Rummanah Aasi

Description: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful. But it's not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.
  Once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision. With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Review: The description for Dhonielle Clayton’s latest series, The Belles, is deceptive and superficially appears to be quite similar to other books that offer a social commentary on our world's obsession with beauty and perfection. The Belles, however, manages to rise above those books by also tackling race issues, body diversity, socioeconomic inequalities, and slavery all without using these words to describe them. All of these important issues are timely, but powerfully lurk beneath the lush descriptions of beauty and fabrics that dominate the narrative. Clayton imagines a world in which the drive for perfection is also the greatest ruin. 
  In Camellia’s archipelago world of Orléans, the creation story begins when the God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty but soon grew jealous of the attention she gave to their children, the first humans. In punishment, he cursed them with ugliness: “Skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness that quickly turned to madness.” In retaliation, the Goddess of Beauty made the Belles, beautiful women who are born with non-gray skin and straw-like hair and who have the ability in their blood to temporarily transform the gray and ugly bodies of the citizens of Orléans into something beautiful.  
  Camellia and her five sisters are ready to debut in society as Belles and work for an exorbitant fee to work their magic upon the citizens of Orléans when the people’s beauty starts to fade. The favorite and most prized Belle will be selected to work for the royal family. Camellia yearns to chosen as the favorite, but her reluctance to follow directions may keep her from the ultimate prize. Once Camellia reaches her ultimate goal, she quickly realizes that world she was trained to live in and work for are nothing like she imagined. Beauty is a deception and a means of acquiring power. 
  Like the popular phrase, "Beauty is pain", the treatments are cringe-worthy and painful to imagine both for the customer whose bones and skin shuffle to the latest fads and also to the Belle who drains her own energy and have her blood purified by leeches. Along with these revelations, there is also many sinister things lurking around court such as unseen women heard crying at night in locked rooms, disfigured Belles, and sudden deaths that are swept under the carpet. The royal family is also facing terrible challenges: a crown princess who has been in a mysterious sleep for years and a second daughter whose ascension to the throne will be disastrous. Camellia is asked to use her Belle magic in ways it’s not intended. She quickly finds herself caught up in a political plot and faced with impossible choices. 
   Clayton is unafraid to tackle issues that are uncomfortable. She cleverly talks about beauty, especially when it comes to skin-tone, describing it with adjectives usually associated with food such as “the color of toasted walnuts,” “the rich color of honey bread,” “a sugared beignet fresh from the oil.” It’s a blatant response on how people of color are commonly described in literature and are in a way that fetishizes and commodifies them. Despite her status as a Belle who is revered in her society, she is often subjected to both. There are many other dualities that appear in the book too such as ugliness and shame. 
  While the book starts off slowly in the first few chapters are we get settled in the rich and rotting world of Orleans, the action and suspense gains traction. The horror which it cleverly veils slowly creeps up on you and once it clicks you can't unseen it. There is a cliff-hanger ending and some shocking reveals, but I'm okay with it because I know that means there is more to come in this eye-opening series. Don't be fooled or deterred from the pretty cover, The Belles is a thought provoking read that will foster great discussion.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene of attempted sexual assault and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, North of Beautiful by Justina Ireland, The Fold by An Na, Such a Pretty Face edited by Ann Angel
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!
  Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?


Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker is a charming graphic novel that focuses on self acceptance, identity, and fashion set in Paris, France. The story revolves around a lowly dressmaker named Frances who has a unique vision of fashion. After creating a scandalous dress as the devil's wench for a much delighted rebellious teenager, she catches the eye of a mysterious wealthy benefactor, for whom she is hired to work exclusively. Frances is stunned to find that her patron is the Prince Sebastian, who is secretly loves to wear gowns and crossdress at night. Frances encourages Sebastian to be himself, and together the two create Lady Crystallia, the most fabulous fashion icon Paris has ever seen. 
  Both Frances and Sebastian struggle to understand themselves and to embrace their identities. There's a hint of romance between Frances and Sebastian, but the emphasis is on their friendship. Unfortunately the book doesn't explore Sebastian's sexual or gender identity, which I had hoped but it does focus on the message of self-acceptance. The full-color artwork is gorgeous, featuring a variety of over-the-top dresses that highlight fashion trends and France's incredible creations. Though the ending is too romantic and idealized, it will warm reader's hearts. I look forward to reading more by Jen Wang.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some subtle crude humor in the book. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Everyone has a story . . . but will they get the happy ending they deserve? Emilia has just returned to her idyllic Cotswold hometown to rescue the family business. Nightingale Books is a dream come true for book-lovers, but the best stories aren't just within the pages of the books she sells - Emilia's customers have their own tales to tell.
 There's the lady of the manor who is hiding a secret close to her heart; the single dad looking for books to share with his son but who isn't quite what he seems; and the desperately shy chef trying to find the courage to talk to her crush . . . And as for Emilia's story, can she keep the promise she made to her father and save Nightingale Books?


