Rummanah Aasi

Description: Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

Review: 2018 marked the 200 year anniversary of Mary Shelley's masterpiece Frankenstein. I had originally wanted to do a reread of the horror classic, but ran out of time and instead picked up Mary's Monster after reading glowing reviews about it. Mary's Monster is a beautifully crafted fictionalized biography in first-person free verse and it unveils how Mary Shelley’s unusual life experiences shaped her imagination and inspired her to give the world the first “mad scientist” in science fiction. Drawn from extensive source material and thoroughly researched, Judge pieces together a timeline from 1812 until the anonymous publication of Frankenstein in 1817. Those familiar with Mary's Shelley's background will notice key life moments discussed from her childhood to her tumultuous romance with Romantic and libertine poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, which resulted a child out of wedlock and banishment by her father. Judge does not hold anything back from the dark moments of Mary's life. While some readers might think the text is overly melodramatic, I think it perfectly captures the emotions highlighted and exaggerated by the Romantics. Along with the engaging text, the book is also filled with black and white, charcoal illustrations which mirrors the text and emotions swirling in Mary. As a fan of Frankenstein, I was completely captivated by this book. Highly recommended for fans of Frankenstein or those who are curious about its author.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are adult themes such as feminism, open relationships, scenes of nudity and sex. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Passion by Jude Morgan
Rummanah Aasi

Description: The Nameless City--held by the rogue Dao prince Erzi--is under siege by a coalition of Dao and Yisun forces who are determined to end the war once and for all... Rat and Kai must infiltrate Erzi's palace and steal back the ancient and deadly formula for napatha--the ancient weapon of mass destruction Erzi has unearthed--before he can use it to destroy everything they hold dear!

Review: The Divided Earth is the final book of The Nameless City trilogy, and wraps the narrative up in a thrilling and thoroughly satisfying conclusion.
  The story takes place in the fictional city Daidu, named by the Dao’s, the most recent conquering nation. However, due to centuries of conquest, the inhabitants of many different nationalities simply call it The Nameless City. This politically important Asian city, inspired by China, sits alongside a mountain pass and is the only route to the sea, making it a critical location for trade and military movements. An ancient people carved a passageway through the mountain, but the technology they used has been lost to the ages. The first two volumes of this series establish the various groups who plan to take control of The Nameless City for many reasons. This final conclusion shows how desperately one ruler tries to hold his power by an iron fist and justifies his heinous actions. All of the major characters are thoroughly fleshed out and are three dimensional.

 This volume is full of action as Kai and Rat play integral roles to prevent war in the Nameless City. We also learn some background information on Mura and realize how similar her story is from Rat though they had two different paths in life: one with love and support and the other the fight for survival by any means necessary. The Nameless trilogy is my favorite Hicks graphic novel series so far. It touches upon many themes such as friendship, the cost of war, and politics. Her artwork is inspired by 13th century China is appealing and her illustrations clearly captures the wide range of emotions experienced by her characters. The panels are fluid and easy to read. This captivating trilogy is a must read for readers who enjoy thought provoking and adventurous stories.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: 5 Worlds series by Mark Siegel
Rummanah Aasi

Description: In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever. Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

Review: There are a plethora of fiction titles that are written about World War II and after a while all the books seem formulaic. I wanted to learn more of the inner workings of those who worked for spy agencies during the war so when I read the description of Kate Atkinson's latest Transciption I had high hopes considering I enjoyed her other title, Life after Life.
  Transcription is thriller-esque historical fiction that plunges the reader into the complex world of espisonage and the aftermath of World War II. The narrative jumps between two different timelines during the war and the current in which Juliet works for the BBC developing a children show in the 1980s. When she is given a death threat, we retrace her steps in the past and their consequences.
 At the tender age of 18 Juliet Armstrong is all alone in the world when she’s recruited by MI5. Her job is transcribing meetings of British citizens sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Soon, she’s pulled even deeper into the world of espionage, creating multiple identities and forging relationships that impact her life.
  It was fascinating watching Juliet make her way through the complex web of spying. She is very young and naive at the beginning but she soon realizes that she isn't playing a game but with people's actual lives. There are actual transcriptions in the book in which we over hear the British Fascists who think they’re passing secrets to the Third Reich but are actually giving them to an English spy; their crimes are both deadly serious, unfathomable yet funny at a dark level. There is intrigue in the book and even surprises that I didn't see coming and some I still yet to comprehend of the actions taken, but I think that is realistic given the extreme situation of war. With all of this in mind, readers who think this is a fast paced thriller will be disappointed. The plot moves at a leisurely pace, but it much more atmospheric and character driven that your standard thriller. I appreciate that the novel doesn't just end when the war concludes, but it shows its impact on those involved in it from fellow spies to war veterans who are dealing with PSTD. As one character states the line between nationalism and fascism is very thin, which unfortunately sounds very timely given our current political climate. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, allusions to sexual situations, Anti-Semitic comments, and war violence in the book. Recommended to mature teens interested in World War II and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, Trapeze by Simon Mawer
Rummanah Aasi

Description: New York City in the 1860s was a mess: crowded, disgusting, filled with garbage. You see, way back in 1860, there were no subways, just cobblestone streets. That is, until Alfred Ely Beach had the idea for a fan-powered train that would travel underground. On February 26, 1870, after fifty-eight days of drilling and painting and plastering, Beach unveiled his masterpiece—and throngs of visitors took turns swooshing down the track.

