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
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Keah Brown loves herself, but that hadn’t always been the case. Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective.
   In The Pretty One, Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to the disabled—so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance; her deep affinity for all things pop culture—and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute.

Review: The Pretty One is an entertaining, informative, and candid collection of essays on the intersectionality of race, gender, and disability. Keah Brown is an activist for disabled representation in media and the creator of the viral campaign #DisabledAndCute, which empowers people with disabilities to own their cuteness and fight back against the daily able bodied microaggressions they face daily.
  Brown's tone is welcoming and her essays honestly reveal her own insecurities, shortcomings, and her strengths. Her desire to be beautiful, her angst about not yet knowing romantic love, and her longing for designer clothes are interwoven with stark realities of living with cerebral palsy. While reading these essays I was constantly reminded of my own abled bodied privileges that I took for granted. I was also taken aback about the lack of representation by disabled people by the media and even if they are present, almost all of them are acted by abled bodied people who act as if they had the disability (i.e. Glee, Daredevil). By discussing pop cultural alongside experiences of physical pain and encounters with the world's disregard for her disabled body, Brown presents herself as a complex person who is not defined by her labels. By far my favorite aspect of this collection of essays is Brown's insistence that she is continuing on her journey of self-love and it is not easy. There is much to love and learn in this memoir. I highly recommend it to readers who are looking to further their knowledge of social justice, disability rights, or simply want to read a story featuring a strong, beautiful young woman who wants to change the world for all of us.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are mentions of an eating disorder, mental illness, self harm, and suicidal thoughts. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Being Heumann by Judith Heumann, Such a Pretty Girl: A Story of Struggle, Empowerment, and Disability Pride by Nadina LaSpina
Rummanah Aasi
Description: The haunted season has arrived in the Antler Wood. No fox kit is safe.

When Mia and Uly are separated from their litters, they discover a dangerous world full of monsters. In order to find a den to call home, they must venture through field and forest, facing unspeakable things that dwell in the darkness: a zombie who hungers for their flesh, a witch who tries to steal their skins, a ghost who hunts them through the snow and other things too scary to mention.

Featuring eight interconnected stories and sixteen hauntingly beautiful illustrations,Scary Stories for Young Foxes contains the kinds of adventures and thrills you love to listen to beside a campfire in the dark of night.

Review: Young readers who like scary stories without the blood and gore will love Scary Stories for Young Foxes. The book begins as seven fox kits are eager to hear some scary stories. For “a story so frightening it will put the white in your tail,” their mother sends them to “the old storyteller,” an elderly fox in a cavern, who proceeds to spin a tale of vulpine horror. At first the stories seem unrelated and anti-climatic to the kits considering the warning the adults give them; Mia is separated from her loving family, while Uly is exiled. Soon the kits’ stories intertwine as the horrors they survive increase and multiply.
  The book moved slowly for me at first as the narratives and its characters found their footing, but soon the stories begin to pick up. These scary stories are definitely creepy and are borderline disturbing. The menacing tone and horror ratchets up with each story and the author does not spare its characters. There are domestic horror stories in which Mia barely survives an encounter with her beloved teacher, who’s gone rabid, and Uly is terrorized by his sisters and father because he’s disabled. The most menacing story that gave me goose bumps is when Mia is trapped by Beatrix Potter, who murders animals after using them as inspiration for her stories, which gave me flashbacks to button eyes in Neil Gaiman's Coraline. There are sixteen, beautiful and gothic sketches that add to the atmosphere, with appealing fox kits set against menacing backgrounds. The stomach-clenching fear and suspense are resolved by a happy ending, but this might be a hard read for sensitive readers, especially those who are animal lovers. Definitely a must read for budding horror fans.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images such as the process of taxidermy and cruelty to animals. Bullying and references to domestic abuse are also mentioned in the stories. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods by Hal Johnson
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