Review: How to Find Love in a Book Shop had the perfect premise for fans of book lovers and love stories. I was really looking forward to picking this one up as a cozy read during the winter months. Unfortunately, I wish I loved this book more than I did. The book had the perfect premise and set up, but its execution felt choppy and I failed to connect to the large cast of characters.
  Emilia Nightingale is called back to her hometown of Peasebrook in Cotswold, England, where her father, Julius, is dying. After his death, she is determined to keep his beloved shop, Nightingale Books, open and thriving. Due to the lack of tracking finances and steep debt, Nightingale Books is on its last legs. Waiting in the wings is a developer ready to snap up the property if Emilia would give him an opening. As she struggles with her grief and to make sense of what her father left her, Emilia finds help from the townspeople. Julius was a beloved figure in the community, and many of the locals' lives are entwined with the fate and fortunes of the bookstore.
  How to Find Love in a Book Shop is a slice of life book where we get segments of different characters' lives as they visit Nightingale Books and have multiple happy endings. The author jumps too quickly between the large cast of characters that we don't fully get to see their love stories play out and their happy endings are anticlimactic. There were a few supporting characters that I did love such as the shy chef and the adorable fromager, the second chance love story of the single dad, and lastly the soon to be bride who was going to marry the wrong guy. The very fact that I can't recall any of these characters' names is a testament to how the story was unmemorable. It also annoyed me that there is no diversity in the book. All of the romances are those of heterosexuals and none of the characters are people of color. Overall, this was an okay read to past the time but the not of the top books that I read that featured a bookstore.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusion to drug usage, and fade to black sex scenes. Recommended for older teens and adults.


If you like this book try: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, The Bookshop Around the Corner by Jenny Colgan, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Rummanah Aasi

Description: At sixteen, Mina's mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.
   Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.


Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a feminist fairy tale that borrows elements of Snow White and the Snow Queen stories to create a genuinely new tale that celebrates women claiming their own strengths and helping each other instead of tearing them apart. The story is told from two points of views into two alternating timelines that ultimately converge at the book's climax. 
  In the present story line, Lynet has grown up in the shadow of her mother, Emilia, who died during child birth. She is an exact physical replica of her mother and has been sheltered by her over protective father. Lynet is burdened by her father's expectations that she emulate the mother she's never known and become the rightful Queen of the Southern Territories; instead, she idolizes her stepmother, Mina, who's always treated Lynet with tenderness and has no aspirations to be queen at all.
  In the past story line, we follow Mina as a girl who is desperate to find love and affection from her domineering and wicked father Gregory, only to be told that she is incapable to love and have anyone love her. She welds her beauty as power and makes her way to the court of the Southern Territories. When the king dies, only one can claim the throne and the other must die.
  Through Lynet's and Mina's perspectives, we see how these two women share many similarities though their motives maybe entirely different. Lynet and Mina are three dimensional, flawed characters. Lynet is passive and has accepted her fate of following her father's life plan for her until she stops to asks herself of what she wants. It takes her a long time to identify her strengths and to view the throne as something else besides a ball and a chain. Unlike Lynet, Mina already knows her strengths but she has to learn self-love and acceptance. There were many times Mina that teetered off the cliff of being a villain that we all recognize as the evil queen, but her self awareness and conscious has always saved her. What I found exceptional and refreshing is that both women genuinely care and admire each other.
 The pacing of the story is slow burning that matches well with the character development and might deter some readers, but the characters are so worth it. Their epiphanies take time to occur as the characters stumble many times until they reach the satisfying and revolutionary conclusion. Magic is used in the right amounts in the story and their were times that I wished it was explained a bit more clearly. There is some romance subplots for each women, but the main focus of the story is the relationship between Lynet and Mina. Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a character driven fairy tale that refuses to use common tropes and is filled with magic, adventure, and self discovery. 

 Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution:

If you like this book try: Hunted by Megan Spooner, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Rummanah Aasi
I have been looking forward to this morning and anxiously awaiting the announcement of several Children and Young Adult book awards. There were so many great books that were published last year and I don't envy the award committee to narrow their choices to just a few. The Young Media Awards are like the Oscars for me. It's one of my favorite times of the year. I usually discover new titles that I fall in love with and book talk to my students. The awards took place at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting at Denver, Colorado. Although there are many awards honored today, I was looking forward to finding out the winners for the CaldecottNewberyMorris, and of course the Michael L. Printz Award. You can find the other winners on the Association for Library Services to Children website and the Young Adult Library Services website (YALSA).

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of  Randolph Caldecott, who was a nineteenth-century English illustrator. The award is given annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Winner of the 2018 Caldecott Medal is: 







Honorees of the 2018 Caldecott are:


Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin



The Newbery Medal was named in the honor of John Newbery, who was an eighteenth-century British bookseller. Like the Caldecott, it is also awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.


Winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal is: 





Honorees of the 2018 Newbery are:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes


The William C. Morris YA Debut Award was first awarded in 2009 by YALSA. The award is given to a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

Winner of the 2018 Morris Award is: 



Honorees of the 2018 Morris Award are:

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Devils Within by S.F. Henson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone



 The Michael L. Printz Award was named in the honor of Michael L. Printz, a school librarian in Topeka, Kansas, who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. The Michael L. Printz Award is an award given annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association to a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.

Winner of the 2018 Michael Printz Award is: 










Honorees of the 2018 Printz Award are:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman

 Congratulations to all of today's winners! The library associations have spoken. What do you think of these book awards? Will you read the books that have won and have been honored? Did any of the award-winning books surprise you? I know I was taken aback by the Newbery Honorees and the Printz Winner. 
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