Review: The Secret Subway is an absorbing nonfiction picture book about the first creation of a subway in New York City. It is a story that I had never heard about. In the 1860s, Alfred Ely Beach found a solution to New York City's crowded streets and invented the first underground train which went back and forth in a 294 foot tunnel. He oversaw the building of a short tunnel, a single car, the machinery to make it move, and a luxurious underground waiting room, complete with a fountain.
  The creation of the subway was incredible and I loved the full page spread which shows spread shows the car traveling to the right of the page, then back to the left, its momentum causing the wide-eyed, elaborately dressed passengers to sway. Of course inevitable corruption derailed the project and the story was long forgotten until now. While the topic of trains may not thrill younger readers, the illustrations for this picture book by Chris Sickels are incredible. The images are made out of stylized clay figures and furnishings that are exquisite in details. The lightning and color choices makes the illustrations pop off the page as if the reader was watching a movie instead of reading a book.   

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: Sky High by Monica Kulling, Subway story by Sarcone-Roach, Julia.

Description: This picture book biography tells the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who bicycled across Ghana--nearly 400 miles--with only one leg. With that achievement he forever changed how his country treats people with disabilities, and he shows us all that one person is enough to change the world.

Review: Emmanuel's Dream is an inspirational picture book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, was born in rural Ghana in 1977 with only one functional leg and who grew up to become a national hero and disabilities activist. Readers learn of Emmanuel's challenges and achievements, both large and small. His mother had to carry him in order to attend school and once he became to heavy, he had to hop to and from school. In order to make friends, Emmanuel had to save money in order to buy a soccer ball and made a condition that others could play with the ball so long as he could play too while using crutches. He also learned how to ride a bike, which brought him national attention. As a young man, he embarked on an astounding 400-mile bicycle ride through Ghana, raising awareness and spreading his message that "being disabled does not mean being unable."
  The text is simple, well paced, and clearly written. Qualls's mixed-media art are quite nice and matches its upbeat tone. Soft blues and greens, bright oranges, and hot pinks are set against light-pastel painted backgrounds, effectively conveying mood and emotion. This story is sure to inspire many young readers and remind us that disabilities does not equate with restrictions.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz and My Story, My Dance by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Rummanah Aasi

Description: How I Resist is the response, and a way to start the conversation. To show readers that they are not helpless, and that anyone can be the change. A collection of essays, songs, illustrations, and interviews about activism and hope, How I Resist features an all-star group of contributors, including, John Paul Brammer, Libba Bray, Lauren Duca, Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita, Alex Gino, Hebh Jamal, Malinda Lo, Dylan Marron, Hamilton star Javier Muñoz, Rosie O'Donnell, Junauda Petrus, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Karuna Riazi, Maya Rupert, Dana Schwartz, Dan Sinker, Ali Stroker, Jonny Sun (aka @jonnysun), Sabaa Tahir, Daniel Watts, Jennifer Weiner, Jacqueline Woodson, and more, all edited and compiled by New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.
 In How I Resist, readers will find hope and support through voices that are at turns personal, funny, irreverent, and instructive. Not just for a young adult audience, this incredibly impactful collection will appeal to readers of all ages who are feeling adrift and looking for guidance.

Review: Our current political climate has left many of us disillusioned and hopeless. How I Resist is a timely anthology that encourages teens to take charge and be agents of change. The book features 30 diverse voices from a wide range of ethnicities, religion, sexual orientations, professional achievements, and even a few familiar celebrities. Each contributor shares their own definition of resistance, their own experiences encountering, and countering, various forms of injustice, and encourage readers to speak out and act against the same. Along with the diverse voices, the compendium also features essays, poems, music, interviews, comics, and other formats to address the topic of resistance. While some entries offer a step by step guide on how teens can enact change even if they are not old enough to vote, others like Jacqueline Woodson's interview suggest that change can start by having an open and honest conversation at home. The strongest entry in this anthology is by Maya Rupert who muses the problematic representation of Wonder Woman as a symbol of feminist power and diverse representation in all forms of media.
 If read as an entire book, the anthology does become repetitive but it would work better if used in selection and excerpts for class discussion. It is clear that this work is driven by passion, honesty, and the yearn to do something instead of being a passive bystander.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language in the book and mature themes discussed. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Hope Nation edited by Rose Brock, Nevertheless, We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage by In This Together Media
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