Rummanah Aasi

Description: Despite their many differences, Detective Rachel Getty trusts her boss, Esa Khattak, implicitly. But she's still uneasy at Khattak's tight-lipped secrecy when he asks her to look into Christopher Drayton's death. Drayton's apparently accidental fall from a cliff doesn't seem to warrant a police investigation, particularly not from Rachel and Khattak's team, which handles minority-sensitive cases. But when she learns that Drayton may have been living under an assumed name, Rachel begins to understand why Khattak is tip-toeing around this case. It soon comes to light that Drayton may have been a war criminal with ties to the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.
  If that's true, any number of people might have had reason to help Drayton to his death, and a murder investigation could have far-reaching ripples throughout the community. But as Rachel and Khattak dig deeper into the life and death of Christopher Drayton, every question seems to lead only to more questions, with no easy answers. Had the specters of Srebrenica returned to haunt Drayton at the end, or had he been keeping secrets of an entirely different nature? Or, after all, did a man just fall to his death from the Bluffs?

Review: In Khan's debut mystery series opener two Toronto detectives are handed a politically sensitive case. Esa Khattak is a second-generation Canadian Muslim who heads the new Community Policing Section, created to deal with delicate cases involving minorities. When a call from Tom Paley, chief historian at the Canadian Department of Justice, drops Esa and his partner, Rachel Getty, into the mysterious death of Christopher Drayton, who may have fell or jumped or was pushed off a cliff. As they investigate Drayton's past, new information leads Esa and Rachel to believe Drayton has a connection to the Bosnian Genocide of 1995.
  I really like how this mystery is written. It is evident that the author did a lot of research into the Bosian Genocide. In alternating chapters, we get eyewitness accounts of the atrocities of the genocide. Slowly these pieces connect meaningfully to the overall mystery arc. As we learn more details of the past, the mystery goes beyond the simple "who killed Drayton?" as it first appears.
 There is also a wide and interesting cast of characters. Esa is a reserved character who has lost his wife in a car accident and still feels guilty about it. I didn't feel like I had a good grasp on his character, but since it's the first book in a series, I am hoping I will learn  more about him when I continue the series. I did get a good grasp on Rachel who also has personal issues regarding her family such as abusive, alcoholic famed ex-cop father, her meek mother, and her desire to reconnect with her estranged brother who left home at 15 and never looked back.
 The Unquiet Dead is a solid mystery that features complex characters and issues, which at times are hard to read about. I do plan on continuing this series and learning more about these characters.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong genocide violence including rape, suicide, and torture. This some language and crude sexual humor in the book. Due to the mature topics in the book, I would recommend it to mature teens and adult readers only.

If you like this book try: Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan (Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak #2), Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Now that she is ten, Lailah is delighted that she can fast during the month of Ramadan like her family and her friends in Abu Dhabi, but finding a way to explain to her teacher and classmates in Atlanta is a challenge until she gets some good advice from the librarian, Mrs. Carman.

Review: Lailah recently moved from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia, and while she misses her friends back in the Middle East, she is very excited to be old enough to fast during Ramadan. Lailah is in a difficult situation. She is the new kid in school and also different from her classmates. How can she participate in Ramadan when no one in class knows what it is and what if she is the only one fasting? When her mother gives Lailah a note excusing her from lunch, Lailah hides the note when it is time to give it to her teacher Mrs. Penworth, and she has to endure the tempting smells of food and kind offers of her classmates to share lunch. After escaping to the library, the school librarian encourages Lailah to write down her feelings and share them with her teacher. After all, who knows what could come of sharing her culture?
 Lailah's Lunchbox is a story that will hit home to a lot of younger Muslims and it also reminded me of my own childhood explaining why I would not eat and drink for an entire month to my classmates and teachers in school. Lailah's is proud of her religion and culture, but is unable to express herself until a librarian advises her to explain her feelings. This picture book is a great introduction to Ramadan for both young Muslims and non-Muslims.The large, often full-page watercolor illustrations provide gentle details that add depth to the text. A note and glossary round out the story, giving context from the author's life and information about Islamic culture. A great addition to a growing number of books that educate about Islam without being preachy or heavy handed.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-3.

