Rummanah Aasi
Description: Tuesday Mooney is a loner. She keeps to herself, begrudgingly socializes, and spends much of her time watching old Twin Peaks and X-Files DVDs. But when Vincent Pryce, Boston’s most eccentric billionaire, dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe—Tuesday’s adventure finally begins.
   Puzzle-loving Tuesday searches for clue after clue, joined by a ragtag crew: a wisecracking friend, an adoring teen neighbor, and a handsome, cagey young heir. The hunt tests their mettle, and with other teams from around the city also vying for the promised prize—a share of Pryce’s immense wealth—they must move quickly. Pryce’s clues can't be cracked with sharp wit alone; the searchers must summon the courage to face painful ghosts from their pasts (some more vivid than others) and discover their most guarded desires and dreams.


Review: When the death of Vincent Pryce, one of Boston's most wealthy and eccentric man drops dead at a fundraiser, he leaves behind an epic treasure hunt through the city with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allen Poe. Groups of mystery solvers come together in hopes of finding the big prize and splitting the riches amongst each other. One those is our heroine, Tuesday Mooney, best prospect researcher on Boston General Hospital's fundraising team, a "bizarro know-it-all tall girl" with the aura of a grown-up Wednesday Addams. Despite her reputation as a formidable, reclusive goth vibes, Tuesday embraces her introverted lifestyle. She actually does have friends, but she keeps them at  arm’s length. Her friends include her current best friend Dex Howard, a gay, karaoke-obsessed financier who is perpetually unlucky in love; Tuesday's neighbor Dorry Bones, a motherless Somerville teen who looks up to Tuesday as her role model; and Abby Hobbes, a Ouija board–wielding classmate who disappeared during Tuesday's teenage years and whose ghost haunts Tuesday incessantly. The Pryce treasure hunt is exactly what Tuesday is looking for in order to break out of her banal life and if she can exercise her detective muscles, solve the puzzle, and win a big cash prize-even better. The hunt is not what it seems as she comes into contact with the Arches who do not have a friendly relationship with Pryce and her partnership (or propective relationship) with the strange but charming tycoon Nathaniel Arches sink or buoy her chances of success?
  I absolutely loved Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts. It is a genre-bending, highly entertaining, and enthralling mystery that dips into the supernatural but without losing sight to real life problems. All of the characters are dealing with issues of their own ranging from loss to self-acceptance to struggles with intimacy. While there is an over-arching Pryce mystery, there are also mysteries within the Arches family and the disappearance of Abby Hobbes, Tuesday's best friend. I loved following Tuesday and her pals as they ran all around Boston uncovering clues about Poe to solve the crime. There were also plenty of 80s and 90s references that I relished in the book that gave the story character and did not make it feel so dated. I also liked the slow burn of possible romance between Archie and Tuesday. Racculia's writing is funny, poignant, charming, and romantic all at once. Almost all of the mysteries are nicely wrapped up and kept me turning the pages and on my toes. I really hope we get to see these characters again in a new book.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and sexual situations are mentioned. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Just as Aven starts to feel comfortable in Stagecoach Pass, with her friends and schoolmates accustomed to her lack of “armage,” everything changes once again. She’s about to begin high school with 2,300 new kids to stare at her. And no matter how much Aven tries to play it cool, nothing prepares her for the reality. In a year filled with confusion, humiliation, fears, loss, and just maybe love, can Aven manage to stay true to herself?

Review: I love Aven, the spunky, snarky heroine of the Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and I was thrilled to learn her story continues. In the first book Aven is learning how to settle in Stagecoach Pass, Arizona with her lovable adopted parents and find friends. In this follow up sequel, Aven confronts her biggest challenge yet: surviving high school without arms. Once again she will be stared at because of her missing arms —and her feet, which do almost everything hands can (except air quotes to accent her sarcastic retorts). Aven resolves to be “blasé” and field her classmates’ pranks with aplomb, but a humiliating betrayal shakes her self-confidence. Even her friendships feel unsteady. Her friend Connor’s moved away and made a new friend who, like him, has Tourette’s syndrome: a girl. She can not help but feel anyone, especially Lando, her friend Zion’s popular older brother, who is being nice to her has an ulterior motive. The author expertly captures the universal awkwardness of adolescence, especially with Aven's self awareness of her visible disability. Along with themes of bullying and changing friendships, Aven also deals with tougher topics such as death and aging, but warm, quirky secondary characters lend support. There are a few after-school special moments in the book, but it did not distract me from the book because I love Aven's and her friends. I look forward to seeing Aven again and I really hope for another book in this series because it will be hard to say goodbye to these characters.


Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Scenes of bullying. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Roll with It by Jamie Sumner, Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff
Rummanah Aasi
Description: From the moment she first learned to read, literary genius Darcy Wells has spent most of her time living in the worlds of her books. There she can avoid the crushing reality of her mother's hoarding and pretend her life is simply ordinary. But when a new property manager becomes more active in the upkeep of their apartment complex, the only home Darcy has ever known outside of her books suddenly hangs in the balance. While Darcy is struggling to survive beneath the weight of her mother's compulsive shopping, Asher Fleet, a former teen pilot with an unexpectedly shattered future, walks into the bookstore where she works...and straight into her heart. For the first time in her life, Darcy can't seem to find the right words. Fairy tales are one thing, but real love makes her want to hide inside her carefully constructed ink-and-paper bomb shelter. Still, after spending her whole life keeping people out, something about Asher makes Darcy want to open up. But securing her own happily-ever-after will mean she'll need to stop hiding and start living her own truth--even if it's messy.

Review: Darcy Jane Wells is a bibliophile who works at a bookstore and likes to memorize lines from her favorite classics. Most of her friends and love interests are main characters from her favorite books, but she has one in real life best friend, Marisol, who is the only one who knows Darcy’s secret—her mother is a hoarder. Brokenhearted and traumatized by the abandonment of Darcy’s father, her mother is the image of perfection in public, but their small San Diego apartment is filled to the brim with her compulsive purchases. Darcy’s only refuge is her bookshelf-covered room. Darcy has lived a sheltered life and has most people away in fear of her secret leaking out. With the help of Marisol, Darcy is going to attempt to live her senior year and come out of her shell. There is a potential love interest Asher, who is dealing with his own trauma and illness and a mysterious, magical used copy of Peter Pan, which seems to understand and echo Darcy's inner most thoughts.
  The author's portrayal of mental illness is thoughtful and well executed, and the characterizations of even background characters are fully developed. I loved the friendship between Darcy and Marisol, which definitely passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. The romance is also swoon worthy, but it too has a realistic aspect to it too. As a fellow bibliophile I also loved the numerous literary references and nods in this story too.  The Library of Lost Things is a sweet, bookish romance that will give  readers all the feels.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: The Words of Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Wherever the sharks led, Lucy Everhart's marine-biologist mother was sure to follow. In fact, she was on a boat far off the coast of Massachusetts, collecting shark data when she died suddenly. Lucy was seven. Since then Lucy and her father have kept their heads above water-thanks in large part to a few close friends and neighbors. But June of her twelfth summer brings more than the end of school and a heat wave to sleepy Rockport. On one steamy day, the tide brings a great white-and then another tragedy, cutting short a friendship everyone insists was 'meaningful' but no one can tell Lucy what it all meant. To survive the fresh wave of grief, Lucy must grab the line that connects her depressed father, a stubborn fisherman, and a curious old widower to her mother's unfinished research on the Great White's return to Cape Cod. If Lucy can find a way to help this unlikely quartet follow the sharks her mother loved, she'll finally be able to look beyond what she's lost and toward what's left to be discovered.

