Rummanah Aasi
Description:
 After her life falls apart, recruitment consultant Layla Patel returns home to her family in San Francisco. But in the eyes of her father, who runs a Michelin starred restaurant, she can do no wrong. He would do anything to see her smile again. With the best intentions in mind, he offers her the office upstairs to start her new business and creates a profile on an online dating site to find her a man. She doesn’t know he’s arranged a series of blind dates until the first one comes knocking on her door.
   
As CEO of a corporate downsizing company Sam Mehta is more used to conflict than calm. In search of a quiet new office, he finds the perfect space above a cozy Indian restaurant that smells like home. But when communication goes awry, he's forced to share his space with the owner's beautiful yet infuriating daughter Layla, her crazy family, and a parade of hopeful suitors, all of whom threaten to disrupt his carefully ordered life.
  
 As they face off in close quarters, the sarcasm and sparks fly. But when the battle for the office becomes a battle of the heart, Sam and Layla have to decide if this is love or just a game.

Review: After a disastrous breakup, chaotic and passionate Layla Patel has hit rock bottom. She moves back home and starts her own recruitment agency in the office above her parents’ bustling restaurant. Layla's father has a heart attack before he is able to terminate the existing lease on Layla's new office space. He also doesn't have a chance to tell her that he posted her bio data on a desi dating/marriage website and selected 10 candidates for her to meet. 
  Unbeknownst to Layla, Sam Mehta, a CEO of a corporate downsizing company is also sharing the same office space. Sam is the opposite of Layla, organized, reserved, and overly confident. As expected these two clash constantly. They come up with a solution and truce which involves Sam acting as Layla's chaperone on her dates and if she finds a husband, he gets the office to himself. 
  This romantic debut has great characters. Layla and Sam have great chemistry. Their witty banter and chemistry fly off the page and was a joy to read. There is plenty of humor from Layla's horrendous dates and her noisy 'aunties' and family. It is an easy and quick read. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book.
    The book, unfortunately, falls apart in the second half where it addresses the conflict. We are constantly told that Sam has one goal in mind: to avenge his sister who has suffered from domestic abuse which has left her in a wheelchair. The conflict is underdeveloped and what could have been an intriguing and much needed look at disability in the South Asian community, devolves to an ableist plot device. Though Sam's sister is present and has an off the page romance of her own, she is not given a voice and sufficient time to develop. I would have loved to learn more about her and Sam's family.
  A pet peeve of mine is when ethnic names, particularly South Asian ones, are Anglicized. I would have much preferred if Sam was called Samir, his full name (really, is it that difficult to say Samir?). I also left to wonder many times as to Layla's ethnicity and how she identifies as religiously, which were vague. There are times when comments about these aspects of her identity are made during her dates, but it is never clearly addressed.  
 In spite of these issues, Sara Desai shows a lot of potential as a writer and I am curious to see what she has in stored for her second novel which features one of the secondary characters in The Marriage Game

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, sexual situations that are quite graphic, and allusions to domestic violence. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: The Dating Game by Sara Desai (coming out in March 2021), The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel
Rummanah Aasi
Description:
 This poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world's greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present.

Review: In his beautifully illustrated poem, The Undefeated, Kwame Alexander weaves the past and present triumphs and struggles of African Americans in the United States. Alexander does not shy away from pain and trauma such as enslavement and lends a voice for "unspeakable" who have lost their lives during the Middle Passage as well as the present abuse of police brutality. Despite these struggles, the book also does a marvelous job in also celebrating Black joy, achievements, and triumphs by highlighting popular individuals from a variety of fields such as artists, civil rights activists, poets, and writers. The book depicts recognizable individuals such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Jesse Owens, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also lesser known but nonetheless remarkable individuals too such as Sarah Vaughan and Romare Bearden. 
   The text also has visual cues signal meaning as some words are in a larger font to signal signficance and others words that reference to movements or concepts are in italics. Nelson's illustrations are magnificent, photo-realistic and are rendered in oil. His attention to detail is incredible. The book concludes with an afterword from Alexander and a glossary of the individuals mentioned in the book. I would have liked a little more detailed back matter and a bibliography for further reading. Despite these quibbles, it is clear why The Undefeated was awarded the 2020 Caldecott, the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and was the 2020 Newbery Honor Book. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: The poem does not shy away from the traumas of slavery and police brutality. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison, Young, Gifted, and Black by Jamia Wilson
Rummanah Aasi

 Description: Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn's father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it's up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).
What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

