Rummanah Aasi
Description: London, 1887. At the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task--saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Ramsforth, accused of the brutal murder of his mistress, Artemisia, will face the hangman's noose in a week's time if the real killer is not found.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural-historian colleague, Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer. From a Bohemian artists' colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed.

Review: If you are looking for an entertaining, well written historical mystery with large dashes of humor and a promise of romance then I would highly suggest picking up Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell series. There are currently five books out in this series and while you can read them independently you will miss out on character backstories and development.
  In this second installment, Veronica is sought out by Princess Louise to help exonerate Louise’s friend who is about to be hanged for the murder of his mistress, but Louise knows he is innocent. She tasks Veronica and her working partner cohort/roommate/potential love interest?, Stoker, to identify the real culprit. Though Veronica has unpopular feelings towards royalty, her intrigue and desire for adventures propel her to take the case. The investigation leads them from London’s competitive art community to a covert paradise for sexual deviants. Although this mystery includes classic suspicious characters and unexpected twists, Veronica’s modern attitude and disregard of Victorian social mores along with her humorous banter with Stoker are the biggest draw to this series. It is highly entertaining in seeing Veronica and Stoker assess their mystery just as they were working on their own fields of interest, for Veronica that would be studying butterflies and for Stoker taxidermy. With each book we peal more layers to the Veronica and Stoker's backstories. Another exciting installment in Raybourn’s promising historical-mystery series. I think this series will get better and better with each new book and I can't wait to read them.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong sexual content in the book, which includes sexual humor and imagery, scenes of an opium dens, and some language. Recommended for older teens and adults. 

If you like this book try: A Trecherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell #2), Merriweather and Royston mysteries by Vivian Conroy
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother's birth through the lens of his camera. Photography--and fate--introduce him to Ana, whose family's interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War--as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel's photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Review: After reading a slew of glowing reviews and learning that Ruta Sepetys' latest novel takes place during the Spanish Civil War, I had high expectations and looked forward to reading it. Unfortunately, I had a really hard time with this book and encountered many issues which distracted me from enjoying it.
 Aspiring photographer Daniel Matheson is visiting Spain with his Texas oil tycoon father. Daniel is eager for the opportunity to flesh out his portfolio for a photography contest, perhaps an insider look at the daily life in Franco's Spain, but he gets repeated warnings, some quite aggressive, against looking too closely. Daniel is also ill prepared to start a possible relationship with Ana, a beautiful and overly qualified maid at the Castellana Hilton, where he’s staying with his parents. As their relationship starts to grow and their affection for one another deepens, so do their stark differences: Ana, daughter of executed anti-Fascists, lives a tightly constrained existence, while Daniel has privileges and is unaware of the harm he puts Ana in. 
  While I overall liked the plot of The Fountains of Silence, I had a very hard time getting into the book. The book moves very slowly despite the multiple points of views of different characters pinging from page to page. The constant shifts from character to character did not allow me to connect to any of them. I liked Daniel and Ana just fine, but I was not invested in their story as I should be and did not get emotional as their romance hit bumps. This book would have been much better if it limited the number of point of views and expanded on them to show the reader their slice of life under Franco's dictatorship. There is a subplot of the story that eventually intrigued me and I was eager to learn more about it as Sepetys slowly unspools the plot, but it only skimmed the surface which made me frustrated as I stuck with this page through all of its 512 pages and sighed, "that's it?"
 There is no doubt Sepetys did her research thoroughly and painstakingly as evidenced by quotes, photographs in between chapters and an extensive bibliography list found at the end of the book. This book will appeal to die hard historical fiction fans, but might not work for the average reader who will likely find its slow pace, length, and writing style to be too daunting.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are disturbing images including mentions of torture and execution, allusions to sexual harassment, and scenes of bull fighting,

If you like this book try: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron
Rummanah Aasi
 I hope you are all are healthy and safe. Since Illinois has been on lock down due to the pandemic, my school has shifted to remote learning. Virtual schooling has its challenges, one of which is screen fatigue. After spending eight hours a day, five days a week, I couldn't bring myself to write blog posts. I'm still working on fitting the blog into my schedule so I apologize in advance for the sporadic posts. 

Description: Tai Pham lives in the apartment above his grandmother's store, where his bedroom is crammed with sketchpads and comic books. But not even his most imaginative drawings could compare to the colorful adventure he's about to embark on.
  When Tai inherits his grandmother's jade ring, he soon finds out it's more than it appears. Suddenly he's being inducted into a group of space cops known as the Green Lanterns, his neighborhood is being overrun by some racist bullies, and every time he puts pen to paper, he's forced to confront that he might not be creative enough or strong enough to uphold his ba's legacy. Now Tai must decide what kind of hero he wants to be: will he learn to soar above his insecurities or will the past keep him grounded?

Review: In this graphic novel, Green Lantern is reimagined as a thirteen years old Vietnamese boy named Tai Pham who wakes from a dream to see his Bà Nội's, (grandmother’s) jade ring by his side. Though he tries to return the ring, it reappears at his side. Confused, Tai learns from Bà Nội that the ring has chosen him and then the next day she’s passed. Suddenly, Tai unbeknownst to him has been a superhero overnight and is introduced to the existence of the Green Lantern Corps, an “intergalactic peacekeeping force.”
  I have read a few of DC imprints for middle school and YA audiences and for the most part they are a mixed bag. Green Lantern: Legacy is a solid graphic novel that blends old and new traditions. All of the superhero journey: origin story, training montage, introduction of the villain, etc. are nicely done and well paced. I liked the nods to the familiar faces and references to the Green Lantern universe but it's not necessary to know them in order to enjoy this installment. What I loved most about this graphic novel is its infusion of Vietnamese culture, diverse cast, and the emphasis on community and compassion. The superhero, though very present in the story, does take a back seat to activism. Tong’s energetic panels, dominated by greens, oranges, steel blues, and purples, keep the visuals dynamic, and cultural details are a delight. Overall, a solid graphic novel and a great pick for younger readers who are anxiously awaiting to see the next superhero movie or tv show.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Zatanna & the House of Secrets by Matthew Cody
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