Rummanah Aasi

  I will be taking a blogging break for the next few days while I attend the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. I've finalized my schedule and tried to fit in as much as I could! I'm excited to attend awesome programs, learn new skills that I can bring to my school, meet authors, and so much more. The blog will be back to schedule after the July 4th holiday. If you are in the U.S., have a wonderful and safe July 4th!
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years—ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.      
  At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks—like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there’s that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can’t be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.
   After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles Botanical Garden feeling out of her element. But what she’ll soon discover—with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners—is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not.

Review: Lilian Girvan is a young mother of two young girls and a widow who saw her husband die in a car crash not far from their home. This sentence alone might deter readers from picking up Waxman’s debut novel, but The Garden of Small Beginnings is not as sad and depressing as it sounds but actually full of laugh out loud, wry humor and an optimistic viewpoint of  how there is plenty of great things in life after the horrible, crappy, sucky moments pass. Yes, it is a story of grieving, but also about living life again.
 After Lilian lost her husband and sought help, she is back on her feet making her living as an illustrator and picking up after her adorable daughters. While she does have set backs and flashes of her loss, she does what she can to move forward along with the help of her devoted and spunky sister Rachel. What Lilian is adamant is not wanting to start a new relationship and feels she is not ready, but fate has other things in store for her.
 When Lilian's company is closing Lilian’s department, leaving her with one final assignment: to illustrate a series of vegetable gardening books for Bloem Company, obliging her to attend a six-week Saturday morning gardening class taught by Edward Bloem. Without her realizing it the Garden Club changes Lilian and it's my favorite part of the book. The group consists of diverse people from a variety of ages and backgrounds. Over their initial misunderstandings they quickly bond over the pleasure of planting seeds and the hope this inspires. And a tingle of interest begins between Lilian and Edward, which of course I wanted more of but I understood that Lilian needed to take baby steps before opening her heart. Though the plot is straightforward its characters brings it to life especially Lilian's precocious daughters who steal the show for me time and again.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a scene in a strip club. Due to mature themes I would recommend this to adults only.

If you like this book try: The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate, Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

Rummanah Aasi

Description: In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.

Review: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is an enchanting adventure story woven with various Chinese folklore and mythology. Living in the shadow of the Fruitless Mountain, Minli and her parents spend their days working in the rice fields, barely growing enough to feed themselves. Every night, Minli's father tells her stories about the Jade Dragon that keeps the mountain bare, the greedy and mean Magistrate Tiger, and the Old Man of the Moon who holds everyone's destiny. Minli's mother doesn't approve father telling stories and feels frustrated by their lack of food and needs.
  Determined to change her family's fortune, plucky Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon. Along the way, Minli makes new friends and meets magical beings including a flightless dragon and an orphan. Minli is not only curious but she also proves to be resourceful when she tricks a group of greedy monkeys and gets help from a king.
  Reading Where the Moon Meets the Moon is much like sitting around a fire and being told a story by a storyteller. It is very easy to get swept away in its pages. Everything seems to fade away except for Minli's quest and the various tales interwoven with Minli's quest as they are told by her father and by those she meets on the way. Readers who enjoy a fantasy with a diverse setting and characters along with a strong female character shouldn't miss Where the Moon Meets the Moon.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin, Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Rummanah Aasi

Description: Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came. Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. She can’t see her future.

  Henry’s future isn’t looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.

