Rummanah Aasi
 Things are heating up for Lila Macapagal. Not in her love life, which she insists on keeping nonexistent despite the attention of two very eligible bachelors. Or her professional life, since she can't bring herself to open her new cafe after the unpleasantness that occurred a few months ago at her aunt's Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie's Kitchen. No, things are heating up quite literally, since summer, her least favorite season, has just started.
  To add to her feelings of sticky unease, Lila's little town of Shady Palms has resurrected the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, which she won many years ago--a fact that serves as a wedge between Lila and her cousin slash rival, Bernadette. But when the head judge of the pageant is murdered and Bernadette becomes the main suspect, the two must put aside their differences and solve the case--because it looks like one of them might be next.

Review: One of my reading goals for this year is to rekindle my love of mysteries and thrillers. I read my first culinary cozy mystery, Arsenic and Adobo, and really enjoyed it. I was hoping to enjoy the second book in the series just as much, but unfortunately it didn't work for me.
  Lila Macapagal is an extremely likable character who suddenly found herself to be an amateur sleuth in order to protect her family's Filipino's restaurant and reputation. This time around she is reluctantly involved in a local beauty pageant, which had a history of souring her relationship with her cousin Bernadette. I enjoyed the set up for the mystery and getting to know more about Lila's past, however, the bulk of the book is really examining where Lila is mentally after being traumatized during her first murder case. I found the tonal shift quite jarring, not that I don't think this is an important topic to discuss. Due to the tonal shift, we don't get to see Lila do really any of the sleuthing, which becomes the subplot of the book. By the time the pieces to the mystery began to come together, I was taken out of the story and found myself not really caring all that much. I had expected the mystery to take center stage, but because I really enjoyed the series' cast of characters I hung around but was ultimately underwhelmed and disappointed. Still I do plan on reading the third book in the series and hope to see more sleuthing done by Lila and company. I would also continue to recommend it by its excellent diverse cast of characters, light humor, and warmth.  

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is discussion of post traumatic disorder and the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues. There is also some minor language.

If you like this book try: Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chen and A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette
Rummanah Aasi
 Aafiyah loves playing tennis, reading Weird but True facts, and hanging out with her best friend, Zaina. However, Aafiyah has a bad habit that troubles her--she's drawn to pretty things and can't help but occasionally "borrow" them.
  When her father is falsely accused of a crime he hasn't committed and gets taken in by authorities, Aafiyah knows she needs to do something to help. When she brainstorms a way to bring her father back, she turns to her Weird but True facts and devises the perfect plan, but what if her plan means giving in to her bad habit, the one she's been trying to stop? Aafiyah wants to reunite her family but finds that maybe her plan isn't so perfect after all.

Review: I picked up and read Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi as part of my Ramadan Reading Challenge and I really enjoyed it. Told in the format of a novel in verse, we meet out-going, Pakistani American Aafiyah who is has a bad habit of "borrowing" things that are shiny and new despite having sufficient things at home. Her 'once in a while' habit becomes uncontrollable as her father is detained in Pakistan for a crime he did not commit after a family trip. As Reem witnesses her mother's stress in juggling financial problems coupled with a grandfather who is undergoing chemo therapy, Aafiyah wants to help any way that she can. She concocts a plan to betray her best friend in order to save her own family. 
I    I enjoyed this nuanced and flawed portrait of a South Asian tween who is struggling to find a way to help her family. I appreciated that the narrative moves beyond the troubles with immigrant families, but focuses on how to deal with an invisible illness which the author revealed is actually based on a person she met in her life. Aafiyah's Muslim identity is woven nicely throughout the story without being didactic. I would recommend this quick read for readers who enjoyed Hena Khan's Amina Voice

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Mentions of a family member diagnosed with cancer and is receiving chemo treatment. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
Rummanah Aasi
 Serene dreams of making couture dresses even more stunning than her mom’s, but for now she’s an intern at her mom’s fashion label. When her mom receives a sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, all that changes. Serene has to take over her mother’s business overnight while trying to figure out what happened with her dad in Beijing. He left before she was born, and Serene wants to find him, even if it means going against her mom’s one request—never look back.
   Lian Chen moved from China to Serene’s mostly white Southern California beach town a year ago. He doesn’t fit in at school, where kids mispronounce his name. His parents don’t care about what he wants to do--comedy--and push him toward going to MIT engineering early. Lian thinks there’s nothing to stick around for until one day he starts a Chinese Club after school and Serene walks in. Worlds apart in the high school hierarchy, Serene and Lian soon find refuge in each other, falling in love as they navigate life-changing storms.