Review: The recently awarded Schneider Family Book Award, This My Brain in Love is a nuanced look at mental health issues in the communities of color. After years of missing New York City, Chinese American Jocelyn Wu has finally settled in Utica. She’s got a best friend who understands and supports her and is doing well in school despite being constantly be mistaken for Peggy Chen, the popular and only other Chinese girl at school. When her father announces that their family has to move back to the city because their restaurant is bankrupt, Jocelyn is determined to keep her family business afloat and steps in the role of business manager after her parents reluctantly agrees. 
  Biracial Will Domenici (Nigerian/Italian) is a budding, driven journalist who has been passed over as editor for his school paper due to lack of investigative skills. He was advised to find real life experience to help build his investigative and communicative skills, which is hard for Will who lives with acute anxiety. 
   Jocelyn and Will's worlds collide as Jocelyn hires Will to help with the restaurants social media marketing. Sparks fly, and what started out as a summer internship becomes a full-blown romance—one that Jocelyn’s father, Mr. Wu, stipulates can continue only if the pair fulfills the terms of a contract that include raising the restaurant’s revenue by thirty percent before the end of the summer. 
  This is My Brain in Love is told from dual perspective. Jocelyn and Will are equally lovable and fully developed characters. As we watch Jocelyn take on a mission with initially selfish motives slowly develops into a career path, which highlights her strengths. The pressure of the restaurant's success, her own desire to succeed, and her parental expectations start to wear her down and she begins to suffer from her own mental health issues. Though Jocelyn is unable to figure out what is 'wrong' with her, Will immediately notices the signs of depression through years of his own therapy for his anxiety. As he attempts to help Jocelyn, she withdraws. Can their relationship survive?
   What I appreciated the most in this book that it addresses complex issues such as navigating interracial relationships and the stigma of mental health with sensitivity and nuance. Will communicates his difficulties of his anxiety honestly and his desire to help not fix Jocelyn is genuine. It is also important to note that Jocelyn's and Will's relationship with their mental health do not miraculously disappear at the end of the story because of their romance, but they have created a supportive network for each other. Readers who are looking for romance may be slightly disappointed as it is really a subplot, but it is sweet and adorable. This is My Brain in Love is the best book that I have read thus far that depicts mental health within a smart romance.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the book. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: When We Collided by Emery Lord, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maureen Goo
Rummanah Aasi
Description:
 Drew Ellis recognizes that he is't afforded the same opportunities, no matter how hard he works, that his privileged classmates at the Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted, and to make matters worse, Drew begins to feel as if his good friend Liam might be one of those privileged kids and is finding it hard not to withdraw, even as their mutual friend Jordan tries to keep their group of friends together.

Review: Class Act is a companion graphic novel to Jerry Craft's Newbery Award winner New Kid and could be read on its own. Class Act follows Drew Ellis, a friend of Jordan, who also struggles with racial microaggressions and trying to fit in his predominately white and affluent Riverdale Academy. Craft points out other differences that separates Drew from his other classmates though some differences make a bigger impact than others. Drew is physically developed at a faster rate than Jordan and it is hinted in the graphic novel that Drew would now be considered a "dangerous man" in society. 
  What struck me the most in this graphic novel is the economic disparities in the graphic novel. Drew lives with his loving grandmother and they struggle to stay afloat financially. In contrast, his white and affluent friend Travis lives in a mansion-like house with a hired Latinx nanny and a Black driver though Travis parents are absent from his life. Another telling moment when a school visit from a predominately Black and Latinx students take in the differences between their school and Riverdale Academy.  
  The Class Act is another accessible and discussion starter graphic novel that highlights inequity, which younger readers are just beginning to be socially aware and question. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
Rummanah Aasi
Description:
 Samiah Brooks never thought she would be "that" girl. But a live tweet of a horrific date just revealed the painful truth: she's been catfished by a three-timing jerk of a boyfriend. Suddenly Samiah-along with his two other "girlfriends," London and Taylor-have gone viral online. Now the three new besties are making a pact to spend the next six months investing in themselves. No men, no dating, and no worrying about their relationship status.
   For once Samiah is putting herself first, and that includes finally developing the app she's always dreamed of creating. Which is the exact moment she meets the deliciously sexy, honey-eyed Daniel Collins at work. What are the chances? When it comes to love, there's no such thing as a coincidence. But is Daniel really boyfriend material or is he maybe just a little too good to be true?

Review: The Boyfriend Project, the first in a new contemporary romance series by Farrah Rochon, is a celebration of Black joy and Black love. The series is established Samiah, London, and Taylor, three professional women, discover they have been cat-fished by the same guy and their discovery was posted online and has gone viral. Samiah, London, and Taylor immediately bond, become fast friends, and form a pact in which they all will focus on a goal that makes them happy before dating again, which might be easier said than done for Samiah.
    Samiah is a brilliant and successful app developer. Her intelligence, fierceness, and beauty catch the eye of a new coworker named Daniel who is too good to be true. Though both know starting a work relationship is probably the last thing they should do, the chemistry between them is undeniable. So a tentative relationship starts, but based on a lie:  Daniel is actually an undercover FBI agent who is investigating a nefarious scheme at Samiah's work. 
  I really enjoyed reading The Boyfriend Project and read it in a few days. I am thrilled to see more diversity in the romance genre. Rochon's book is smart, funny, sweet with a dash of steamy and mystery. Samiah is a fully three dimensional heroine, who holds her own. She is an extremely successful, driven, and strong (naturally and not because she needs to be) woman of color in the STEM field. I truly appreciated Samiah's upfront and candidness of having the burden of representation on her shoulders in her career, which I found to be extremely relatable and true. I also loved the friendship that she, London, and Taylor formed in the book. The romance is a nice added bonus for Samiah, but she does not need it to become whole.
  I also liked Daniel, who is also gifted and talented. I just wished I got to know him more personally. Due to his profession as an agent we don't really get to hear much of his background as we do for Samiah. His inner conflict of lying to Samiah and advancing his career rings true. The lying plot line didn't bother me as much because I knew Daniel's intention was not to use Samiah, but it was coincidental. Their chemistry together was very cute and their romance was delightfully of the slow burn kind. 
 The mystery wraps up quite nicely, but I thought the ending was a bit rushed. I would have liked more clues to the mystery before the big reveal. Overall, The Boyfriend Project was an enjoyable read and I look forward to continue reading this contemporary series.   

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and sexual situations. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
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