Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jamie Bunn made a mistake at the end of the school year. A big one. And every kid in her middle school knows all about it. Now she has to spend her summer vacation volunteering at the local library—as punishment. It may be boring, but at least she’ll be able to hide from mean girl Trina, who’s always had it out for her, and beautiful Trey, the boy at the root of her big mistake. Or so she thinks.
  Not only does her job bring her face-to-face with both her mortal enemy and her ultimate crush, Jamie also encounters a territorial patron, an elderly movie fanatic, a super-tall painter who loves to bake, and a homeless dog. Over the course of the summer, as Jamie gets to know the library and the people in it, she finds—and gives—help where she least expects it. And she just might find herself along the way.


Review: A Kind of Paradise is a warm homage and a sweet love letter to libraries, the people who work in them, and their power to affect people’s lives. Jamie violated her middle school’s honor code and has now been assigned to community service at her local library over the summer. Over the course of the book we get snippets of what caused her to spend the summer at the Foxfield Public Library and be the laughing stock of her school as her crush is broadcasted to everyone. Jaime is not the center of the book, but her life revolves around the memorable characters that either work at the library or are library patrons. Beverly is the dedicated and committed director who has the uncanny talent to detect any library patron's needs. Sonia and Lenny, the two other staff members, who are patient and understanding of all their patrons. Wally, the older patron who comes to the library every Tuesday to borrow movies and bring a fresh flower; and Black Hat Guy, a homeless young man who shows up every day around 4:00 in the afternoon. As the summer progresses, Jamie’s connection to the library goes from enforced to enthusiastic. Jaime gains self confidence and learns to help turn the page of her big mistake and move on. She spurs into action when the library is threatened to close down due to financial strains. Despite some down moments, A Kind of Paradise is an uplifting read with a happy ending. There are no big epiphany moments, but a light, sweet, cozy read.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Close to Famous by Joan Bauer, Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson
Rummanah Aasi

Description: When a school presentation goes very wrong, Alaine Beauparlant finds herself suspended, shipped off to Haiti and writing the report of a lifetime. You might ask the obvious question: What do I, a seventeen-year-old Haitian American from Miami with way too little life experience, have to say about anything? Actually, a lot.

Thanks to "the incident" (don't ask), I'm spending the next two months doing what my school is calling a "spring volunteer immersion project." It's definitely no vacation. I'm toiling away under the ever-watchful eyes of Tati Estelle at her new nonprofit. And my lean-in queen of a mother is even here to make sure I do things right. Or she might just be lying low to dodge the media sharks after a much more public incident of her own...and to hide a rather devastating secret.

All things considered, there are some pretty nice perks...like flirting with Tati's distractedly cute intern, getting actual face time with my mom and experiencing Haiti for the first time. I'm even exploring my family's history--which happens to be loaded with betrayals, superstitions and possibly even a family curse. You know, typical drama. But it's nothing I can't handle.

Review: Alaine Beauparlant is an ambitious, driven Haitian American senior living in Miami with her divorced psychiatrist father. Alaine has her sights set on following the footsteps of her renowned journalist mother by majoring in journalism at Columbia. With mere months to go before graduation, Alaine’s world starts unraveling as mother has a meltdown live on-air and becomes the talk of the town. To make things even worse, Alaine royally messes up a school presentation that leave her on the verge of expulsion. Alaine 's punishment is to go to Haiti for two months, volunteer to work for her aunt's charity that provides financial help to Haitian children in need, and write a report about what she has learned. Alaine wants to go to Haiti to learn more about her own roots, but would rather it be on her own terms. During her time in Haiti, Alaine’s life is transformed as she unearths family histories and secrets that allow her to get to know the ailing mother, who has been absent from a large part of her life.  In the process, she discovers an even deeper love for the ancestral homeland that she had only known from afar.
   I really liked Alaine as a character. She is incredibly sharp and witty, but under her tough exterior she really wants a normal, healthy relationship with her mother. Alaine admires her mother's tenacity and hard work that led her to be a leading news anchor for a popular politics show, but at the same time Alaine feels as if she is always on the low priority list for her mother. When she receives heartbreaking news about her mother's health, Alaine hopes to use her time to not resent her mother but to get to know her as a person.
  Before Dear Haiti, Love Alaine I did not know much about the Haitian culture, but I learned a lot from reading this book. The book addresses the fact that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, but also demystifies some of the common untruths about the country. I appreciated Alaine becoming aware of her own privileges as she meets other people in Haiti. I also found Alaine's dark family history to be a fascinating part of this book and I really liked how the authors used the concept of a family curse as a way to infuse a light thread of magical realism into this otherwise realistic fiction book.
  The book has a nice balance between humor and seriousness. The varied formats, such as emails, texts, and letters, add interest and serve to make the story feel modern and make Alaine's voice seem more intimate. The various formats did not disrupt the follow of the book, but rather kept the plot moving at a brisk pace. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is a delightful story of family and finding one's roots.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusions to rape and sex, and underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali, American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Rummanah Aasi

Description: When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs. But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?

