Rummanah Aasi
 London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker.

His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything.

Review: A Treacherous Curse is the third installment of the delightfully entertaining Veronica Speedwell historical mystery series. The central mystery has ties to Stoker's painful past which has been alluded to in the first two books. I have been eager and patiently waiting to learn more about Stoker's past. The first two book established his character as someone who is incredibly intelligent, loyal, and overall an upstanding individual, however, his character seen through the eyes of Victorian England is very different. 
 The mystery is solid in this book and there are plenty of red herrings sprinkled throughout to keep the reader on their toes. It is fun to solve the mystery along with our detectives and it was fun to learn about excavations and Egyptian artifacts. What kept me reading however, is slowly learning about Stoker's past.  It was horrible to watch his reputation and name be dragged into the mud by his ex-wife who I absolutely detested. Though I felt terrible for him and it hurt to see Stoker so wounded, it does possibly leave the door open for him to move on. The "will they or won't they" dance between Veronica and Stoker does not distract from the story, but it does leave the reader's on the edge for the next book to see how their "relationship" develops.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some sexual humor and imagery, slander, and some language. Recommended for older teens and adults. 

If you like this book try: A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell #4), Merriweather and Royston mysteries by Vivian Conroy
Rummanah Aasi
 The phenomenon of desperate refugees risking their lives to reach safety is not new. For hundreds of years, people have left behind family, friends, and all they know in hope of a better life. This book presents five true stories about young people who lived through the harrowing experience of setting sail in search of asylum: Ruth and her family board the St. Louis to escape Nazism; Phu sets out alone from war-torn Vietnam; José tries to reach the U.S. from Cuba; Najeeba flees Afghanistan and the Taliban; Mohamed, an orphan, runs from his village on the Ivory Coast. Aimed at middle grade students, Stormy Seas combines a contemporary collage-based design, sidebars, fact boxes, timeline and further reading to produce a book that is ideal for both reading and research. Readers will gain new insights into a situation that has constantly been making the headlines.

Review:  Story Seas is a slim book but its impact is strong, harrowing, heart wrenching, and ultimately hopeful. The book is composed of a packs a portrait of five adolescents from different parts of the world who escaped persecution, violence, and repressive regimes in search for a new homes. The timeline is between 1939 and 2006. In 1939 Ruth boards an ocean liner to escape the Nazis in Germany, but the ship is repeatedly turned away from many North and South American countries, including the United States. In the 1960s, José leaves with his family from Cuba, after the rise of Fidel Castro's power. In the 1970s during the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Phu leaves his family behind and flees Vietnam on a crowded boat, which was repeatedly attacked by pirates. About 2001 to 2006, Najeeba and her family flee the Taliban in Afghanistan, while Mohamed endures four horrendous years of being moved around by human traffickers before finally attaining freedom and stability in Italy.  
  Each of these first-person accounts bring immediacy, a personal touch, and urgency to their stories. It was nice to know that four of the former refugees are still alive and have shared their stories with the author. All of the stories have common themes of displacement, desperation, isolation, and persecution. This book will serve as a good introduction to the refugee crisis and readers will quickly realize that the refugee crisis is unfortunately not new. Sidebars provide historical context, and the asylum-seekers' first-person accounts bring immediacy and urgency to their stories. Some of the stories have updates about the individual. The collage-like artwork with magazine-style spreads contain maps, headlines, photos, and evocative images rendered in torn paper and thick ink scrawls is appealing to the eye and makes it an absorbing read. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: The author does not sugarcoat the dangers the refugees faced including death and pirate attacks. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: In Search of Safety: voices of Refugees by Susan Kuklin
Rummanah Aasi
 There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming human or demon. Princess or monster.

