Rummanah Aasi
Description: Winnie Mehta was never really convinced that Raj was her soulmate, but their love was written in the stars. Literally, a pandit predicted Winnie would find the love of her life before her 18th birthday, and Raj meets all of the qualifications. Which is why Winnie is shocked to return from her summer at film camp to find her boyfriend of three years hooking up with Jenny Dickens. Worse, Raj is crowned chair of the student film festival, a spot Winnie was counting on for her film school applications. As a self-proclaimed Bollywood expert, Winnie knows this is not how her perfect ending is scripted.
  Then there’s Dev, a fellow film geek, and one of the few people Winnie can count on to help her reclaim control of her story. Dev is smart charming, and challenges Winnie to look beyond her horoscope to find someone she’d pick for herself. But does falling for Dev mean giving up on her prophecy, and her chance to live happily ever after? To get her Bollywood-like life on track, Winnie will need a little bit of help from fate, family, and of course, a Bollywood movie star.

Review: Bollywood has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, whether it is through listening to music from Bollywood movies or watching the movies on the weekend. So I was super-excited to read Sharma's debut novel when I saw its title alone. My So-Called Bollywood Life is an adorable romantic comedy filled with humor, drama, family, and of course romance just like a good Bollywood rom-com.
  Vaneeta "Winnie" Mehta is a Bollywood junkie and loves film. She aspires to be a movie critic and study film with a specialty of South Asian films at the prestigious NYU film school. Winnie had a life pretty much planned out. She would go to NYU and eventually marry her best friend and movie buff Raj as it was fated in her janampatri (natal star chart). As we start the book, Winnie's world is turned upside down as she finds out via social media that Raj was hooking up with another classmate while they were on a break. To make things worse, Raj takes over the film festival, Winnie's moment of glory to showcase her skills and passion for film and was to be her key to NYU, and club member Dev is now starting to be interested in her. Remorseful Raj wants to win Winnie back. Needless to say Winnie has to figure out her complicated romance and find a new way to showcase her love of movies. More unsettling, she must decide if she believes in destiny, and if so, what is hers?
  I absolutely loved the inclusion of Bollywood throughout the novel, particularly the dream sequences starring one of Bollywood's mega stars Shah Rukh Khan. Each chapter headings references Bollywood films, which are detailed in the back of the book for those who are unfamiliar and a good starting guide for those who want give Bollywood movies a try. Since I saw all the films listed, I had a fun time making the connections. Those less familiar with the genre may be a little overwhelmed by the movie details that sprinkle the text, but there are plenty things that they will love about the novel that this might be overlooked. Winnie is a solid heroine who is smart, funny, and ambitious. What I loved most about her, apart from the fact that I also use movie and tv references to explain situations when I can't find the right words, is how proud she is of her culture. I also loved her relationship with her family and best friend. There are plenty of romantic and swoony moments too that brought a smile to my face. My So-Called Bollywood Life is a solid and charming debut. I can't wait to see what Sharma writes next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and crude sexual humor. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
Rummanah Aasi

Description: In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
   But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Review: I absolutely loved Miller's debut novel, The Song of Achilles, which is a retelling of Homer's Illiad. Miller had even a fresh voice and allowed me to change my perception of Achilles. Similarly in her next novel, Circe, she returns to Homer and takes a snippet of The Odyssey to give us an unique take on Circe, one of the famous witches in Greek Mythology.
  Unlike Achilles, whose fighting skills and passions are renown, there is not much known about Circe except her lineage and her witchcraft which is mentioned briefly in The Odyssey. This gives Miller a lot to play around and lends the book to be more than a retelling but also a coming of age story about a complex female figure who has to fight to make her own place. Circe is the daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife Perse. Though she doesn't have characteristics or abilities of a goddess, Circe's compassion and soft heart often make her the outcast in her family. She stumbles upon her power as a sorceress by accident when she longs to make a mortal companion immortal, but it goes horribly wrong and she is banished to the island of Aeaea. Watching Circe evolve from a quivering nymph to a formidable figure is fascinating. Her isolation at Aeaea allows her to focus on herself and build her own skills in learning about herbs and potions while surrounding herself with lions and wolves as companions. Before reading Circe, I was under the impression that Circe used her witchcraft as an evil person, but this book presents her in a different light. For Circe, witchcraft is a means for survival both for physical protection (where kindness and hospitality to lost mortal men result in rape) and an identity. In fact, Circe is not deceived by Odysseus as we are told by Homer, but she is well aware of his cunning. Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s central theme. She is well aware of how men work. She makes Hermes and Odysseus her lovers, but not expecting a fairy tale romance. The birth of her son Telegonus and the surprised ending makes me wonder how The Odyssey would be told differently if Homer was a woman. There are different mythologies also told in the book from the creation of Scylla, Daedulus and his tragic son Icarus, the creation of the maze, and the birth of the Minotaur, but the focus and spell of Circe holds the readers attention. A definite read if you are interested in reading Greek Mythology with a feminist bent to the well told epic poems.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and violence. Sexual situations are alluded to in the book but not graphically depicted. There is also a rape scene that is mentioned but not graphically described. Recommended for older teens and adults with an interest in Greek Mythology.

