Rummanah Aasi

Description: Bombay, 1921: Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father's law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women's rights.
  Mistry Law is handling the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen goes through the papers, she notices something strange: all three have signed over their inheritance to a charity. What will they live on if they forefeit what their husband left them? Perveen is suspicious.
  The Farid widows live in purdah: strict seclusion, never leaving the women's quarters or speaking to any men. Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian? Perveen tries to investigate and realizes her instincts about the will were correct when tensions escalate to murder. It's her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that nobody is in further danger.


Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill is the first installment of a new mystery series, set in Bombay in the 1920s. The book does a good job in establishing the diversity of colonial India particularly in class and religion. Perveen is a member of the Parsi community. She is extremely intelligent and is faced with constant obstacles for going against traditions, customs, and social mores of a being a professional woman. Perveen also belongs to an elite social class and is able to study law abroad at Oxford University. Though she is forbidden to become a lawyer because she is a woman, she still joins her father's law firm as a paralegal. I found the concept of studying law to be problematic considering there are many laws that are used in the book from Shariah, the Islamic law, the law of Paris, and the British law. So which law do you use to fight the case?   The mystery itself was okay though it took some time and patience to get it started. It allowed the reader to compare and contrast the various laws at play when it comes to marriage and family law. 
  There are two aspects of the book that did bother me. The first is the inclusion of religious slurs such as Mohammedian that are mentioned in the book. The term is offensive and inaccurate. I don't know why it was included in the book since the characters are educated enough to know that it is a wrong word to use. The second thing that also bothered me is the disjointed flashbacks that take place in 1917 that interrupt the flow of the present time. The transition between the two timelines are choppy at best and though it does provide backstory to Perveen's character, it comes across as a second story line in the book. After a while it becomes redundant and loses the book's focus. I really think the flashbacks could have been shorten and used more effectively and I hope this will be fixed in the later books. Due to the time period and the setting of the novel, I'm curious to see where this series will go.


Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some religious slurs towards Muslims and Islam, a scene of physical assault and fade to black sex scenes. Recommended for adults.


If you like this book try: Rei Shimura mysteries by Sujata Massey
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she's eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she'll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind--she'll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it's not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don't) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family's unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

Review: Victoria Jamieson's sophomore graphic novel, All's Faire in Middle School, is another great read. After years of homeschooling, Imogene is excited and a little bit terrified to start public school for the first time. As an added bonus, she finally gets to perform in the Renaissance faire as a squire, where her mom has a shop and her dad plays a knight. Imogene doesn’t have much trouble adjusting to her new role at the faire, but she is very lost on how to navigate middle school. She is unfamiliar with the unspoken social rules of middle school such as how to dress, who to sit with, and how to fit in with her peers. Imogen stumbles her way through middle school by making mistakes in complying with bullying, lying to impress her "friends", and hiding her real self in order to belong, all of which are the rites of passage of junior high. 
  I really enjoyed the artwork which felt realistic and vibrant with lots of warm tones. The text and illustrations playfully incorporates medieval imagery that reflect her frustrations with school and as well as highlight the more boring aspect of Imogen's homelife. Using the fair as an allegory, Jamieson brings out the authentic concerns of middle schoolers with humor and warmth.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None.


If you like this book try: Real Friends by Shannon Hale, Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful. But it's not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.
  Once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision. With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Review: The description for Dhonielle Clayton’s latest series, The Belles, is deceptive and superficially appears to be quite similar to other books that offer a social commentary on our world's obsession with beauty and perfection. The Belles, however, manages to rise above those books by also tackling race issues, body diversity, socioeconomic inequalities, and slavery all without using these words to describe them. All of these important issues are timely, but powerfully lurk beneath the lush descriptions of beauty and fabrics that dominate the narrative. Clayton imagines a world in which the drive for perfection is also the greatest ruin. 
  In Camellia’s archipelago world of Orléans, the creation story begins when the God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty but soon grew jealous of the attention she gave to their children, the first humans. In punishment, he cursed them with ugliness: “Skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness that quickly turned to madness.” In retaliation, the Goddess of Beauty made the Belles, beautiful women who are born with non-gray skin and straw-like hair and who have the ability in their blood to temporarily transform the gray and ugly bodies of the citizens of Orléans into something beautiful.  
  Camellia and her five sisters are ready to debut in society as Belles and work for an exorbitant fee to work their magic upon the citizens of Orléans when the people’s beauty starts to fade. The favorite and most prized Belle will be selected to work for the royal family. Camellia yearns to chosen as the favorite, but her reluctance to follow directions may keep her from the ultimate prize. Once Camellia reaches her ultimate goal, she quickly realizes that world she was trained to live in and work for are nothing like she imagined. Beauty is a deception and a means of acquiring power. 
  Like the popular phrase, "Beauty is pain", the treatments are cringe-worthy and painful to imagine both for the customer whose bones and skin shuffle to the latest fads and also to the Belle who drains her own energy and have her blood purified by leeches. Along with these revelations, there is also many sinister things lurking around court such as unseen women heard crying at night in locked rooms, disfigured Belles, and sudden deaths that are swept under the carpet. The royal family is also facing terrible challenges: a crown princess who has been in a mysterious sleep for years and a second daughter whose ascension to the throne will be disastrous. Camellia is asked to use her Belle magic in ways it’s not intended. She quickly finds herself caught up in a political plot and faced with impossible choices. 
   Clayton is unafraid to tackle issues that are uncomfortable. She cleverly talks about beauty, especially when it comes to skin-tone, describing it with adjectives usually associated with food such as “the color of toasted walnuts,” “the rich color of honey bread,” “a sugared beignet fresh from the oil.” It’s a blatant response on how people of color are commonly described in literature and are in a way that fetishizes and commodifies them. Despite her status as a Belle who is revered in her society, she is often subjected to both. There are many other dualities that appear in the book too such as ugliness and shame. 
  While the book starts off slowly in the first few chapters are we get settled in the rich and rotting world of Orleans, the action and suspense gains traction. The horror which it cleverly veils slowly creeps up on you and once it clicks you can't unseen it. There is a cliff-hanger ending and some shocking reveals, but I'm okay with it because I know that means there is more to come in this eye-opening series. Don't be fooled or deterred from the pretty cover, The Belles is a thought provoking read that will foster great discussion.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene of attempted sexual assault 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: Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!
  Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?


Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker is a charming graphic novel that focuses on self acceptance, identity, and fashion set in Paris, France. The story revolves around a lowly dressmaker named Frances who has a unique vision of fashion. After creating a scandalous dress as the devil's wench for a much delighted rebellious teenager, she catches the eye of a mysterious wealthy benefactor, for whom she is hired to work exclusively. Frances is stunned to find that her patron is the Prince Sebastian, who is secretly loves to wear gowns and crossdress at night. Frances encourages Sebastian to be himself, and together the two create Lady Crystallia, the most fabulous fashion icon Paris has ever seen. 
  Both Frances and Sebastian struggle to understand themselves and to embrace their identities. There's a hint of romance between Frances and Sebastian, but the emphasis is on their friendship. Unfortunately the book doesn't explore Sebastian's sexual or gender identity, which I had hoped but it does focus on the message of self-acceptance. The full-color artwork is gorgeous, featuring a variety of over-the-top dresses that highlight fashion trends and France's incredible creations. Though the ending is too romantic and idealized, it will warm reader's hearts. I look forward to reading more by Jen Wang.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some subtle crude humor in the book. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Everyone has a story . . . but will they get the happy ending they deserve? Emilia has just returned to her idyllic Cotswold hometown to rescue the family business. Nightingale Books is a dream come true for book-lovers, but the best stories aren't just within the pages of the books she sells - Emilia's customers have their own tales to tell.
 There's the lady of the manor who is hiding a secret close to her heart; the single dad looking for books to share with his son but who isn't quite what he seems; and the desperately shy chef trying to find the courage to talk to her crush . . . And as for Emilia's story, can she keep the promise she made to her father and save Nightingale Books?


Review: How to Find Love in a Book Shop had the perfect premise for fans of book lovers and love stories. I was really looking forward to picking this one up as a cozy read during the winter months. Unfortunately, I wish I loved this book more than I did. The book had the perfect premise and set up, but its execution felt choppy and I failed to connect to the large cast of characters.
  Emilia Nightingale is called back to her hometown of Peasebrook in Cotswold, England, where her father, Julius, is dying. After his death, she is determined to keep his beloved shop, Nightingale Books, open and thriving. Due to the lack of tracking finances and steep debt, Nightingale Books is on its last legs. Waiting in the wings is a developer ready to snap up the property if Emilia would give him an opening. As she struggles with her grief and to make sense of what her father left her, Emilia finds help from the townspeople. Julius was a beloved figure in the community, and many of the locals' lives are entwined with the fate and fortunes of the bookstore.
  How to Find Love in a Book Shop is a slice of life book where we get segments of different characters' lives as they visit Nightingale Books and have multiple happy endings. The author jumps too quickly between the large cast of characters that we don't fully get to see their love stories play out and their happy endings are anticlimactic. There were a few supporting characters that I did love such as the shy chef and the adorable fromager, the second chance love story of the single dad, and lastly the soon to be bride who was going to marry the wrong guy. The very fact that I can't recall any of these characters' names is a testament to how the story was unmemorable. It also annoyed me that there is no diversity in the book. All of the romances are those of heterosexuals and none of the characters are people of color. Overall, this was an okay read to past the time but the not of the top books that I read that featured a bookstore.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusion to drug usage, and fade to black sex scenes. Recommended for older teens and adults.


If you like this book try: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, The Bookshop Around the Corner by Jenny Colgan, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
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