Review: After reading and enjoying several of books by Kelly Yang, I have become a fan. I immediately added Private Label to my reading pile without paying much attention to the book's description. This is a heavy read, but despite its heaviness I did find it thought provoking and enjoyable. 
  Like her other books thus far, Yang explores the themes of gender, racism, class, and identity. Serene and Lian both identify as Chinese Americans though they express themselves very differently. Serene has more or less assimilated to her mostly white affluent community and school. Due to her mother's well known designer brand and the fact that she can give designer clothes to friends and has the most popular boy as a boyfriend, she is accepted at the top of her school's social circles. Lian comes from a traditional, middle class Chinese family in which he is pushed to succeed in the STEM field and get into a cutthroat early admissions engineering program at MIT though he dreams of being a stand-up comic. Where Serene is at the top, Lian is constantly ridiculed and singled out for his "Asian-ness". 
    Serene's and Lian's worlds collide when Serene receives the life altering news that her mother has been diagnosed with stage three pancreatic cancer and she wants to reach out to her elusive father who lives overseas. Serene seeks out Lian's help through his Chinese club at school by learning Chinese though his club is actually a ruse for him to carve out private space to practice his stand-up for a local competition. I really enjoyed watching Serene's and Lian's relationship grow. They find acceptance, solace, and support in one another. It is their romance that buoys the novel that would otherwise be too dark. I found their conversation surrounding assimilation to be enlightening and often mirroring that of my own experience.
  Fashion does play a prominent role in the book, though I would argue it is less of a slapstick like "Devil Wears Prada" which is what the book comparison calls for. I loved the idea of embracing ones culture and expressing that in the fashion. I did, however, have to suspended my disbelief that a teen would take over her mother's brand, but that didn't hinder my enjoyment of this book. I thought it was a nice touch of Serene's journey of self discovery. If you are looking for a realistic fiction novel with vibrant characters and that balances the heaviness of coming of age with a romantic subplot do check this book out. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, scenes of racial microaggressions, sexting, and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: This Place is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tan, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Rummanah Aasi
 It's the first day of sophomore year, and now that Winifred's two best (and only) friends have transferred to a private school, she must navigate high school on her own. But she isn't alone for long. In art class, she meets two offbeat students, Oscar and April. The three bond through clandestine sleepovers, thrift store shopping, and zine publishing. Winifred is finally breaking out of her shell, but there's one secret she can't bear to admit to April and Oscar, or even to herself--and this lie is threatening to destroy her newfound friendships.

Review: Sarah Winifred Searle's semi-autobiographical graphic novel follows Winifred who is not looking forward to starting a new school year after her two closest friends move to a different school. Alone, introverted, Winifred is a talented artist who is filled with self doubt and self loathing. She loves and finds joy in her drawing and photography classes, but her low self esteem and insecurity about her weight bring her down. Though she is lactose intolerant, she eats foods that she knows will make her unwell. Luckily, she does make friends with fellow classmates April and Oscar who take note of her talent and share a sense of comradeship with their own issues and insecurities. April also has an eating disorder and identifies as nonbinary though it is not accepted by their emotionally absent parents. Oscar is identified as being pansexual and is struggling with a learning disability. The trio's friendship deepens as they open up to each other and collaborate on a zine together. 
  Despite all the heavy topics that this graphic novel covers from mental health to navigating gender and sexuality identities, I really like how introspective, poignant and quiet it is without losing its candor. The graphic novel within the graphic novel format is not only meta but it also allows Winifred to express herself through storytelling and gain self confidence. With the help of her friends and the zine she is able to reach out to her mom and ask for help. The book ends on a hopeful note with Winifred beginning to discover herself worth and being happy.    

