Rummanah Aasi
Description: Gracie has never felt like this before. One day, she suddenly can't breathe, can't walk, can't anything and the reason is standing right there in front of her, all tall and weirdly good-looking: A.J. It turns out A.J. likes not Gracie but Gracie's beautiful best friend, Sienna. Obviously Gracie is happy for Sienna. Super happy! She helps Sienna compose the best texts, responding to A.J. s surprisingly funny and appealing texts, just as if she were Sienna. Because Gracie is fine. Always! She's had lots of practice being the sidekick, second-best. It s all good. Well, almost all. She's trying.

Review: Well, That Was Awkwardof a diverse group of middle schoolers embarking on their journey to high school. Gracie Grant, a tall eighth grader who has a prominent nose and hails from New York City, takes the lead as our Cyrano figure. She is bubbly, plucky, and optimistic. Gracie's best friend, Sienna Reyes, needs help texting the boy who likes her, the handsome AJ Rojanasopondist. Though nursing a broken heart, Gracie puts aside her feelings and is completely there for her best friend. Text messages are sent and their meanings are flustered over. Despite having feelings for AJ, Gracie has no idea that someone is actually interested in her. The romance in this book is adorable as the characters try to find their own voices and personalities as they come to terms with their own shortcomings. It made me thankful that I will never have to relive those awkward moments ever again.
  Along with a light, fun story line, Well, That Was Awkward also has depth with a subplot of Gracie confronting with the lost of her sister who died in a car accident before Gracie was born and Gracie's plight of always appearing to be happy and okay for her over-protective parents. This subplot weaves in and out throughout the story and doesn't overshadow the lighter moments. I actually think it enhances the story and gives Gracie a really nice character growth arc. I was really happy that the author prevents all of her characters from being one dimensional stereotypes though she does highlight the common cliques in middle school. I was also impressed that Gracie parents are
fully formed, not the typically clueless adults or worse absent parents who are featured in many books written for this audience. There is a nice twist in the Cyrano story that left me completely satisfied. Well, That Was Awkward is a perfect read for romance and realistic fiction fans of all ages and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Cici Reno by Kristina Springer, Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Rummanah Aasi
Description: There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad. Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds. But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories. Like the monster at my mosque. People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask. Except me.

Review: S.K. Ali's debut novel, Saints and Misfits, is a welcoming addition to the growing and much needed collection of books written about and written by Muslim authors. In a smartly written novel Ali has been able to tap into universal themes and portray the various representation of faith and Muslim representation without being didactic.
  Janna Yusuf is an extremely smart Indian Arab American Muslim teen who, like all teens, is looking for a place to belong. She is caught between her Muslim faith and the parts of her life that clash with it. Janna identifies herself as a misfit and does not fit into the cookie cutter mold of a "saintly" Muslim teen. Her parents are divorced, a culture faux pas that many people do not discuss. While a practicing Muslim herself, her father is a secular business man who has since remarried and sends out motivational quotes in his newsletter. Her love life is complicated considering she has a crush on a non-Muslim boy named Jeremy who she can not date because of her religion though her crush might not be unrequited, but above all Janna's biggest obstacle is facing the monster: a "pious" boy from a respectable family and from her mosque who attempts to sexually assault her during a party.
   The different categories of people that Janna identifies throughout the story, with the exception of the monster, shift and change as Janna's preconceptions are constantly challenged. Janna's internal push and pull observations gives readers unfamiliar with Islam a deep understanding of Muslim practices, the wide range of how people observe or don't observe Islam as well as the representation of women who wear the hijab without limiting or changing the focus of the story. Teens will easily look past their superficial differences with Janna and instead will connect with her not fitting in, dealing with frustrations of rape culture, the difficulty of trusting others and truly connecting with others, and most of all finding the courage to speak out.
  Janna is a keen observer and all of her thoughts on the world and those around her are filtered through her lens. I loved the use of Janna's hobby of a photographer as a running conceit in the story. I also greatly appreciated that the author does not use stereotypes in her book but rather exposes not only their flaws, but also the flaws of the Muslim culture. Janna creates a strong support system with both Muslim and non-Muslim friends. I also adored her friendship with an elderly Indian man who shows her own shortcomings and the advice column that her uncle and imam has for her mosque that gives the reader a peek into what's like to be a Muslim teen. Saints and Misfits is another solid book published by Salaam Reads that illustrates a girl's attempt to find her place in a complicated world.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, a party where there is underage drinking, and a scene of attempted sexual assault in the book. Recommended for Grade 9 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah, and for a book that has similar themes minus religious elements try What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
Rummanah Aasi
Description: The students of Gotham's most prestigious prep school are back and they've just survived one heck of a year within the walls of Gotham Academy. Now it's time for everyone to look back and experience some of the lost adventures from the school year that was.

Review: It is hard to call Gotham Academy Volume 3 a "volume" since it contains six meandering short stories that are written and illustrated by different graphic novelists. There were only a handful of stories that I liked and many others I disliked. While I liked the concept of the yearbook I was surprised how early it released considering how many unanswered questions that surfaced with the first two volumes of this series. What made reading this volume difficult is the inconsistency with the narrative text and the artwork of different graphic novelists who take a crack at the Detective Club. Overall this volume felt disjointed and I did not enjoy it.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some PG-13 violence in the graphic novel. Recommended for Grade 7 and up.

Description: When you're Gotham Academy student Olive Silverlock, winter holidays can be a drag. Luckily, when a new student shows up at Gotham Academy to keep her company while the other students are away, Olive finds what could be a brand new friend...or a whole lot of trouble. And when Maps, Kyle, Colton, Pomeline and the rest of the students of Gotham's #1 prep school return for a new semester, the adventures are twice as mysterious and twice as dangerous!