Review: In Rockport, Massachusetts, budding artist and narrator Lucy does everything with her best friend Fred, a keen scientist, including collaborating and creating a field guide to local wildlife. When family friend and fisherman Sookie accidentally catches a great white shark, TV stations broadcast old footage of Lucy's marine biologist mother, a shark expert who died suddenly when Lucy was seven, dredging up old feelings for Lucy. Unlike everyone else who knew Lucy's mother, Lucy has no recollection of her and has not been able to properly mourn her death. Lucy and Fred's relationship is beginning to move beyond friendship, but this is unfortunately short lived as a tragic swimming accident at the local quarry plunges the entire town into grief, and Lucy and her depressed detective father must recover and grieve once again.  
  The Tender Line is a somber read as their there is no escape from grief and death yet is still buoys into light with some humor and the power of memory. Lucy learns the various stages of grief and realizes that grieving looks different for everyone. The author has created a colorful multi-generational cast of characters who serve as Lucy's emotional support network and helps her learn more about her mother's work and begin to heal her own heart. While reading this book I also learned a lot of details about sharks. The Line Tender is a quiet yet powerful story of love, grief, and science. I would not be surprised to see this on the potential candidates for the Newbery Award this year.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language and scenes of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: The Bridge of Terebithia by Katherine Patterson, The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Before the days of going toe-to-toe with the Avengers, a younger Loki is desperate to prove himself heroic and capable, while it seems everyone around him suspects him of inevitable villainy and depravity except for Amora. Asgard's resident sorceress-in-training feels like a kindred spirit-someone who values magic and knowledge, who might even see the best in him.
   But when Loki and Amora cause the destruction of one of Asgard's most prized possessions, Amora is banished to Earth, where her powers will slowly and excruciatingly fade to nothing. Without the only person who ever looked at his magic as a gift instead of a threat, Loki slips further into anguish and the shadow of his universally adored brother, Thor.
   When Asgardian magic is detected in relation to a string of mysterious murders on Earth, Odin sends Loki to investigate. As he descends upon nineteenth-century London, Loki embarks on a journey that leads him to more than just a murder suspect, putting him on a path to discover the source of his power-and who he's meant to be.


Review: Loki: Where Mischief Lies is a compelling origin story for Marvel's lovable villain Loki. This book can be read without having any knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Loki has always been the outcast and has always lived in the shadow of his picture-perfect Norse hero of a brother Thor. After their father, Odin, sees a vision of Loki leading an army of the dead against Asgard, he grows suspicious of his second son’s magical abilities. Loki is now struggling to come to terms of his destiny. Is he always destined to be the villain? Does he have any power to change his destiny? Years later, seeking to prove himself worthy of Odin's respect, a real candidate for the throne, and to prove the prophecy wrong, Loki is sent to Earth to aid a London-based secret organization investigating a series of unusual magical deaths.
  To any Asgardian being sent to Earth is like a banishment because Earth is backwards, has no magic, and it means human contact. Loki's disdain for Earth provides lots of humor while also allowing him to see his identity in a different lens. Loki grows from his disgust of Earth to curiosity and perhaps kinship in those who live on the outskirts of society such as the ex-convict Theo Bell who left lame because of his sexuality. Although Loki uses he/him/his pronouns, he says he exists as both man and woman and that Asgardians do not have strict gender and sexuality norms. There is a flicker of interest between Theo and Loki, but that is pushed to the side as Loki must make a series of choices that will determine his future. While the mystery is a bit underwhelming, I was more enchanted with the characters. Lee embraces Loki's antihero antics that makes him three dimensional and vulnerable. You can not help but love Loki while also being wary of what he will do next. I am thrilled this is the first of a series of books that will feature Loki as I definitely wanted more after I finished this book. A great choice for readers who enjoy superhero stories but also books that feature Norse mythology.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Loki: Agent of Asgard series by Al Ewing, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
Rummanah Aasi
Description: After burying her spinster aunt, Veronica Speedwell embarks on a world tour hunting for butterflies, but when Veronica thwarts her own abduction with the help of a German baron who has ties to her past, she goes with him to his friend Stoker's home, a reclusive natural historian, until the baron is found dead and Veronica and Stoker must go on the run from an elusive assailant.

Review: I have been meaning to read Deanna Raybourn's historical mystery series for quite some time. After reading trusted reviewer's great reviews of her Veronica Speedwell series, I thought I would try it. A Curious Beginning did not disappoint and it seems to be a great Victorian mystery series. Determined to live an independent life, Veronica Speedwell is anything but a proper Victorian lady. Veronica is an incredibly witty, snarky, scientist who is happily to turn her back on "civil" society in order to pursue her own desires. So when her home is attacked during her aunt's funeral, a rollicking adventure ensues. After rescuing Veronica from her attacker, Baron von Stauffenbach whisks her to London, depositing her in the care of the enigmatic Mr. Stoker, a brooding, surly hero with a mysterious past who also loves natural history. Before the Baron can return to tell Veronica what he knows of her mother, he's found dead, and the police like Stoker for a suspect. Stoker and Veronica partner up to find the real culprit and they ping-pong throughout London and its outskirts as they dodge villains with murky motives and hulking henchmen. Soon, they realize that Stauffer's death may be connected to the mystery of Veronica's birth parents.
  I enjoyed reading A Curious Beginning. I liked that the mystery is shrouded in Veronica's origins. When the mystery seem to stall, I didn't feel bored as I loved getting to know Veronica and trying to figure out Stoker. Their banter made me laugh out loud several times and it was absolute pleasure to read. Not mention that their sexual tension crackled on the page. It did not take me long to ship these two characters together. The author does a good job in resolving the overall mystery, but there are still things that we don't know about in particular about Stoker's past, I can't wait to learn more about. I look forward seeing what other situations Veronica and Stoker find themselves into in the upcoming books in this series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, sexual references and innuendos in the book. Recommended to older teens and adults who enjoy historical mysteries.

If you like this book try: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell #2), Lady Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It's hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels.
   Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family's auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear. But as Emilia finds a way to repair the relationship with her father at home, her community ruptures with some of her classmates, like her best friend, Gus, at the center of the conflict.