If you like this book try: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, Medea by Kerry Greenwood
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Six years ago, Moss Jefferies' father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media's vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.
  Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration. When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

Review: Moss had witnessed his unarmed father's fatal death at the hands of the police. He is still dealing with tragedy in the form of anxiety and night terrors, but his friends and mother help him through panic attacks. He is not a big fan of protesting as it was not fruitful for his family and only seems to make his anxiety worse. Moss also struggles with his self confidence and body image as a large, gay, African American. His dating life has been nonexistent-until he meets Javier, an undocumented immigrant from a different school, and begins to fall in love.
  Oshiro addresses many issues in his debut novel: racism, police brutality, civil rights, and gentrification to name a few and covers each of these topics well. As Moss begins his junior year at West Oakland High, a school whose student population is predominately made up of African Americans and Latinos, there are very limited resources for students. Students have to use books that are in irreparable conditions or even worse photocopied pages of textbooks for their classes. Due to low test scores on standardized tests (a battle that is unfortunately very common across the U.S.), there are limited grants. Now the school is adding metal detectors and random locker searches. Both new policies cause immediate issues for innocent students.
  Moss's group of friends is affected and they begin organizing. Tragedy strikes during a planned school walk out. Moss's inner demons are awakened and now he must stand up and fight for what is right. I really appreciated this book's honesty and realism in a unresolved, everything tied up in a bow happy ending. The heartbreaking last lines are a call to action. Notably, there are no good models of white ally-ship, putting a sharp eye on white privileged and the title is stronger for this fact. While the book does drag in bits and could have used some editing to tighten some passages, the diversity of this title is its biggest strength: sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, disability, and ethnicity are all portrayed in Oshiro's inner-city Oakland setting. This timely title will provoke much-needed discussion and would make an excellent book discussion.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and language. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, How I resist : activism and hope for a new generation edited by Maureen Johnson
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Ebo: alone. His sister left months ago. Now his brother has disappeared too, and Ebo knows it can only be to make the hazardous journey to Europe. Ebo's epic journey takes him across the Sahara Desert to the dangerous streets of Tripoli, and finally out to the merciless sea. But with every step he holds on to his hope for a new life, and a reunion with his sister.

Review: Horror stories of immigrants trying to escape in order for a chance at a better life have graced several pages in the newspaper and online. Recent policy changes regarding immigration have reignited the hot topic of immigration in the United States and Europe. While some have welcomed immigrants, others have not.
Illegal is a resonating and timely graphic novel that humanizes an immigrant's plight. The graphic novel is told in two different timelines. In the present Ebo and his brother Kwame along with 12 other people are aboard a leaking dinghy made for six, are desperately trying to reach Italian shores. In the past timeline we are given a road map to all the steps Ebo and Kwame have taken to get to the dinghy: their parents have died, their sole caretaker Uncle Patrick is always drunk and unable to care for them, and their older sister Sisi has made her way to Italy in search of a better life. Both brothers want to reunite with her and get a fresh start. The transition between the two timelines are jarring. There were multiple of times where it took me out of the story. A linear narrative approach would have worked better.
   The brothers have endured a harrowing journey through the Sahara Desert to Tripoli, Libya, hoping to cross the Mediterranean and land as refugees. The horrors Ebo witnesses especially with the cruelties of human smugglers who value money more than human life, dehydration and hunger, as well as the impossibilities he survives constitute a haunting testimony to the human spirit. Though the graphic novel is not based on one particular person, but a composite of people who have endured this journey, it is eye opening, engaging, and will hopefully educate people that refugees are not statistics and no human is illegal.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies (Current Events/Debate/Government), English, and Art

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away. But when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos—the first and only love of her life—the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world—growing from her gangly bookish friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother...only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.
  Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends to much more—spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco devouring books, sharing favorite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

Review: Love and Other Words is a touching best friends to lovers romance story. The story is divided between the past and present, where Macy Sorenson and Elliot Petropoulos fall in love, lose each other, and have the possibility of a second chance. In the past we see how Macy and Elliott meet and fall in love with each other in the closet of her dad’s vacation home, where they hide out to discuss their favorite books. In the second, Macy is working as a pediatrics doctor and engaged to a single father, and she hasn’t spoken to Elliot since their breakup. But a chance encounter forces her to confront the truth: what happened to make Macy stop speaking to Elliot? Can they ever go back to how close they once were? Does Macy even want to rebuild her relationship with Elliott which is separated not by time or physical remoteness but by emotional distance?
  While I enjoyed both story lines, I loved the past as we watched Macy and Elliott come together. After losing her mother at a young age, Macy is navigating her teenage years without a female role model, relying on the time-stamped notes her mother left in her father’s care for guidance. She doesn't want to be pitied or known as the sad girl who lost her mom. With each other they both can just be Macy and Elliot.
  Whenever I read a book that features best friend romances, we are often cheated out of how the two characters became friends before moving on to lovers. It is just told that the two characters are close and I always felt cheated in that aspect of the story. This is definitely not the chance in Love and Other Words. We see how Macy and Elliot become everything to each other and their absolute honesty with one another is terrifying and at the same time admirable. For teen Macy, Elliot and her dad become her world and her home until one moment and bad decision changed everything.
 In the present day, Macy takes comfort in complacency in a relationship where she doesn't have to be emotionally invested and ready made. She throws herself into her work and rarely comes up for air, not even to plan her upcoming wedding. Since Macy is still living with her fiance while grappling with her feelings for Elliot, the flashbacks offer steamy moments, tender revelations, and sweetly awkward confessions while Macy makes peace with her past and decides her future. I read this book fairly quickly as I got so wrapped up into the characters and story. While I understand why the book is written in two time periods, I am a greedy reader who wanted to know what happened to Macy and Elliot when they separated. Love and Other Words is an emotional rollercoaster, but it worth all of the bumps along the way.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, crude sexual humor, and a few sex scenes. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Family Tree by Susan Wiggs, The Summer I Turned Pretty series by Jenny Han
Related Posts with Thumbnails