Rummanah Aasi
Description: After burying her spinster aunt, Veronica Speedwell embarks on a world tour hunting for butterflies, but when Veronica thwarts her own abduction with the help of a German baron who has ties to her past, she goes with him to his friend Stoker's home, a reclusive natural historian, until the baron is found dead and Veronica and Stoker must go on the run from an elusive assailant.

Review: I have been meaning to read Deanna Raybourn's historical mystery series for quite some time. After reading trusted reviewer's great reviews of her Veronica Speedwell series, I thought I would try it. A Curious Beginning did not disappoint and it seems to be a great Victorian mystery series. Determined to live an independent life, Veronica Speedwell is anything but a proper Victorian lady. Veronica is an incredibly witty, snarky, scientist who is happily to turn her back on "civil" society in order to pursue her own desires. So when her home is attacked during her aunt's funeral, a rollicking adventure ensues. After rescuing Veronica from her attacker, Baron von Stauffenbach whisks her to London, depositing her in the care of the enigmatic Mr. Stoker, a brooding, surly hero with a mysterious past who also loves natural history. Before the Baron can return to tell Veronica what he knows of her mother, he's found dead, and the police like Stoker for a suspect. Stoker and Veronica partner up to find the real culprit and they ping-pong throughout London and its outskirts as they dodge villains with murky motives and hulking henchmen. Soon, they realize that Stauffer's death may be connected to the mystery of Veronica's birth parents.
  I enjoyed reading A Curious Beginning. I liked that the mystery is shrouded in Veronica's origins. When the mystery seem to stall, I didn't feel bored as I loved getting to know Veronica and trying to figure out Stoker. Their banter made me laugh out loud several times and it was absolute pleasure to read. Not mention that their sexual tension crackled on the page. It did not take me long to ship these two characters together. The author does a good job in resolving the overall mystery, but there are still things that we don't know about in particular about Stoker's past, I can't wait to learn more about. I look forward seeing what other situations Veronica and Stoker find themselves into in the upcoming books in this series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, sexual references and innuendos in the book. Recommended to older teens and adults who enjoy historical mysteries.

If you like this book try: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell #2), Lady Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It's hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels.
   Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family's auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear. But as Emilia finds a way to repair the relationship with her father at home, her community ruptures with some of her classmates, like her best friend, Gus, at the center of the conflict.

Review:  I have enjoyed every book by Pablo Cartaya thus far and Each Tiny Spark is no exception. This time Cartaya has been inspired by his own daughter and created a story that centers around a young Latinx girl named Emilia Rosa Torres. Emilia has inattentive type ADHD, which causes her trouble in keeping up with schoolwork and concentrating on one thing at a time, but her software-developer mother and super involved abuelita help her keep on task. Days before her father’s return to their Atlanta suburb from his most recent deployment, her mother goes on a business trip, leaving Emilia with her distant father and her abuela to take care of her. She struggles to juggle and understand her father's mood swings, her friend troubles, and her looming assignments all on her own. When a social studies project which debates whether or not students from a poor school be allowed to go to her school opens Emilia's eyes to injustices past and present, Emilia begins to find her voice and use it to make an impact on her community.
  Each Tiny Spark tackles tough subjects such as immigration, PTSD, and microaggressions sensitively and appropriately through the lens of a budding tinkerer and activist. Conversations on race and gender crop up through the narrative as Emilia’s grandmother likes to emphasize her family’s European heritage while her mother insists of celebrating her culture's Yoruba's roots. All of these larger issues are effortlessly woven in with skill and humor, as is the Spanish her family easily mixes with English. Emilia often doesn't understand the complex questions that surround her, but she asks insightful questions which is important for young readers to understand. This is another great realistic fiction book from Cartaya that will spark discussion, help build empathy, and offer a lot of food for thought after the last page.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Rummanah Aasi
Description: When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father's failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.
      Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.
    When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they're both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they've built. But when Maegan learns of Rob's plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship .

Review: Family dynamics is the front and center of Brigid Kemmerer's Call It What You Want. The story is told from dual perspectives, Rob and Maegan, who are grappling with serious and complicated issues. Rob is a former popular student whose father sustained a profound brain injury after a failed suicide attempt after he was turned in for embezzling his investors’ money. Rob now carries the burden to take care for his father. He is also wracked by guilt and constantly reminded that his father’s clients, many of whom are his peers’ families, lost everything. Many people in his community suspect that Rob knew of his father's actions since he interned at his father's company, but Rob adamantly claims he is innocent. Suspicion tracks Rob everywhere and makes him a social pariah until an unsuspected olive branch is presented in the form of a math project.
  Maegan is the dutiful and caring daughter of a police officer who struggles in the shadow of her lacrosse-star older sister, who is now home from college unexpectedly pregnant. Maegan is dealing with the fallout of last year when she is caught cheating on the SAT a year earlier, causing the scores of everyone in the room to be invalidated. Like Rob, Maegan is also working through her own guilt and never feeling good enough.
  Kemmerer's has a a knack for creating flawed characters who are complex and real. Rob and Maegan both live in the gray moral boundaries and are trying to remove the taint of their reputation, whether it is by their own action or the actions of others. Both characters are wrestling with questions about ethical responsibility and grief. The romance between Rob and Maegan is a slow burn one where they  slowly become confidants and chip away at one another’s defenses—and their burgeoning attraction causes fallout of its own. There is a lot tackled in this romantic realistic fiction novel that could weigh it down, but the story is well-grounded with funny dialogue. There is also a natural discussion of race and privilege in the book, which I appreciated. This is another winner from Brigid Kemmerer.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, scenes of underage drinking, and references to an attempted suicide.