Review:  I have enjoyed every book by Pablo Cartaya thus far and Each Tiny Spark is no exception. This time Cartaya has been inspired by his own daughter and created a story that centers around a young Latinx girl named Emilia Rosa Torres. Emilia has inattentive type ADHD, which causes her trouble in keeping up with schoolwork and concentrating on one thing at a time, but her software-developer mother and super involved abuelita help her keep on task. Days before her father’s return to their Atlanta suburb from his most recent deployment, her mother goes on a business trip, leaving Emilia with her distant father and her abuela to take care of her. She struggles to juggle and understand her father's mood swings, her friend troubles, and her looming assignments all on her own. When a social studies project which debates whether or not students from a poor school be allowed to go to her school opens Emilia's eyes to injustices past and present, Emilia begins to find her voice and use it to make an impact on her community.
  Each Tiny Spark tackles tough subjects such as immigration, PTSD, and microaggressions sensitively and appropriately through the lens of a budding tinkerer and activist. Conversations on race and gender crop up through the narrative as Emilia’s grandmother likes to emphasize her family’s European heritage while her mother insists of celebrating her culture's Yoruba's roots. All of these larger issues are effortlessly woven in with skill and humor, as is the Spanish her family easily mixes with English. Emilia often doesn't understand the complex questions that surround her, but she asks insightful questions which is important for young readers to understand. This is another great realistic fiction book from Cartaya that will spark discussion, help build empathy, and offer a lot of food for thought after the last page.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Rummanah Aasi
Description: When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father's failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.
      Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.
    When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they're both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they've built. But when Maegan learns of Rob's plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship .

Review: Family dynamics is the front and center of Brigid Kemmerer's Call It What You Want. The story is told from dual perspectives, Rob and Maegan, who are grappling with serious and complicated issues. Rob is a former popular student whose father sustained a profound brain injury after a failed suicide attempt after he was turned in for embezzling his investors’ money. Rob now carries the burden to take care for his father. He is also wracked by guilt and constantly reminded that his father’s clients, many of whom are his peers’ families, lost everything. Many people in his community suspect that Rob knew of his father's actions since he interned at his father's company, but Rob adamantly claims he is innocent. Suspicion tracks Rob everywhere and makes him a social pariah until an unsuspected olive branch is presented in the form of a math project.
  Maegan is the dutiful and caring daughter of a police officer who struggles in the shadow of her lacrosse-star older sister, who is now home from college unexpectedly pregnant. Maegan is dealing with the fallout of last year when she is caught cheating on the SAT a year earlier, causing the scores of everyone in the room to be invalidated. Like Rob, Maegan is also working through her own guilt and never feeling good enough.
  Kemmerer's has a a knack for creating flawed characters who are complex and real. Rob and Maegan both live in the gray moral boundaries and are trying to remove the taint of their reputation, whether it is by their own action or the actions of others. Both characters are wrestling with questions about ethical responsibility and grief. The romance between Rob and Maegan is a slow burn one where they  slowly become confidants and chip away at one another’s defenses—and their burgeoning attraction causes fallout of its own. There is a lot tackled in this romantic realistic fiction novel that could weigh it down, but the story is well-grounded with funny dialogue. There is also a natural discussion of race and privilege in the book, which I appreciated. This is another winner from Brigid Kemmerer.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, scenes of underage drinking, and references to an attempted suicide.

If you like this book try: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Rummanah Aasi
Description: In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth "Evvie" Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn't correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy's childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the "yips": he can't throw straight anymore, and he can't figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button. When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie's house, the two make a deal: Dean won't ask about Evvie's late husband, and Evvie won't ask about Dean's baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken--and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they'll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they've broken, the plans they've changed, and the secrets they've kept. They'll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there's always a chance--right up until the last out.

Review: As far as everyone in her small town knows, Evvie Drake is a grieving widow. Her husband died in a car accident, and she’s been living all alone in their big house, rarely venturing out except to get breakfast with her best friend, Andy. In actuality Evvie is hiding a big secret from everyone, she is not grieving as she should be and that she was actually planning to leave her emotionally abusive husband on the night of his death. She plays the role of a grieving widow because that it is what is expected of her, but is exhausted by play acting and wants to restart her life but doesn't know how.   When Andy suggests that his old friend, former baseball player Dean Tenney, move in to the apartment attached to Evvie’s house, she agrees. Much like Evvie, Dean’s life hasn’t turned out the way he wanted it to. After pitching for years, he’s struggling with “the yips”—he’s unable to pitch for reasons that neither he nor any professionals can figure out. Evvie and Dean are both mourning their old lives, for very different reasons, and the two of them quickly become friends—and then, slowly, something more than friends.
  Evvie Drake Starts Over is a quick and satisfying read mainly because the writing is so smooth and natural. Evvie and Dean are authentic adults who are kind, but incredibly flawed. They are trying their best, but they are reluctant to open up to one another. Evvie shuts down when asked about her her husband and Dean with a ban on discussing anything remotely related to baseball. I absolutely loved the slow burn romance between Evvie and Dean who speak to each other with natural but hilarious dialogue, making their conversations and this book an enjoyable read.  Refreshingly, Evvie and Dean’s relationship hurdles come about because of real life problems, their own share of emotional baggage and not because of easily fixed miscommunications. The book is not just centered on Evvie and Deane's romance, but also many other story lines that add to the character development of Evvie and Dean, such as the changing friendship between best friends Andy and Evvie and Evvie’s need to stand up to her family. Evvie Drake Starts Over is a smart romance that is fulled with nuisance and humor.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and sexual situations in the novel. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: In the Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman, Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Chase does not remember falling off the roof, in fact he does not remember anything about himself, and when he gets back to middle school he begins to learn who he was through the reactions of the other kids--trouble is, he really is not sure he likes the Chase that is being revealed, but can he take the opportunity amnesia has provided and restart his life?

Review: After falling off his roof, Chase Ambrose learns he was not a great person before his fall and knows that his past is not what he wants for his future. He wants to reinvent himself, but he quickly realizes that it is not easy to escape his past and his mistakes.
 Before his fall, Chase was the star and captain of the football team, following in his father's footsteps. He was also the biggest bully in his middle school, had made many students' lives miserable, and was serving a community service sentence for the damage that his bullying had caused. His dad and his former best friends, Bear and Aaron, recall the tough Chase that they love and want him to revert to, however, the new Chase is a kinder, more sympathetic person who struggles with his past and becomes friends with his former victims. Chase starts to earn his new friend's trust but it is rightfully fragile. As he works with the video club geeks, he forms a relationship with elderly Mr. Solway. I liked the juxtaposition of Mr. Solway's slow thawing of his icy exterior and sharing of his Korean War memories with Chase's own search for his own past.
 Korman is known for his humor in his books, but Restart has a more serious tone. There are humorous moments in the book such as the pursuit of making a viral video of stupid tricks, but they are sprinkled evenly in the story and more of the book's focus is on self reflection. The book is also told through multiple points of view, primarily of students who encounter and have different relationships with Chase and helps make Chase into a fully three dimensional character. Despite the strong anti-bullying theme, the story is never heavy handed but thoughtfully presents questions about loyalty, identity, owning up to mistakes, forgiveness, and the possibility of a new start in a way that appropriately fits the middle school setting.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying in the book. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks
Rummanah Aasi