Review:  Combining Persian mythology, Zoroastrianism, and using the framework of "Sleeping Beauty", 
Bashardoust has created a feminist, queer fairy tale retelling of her own. For two centuries, the ancestors of the shah of Atashar have ruled under the protection of the legendary magical bird, the simorgh. The simorgh has not been seen for many years, the nobility is losing faith in the young shah, and attacks by monstrous divs are becoming ever more organized. Soraya, the shah’s twin sister, carries poison in her veins and lives, hidden in the shadows of the palace garden. Soraya's poison is lethal and with the slightest touch she can kill any living being. She longs for companionship and a normal life, but feels a growing urge to hurt and kill and has nightmares of transforming into a div. When a handsome young soldier named Azad captures a parik, a female demon who attacks the shah, Soraya finds herself increasingly attracted to both man and monster. The parik may hold Soraya's answer on how to lift her curse, but it will not be easy. Azad eagerly offers help, but can Soraya trust him and will she be willing to betray her family to free herself? 
  Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a slow burn story with a mesmerizing world building steeped in Persian culture. The focus of the story is on Soraya's personal growth and her morally complex quest for identity, asking what she wants of herself rather than what society asks of her. Her character arc is exciting to witness. Soraya is flawed, insecure, and vulnerable but we can understand her position and the predicaments in which she finds herself. I very much appreciated that Soraya is not the only strong female character in the story, but her support is also from strong female allies and secondary characters. Although the romance is present in the story, it is subdued. I wish Soraya's biromantic feelings were a bit more fleshed out. The ending is a bit stretched out, but satisfyingly complete. There are some predictable turns in the plot, but one twist did in fact take me by surprise. Readers looking for more diverse fantasy standalone reads might want to pick this one up. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston, Red Hood by Elana Arnold, Damsel by Elana Arnold 
Rummanah Aasi
 Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins. But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it's all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.

Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.

Review:  Graphic novelist and math teacher Gene Luen Yang is struck with writer's block, but he may have found inspiration for his new project by the Dragons, his high school's men varsity basketball team. Over the years, the Dragons were state championship hopefuls but could not clinch their title, however, given the team's talent and standing this was their year. Though a self-proclaimed nerd, Yang has not had a personal connection to sports, but he is swept away by the passion and hard work of follow alumnus Coach Lou and a diverse squad of young men on their quest for the championship. The graphic novel becomes more than just Yang following the game, its players, and coaches, but an entertaining mixture of journalism, memoir, and action comic. The characters become full human beings rather than cartoon caricatures and I especially loved the one on one interviews of the players and Yang which reveal topics such as assimilation, discrimination, a personal connection to the partition of India and Pakistan, as well as China's century-long quest for athletic recognition. Readers also get to know more about Yang, the individual, as he also talks about his career arc and it does not distract from the story. The action of the basketball court lends itself to quick paced action scenes and were easy to follow. Readers will initially be drawn to the subject of basketball but will leave with learning so much more. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are mentions of slurs at the basketball games. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court by Kareem Abdul Jabar
Rummanah Aasi
Oak Knoll, a tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood. Professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son, Xavier, who is headed to college in the fall. Then the Whitmans buy the property next door. They are a family with new money and a secretly troubled teenage daughter. They raze the house and trees next door to build themselves a showplace. The two families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie's yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers. What does it mean to be a good neighbor?

Review: A Good Neighborhood is a thoughtful examination of class, privilege, and race. The book's plot is simple, two neighbors dispute over a tree, but Fowler is more interested in the broader scope that features tangled, complex situations and their eventual, heartbreaking consequences. Told through an omnipresent narrator, we are about to witness a tragedy in the making as the Whitmans move next door to the Alston-Holts. 
Valerie Alston-Holt, a widowed African-American woman and ecologist, raises her biracial son Xavier by herself. She is privileged to have a house in a peaceful neighborhood. Valerie feels very strongly about an oak tree on her property. She already has a poor opinion of her new neighbor, local white TV celebrity Brad Whitman, as the house he is having built compromises an oak tree on Valerie’s property. Xavier reminds her to give their neighbors a chance, which she accepts and lends an olive branch by inviting Mrs. Whitman to her book club. After racist and misogynistic microaggressions made by Brad, and learning of his step-daughter Juniper took a purity vow, Valerie is very wary about her neighbors and cautions Xavier.  None of this deters Valerie’s son, Xavier, a gifted musician and honors student who’s headed to college in the fall, attraction and pursuing Juniper. The tragedy is catalyzed when Valerie sues Brad and his builder for the damage to the tree. 
  The plot, though simple, is skillfully executed and allows the reader to delve into each of the characters's complexities and flaws. Though as readers we may not agree with their decisions and choices, we can understand why the characters made their choices and decisions. There are at times when I think the book played it safe, especially when discussing race and class, but just gutsy enough to get the point across. Some readers maybe be puzzled that a tragedy happened because of a tree, but it's important to remember what that tree means to Valerie, Brad, and our social awakening of systemic racism. This book would make a great book club discussion.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, including racial slurs. There are also allusions to sex, pedophilia, and suicide. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Such a Fun Age by Kimberly Reid, Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
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