She Writes Press, and Weiser. Publishizer takes a small commission on pre-orders when you choose a publisher at the end.

Every year, thousands of books are rejected by the publishing world for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the book—they’re too mainstream or not mainstream enough, too similar to books already being published or too different from books already being published. Or the literary agent just doesn’t stand to make much money on the deal so they pass on a perfectly good book! Imagine how many brilliant YA manuscripts go unpublished every year thanks to frustrating rejections. Imagine how many hugely talented authors quietly give up on their dreams, just because the gate to a traditional publishing path isn’t open to them.

  With their new YA book proposal contest, Plot Without a Cause, Publishizer is seeking to level the playing field. Publishing decisions shouldn’t be based solely on a literary agent’s judgement
or how many friends you have in the industry. They should be based on quality of writing and how many readers the book attracts.

   Great books get overlooked all the time, and this is an opportunity to show acquiring editors that yours is worth paying attention to. Not to mention the readership and funds you could gain in the process. Crowdfunding (or crowd-publishing, in this case) is growing in popularity and brings a personal touch back to book sales—for readers and publishers. Are you in?

For more information, visit the contest page or contact Sarah White directly at sarah@publishizer.com.
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