Description: With a price on her head, the evil Queen Sophia out for blood, and no idea who to trust, Camellia Beaureguard, the former favorite Belle, must race against time to find the ailing Princess Charlotte, who has disappeared without a trace. Sophia's imperial forces will stop at nothing to keep Camille, her sister Edel, and her loyal guard, Remy, from returning Charlotte to the palace and her rightful place as queen. With the help of an underground resistance movement called the Iron Ladies-a society that rejects beauty treatments entirely-and the backing of alternative newspaper the Spider's Web , Camille uses her powers, her connections, and her cunning to outwit her greatest nemesis, Sophia, and attempt to restore peace to Orleans. But enemies lurk in the most unexpected places, forcing Camille to decide just how much she's willing to sacrifice to save her people.

Review: I really enjoyed reading Dhonielle Clayton’s well crafted fantasy The Belles and eagerly anticipated for the sequel especially after the explosive events left me dangling from a cliffhanger.  Given the unknown status of this series (is it a duology? trilogy?) I have mixed feelings about The Everlasting Rose though I mostly enjoyed it.
 The Everlasting Rose picks up immediately where The Belles has ended. Camille’s innocence has been stripped away and she has become awakened to the exploitation of her Belle sisters. She is driven to liberating her sisters, finding the missing Princess Charlotte, and dethroning Sophia in Orléans. Of course large obstacles stand in Camille's way as Sophia's imperial forces are hunting her,  and her handsome guard Rémy. When Camille learns Sophia is constructing a prison to enslave Belles and chain them to the ugly demands of the kingdom, the stakes spike higher than ever and reinforces Camille's determination to restore Princess Charlotte to the throne before Sophia is crowned queen.
 The Everlasting Rose gives the reader a broader view of Orléans, a world that is a kaleidoscope of beauty, ugliness, whimsical and terrifying all at once. Under the guise of attaining beauty, the reader is exposed to the darker, underlying structures of enslaved magical labor and implicit violence, and the dehumanizing attitudes Sophia emboldens throughout the kingdom endanger Belles everywhere. Although Camille is our heroine, she too is not free from Orléans' taint as she must navigate various alliances such as the new revolutionary group called the Iron Ladies who resist all beauty treatment. 
   My main problem with The Everlasting Rose is that it feels like a middle book. The pacing is inconsistent where the action slowly builds and then everything feels rushed to the end. The Iron Ladies intrigued me and I wished they had more page time to develop in the book. With these issues in mind, I am really hoping for another book in this series as I still have many questions that remain unsolved. Overall this series poignantly uses a harrowing, fantastical tale to illuminate the very real horrors of unattainable beauty standards and the enslavement of marginalized bodies. Don't let my rating for this book deter you from picking this series up. It is well worth the read.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence that take place mostly off page and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.


If you like this book try: Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, North of Beautiful by Justina Ireland, The Fold by An Na, Such a Pretty Face edited by Ann Angel
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Shannon knows sixth grade is going to be a perfect year. She's got a spot in the in-crowd called The Group, and her best friend is their leader Jen, the most popular girl in school.But the rules are always changing, and Shannon has to scramble to keep up. She never knows which TV shows are cool, what songs to listen to, and, most importantly, which boys you're allowed to talk to. Who makes these rules anyway? And does Shannon have to follow them to stay friends with The Group?

Review: Best Friends is a great follow-up to Hale's candid graphic memoir Real Friends in which she struggles to find friends in elementary school. Now in sixth grade Shannon is part of the popular group, has friends to hang out with, she shares her locker with the Queen Bee, and the girl who bullied her last year is leaving her alone. Despite all of this social growth, Shannon still feels herself riding the wild roller coaster (both literally and metaphorically) of friendship and social cues of middle school. She did not realize that she had to "homework" in listening to the "right" music and watching the "right" television shows in order to stay a member of her in-crowd. Her hobbies of role playing and writing are no longer cool when her group of friends are starting to talk about boys and wanting to hang out with boys. Incidents of bullying, particularly playing the part of a bystander, and moments of isolation makes Shannon's anxiety grow and become more prominent. She has even developed obsessive compulsive tendencies. These moments cause her to reflect and do a gut check about her friendships.
  Hale's graphic memoir authentically portrays the complexity and untold social rules of friendship that will ring true to many readers despite their age. She is very candid about her shortcomings and her vulnerabilities. I loved the inclusion of her creative writing story in which she tries to work out her problems. The artwork beautifully captures the nuances of a typical middle school life and adding nice 1980s nostalgia while also balancing Shannon’s public woes with her inner conflicts. I particularly liked the dark clouds with jittery, scratchy writing that indicate her anxiety on high alert. Though the artwork is simple, the detailed facial expressions add emotional depth and accessibility particularly in the wordless panels. An author's note talks earnestly and age-appropriately about anxiety.This would be a great addition to any graphic novel collection.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Guts by Raina Telegmeier
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe..

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad's towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.


Review: Chakraborty’s debut novel The City of Brass was one of my favorite books from 2018 and its stunning sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, does not disappoint. While you can read Kingdom of Copper independently of the first book, I would not recommend doing so because you would lose out on the various alliances and the character growth of our main characters. The setting of this amazing Middle Eastern inspired fantasy is Daevabad, a legendary Eastern city protected by impervious magical brass walls and ruled by King Ghassan, whose Geziri ancestors overthrew the Daevas and captured Suleiman’s seal, which tempers magic. To this bubbling pot of tensions, the powerful djinn warrior Dara conveyed young Daeva healer Nahri; in the process they developed feelings for one another.
  Kingdom of Copper takes place five years later. King Ghassan’s younger son, Prince Ali is exiled, Dara is gone, and King Ghassan has forced Nahri to marry Muntadhir or witness the slaughter of the city’s Daevas unless she cooperates. Chakraborty deftly works three subplots concerning our three main characters masterfully until the crescendo of the climax. For most of the book, I had no idea how all of these subplots would add up until the puzzle pieces came together slowly as the book unfolds. There are many twists and turns that I did not expect to happen. Alliances shifts constantly throughout the novel and characters are hardly what they appear to be. The contentious clashes between racial, familial, magical, and religious alliances and divides is what keeps me glued to the pages. This book ends in a cliffhanger and I have absolutely no theories of what will happen in the conclusion, which is very rare for me. I will counting down the months until the conclusion is released. If you are looking for a non Eurocentric or American centric fantasy read, I highly recommend this series. It has plenty of action, adventure, slow burning romance, and political intrigue.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence, language, and sexual innuendo in the book. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty (April 2020),
Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan, The Dark Carvan Cycle series by Heather Demetrios, Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor, Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jamie Bunn made a mistake at the end of the school year. A big one. And every kid in her middle school knows all about it. Now she has to spend her summer vacation volunteering at the local library—as punishment. It may be boring, but at least she’ll be able to hide from mean girl Trina, who’s always had it out for her, and beautiful Trey, the boy at the root of her big mistake. Or so she thinks.
  Not only does her job bring her face-to-face with both her mortal enemy and her ultimate crush, Jamie also encounters a territorial patron, an elderly movie fanatic, a super-tall painter who loves to bake, and a homeless dog. Over the course of the summer, as Jamie gets to know the library and the people in it, she finds—and gives—help where she least expects it. And she just might find herself along the way.