Review: Stargazing is a sweet and insightful graphic novel about friendship and identity. Christine is a traditional Chinese American girl. She lives in a suburb with her conservative parents and her focus is solely on her music and grade school work. Christine sees a different way of life when her parents offer the extra unit of of Christine's family house to a struggling Chinese American single mother and her daughter, Moon, from church. Moon is the complete opposite of Christine. Moon is loud, artistic, a vegetarian, a Buddhist, and even rumored to beat kids up. Moon's mother does not have a strict curfew nor requires Moon to attend Chinese school. Moon is certainly “not Asian” according to Christine’s standards. Despite their differences, however, the two become fast friends, stretching each other’s interests with K-pop and art. Moon later shares a deep secret with Christine: She receives visions from celestial beings that tell her she belongs with them. The girls' friendship is tested by jealousy, resentment of following social expectations, and devastating medical news for Moon.
  The illustrations are wonderful and show cases body diversity, nostalgia, and diversity without being overt about it. There is a balance of quiet moments and active moments that sharpen emotional impact and highlights the inner turmoil Christine feels as her friendship with Moon shifts. The dialogue rings true and the characters feel authentic.


Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Real Friends by Shannon Hale
Rummanah Aasi
Description: The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.


Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow is an immersive historical fantasy set in the Jazz Age and is steeped in Mayan mythology. Casiopea Tun and her mother are treated horribly by their more wealthy relations. They work as servants rather than being acknowledged as part of the family. Casiopea has large dreams of following the stars like her namesake, but any dreams that she had has been dashed by her grandfather's demands. She has been his maid ever since they returned to their small village after her father's death. As a small act of rebellion, Casiopea opens her grandfather's secret chest, releases the injured and imprisoned Mayan death god, Hun-Kamé, Supreme Lord of Xibalba, and inexorably binds her to his quest to regain his underworld throne. Casiopea's journey with Hun-Kamé's not only changes her fortunes but also has a largely consequence on the fate of the world.
  I really enjoyed the blend of historical fiction along with learning new things about Mayan mythology. The world building is done well and is not too out there for reluctant fantasy readers. It was fascinating to read about Mexican life during the Jazz Age. I liked watching Casiopea go on a self discovery journey to learn about herself and become an advocate for herself. Similarly, her interactions with Hun-Kamé allows him to become much more than an avengeful god and be humanized by addressing his own fears and vulnerabilities. I also enjoyed their slow burn romance. The plot moves quickly as we follow two parallel journies of  Hun-Kamé and Casiopeia's cross-country adventure-from the Yucatán to Mexico City, Arizona, and more-in search of his missing body parts, which his twin brother and rival has scattered among demons, sorcerers, and others; and Vucub-Kamé's, Hun-Kamé's ambitious twin brother, plot to undermine his brother and is assisted reluctantly by Casopeia's narcassitic cousin Martín who also has an inferiority complex. I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in learning more about Mexican folklore as well as those who enjoy reading fairy tales with complex characters and slow burn romance. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Bear and Nightingale by Katherine Arden, Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! There are so many new releases in October that I can not wait to read. I had a hard time narrowing it down. This week I am eagerly awaiting for the release of Leigh Bardugo's adult debut novel Ninth House and The Athena Protocol by . Both books will be released on October 8th.



Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Publish date: October 8, 2019
Publisher: Flat Iron Books/Macmillan

  I'm really curious how Bardugo incorporates fantasy, paranormal, murder, and secret societies at her alma mater.  The book has been getting a lot of press and positive buzz ever since it was announced.
 
 Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.




The Athena Protocol by Shamim Sarif
Publish date: October 8, 2019
Publisher: HarperTeen

  I'm always on the lookout for diverse thrillers to recommend to my students. When I read the book's description about an all female spies who enact vigilante justice around the world I knew I had to add it to my tbr asap.  
 
 Jessie Archer is a member of the Athena Protocol, an elite organization of female spies who enact vigilante justice around the world.

Athena operatives are never supposed to shoot to kill—so when Jessie can’t stop herself from pulling the trigger, she gets kicked out of the organization, right before a huge mission to take down a human trafficker in Belgrade.

Jessie needs to right her wrong and prove herself, so she starts her own investigation into the trafficking. But going rogue means she has no one to watch her back as she delves into the horrors she uncovers. Meanwhile, her former teammates have been ordered to bring her down. Jessie must face danger from all sides if she’s to complete her mission—and survive.
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