Review: I am not sure if Gotham Academy Second Semester is a spin off series for Gotham Academy or a continuation of the overarching story. All of our main characters return to a new semester. I was a bit hesitant to read this one since I was really disappointed with Gotham Academy Vol. 3, but ended up really enjoying this one. The plot and tension of this volume is a slow burn. Olive has a new roommate that starts to have a negative effect on her. We also have a small mystery where students have been brainwashed and kidnapped by a disgruntled teacher. At first glance I thought the graphic novel was pretty average since I figured the mystery early on but as I read on I was glad to discover a twist in the last half of the story. We get more background information on Olive's family history, what fuels her dark side, and there is a new romance development that I'm very curious to see where it goes. Luckily, the romance is not a love triangle. The volume does end on a cliffhanger so it might be a while to read what happens next. Gotham Academy Second Semester returns to the dark, gothic mystery setting that first grabbed my attention and made me curious about this series. I am glad that it is back on track.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence in the book. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like these books try: The Nameless City series by Faith Erin Hicks
Rummanah Aasi
Description: It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell's possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland's dying body through the rift--back into Black London.
   Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games--an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries--a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
  And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Review: A Gathering of Shadows is a great follow up to A Darker Shades of Magic. It takes place 4 months after Kell and Lila saved the world with big changes. Now Lila has wormed her way onto a pirate ship called the Night Spire and sailed away from Red London with an enigmatic and mesmerizing pirate named Alucard Emery in search of an adventure and a new beginning. Lila has been transfixed in learning all she can about magic and how to hold/manipulate it. Meanwhile Kell is still dealing with the consequences that nearly took his life and that of his adoptive brother Rhy.
  Like the previous installment, the plot is a slow build until the upcoming magical tournament called the Essen Tasch which reminded a lot of Goblet of Fire tournament except the adult version where magicians fight to the death. Of course there is a lot of treachery and deception that occur in the background as all of our characters meet together.  Schwab expands the world beyond Red London and we learn different facets to our characters.
   I have to say that I really fell for Alucard Emery who reminded me a lot of Sturmhond from Bardguo's Grisha Trilogy, a character that has many layers beyond the rakish captain facade. There is mention that Rhy and Alucard has a romantic history and Kell is not a big fan of Alucard so I'm really curious to learn more about this couple. There is also a slight undercurrent of romantic tension between Kell and Lila that continues to spill over in this book though both of them will vehemently deny their feelings for one another. Overall I enjoyed this book a bit more than the first book since it contained the tournament which was a lot of fun to read about. There is a nasty cliffhanger so be sure to have the third book, A Conjuring of Light, on hand when you are done to make sure all your favorite characters are safe. This is a really fascinating world where magic can both be a blessing and a curse depending on how the characters use it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, crude humor, and some strong violence. Suitable for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Rummanah Aasi
Description: After losing out on a spot on the local deaf team, William practiced even harder—eventually earning a position on a professional team. But his struggle was far from over. In addition to the prejudice Hoy faced, he could not hear the umpires' calls. One day he asked the umpire to use hand signals: strike, ball, out. That day he not only got on base but also changed the way the game was played forever. William “Dummy" Hoy became one of the greatest and most beloved players of his time!

Review: I never heard of William Hoy before picking this book up. What a remarkable story! Born in 1862, William Hoy could neither hear nor speak, but he loved and breathed baseball. Despite his disabilities, he was incredibly athletically gifted and became an outstanding major league baseball player during the late nineteenth century. It is said that he and along with other players are credited in creating a system of hand gestures as signs that are still used in baseball today. The illustrations remind of the old Popeye cartoons that are fun to look at and share the book's uplifting vibe and feel good message. This is a great story for baseball and sports fan to read. It would also work as a good read-aloud with younger readers.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Preschools to Grade 3 readers.

If you like this book try: Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick

Description: Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements.

Review: I Dissent is an informative picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The book traces the Justice's achievements as an intelligent, ambitious young girl to her position on the Supreme Court with an emphasis on dissenting in the face of inequality that Gingsburg faced as a Jewish woman. While the book does talk briefly about Gingsburg's social life, the focus for the majority of the book is her law career. The text is easy to understand sentences intended for its audience. The whimsical illustrations make the subject approachable and the use of bold typography highlight words such as protest, object, and dissent make the text come alive.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Ruth Bader Gingsburg by Heather Moore Niver

Description: "Pinkalicious" meets National Geographic in this nonfiction picture book introducing the weirdest, wildest, pinkest critters in the animal kingdom! Some people think pink is a pretty color. A fluffy, sparkly, princess-y color. But it's so much more. Sure, pink is the color of princesses and bubblegum, but it's also the color of monster slugs and poisonous insects. Not to mention ultra-intelligent dolphins, naked mole rats and bizarre, bloated blobfish. Isn't it about time to rethink pink?

Review: Young readers who are fascinated by animals or weird things will absolutely love Pink is for Blobfish. Rather than focusing on a region or behavior, this book of weird creatures is uniquely organized by color. The color of choice is pink and the creatures featured in the book are from cute, cuddly, princessy and other adjectives associated with pink. Most of the creatures listed where foreign to me from the ugly, flesh-colored blobfish and the bristly hairy squat lobster to the delicate pink fairy armadillo, I mistook as feather duster. Each creature baffled me as I flipped through this book. A two page spread is dedicated to each animal which features a full-color, close-up photo of the creature with an approachable paragraph describing some of its key features, a fascinating fact, and an at-a-glance rundown of basic facts. The comical tone makes book inviting in case the book's title and cover doesn't grab your little reader instantly.

Curriculum Connection: Science

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for K-Grade 4 readers.

If you like this book try: What Makes a Monster? by Jess Keating
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