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

Review: Words in Deep Blue is a realistic look at loss, grief, love, and the importance of words. Told in alternative points of view and packed with emotions, each of the characters go on a journey from hopelessness to second chances of living again. Rachel Sweetie's world changed forever the day her brother Cal drowned. Since his death, Rachel has failed to graduate from school and alienated most of her friends. She has become a zombie, feeling numb and unable to move on. Rachel's family seems to think returning to live with her aunt in their old hometown will help. She's up for the change of scenery, if only it didn't mean seeing her ex-best friend Henry. Before moving, Rachel mustered up her courage, became vulnerable and confessed she loved Henry in a love letter that she left in his family's bookstore. Henry never responded.
  Like Rachel, Henry is also dealing with a loss of his own. His girlfriend suddenly dumps him without any explanations and his refuge and his parents bookstore, Howling Books, may have to be sold due to abysmal sales.
 As a bibliophile myself it didn't take me long to get wrapped in this book. I liked Rachel right away. With moving back home, she is given another chance to live her life again. I enjoyed watching her grow as she accepts her failures and finally embraces her grief. I appreciated that the author didn't reduce her character to be Henry-centered. I also enjoyed how organic and authentic her friendship and later romance with Henry felt.
  I had a harder time liking Henry. Henry reminded me of John Cusack in Say Anything. I loved that he is a reader and a dreamer. What annoyed me most about him was his tunnel vision in getting his girlfriend back, a person that everyone can see is not good for him. There were many times I wanted to shake him and hit him upside the head to show him that Rachel is the one he needs. It's so obvious to everyone else but him. I did however love Henry's sister George who is rough on the outer edges but soft at heart. I loved watching her come out of her shell. She too has her  own journey in the book that broke my heart and eventually wove my broken pieces back together.
  I absolutely loved the setting of Howling Books. I wished there was a bookstore such as that near me. I would never leave. The bookstore also has a Letter Library in which customers communicate with one another by writing in and marking up a select set of books and by leaving letters in between the pages. I liked how these letters varying from funny, touching, and sad were interspersed throughout the book. Though the book doesn't end with a nicely tied bow and I would have liked a bit more of a resolution with some of the plot threads, it does make the story realistic. Words in Deep Blue is a love story, your traditional romance but also a love story to the written word.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, allusions to sex, and some nudity. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try:

Rummanah Aasi

Description: On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one, Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal. Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny?

Review: I have heard great things about the manga series Orange for quite some time. I saw friends read it and enjoyed it. After it appeared on the Goodreads Choice for graphic novels and on the ALA Great Graphic Novels for Teens I decided to pick it up. The series is complete in two omnibus volumes. Once I started the manga, I had a hard time putting it down.
 The premise of the manga series is not completely unique. Our main character Naho receives a letter from her future self warning her to look after a boy named Kakeru who will soon join her class. Ten years from now Kakeru will commit suicide and Naho and her group of friends can avoid this tragedy if they work together and change their choices. Though I had to suspend my disbelief and overlook the confusing science explanation of how the letter works, the characters and their friendship is what drew me into this story.
  Orange features a great group of friends that I have seen in manga. They show their unconditional love and support to each other without any strings attached. You won't find petty fights, angst or betrayal among these group of friends. They open their arms to Kakeru who is quiet and withdrawn on his first day and envelop him with their warmth without any questions asked. The group of friends are made up of varied personalities: Naho is shy, very sweet, and maternal. Takako is the outspoken protector of the group who first appears intimidating but she defends her friends and comes to their rescue in confrontations. Azusa is bubbly, optimistic and full of enthusiasm. Saku is the "serious" one but a manga nerd and totally has something for Azusa but denies it. Hiroto is the leader of the group, star soccer player, and my favorite member of all who is completely selfless throughout the entire series. Each member of the group affect Kakeru differently and they are very different from his old group of friends at his old school.
 Kakeru's past is slowly unveiled through the future letters and we really hear his voice in the second volume. I appreciated that the author did not shy away from talking about tough mental health issues such as depression, suicide, and guilt in the manga. I would have liked to see more of a discussion particularly of seeking help in the manga. While there is a small undercurrent of romance in the series, the main focus was helping Kakeru. Orange ends on a hopeful note, but I was still left wanting more. I would have liked an epilogue to see what happened to all of the characters. I would highly recommend reading this manga series for its message of being kind and supportive to everyone because you don't know what worries and hardships they carry.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the manga series and mention of suicide.

If you like this book try: Sand Chronicles by Hinako Ashihara, We Were There by Yuuki Obata, Silent Voice series by Yoshitoki Ooima
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