Rummanah Aasi
 Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn't exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward and passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the bride's daughter, Caroline, goes missing-and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.

Review: Jackal is a taut, debut thriller that is steeped in real life terror. For more than three decades, Black girls in the predominately white town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania have been killed and/or gone missing. The missing women's lives are forgotten or have been slandered which provides a convenient excuse for the police to not open an investigation. 
  The book is told in two narratives. In one narrative we follow our protagonist, Liz Rocher who has reluctantly returned to her hometown because of her best friend's wedding. Liz is one of the handful of Black residents and has constantly been berated with racial microaggressions. We learn that she has been seeking therapy and has recently ended a toxic relationship. The author does a good job in making the reader care for Liz as we get to know her past in small details throughout the story. 
  The second narrative is the "jackal", which is interestingly told in the second person narration. These chapters intersect Liz's story and provide its chilling atmosphere. It is through the jackal's chapter that we learn more about the young Black women who have been essentially hunted and preyed upon. 
  The two narratives intersect when Liz's godchild and best friend's biracial daughter goes missing and her Liz's mother is being threatened to leave her residence. Unable to let the police botch another investigation, Liz sets out to take on the town's entrenched racism and confront the jackal after she begins to recognize the pattern of the disappearances that others have ignored. 
  I had a hard time putting this thriller down. The suspense and horror that these Black women go through is certainly spine tingling. The mystery surrounding the jackal had me hooked and I was surprised to find a supernatural element woven throughout the story. The supernatural element didn't quite work for me, but it didn't hinder my engagement of the story. The real beast here is racism which will slowly kill you. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy thrillers with social commentary or movies like Jordan Peele's "Get Out" or "Us" or the television show "Lovecraft Country". 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence at times gory, language, and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: For teens try Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson, For adults try As The Wicked Watch by Tamaron Hall, Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
Rummanah Aasi
 Jeremy is not excited about the prospect of spending the summer with his dad and his uncle in a seaside cabin in Oregon. It's the first summer after his parents' divorce, and he hasn't exactly been seeking alone time with his dad. He doesn't have a choice, though, so he goes and on his first day takes a walk on the beach and finds himself intrigued by a boy his age running by. Eventually, he and Runner Boy (Evan) meet--and what starts out as friendship blooms into something neither boy is expecting.

Review: The Language of Seabirds is a quiet, tender story that looks into how relationships change-for better or for worse. Told primarily through the point of view of Jeremy, we follow him as he and dad spend their summer at a seaside cabin in Oregon. Jeremy's parents have recently divorced and this summer allows his dad to try to get a fresh new start. This summer also brings on new stress for Jeremy as he navigates his big feelings, a new discovery that he's gay, and try to figure out how to adapt to his dad's mood swings. There is a lot unsaid about Jeremy's father from his erratic disciplinary rules to Jeremy noticing a lot of empty beer cans around the cabin. I would have liked to have this aspect of the story developed a bit more. 
  Jeremy is a sweet, earnest tween who is trying his best to make the most of his summer. Luckily, he finds solace and companionship with another tween, Evan, who is a runner and shares his interest in learning about birds. I loved watching Jeremy and Evan's relationship grow and creating a new language in which they can communicate their emotions and they can exclusively understand. I appreciated that the author allowed these two tweens to explore their big emotions and find solace in one another without any fall-outs, backlash, or negative repercussions by others around them. I also learned a lot about the different types of seabirds. 
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to Jeremy's father's spiral into alcoholism including a loud, drunk argument in a restaurant which forces Jeremy to come out. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Thanks a lot, Universe by Chad Lucas
Rummanah Aasi
 When Georgia Avis finds the dead body of Ashley James outside the gates of an exclusive resort, she teams up with Ashley's older sister Nora to find the killer, and she is thrown into a world of unimaginable wealth and privilege--and the fight for her life.

Review: Drawing inspiration by the Jeffrey Epstein trial, Courtney Summers has written another gritty, raw, and unflinching thriller. Though I didn't have a visceral reaction to this book like I did with Sadie, this book did infuriate me on many levels. 
  I found Georgia to be a very frustrating character. There were many times when I wanted to shake her until I realized she was purposely written as a painfully naive character. Once that clicked for me, I was able to let go all of my frustrations and become a watcher. Georgia has been led to believe that she is essentially worthless if she can't use her body and beauty to make something of herself. Her dream is to become an Aspera girl, a girl who is beautiful, put together, affluent, and works for the private and exclusive club. While her deceased mother who is knowledgeable of the on goings of the club has tried to pull Georgia away, Georgia only interprets this as a confirmation that she is not worthy. Desperate to seek love, validation, and affirmation, Georgia takes desperate steps to fight her way to Aspera no matter what. 
 Summers interrogates the themes of privilege, power, glamour, deceit, and complicity throughout the novel. As a reader you are very well aware of what is going on in Aspera and watch in horror as Georgia is quickly groomed and used by others. There are moments in the book that made me very uncomfortable, but like gapers delay while driving I couldn't look away. There are lighter moments in the book in which Georgia has a romantic relationship with Nora, Ashley's sister, but even this relationship is one of shared grief and a desperate attempt to figure things out when you can't trust the adults in your life. 
 It would be unfair to compare this book to Sadie though it is thematically similar. I think Summer's intent with I'm the Girl is to show the reader how easily young women are preyed upon and the toxicity of misogyny that we live in our daily lives. While it is a powerful, unrelenting, and bleak read, it is definitely not a book for every reader. I very much needed a lighter book after finishing this one.    

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Grooming, sexual assault, gas lighting, sex with minors, underage drinking and drug use, death of a parent from cancer, and pedophilia. Recommended for mature and older teens only.

If you like this book try: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
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
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