Rummanah Aasi

Description:  For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.
    Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.
  When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

Review: Unlike her flirtatious and gregarious mother, Penny Lee is much reserved but she hopes that things will change when she goes off to college in Austin, Tex., in hopes of becoming a writer. She soon meets Sam, her roommate's 21-year-old uncle, a college dropout and talented baker who works (and lives) at a local coffee house. They barely know each other, but, after Penny catches Sam in a vulnerable moment they agree to be each other's emergency contacts. Soon, they are exchanging texts and sharing secrets they've never divulged.
  Emergency Contact is very much a slice of life story that has great potential, but unfortunately the author does not take full advantage of her characters and their issues. Penny is a smart and funny but hides under a quiet and at times abrasive manner. Sam plays the role of a tortured artist quite well, he is still trying to get over a serious relationship and become sober. In alternating chapters we see Penny and Sam slowly come out of their shells and act like real people. The book does discuss some serious issues such as abandonment, addiction, and identity which I liked but wished it explored more in the story. This book read like an episode of "Girls" and was at times long winded. I would not consider this book to be a meet-cute romantic comedy as its description implies. 

Rating: 3 stars


Words of Caution: There is strong language, underage drinking and drug use mentioned, allusions to sex and sexual assault. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jubilee Jenkins is no ordinary librarian. With a rare allergy to human touch, any skin-to-skin contact could literally kill her. But after retreating into solitude for nearly ten years, Jubilee’s decided to brave the world again, despite the risks. Armed with a pair of gloves, long sleeves, and her trusty bicycle, she finally ventures out the front door—and into her future.
    Eric Keegan has troubles of his own. With his daughter from a failed marriage no longer speaking to him, and his brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son attempting telekinesis, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off course, and how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. So when an encounter over the check-out desk at the local library entangles his life with that of a beautiful—albeit eccentric—woman, he finds himself wanting nothing more than to be near her.

Review: Jubilee is deathly allergic to other people. For Jubilee, skin-to-skin contact with anyone else could lead to horrific reactions, even death (the proteins in her skin trigger an extreme intruder alert in her immune system). Unfailing vigilance, ever-present gloves, and self-imposed isolation help Jubilee survive her allergy and school until just before high school graduation. One kiss with a popular guy puts her into anaphylactic shock and results in nine years of seclusion after her mother marries a rich man and moves away. Jubilee adjusts to her agoraphobia since she has been receiving checks to take care of her finances and she spends her time with books and various delivery services.
However with the sudden death of her mother and the liable checks stop, Jubilee is forced to re-evaluate her lifestyle. Self-help for agoraphobia and an old bike bring the protagonist into the orbit of Madison, a high school classmate, and then lead to a job as a library assistant (Side note: it really irritates me when people assume that anyone working in a library is a librarian. There is a clear difference between being a library assistant and a librarian. End of rant.).
  Reclaiming her independence in small steps leads her into contact with Eric, a recently divorced man who has moved with his traumatized and introverted adopted son to Jubilee's New Jersey community. Eric's first-person chapters are interspersed with Jubilee's to personalize all the quirks and hurdles of this most impossible, charming romance. I liked the romance between Jubilee and Eric, but the plot idles and goes nowhere. The realistic situations turns into a Hallmark movie with a perfectly wrapped up bow ending.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the book. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL? For Arturo, summetime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela's restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo's apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn't notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of Jose Marti.