If you like this book try: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Rummanah Aasi
Description: In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth "Evvie" Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn't correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy's childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the "yips": he can't throw straight anymore, and he can't figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button. When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie's house, the two make a deal: Dean won't ask about Evvie's late husband, and Evvie won't ask about Dean's baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken--and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they'll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they've broken, the plans they've changed, and the secrets they've kept. They'll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there's always a chance--right up until the last out.

Review: As far as everyone in her small town knows, Evvie Drake is a grieving widow. Her husband died in a car accident, and she’s been living all alone in their big house, rarely venturing out except to get breakfast with her best friend, Andy. In actuality Evvie is hiding a big secret from everyone, she is not grieving as she should be and that she was actually planning to leave her emotionally abusive husband on the night of his death. She plays the role of a grieving widow because that it is what is expected of her, but is exhausted by play acting and wants to restart her life but doesn't know how.   When Andy suggests that his old friend, former baseball player Dean Tenney, move in to the apartment attached to Evvie’s house, she agrees. Much like Evvie, Dean’s life hasn’t turned out the way he wanted it to. After pitching for years, he’s struggling with “the yips”—he’s unable to pitch for reasons that neither he nor any professionals can figure out. Evvie and Dean are both mourning their old lives, for very different reasons, and the two of them quickly become friends—and then, slowly, something more than friends.
  Evvie Drake Starts Over is a quick and satisfying read mainly because the writing is so smooth and natural. Evvie and Dean are authentic adults who are kind, but incredibly flawed. They are trying their best, but they are reluctant to open up to one another. Evvie shuts down when asked about her her husband and Dean with a ban on discussing anything remotely related to baseball. I absolutely loved the slow burn romance between Evvie and Dean who speak to each other with natural but hilarious dialogue, making their conversations and this book an enjoyable read.  Refreshingly, Evvie and Dean’s relationship hurdles come about because of real life problems, their own share of emotional baggage and not because of easily fixed miscommunications. The book is not just centered on Evvie and Deane's romance, but also many other story lines that add to the character development of Evvie and Dean, such as the changing friendship between best friends Andy and Evvie and Evvie’s need to stand up to her family. Evvie Drake Starts Over is a smart romance that is fulled with nuisance and humor.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: In the Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman, Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Chase does not remember falling off the roof, in fact he does not remember anything about himself, and when he gets back to middle school he begins to learn who he was through the reactions of the other kids--trouble is, he really is not sure he likes the Chase that is being revealed, but can he take the opportunity amnesia has provided and restart his life?

Review: After falling off his roof, Chase Ambrose learns he was not a great person before his fall and knows that his past is not what he wants for his future. He wants to reinvent himself, but he quickly realizes that it is not easy to escape his past and his mistakes.
 Before his fall, Chase was the star and captain of the football team, following in his father's footsteps. He was also the biggest bully in his middle school, had made many students' lives miserable, and was serving a community service sentence for the damage that his bullying had caused. His dad and his former best friends, Bear and Aaron, recall the tough Chase that they love and want him to revert to, however, the new Chase is a kinder, more sympathetic person who struggles with his past and becomes friends with his former victims. Chase starts to earn his new friend's trust but it is rightfully fragile. As he works with the video club geeks, he forms a relationship with elderly Mr. Solway. I liked the juxtaposition of Mr. Solway's slow thawing of his icy exterior and sharing of his Korean War memories with Chase's own search for his own past.
 Korman is known for his humor in his books, but Restart has a more serious tone. There are humorous moments in the book such as the pursuit of making a viral video of stupid tricks, but they are sprinkled evenly in the story and more of the book's focus is on self reflection. The book is also told through multiple points of view, primarily of students who encounter and have different relationships with Chase and helps make Chase into a fully three dimensional character. Despite the strong anti-bullying theme, the story is never heavy handed but thoughtfully presents questions about loyalty, identity, owning up to mistakes, forgiveness, and the possibility of a new start in a way that appropriately fits the middle school setting.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying in the book. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks
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