If you like this book try: Moon Watchers: Shirin's Ramadan Miracle by Reza Jalali,

Description: Yasmeen, a seven-year-old Pakistani-American girl, celebrates the Muslim holidays of Ramadan, "The Night of the Moon" (Chaand Raat), and Eid. With lush illustrations that evoke Islamic art, this beautiful story offers a window into modern Muslim culture—and into the ancient roots from within its traditions have grown.

Review:  Yasmeen's mother points out the little sliver of the crescent moon to remind her of the beginning of a new month of Ramadan. The significance of the moon is directly correlated to the lunar Islamic calendar. As Yasmeen moves through the month and the moon changes its shape, she learns the lessons of the celebration. Night of the Moon expertly captures the spirit of observing Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, and celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan. I loved how the author weaves information about the cultural traditions of Ramadan and Eid along with Yasmeen's love of her family and growing understanding of her role in the outside world. The gentle and reflective text reflects the simple arc of the month focusing on the spirit rather than being bogged down to the minute details. The illustrations are colorful and stunning incorporating a lot of Islamic art. The Night of the Moon is a warm, lovely, educational read and highly recommended.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-3.

If you like this book try: It's Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There's the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: a good school, an arranged marriage. And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school, living in New York City, pursuing the boy she's liked for ages. But unbeknownst to Maya, there is a danger looming beyond her control. When a terrorist attack occurs in another Midwestern city, the prime suspect happens to share her last name. In an instant, Maya's community, consumed by fear and hatred, becomes unrecognizable, and her life changes forever.

Review: I was really looking forward to picking up Samira Ahmed's debut novel, Love, Hate & Other Filters because it featured a Muslim main character, took place in Illinois, and tackled Islamophobia. While I did like some aspects of the book and think it is worthwhile to read, I did have several issues with it.
Maya Aziz wants to go to film school and attend NYU to pursue her dreams of being a documentary filmmaker. She secretly applied to NYU and got accepted, but her parents think she will attend a local college. With her parents expectations combined with anti-Muslim backlash from a recent terror attack threatens to derail Maya's dream. 
  I have conflicting thoughts about Maya. I admire her tenacity and her ambitions of perusing a life that is not of a traditional Indian woman (i.e. going to the medical, engineering, law fields of study). I also respect her insistence of establishing her independence, however she has little to no pride of her Indian culture and blames almost everything she thinks she can’t have on her cultural constraints and on the fact that she’s different. There were many times where I pictured her as a petulant child who stomped her foot and yelled whenever she was refused something she wanted without giving any consideration to her parents' point of view. Her repetitive phrase of wanting to be "normal" got on my nerves because it implied being anything but a white, Christian girl is abnormal. I also found it very hard to believe that Maya never felt isolated being the only Indian American Muslim at her school.
  While her Indian American identity is discussed or rather ranted about throughout the novel, there is little to no discussion of her Muslim identity. If it was not for the references of the Quran or going to the mosque made by her parents or her common Muslim last name of Aziz, the reader would not know of her Muslim identity. There is a moment in the book where Kareem, a potential love interest, drinks wine though it is forbidden in Islam to drink alcohol. It is laughed off that Kareem observes Islam in other aspects except this one really rubbed me the wrong way. I understand that author might be showing readers that people observe religion in their own ways, but this was a missed teaching moment. While Maya is not a religious person, a lot of the "constraints" she feels is closely tied to her religion. Her issues are very relevant to Muslim teens today and I wished they were talked about in the book. The author instead zeroes in on the romance aspect of the book, which fell totally apart for me. Phil, Maya's very bland love interest, and their drama took me out of the book. I kept waiting for something meaningful to happen. It is not until half way of the book that we see Maya being affected by Islamophobia in the book, both from the backlash of the terror attack and her parent's tighter restrictions. 
  I know that not every #ownvoices Muslim novel will not mirror my life and it is only an indication that we need more stories, but you can't write a book where religion is a central theme of the book and not talk about it. Personally, I felt very disappointed with the book and I understand why so many of my students returned the book without finishing it. I'm not saying Maya's story is unimportant, it is, but it barely skims the surface.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a scene of physical assault in the book. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you want a book that does a better job explaining Islamophabia and having conflicts with ones Islamic culture try: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Civil War II is behind her, and a brand new chapter for Kamala Khan is about to begin! But it's lonely out there for a super hero when her loved ones no longer have her back. It's time for Kamala to find out exactly who she is when she is on her own. Plus: it's election time! Kamala gets out the vote!