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of self harm, characters with an eating disorder, emotionally absent parents, and some language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up. 

If you like this book try: The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge and Slip by Marika McCoola
Rummanah Aasi

Ramadan is is the holy month of fasting and the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this month Muslims abstain from food and drink (including water) from sunrise to sunset. We break our fast when the sunsets. Many people tend to focus on the physical hardships of the month, but I like to view it as a spiritual reassessment. During this month I am always reminded of how fortunate I am, exercise my willpower, strengthen my empathy skills, and most importantly making my faith stronger. This year Ramadan begins on April 2nd.
  In past years I found a Ramadan Reading Challenge online from Nadia's awesome blog Headscarves & Hardbacks, but I am not sure if there is an official reading challenge this year. I am creating one on my own with a particular focus on reading and supporting Muslim #ownvoices authors. I've listed my tbr pile for this challenge. Check it out below:

Ramadan Reading Challenge TBR:

Children Picture Books

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers by Lina Al-Hathloul: Loujain watches her beloved Baba attach his feather wings and fly each morning, but her own dreams of flying face a big obstacle: only boys, not girls, are allowed to fly in her country. Yet despite the taunts of her classmates, she is determined that some day, she too will learn to do it--especially because Loujain loves colors, and only by flying will she be able to see the color-filled field of sunflowers her baba has told her about. Eventually, he agrees to teach her, and Loujain's impossible dream becomes reality--inspiring other girls to dare to learn to fly. Inspired by co-author Lina al-Hathloul's sister, formerly imprisoned Saudi women's rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Loujain al-Hathloul, who led the successful campaign to lift Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. This gorgeously illustrated story is lyrical and moving.

One Wish by M.O. YukselFatima al-Fihri loved to learn. She wanted to know everything, like how birds flew, why the sky was blue, and how flowers grew. But more than anything, she wanted a school for all, where anyone could study and become whatever they wanted, like teachers, scientists, and doctors. As she grew older, Fatima carried her one wish inside her, through good times and bad. Fueled by her faith and her determination, she worked hard to make her one wish come true. For over a thousand years, Fatima’s one wish—her school—served students and scholars from around the globe, and it continues to do so today!

Amira's Picture Day by Reem Faruqi: Ramadan has come to an end, and Amira can't wait to stay home from school to celebrate Eid. There's just one hiccup: it's also school picture day. How can Amira be in two places at once?

One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan: From one sun to countless stars, this gentle introduction to numbers also celebrates the many diverse traditions of the Muslim world, encouraging readers young and old to reflect upon—and count—their many blessings.

Bilaal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed: Six-year-old Bilal is excited to help his dad make his favorite food of all-time: daal! The slow-cooked lentil dish from South Asia requires lots of ingredients and a whole lot of waiting. Bilal wants to introduce his friends to daal. They’ve never tried it! As the day goes on, the daal continues to simmer, and more kids join Bilal and his family, waiting to try the tasty dish. And as time passes, Bilal begins to wonder: Will his friends like it as much as he does?

Middle Grade Fiction

Samira and Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed: A genie informs twelve-year-old Amira and her younger brother Hamza that they are the chosen ones who must defeat a monstrous demon of Islamic folklore to save the Earth and a parallel dimension.

Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi: Yusuf is excited to start middle school in his small Texas town, but with the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks coming up, suddenly it feels like the country's same anger and grief is all focused on his Muslim community.

Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed: Omar must contend with being treated like a second-class citizen when he gets a scholarship to an elite boarding school.

Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz: After months of rebuilding a new life in Bangladesh with her family, Samira decides to become a Bengali surfer girl of Cox's Bazar, in this novel in verse about a young Rohingya girl's journey from isolation and persecution to sisterhood, and from fear to power.

Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi: When her father is accused of a crime he didn't commit, seventh grader Aafiyah, a Pakastani American girl who has a habit of "borrowing" glittery things, decides to use her bad habit to reunite her family.

Ahmed Aziz's Epic Year by Nina Hamza: A Indian American boy endures a family move from Hawaii to frigid Minnesota and, with the help of three life-changing books he reads in school, he learns to like reading, and ultimately, himself.

YA Fiction

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir: Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.
   Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah's health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle's liquor store while hiding the fact that she's applying to college so she can escape him--and Juniper--forever. When Sal's attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth--and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi: To all the world, Alizeh is a disposable servant, not the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom forced to hide in plain sight. The crown prince, Kamran, has heard the prophecies foretelling the death of his king. But he could never have imagined that the servant girl with the strange eyes, the girl he can't put out of his mind, would one day soon uproot his kingdom--and the world.

The Wrong Side of the Court by H.N. Khan: Dreaming of being the world's first Pakistani to be drafted into the NBA, fifteen-year-old Fawad Chaudhry must convince his mother to let him try out for the basketball team while dealing with the neighborhood bully.

You Truly Assumed by Laila Sabreen: Sabriya has her whole summer planned but those plans go out the window after a terrorist attack near her home. When the terrorist is assumed to be Muslim and Islamophobia grows, Sabriya turns to her online journal for comfort .Soon two more teens, Zakat and Farah, join Bri to run 'You Truly Assumed' and the three quickly form a strong friendship. When one of them is threatened, the search to find out who is behind it all begins, and their friendship is put to the test when all three must decide whether to shut down the blog and lose what they've worked for.

Adult Fiction

Good Intentions by Kasim Ali: It's the countdown to the New Year, and Nur is steeling himself to tell his parents that he's seeing someone. A young British Pakistani man, Nur has spent years omitting details about his personal life to maintain his image as the golden child. And it's come at a cost.
Once, Nur was a restless college student, struggling to fit in. At a party, he meets Yasmina, a beautiful and self-possessed aspiring journalist. They start a conversation--first awkward, then absorbing. And as their relationship develops, so too does Nur's self-destruction. He falls deeper into traps of his own making, attempting to please both Yasmina and his family until he must finally reveal the truth: Yasmina is Black, and he loves her.

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron: Reena Manji doesn't love her career, her single status, and most of all, her family inserting themselves into every detail of her life. But when caring for her precious sourdough starters, Reena can drown it all out. At least until her father moves his newest employee across the hall - with hopes that Reena will marry him. But Nadim's not like the other Muslim bachelor-du-jours that her parents have dug up. If the Captain America body and the British accent weren't enough, the man appears to love eating her sourdough creations as much as she loves making them. She sure as hell would never marry a man who works for her father, but friendship with a neighbor is okay, right? When Reena's career takes a nosedive, she decides to follow her heart by entering a video cooking contest to win the artisan bread course of her dreams. The one problem? It's couples only. Nadim happily agrees to fake an engagement so they can enter the contest, but as cooking at home together brings them closer and her family gets wind of the situation, Reena can't help thinking her faux fiancĂ© might just be the real deal.

Mismatch by Sara Jafri: After graduating from university, Soraya Nazari decides it’s time to get the life experience she is lacking due to her strict upbringing and distracts herself with Marcus Evans, with whom she could never fall in love, until she realizes there is more to him than she originally thought.

Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed: Raised in India, Seema is the beloved daughter of a commanding, erudite, Romantic-poetry-loving doctor father who cut her off when she came out to him as a lesbian. Now living alone in San Francisco, estranged from her African American ex-husband, Seema is one week away from delivering a baby boy, Ishraaq. Ishraaq's arrival has brought to Seema's side, for the first time in 15 years, her terminally ill mother, Nafeesa, and her devoutly religious, hijab-wearing sister Tahera, an ob/gyn living with her husband and two young children in Irving, Texas. But there is to be no easy reconciliation. Instead, this fateful week, narrated by the new-born Ishraaq, ends in an emergency delivery, revealing both a family and a country in distress.
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