Review: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is a warm and at times heartbreaking story filled with family, tradition, and community. Every summer Arturo is looking forward to a Miami summer filled with friends, ice cream, and working at his family’s popular restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla, but his plans get derailed from the start. Carmen, his mother’s goddaughter, comes to visit, and Arturo may have a crush on her. He is confused whether or not he and Carmen are related. His "promotion" at the restaurant is harder than he thought, and worst of all, his family’s plan to expand into an adjacent empty lot seems hopeless when flashy real-estate developer Wilfrido Pipo comes to town with plans of his own.
  Arturo hopes the community his abuela and abuelo loved for so long will support them, and with the help of his family, friends, and the work of Cuban poet and revolutionary hero José Martí, Arturo finds the strength to fight for what he believes in. I absolutely loved this book is organically filled with family and culture without feeling like it is checking a list of requirements. The characters are lively and Arturo's family comes to life and leave you feeling like they are part of your family. The story is also interspersed with letters, poems, and Twitter messages, offers a timely tale of a community steeped in tradition and multiculturalism, working together against encroaching gentrification. Arturo’s is a great narrator and one the reader can easily root for. This is a quick and uplifting read. A great choice for those looking for books to help celebrate Hispanic Heritage month.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina, Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Review: I often heard the word brutal when describing the Ember in the Ashes series. I use to think this was a hyperbole until I actually picked it up as part of my Ramadan Reading Challenge this summer. Brutal is the perfect adjective for this series. Tahir's strong debut fantasy series opener is set in the Martial Empire, an ancient Rome-like setting. Elias Veturius is the scion of a proud Martial military family and an outstanding soldier, but he dreams of escaping Blackcliff Academy, the elite military academy where he has nearly completed his training as a Mask, and his inevitable future as a ruthless killer. Elias and three fellow students will be facing the Trials, dangerous and rigorous challenges that will determine the next emperor. Laia is a Scholar, one of many oppressed groups living under the rule of the Martials. When nearly all of Laia's family is killed and her brother is arrested for having a sketchbook depicting Martial weapons, she goes to the Resistance in desperation. The rebel leaders plant her as a spy at Blackcliff Academy, where she must pose as the personal slave of the Commandant, promising that in return they will rescue her brother. Though their story lines are told separately in alternate in dual point of views, Elias and Laia interact with one another and converge as they each face treachery and political schemes.
  Tahir's world-building is wonderfully detailed and is set apart from the derivative of lost heirs reclaiming the throne trope in the recent fantasy trends. Though inspired by ancient Rome, Tahir also manages to weave in Middle Eastern/Southeast Asian mythology and culture with the inclusion of jinns and other ghouls as well as the physical descriptions of the characters and the names of places within the Empire. I loved finding these little nods throughout the story. The ebb and flow of the jinns and ghouls are truly creepy and have peeked my interest. We are only just learning about them and I can't wait to see how this aspect of the story develops as the series continues. 
  All of the characters, even minor ones, are fully realized with flaws and strengths. I immediately liked Elias for his strong moral compass and felt horribly when I learned of his harsh childhood. I also appreciated the inclusion of Laia's quiet strength and resilience as she grew from a whimpering, insecure girl into an established woman and Helene's physical strength as being the sole female at Blackcliff. The Commandant is a genuinely evil and frightening villain. She reminded me so much of Darth Vader. There are hints of various romantic relationships, but I am waiting to read more of this series before I start allying myself with teams.
 The author doesn't pull any punches; her descriptions of torture, punishment, and battle are graphic and brutal, and her realistic depictions of the treatment of slaves include rape and physical abuse. I could only read a few chapters at a time because of its dark tones, but each chapter felt like it ended on a cliffhanger so I had to read more to find out what happens next. Luckily, I can catch up with this series and will not have to wait too long for the series finale. I am so glad that I waited for the hype of this series to die down before judging it on its own merits.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, often graphic, in the book. There are also alluded scenes of rape and physical abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir (Ember in the Ashes #2), The Winner's Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta, Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas,
Rummanah Aasi

Description: After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.
   Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.
   As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.

Review: Backman returns to Beartown, the hockey-obsessed small-town in Sweden, which was rocked was rocked after a junior team member was convicted of rape the previous spring. We are still witnessing the ripple effects of the incident. The Beartown team is in a precarious situation. The hockey club is in danger of being liquidated. General manager Peter Andersson is under intense scrutiny-particularly from one aggressive group of fans who call themselves "The Pack"-and enters into a questionable agreement with slippery local politician Richard Theo in order to save the team. When an unconventional new coach arrives, Beartown's hopes fall on the shoulders of the four remaining hockey star teens who can resuscitate the hockey club and return the town's pride.  untested (and possibly unreliable) teenagers. As tension between Beartown and its rival town, Hed, comes to a boiling point over hockey, jobs, and political squabbles, each member of the community confronts the same questions about loyalty and friendship.
  I read Us Against You shortly after reading Beartown and I enjoyed it a bit more. You can read Us Against You as a standalone but I would not recommend it. Reading Beartown first gives you a better understanding of the community and its characters. Backman keeps his panoramic writing style, but since I had a familiarity with the characters already it did not bother me as much. We do get to spend more time with the characters, but I still selfishly want more. The running theme of loyalty is showcased throughout the story from the troubles of Andersson's marriage, the shame of little brother Leo who feels hopeless in not defending his sister and his sudden interest in violence, and the secret of Benji's sexuality that alienates him from his community. I also liked how the author asked rhetorical questions surrounding masculinity and violence and not shying away from addressing rape culture and homophobia. Definitely pick this one up if you enjoyed Beartown.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language including homophobic slurs, violence, and scenes of bullying. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Locals by Jonathan Dee, Girl in the Snow by Danya Kukafka
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