Review: Volume 7 is the weakest volume of the otherwise fantastic Ms. Marvel graphic novel series. Though the first story focuses on an important issue of the importance of voting and how to register to vote, it comes across as a public service announcement instead of a story in a graphic novel. I also didn't care for the second story with its nod to the gaming culture and what happens when it goes too far. Out of the three stories, I did enjoy the last one where see Bruno in Wakanda and seeing how he is adjusting to his new school and environment. Definitely not my favorite in the Ms. Marvel series.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and minor language. Suitable for middle grade readers and up.

Description: The villains are at Kamala's door, and Ms. Marvel has to save a city that doesn't want saving. The malleable Ms. Marvel continues her hero's journey as an enemy from her past begins targeting those closest to her, a challenge that calls into question everything about her -- not just as a super hero, but as a human being! Who can Ms. Marvel trust when everyone in Jersey City is against her? As Kamala's life hangs in the balance, a new crime fighter moves in on her turf. Plus: Bruno may be far away at a prestigious school in Wakanda, but even thousands of miles from his former best friend, Kamala Khan, adventure still finds him!

Review: We are finally back on track with the latest volume in the Ms. Marvel graphic novel series! The inclusion of Pakistani and Islamic culture along with the fun action adventure of superheroes is what makes this graphic novel series stand out and a personal favorite of mine. I identify with Kamala on many levels though I sadly lack her super powers. This volume like the last one uses our contemporary political issues as a platform. Ms. Marvel is more than a superhero, she is a social activist who is ready to help her community, but she is demonized and targeted by right wing members who want to make New Jersey great again by removing people with super powers and placing stricter immigration policies which directly affects Kamala's own family. As Kamala tries to make sense of the situation, she is rejoined by her friend Kareem who she met while in Pakistan. Kareem is the Red Dagger who brings chemistry and intrigue to the series. I really like his banter with Kamala and I'm hoping he will be a continuing character/ possible new love interest. The dialogue in this volume is smart with the right amount of zing and humor, which matches the introspective and action panels alike. There were many times when I laughed out aloud. I'm really looking forward to the next volume.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and minor language. Suitable for middle grade readers and up.

If you like these book try: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Thor: The Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron, The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
Rummanah Aasi

Description: They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.
With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn.

Review: I normally devour a Patricia Briggs' book whenever it releases, but I had a really hard time finishing Burn Bright, her latest in the Alpha and Omega series. Though I loved the world and the characters that Briggs created, Burn Bright is not the strongest book in the series and many things about this book felt off to me.
  Burn Bright takes place shortly after the events in Silence Fallen, the latest book in the Mercy Thompson series. Bran is away and has left Charles in charge and he is bumping heads with his stepmother Leah. When one of the Wildings (feral werewolves who are too dangerous to be in the pack and who Bran protects) calls warning of danger, Charles and Anna are dispatched to figure out what is going on.
Charles and Anna quickly realize that it looks like someone is out to take out the Wildings and potentially the other werewolves. Many characters from both the Mercy Thompson and the Alpha and Omega universe are either mentioned and/or play a vital role in this book. I would not recommend reading this if you haven't read the rest of any of the two series.
  My main issues with Burn Bright are the uneven pacing and the unbalance amount of information that we are and are not given in the book. My biggest hurdle (and I am not alone) is wrapping my head around the conversation about Bran and Mercy which taints how you see Bran's character as well as his interactions with Mercy. This conversation came out of nowhere and I really didn't feel like it was Anna's and Charle's place to comment on it given their own big elephant in the room conversation about their own futures.
  After that revelation, the story is topsy-turvey. We spend quite some time being acquainted with the Wildings. Anna deals with big issues of her past that is glossed over and never talked about. She is then trying to use her Omega powers on a wildling which leads us to another revelation and more info dumps that took me out of the story. After a promising start and a drawn out explanation in the first half of the book, the second half is rushed with quick reveals that felt inconsistent with what we know about the characters particularly with Leah. I find it very hard to believe that the big twist was not noticeable to the pack beforehand and the possible plan to undermine Bran. I wanted this to be further explained. I know Briggs had her own personal tragedy with the loss of her husband this year and I'm sure that this has affected the book somehow, but I am optimistic that Burn Bright is a fluke and we will get a much better story in the future.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, some language, and small sexual situations in the book. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong
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