Review: A Kind of Paradise is a warm homage and a sweet love letter to libraries, the people who work in them, and their power to affect people’s lives. Jamie violated her middle school’s honor code and has now been assigned to community service at her local library over the summer. Over the course of the book we get snippets of what caused her to spend the summer at the Foxfield Public Library and be the laughing stock of her school as her crush is broadcasted to everyone. Jaime is not the center of the book, but her life revolves around the memorable characters that either work at the library or are library patrons. Beverly is the dedicated and committed director who has the uncanny talent to detect any library patron's needs. Sonia and Lenny, the two other staff members, who are patient and understanding of all their patrons. Wally, the older patron who comes to the library every Tuesday to borrow movies and bring a fresh flower; and Black Hat Guy, a homeless young man who shows up every day around 4:00 in the afternoon. As the summer progresses, Jamie’s connection to the library goes from enforced to enthusiastic. Jaime gains self confidence and learns to help turn the page of her big mistake and move on. She spurs into action when the library is threatened to close down due to financial strains. Despite some down moments, A Kind of Paradise is an uplifting read with a happy ending. There are no big epiphany moments, but a light, sweet, cozy read.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Close to Famous by Joan Bauer, Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson
Rummanah Aasi

Description: When a school presentation goes very wrong, Alaine Beauparlant finds herself suspended, shipped off to Haiti and writing the report of a lifetime. You might ask the obvious question: What do I, a seventeen-year-old Haitian American from Miami with way too little life experience, have to say about anything? Actually, a lot.

Thanks to "the incident" (don't ask), I'm spending the next two months doing what my school is calling a "spring volunteer immersion project." It's definitely no vacation. I'm toiling away under the ever-watchful eyes of Tati Estelle at her new nonprofit. And my lean-in queen of a mother is even here to make sure I do things right. Or she might just be lying low to dodge the media sharks after a much more public incident of her own...and to hide a rather devastating secret.

All things considered, there are some pretty nice perks...like flirting with Tati's distractedly cute intern, getting actual face time with my mom and experiencing Haiti for the first time. I'm even exploring my family's history--which happens to be loaded with betrayals, superstitions and possibly even a family curse. You know, typical drama. But it's nothing I can't handle.

Review: Alaine Beauparlant is an ambitious, driven Haitian American senior living in Miami with her divorced psychiatrist father. Alaine has her sights set on following the footsteps of her renowned journalist mother by majoring in journalism at Columbia. With mere months to go before graduation, Alaine’s world starts unraveling as mother has a meltdown live on-air and becomes the talk of the town. To make things even worse, Alaine royally messes up a school presentation that leave her on the verge of expulsion. Alaine 's punishment is to go to Haiti for two months, volunteer to work for her aunt's charity that provides financial help to Haitian children in need, and write a report about what she has learned. Alaine wants to go to Haiti to learn more about her own roots, but would rather it be on her own terms. During her time in Haiti, Alaine’s life is transformed as she unearths family histories and secrets that allow her to get to know the ailing mother, who has been absent from a large part of her life.  In the process, she discovers an even deeper love for the ancestral homeland that she had only known from afar.
   I really liked Alaine as a character. She is incredibly sharp and witty, but under her tough exterior she really wants a normal, healthy relationship with her mother. Alaine admires her mother's tenacity and hard work that led her to be a leading news anchor for a popular politics show, but at the same time Alaine feels as if she is always on the low priority list for her mother. When she receives heartbreaking news about her mother's health, Alaine hopes to use her time to not resent her mother but to get to know her as a person.
  Before Dear Haiti, Love Alaine I did not know much about the Haitian culture, but I learned a lot from reading this book. The book addresses the fact that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, but also demystifies some of the common untruths about the country. I appreciated Alaine becoming aware of her own privileges as she meets other people in Haiti. I also found Alaine's dark family history to be a fascinating part of this book and I really liked how the authors used the concept of a family curse as a way to infuse a light thread of magical realism into this otherwise realistic fiction book.
  The book has a nice balance between humor and seriousness. The varied formats, such as emails, texts, and letters, add interest and serve to make the story feel modern and make Alaine's voice seem more intimate. The various formats did not disrupt the follow of the book, but rather kept the plot moving at a brisk pace. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is a delightful story of family and finding one's roots.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusions to rape and sex, and underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali, American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Rummanah Aasi

Description: When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs. But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?

Review: Stargazing is a sweet and insightful graphic novel about friendship and identity. Christine is a traditional Chinese American girl. She lives in a suburb with her conservative parents and her focus is solely on her music and grade school work. Christine sees a different way of life when her parents offer the extra unit of of Christine's family house to a struggling Chinese American single mother and her daughter, Moon, from church. Moon is the complete opposite of Christine. Moon is loud, artistic, a vegetarian, a Buddhist, and even rumored to beat kids up. Moon's mother does not have a strict curfew nor requires Moon to attend Chinese school. Moon is certainly “not Asian” according to Christine’s standards. Despite their differences, however, the two become fast friends, stretching each other’s interests with K-pop and art. Moon later shares a deep secret with Christine: She receives visions from celestial beings that tell her she belongs with them. The girls' friendship is tested by jealousy, resentment of following social expectations, and devastating medical news for Moon.
  The illustrations are wonderful and show cases body diversity, nostalgia, and diversity without being overt about it. There is a balance of quiet moments and active moments that sharpen emotional impact and highlights the inner turmoil Christine feels as her friendship with Moon shifts. The dialogue rings true and the characters feel authentic.


Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Real Friends by Shannon Hale
Rummanah Aasi
Description: The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.


Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow is an immersive historical fantasy set in the Jazz Age and is steeped in Mayan mythology. Casiopea Tun and her mother are treated horribly by their more wealthy relations. They work as servants rather than being acknowledged as part of the family. Casiopea has large dreams of following the stars like her namesake, but any dreams that she had has been dashed by her grandfather's demands. She has been his maid ever since they returned to their small village after her father's death. As a small act of rebellion, Casiopea opens her grandfather's secret chest, releases the injured and imprisoned Mayan death god, Hun-Kamé, Supreme Lord of Xibalba, and inexorably binds her to his quest to regain his underworld throne. Casiopea's journey with Hun-Kamé's not only changes her fortunes but also has a largely consequence on the fate of the world.
  I really enjoyed the blend of historical fiction along with learning new things about Mayan mythology. The world building is done well and is not too out there for reluctant fantasy readers. It was fascinating to read about Mexican life during the Jazz Age. I liked watching Casiopea go on a self discovery journey to learn about herself and become an advocate for herself. Similarly, her interactions with Hun-Kamé allows him to become much more than an avengeful god and be humanized by addressing his own fears and vulnerabilities. I also enjoyed their slow burn romance. The plot moves quickly as we follow two parallel journies of  Hun-Kamé and Casiopeia's cross-country adventure-from the Yucatán to Mexico City, Arizona, and more-in search of his missing body parts, which his twin brother and rival has scattered among demons, sorcerers, and others; and Vucub-Kamé's, Hun-Kamé's ambitious twin brother, plot to undermine his brother and is assisted reluctantly by Casopeia's narcassitic cousin Martín who also has an inferiority complex. I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in learning more about Mexican folklore as well as those who enjoy reading fairy tales with complex characters and slow burn romance. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Bear and Nightingale by Katherine Arden, Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! There are so many new releases in October that I can not wait to read. I had a hard time narrowing it down. This week I am eagerly awaiting for the release of Leigh Bardugo's adult debut novel Ninth House and The Athena Protocol by . Both books will be released on October 8th.



Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Publish date: October 8, 2019
Publisher: Flat Iron Books/Macmillan

  I'm really curious how Bardugo incorporates fantasy, paranormal, murder, and secret societies at her alma mater.  The book has been getting a lot of press and positive buzz ever since it was announced.
 
 Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.




The Athena Protocol by Shamim Sarif
Publish date: October 8, 2019
Publisher: HarperTeen

  I'm always on the lookout for diverse thrillers to recommend to my students. When I read the book's description about an all female spies who enact vigilante justice around the world I knew I had to add it to my tbr asap.  
 
 Jessie Archer is a member of the Athena Protocol, an elite organization of female spies who enact vigilante justice around the world.

Athena operatives are never supposed to shoot to kill—so when Jessie can’t stop herself from pulling the trigger, she gets kicked out of the organization, right before a huge mission to take down a human trafficker in Belgrade.

Jessie needs to right her wrong and prove herself, so she starts her own investigation into the trafficking. But going rogue means she has no one to watch her back as she delves into the horrors she uncovers. Meanwhile, her former teammates have been ordered to bring her down. Jessie must face danger from all sides if she’s to complete her mission—and survive.
Rummanah Aasi
Description: It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her. It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
  But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there's more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.


Review: Wilder Girls is part survival thriller, part dystopian, and part horror. It manages to do justice to all of these genres, but it still felt unfinished to me. The book is often marketed as a feminist retelling of William Golding's classic Lord of the Flies and while it does share similar themes to that dystopian classic, Wilder Girls holds its own.
  It's been a year and a half since the Raxter School for Girls was ravaged by the Tox, a mysterious sickness that crept in slowly through the woods, distorting the properties and bodies of anything in its path. The teachers' and students' bodies have been changed in vicious ways, ranging from new body parts to skin changing into scales for those who survive and those who don't suffer an excruciating death as they wilt and their bodies blackened as the Tox eats away at them. Left with the promise of a cure, the quarantined girls watch out for one another. That's precisely what Hetty is doing when her friend Byatt disappears, and together with her friend Reese, she breaks quarantine to penetrate the wild beyond the fence to find her.
   Wilder Girls has a very creepy atmospheric quality to the story that hovers around our main characters rather than the traditional jump scares. For much of the story, the reader and the girls do not know much of what is happening but we are enraptured by this twisted tale by the little hints of a backstory dropped throughout the book and effective foreshadowing done by the author. The elements of body horror is quite striking throughout the novel with the graphic mentions of a stitched-up eye with something lurking underneath, a second protruding spine, animals growing three times their size. There is a connection between the Tox and the female physical development which I found to be fascinating and wanted to learn more about.
  The story is divided into mainly two narratives of Hetty and Byatt and it is Hetty's fierce loyalty which drives the story. Unlike Lord of the Flies, in which their isolation catalyzes their social hierarchy and eventually makes the characters turn on one another, Wilder Girls has the complete opposite result. The girls' solidarity and their relationships help foster their survival. While there are clear differences as to who holds power, the story does not focus on the girls tearing each other down, which I really appreciated. I also appreciated that our main characters all fall in the spectrum of LGBTQ+ and their sexual identities are not a big deal. There is a hint of romance or perhaps two are that are brewing in the background, but it is not the main part of the story. Overall I really loved the themes of the story and the representation of the characters, but I wished I had gotten a few solid details of the Tox and I did not care for the open ending. I would recommend this book to readers who are looking for a unique horror book that moves beyond the scares. I am looking forward to see what the author does next.


Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, scenes of self harm, gory violence, and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Fever by Megan Abbott, Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, Quaratine series by Lex Thomas
Rummanah Aasi

Description: See the Bell family in a whole new light through Dawud Anyabwile's illustrations as the brothers' winning season unfolds, and the world as they know it begins to change.

Review: I had no idea a graphic novel adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Medal winner was in the works, but I was delighted to revisit the story of the Bell family and their personal connection to basketball in a new format. The graphic novel is more like a hybrid of graphic illustrations and text rather than the traditional format of graphic novels that utilizes image panels, text bubbles, and gutters as part of the storytelling.
  The story revolves around the Bell family as the father Chuck “Da Man” Bell teaches his twin sons, Josh and Jordan, how to follow in his star-studded footsteps. Josh “Filthy McNasty” Bell is our main narrator as we get an in-depth look at his slice of life both on and off the court as he navigates adolescence, balancing brotherhood and becoming his own person.
  The graphic novel keeps Alexander's wide variety of poetic forms. The rhythmic verses is a nice throwback to the hip-hop’s origins. The illustrations done by Anyabwile are stunning and provide a wide range of emotional expressiveness to the characters and defy the one-story notions of black boys. There is a nice balance of humor and pop-cultural references to make the story feel up to date without trying too hard. I loved the grey, black, and orange color palette used throughout the graphic novel, which reinforced the basketball metaphor running throughout the graphic novel.
 While the story and the illustrations shine, I do not think this graphic novel is needed unless the print novel is not available in your classroom or libraries. I would suggest getting this source as a supplemental and for those who are die hard Crossover fans.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Rebound by Kwame Alexander
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents...sounds ideal -- but Shane's made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance...what's that? Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time's a ticking, and she needs a change -- there's nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She's going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure! Easier said than done. She is soon faced with the complicated realities of living outside her bubble, and when self-doubt sneaks in, her new life starts to fall apart. Shane comes to find that, with the right amount of courage and determination, one can conquer anything. Throw in some fate and a touch of magic - the possibilities are endless.

Review: I do not pick up books written by Youtubers because they do not interest me. I did pick up Again, but Better because I am a fan of Christine Riccio's booktube channel. I love her energy, enthusiasm, and candidness in expressing her joy and frustration with books and life.
  Shane Primaveri is a shy, introverted, and socially awkward college student who feels she has done college wrong. When a chance to study abroad catches her eye, she immediately signs up and vows to become more confident, outgoing, and possibly get a chance at love. The roommate-assigning fates gift Shane with instant friends, she meets a flirtatious boy named Pilot, and she excels in her classes. Every thing is going swimmingly well until Shane admits she’s lying to her parents about continuing her pre-med track when she’s really studying writing. At a surprise visit and a horrendous dinner, Shane's scary, controlling parents discover her deception, and Shane returns to America dejected. Fast forward six years later, Shane has walked the path of her parents yet she still feels hollow and regretful. She looks up Pilot and they accidentally stumble back in time at the exact moment they both study abroad for a second chance.
   Again, but Better is a charming story that made me smile, laugh, and cringe at the awkward moments. Shane is utterly relatable. She keeps to herself, is haunted by self doubt, awkward, and distant until she warms up. I love that she lectures herself in interior monologues to be more confident and to take chances. Her personality is very much like Christine's Youtube persona. Pilot is an endearing love interest though I did find him to be frustrating at times from withholding information and towing the lines of flirtation and disinterest. Though the characters are in their twenties, teens can easily see themselves in the characters. I liked watching Shane's character arc go from socially awkward "new adult" to a confident woman who knows exactly want she wants. I also enjoyed the scenic views of London, Rome, and Scotland that are in the book and appreciated the diversity nod in the secondary characters.
  I did have a few quibbles about the book. I found the extensive use of "um" and "likes" to be annoying and distracting in the dialogues. I also wanted to know a bit more of future Shane before we are bumped back in time and more about the secondary characters, especially about their future selves.  

 Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Rummanah Aasi

Description: It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother--and then vanishes.
Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn't rejoin her family in America until age nine. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.
But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it's Amy's turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister's movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy's complicated family--and herself--than she ever could have imagined.

Review: Amy Lee is living in her parents’ cramped Queens apartment when she gets a frantic call from Lukas Tan, the Dutch second cousin she’s never met. Her successful older sister, Sylvie, who had flown to the Netherlands to see their ailing grandmother, is missing. Amy, the sheltered and favored sister, must put aside her own short comings as she looks into Sylvie’s disappearance. As Amy digs deeper she uncovers Sylvie's secrets such as separation from her husband and her unemployment at a prestigious law firm. And when Amy finally musters up the courage to travel to the Netherlands for the first time, why do her relatives—the Tan family, including Lukas and his parents, Helena and Willem—act so strangely whenever Sylvie is brought up?
  Amy’s search is interlaced with chapters from Sylvie’s point of view from a month earlier as she returns to the Netherlands, where she had been sent as a baby by parents who couldn't afford to keep her, to be raised by the Tans. There are also chapters written from Amy's and Sylvie's Mother's point of view which adds a layer of suspense to the story. As Amy navigates fraught police visits and her own rising fears, she gradually uncovers the family’s deepest secrets, some of them decades old.
  Unfortunately, I did not find this story very compelling as a whole. I can see what the author was trying to do in pitting two sisters who grew up in two different environments to show how race, family, and culture played in their lives. I, however, skimmed most of Amy's point of view because she was not an interesting character to me. The book really shines with Sylvie's chapters are we got to see how immigrants, particularly the Chinese, were treated in Netherlands, which unfortunately is no different than their treatment in the U.S. Sylvie's character is much more three dimensional and I would have loved this book more if it was solely written from her point of view. The Ma, Amy's and Sylvie's mother, chapters did not add much besides more soap opera melodrama. The mystery was a bit underwhelming since I figured it out before Amy. I had hoped for more introspection and less melodrama in this story.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and allusions to statutory rape and domestic violence. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Rummanah Aasi
Description: This nonfiction picture book explores art, desperation, and one man's incredible idea for saving ships from German torpedoes in World War I. Dazzle camouflage transformed ordinary British and American ships into eye-popping masterpieces.

Review: I know very little about World War I, but I learned a lot from Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion. This short picture book is packed with information and uses art, history, and the military in a very clever way. During World War I, the British were in danger of starving because so many German U-boats were sinking American and British supply ships. Norman Wilkinson, a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander, had the idea to paint boats in such a manner as to confuse the German submarine captains, and the concept of "dazzle ships" was born.
 In accessible text and Ngai's stunning and vibrant illustrations, Barton chronicles the creation and implementation of the strategy, including the team of women artists who designed the patterns and the laborers who painted the ships. Readers learn that the wild, striped designs fooled the U-boat captains into thinking the Allies' ships were headed in opposite directions, thus leading to confusion and failed offenses for the Germans. I would have loved to have seen some texts from the German's perspective to see how successful this technique turned out to be and their thoughts on it. There is a lot of back matter at the end of the book that explains the detail process of the dazzling process.

Curriculum Connection: Art, Social Studies

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: The Secret Project by Jonah Winter



Description: Meet Beauty, the bald eagle that made world news when she was injured, rescued and received a 3D-printed prosthetic beak. Follow Beauty's brave and inspiring story as she grows up in the wild, is rescued after being illegally shot, and receives a new beak specially engineered by a human team including a raptor biologist, engineer and dentist. Learn more about how bald eagles as a species came back from near extinction, and about nationwide efforts to conserve this American symbol.

Review: Beauty, a bald eagle, was shot in the face by a poacher and lost most of her upper beak. She was unable to eat, drink, or preen (keeping her feathers in top shape for protection and warmth), and would have died had she not been rescued. Since her beak did not regenerate, Beauty eventually made her way to a raptor center in Idaho, where she received and still receives continuous care. Coauthor Veltkamp, a raptor biologist (someone who studies birds of prey) and rehabilitator, worked with engineers, a dentist, and other animal experts to create an artificial beak by using a 3-D printer for Beauty. After arduous testing, an appropriate beak was created and attached. Beauty could now drink and eat on her own.
 I learned a lot of fun facts about bald eagles while reading this book. I had no idea that the bald eagle is the only bird of prey who has the ability to see in color, which is how they are able to track down their food. I also learned that the bald eagle has seven extra bones in their neck which allows them to rotate their necks all the way around. How cool is that?! Beauty and the Beak has outstanding full-page photographs of bald eagles and Beauty that accompany this uplifting account. It is amazing how far we have come with technology and how we reversed the near extinction of bald eagles in the U.S. The book's back matter includes resources for further study and additional information on the life cycle of eagles, and their habitats. 

Curriculum Connection: STEM
 
Rating:

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


If you like this book try: Winter's Tale: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again by Juliana Hatkoff

Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up. The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death. Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?


Review: I absolutely adore Sandhya Menon's debut novel, When Dimple Met Rishi, but I have been curious to see what the author did which Rishi's brother, Ashish's story. I am happy to report that I love his story even more. There's Something About Sweetie is a contemporary romance that is full of heart while also tackling fat shaming, identity, privilege, and self confidence.
  Ashish Patel is the rich and handsome basketball star of Richmond Academy. Bummed after being dumped by his college girlfriend and his self confidence taken a big beating, he challenges his parents out of a moment of weakness to make good on their constant threat to find him a suitable Indian American girl to date. Their choice is Sweetie Nair, Piedmont High’s track star. When Ashish’s mother proposes the match, Sweetie’s mother adamantly insists that their children are not compatible. The Patels are extremely affluent, but the main reason Mrs. Nair refuses is because Sweetie is fat and is trying to protect her daughter from social humiliation.
  Sweetie embraces her body and does not feel ashamed about it. Her weight is always the focus of her mother's concerns whether it is Sweetie's diet or her lack of drive just to "lose some weight". Overhearing her mother's refusal to Mrs. Patel hurts Sweetie deeply and sparks her to start the "Sassy Sweetie Project" in which she will overturn all her insecurities into strengths. The Sassy Sweetie Project is my favorite part of this story. It upends the makeover trope which often seen in teen movies of the geeky girl being hot under her frumpy clothes. This project is personal for Sweetie and it shapes her character arc really well and strongly. She becomes assertive and takes matters into her own hands to live her best life even if it means agreeing to the Patels’ four-date contract without telling her parents.
 Ashish and Sweetie accept the arrangement, each feeling they have something to prove to themselves. For Ashish the relationship is his way to bounce back to the person he use to be and for Sweetie is an empowering move to prove to herself that she is desirable and deserves love. Both characters have vulnerabilities and wonder if this arranged match will work, and not knowing what will happen when Sweetie’s parents find out. Ashish and Sweetie share narrative duties, and both are flanked by supportive friends and caring parents—even if their approaches to love is flawed and can be painful at times. It is a pleasure to watch Ashish and Sweetie fall for each other in the quiet moments and allowing them the space and pace to make decisions, succeed or fail, learn, and blossom. I know some reviewers have see Sweetie as someone who is magically perfect, but I disagree. She waivers in her self confidence which felt real and her perseverance to fight is really admirable. Kudos to the author on creating a fat character who is not ashamed of her body nor focused on physical descriptions.


Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, mostly in the form of texting, and some crude humor. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.
When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

Review: Ayesha at Last has been pitched as a Muslim Pride and Prejudice retelling, but I would describe it as an homage to the Jane Austen classic featuring Muslim characters set in Toronto, Canada. Smart, witty, and aspiring poet Ayesha Shamsi juggles her dreams and the stifling expectations of her tight-knit Toronto's Indian-Muslim community. Instead of pursing her artistic passion, she picks a practical career as a high school teacher in order to pay back her financial loans to her uncle and watches as her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, collects marriage proposals like trading cards. Ayesha is the non-desirable type as she is an outspoken feminist, and ancient according to the desi marriage clock.
  After a misunderstanding, Ayesha pretends to be Hafsa while planning a youth conference, where she is required to collaborate with conservative Khalid, a newcomer to the area. Ayesha pegs Khalid as rigid and judgmental on their first meeting because of his white robes, long beard, and ultra-conservative behavior. She doesn't object to arranged marriages, but believes compatibility is important, and she scorns Khalid's complacency with accepting his mother's choice of bride. Khalid pegs Ayesha as those types of Muslims who appear devout but goes to bars and interacts with men. The clash of these two opposing viewpoints on how to practice their religion is a constant tension between Khalid and Ayesha. As Ayesha and Khalid work on the conference together, Khalid learns to accommodate different viewpoints. 
  Family loyalty and reputation are a recurring theme throughout the novel. Khalid is overly reliant on his mother and completely passive about his future so long as it appeases his mother as his family's reputation was rocked by his rebellious sister Zareena. Ayesha is trapped between being loyal to uncle and aunt while being a pushover to her spoiled and immature cousin. I loved this book for its candid yet critical view of the social pressures facing young Muslims as well as the universal question of "What makes a good and bad Muslim?" which all Muslims ask themselves. I appreciated the author's inclusion of Muslims of a wide faith range from the devout to the secular as they are without figure pointing of what they should be. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, mostly at the cost of Khalid's comment in not getting with the 21st century and abundant cultural references, which elevates Ayesha at Last beyond just another Austen adaptation/retelling. Along with witty social critique there are other serious issues that the author does not shy away from such as workplace discrimination, alcoholism, and abortion. I did, however, think the ending was a bit rushed and I selfishly wanted an epilogue, but this is one of my favorite books that I have read this summer and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: A pornography website featuring younger age girls is mentioned in the book along with crude humor, mentions of drugs and alcohol, and language. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Pride, prejudice, and other flavors by Sonali Dev
Rummanah Aasi

Description: There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant--even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.
 
What's not so regular is that this time they all don't have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It's not that Genesis doesn't like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight--Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she'd married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren't all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she's made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won't the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they're supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

Review: Genesis Begins Again is a heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting look at internalized racism and colorism. Genesis Anderson is a black tween who has a very hard life. She’s had to move several times because her family keeps getting evicted thanks to her alcoholic, gambling father, who inappropriately uses the rent money. Genesis hates her circumstances and adds the things that she hates to herself to her ever growing list including her dark skin. Genesis is routinely verbally abused by her mean drunk father who is also also dark skinned and takes no pride in their resemblance. Compounded by the fact that her Grandmother also spouts racist thoughts of those who have dark skinned believing they are lazy, backward, and will never measure up to anything in life. Genesis wants nothing more than to look like her light-skinned mother. With kids bullying her and calling her names like Charcoal, Eggplant, Blackie, it is not surprising to witness Genesis desperately wanting to be accepted, even causing herself physical pain to bleaching her skin and changing her hair in order to attain it.
   Her fragile self confidence slowly starts to build as her talent to sing demands that she stand out. She develops friendships with those who also feel like outsiders either due to mental issues or not feeling like fit in a neat tidy box. With the help of her chorus teacher, Genesis discovers a way to navigate the pain she carries as well as face her own personal prejudices. Genesis' road to self confidence is emotional, painful, yet a still hopeful adolescent journey. I have never read a book that tackles colorism so head on and in a candid way. I also enjoyed the references to notable black activists, athletes, artists, and, notably, musicians such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James. These inclusions added to the story in particular with the musicians that Genesis used as a mirror. This is a powerful debut novel that should not be missed.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are references to Genesis' father appearing drunk and racist comments made by her grandmother. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up. 

If you like this book try: The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake, The Fold by An Na
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