Rummanah Aasi

Description: Kamala Khan has vanished! But where has she gone, and why? Jersey City still has a need for heroes, and in the wake of Ms. Marvel's disappearance, dozens have begun stepping up to the plate. The city's newest super hero Red Dagger and even ordinary citizens attempt to carry on the brave fight in Kamala's honor. Somehow, Ms. Marvel is nowhere...but also everywhere at once! Absent but not forgotten, Ms. Marvel has forged a heroic legacy to be proud of. But when an old enemy re-emerges, will anyone be powerful enough to truly carry the Ms. Marvel legacy - except Kamala herself?

Review: Volume 9 is another enjoyable addition to the Ms. Marvel graphic novel series. In this volume Kamala is pouting and self declared unnecessary since the media has caught Red Dagger mania. Now Kamala can not be found. While Kamala is sulking, her friends have taken turns to become Ms. Marvel without the superhero abilities. The spotlight is on the secondary characters for the first half of this graphic novel and I enjoyed watching them act as a team. There is a nice discussion of what makes a hero and how we should help ourselves.
  The story moves at a quick pace. The Inventor, the old villain from the second volume returns and I didn't care much for him or his scheme to harm senior citizens. I did, however, love the comments the Wakandian student abroad makes about visiting the U.S. Bruno has returned, which stirs up old feelings for Kamala. Now that she is placed in a love triangle with the Red Dagger, we will have to see how this pans out. I hope this part of the story is not dragged out. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and minor language. Suitable for middle grade readers and up.

If you like this book try: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 10 by G. Willow Wilson, The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Thor: The Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron, The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you're only in the eighth grade, you're both a threat and a target. Marcus knows what classmates and teachers see when they look at him: a monster. But appearances are deceiving. At home, Marcus is a devoted brother. And he finds ways to earn cash to contribute to his family’s rainy day fund. His mom works long hours and his dad walked out ten years ago—someone has to pick up the slack.
   After a fight at school leaves him facing suspension, Marcus and his family decide to hit the reset button and regroup for a week in Puerto Rico. Marcus is more interested in finding his father, though, who is somewhere on the island. Through a series of misadventures that take Marcus all over Puerto Rico in search of the elusive Mr. Vega, Marcus meets a colorful cast of characters who show him the many faces of fatherhood. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.

Review: Pablo Cartaya delivers another compelling read about the meaning of family, identity, and culture, set in pre–Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico in Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish. Marcus is an intimidating middle schooler due to his sheer size: six feet tall and 180 pounds, but he is gentle and devoted to his mom and younger brother, Charlie, who has Down syndrome. He is aware of his mother's struggles in working long hours and being absent from home due to financial constraints. One of the ways he “helps out” is earning extra cash by charging schoolmates protection money to keep them safe from the real bullies. When one of those bullies insults Charlie, Marcus uses his immense strength to put the bully in his place. The fallout from Marcus’s violent act leads to his suspension from school and a family crisis. Marcus’s mother decides the family needs a week in Puerto Rico, where Marcus was born and where his absentee father’s relatives still live, to figure things out.
 Spending time with his extended family and traveling across the Puerto Rican countryside (pre-Hurricane Maria as noted in the author’s note) opens Marcus' eyes to his heritage. He learns about his Puerto Rican culture despite the re-occuring refrain that he doesn't speak Spanish. Eventually he learns that speaking a language does not prevent you from understanding family and familial love. As his cultural bonds tighten, Marcus gains a new understanding of his mother’s struggles and his own important roles as both son and older brother.

Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying and a derogatory word is mentioned for a special needs student. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.


If you like this book try: The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez and Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
Rummanah Aasi

Description: It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.
  Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother. 
   But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.


Review: I have been eagerly anticipating Tahereh Mafi's latest contemporary novel centering on Islamophobia called A Very Large Expanse of Sea. A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a deeply personal read for me as a Muslim American and it mostly succeeds.
  Shirin has never settled at any school. She has been constantly moving due to her father's job being relocated. Being an Iranian Muslim who wears hijab and taking the brunt of repeated cruelty because of her hijab, has further alienated Shirin and made her extremely jaded and cynical. She has learned to protect herself from xenophobic threats and insults by being distant and guarded. She only plans to get through high school as quickly and fade into the background until she meets Ocean James, who sees more than just her headscarf and is charmingly persistent about learning who she is, from her love of music to her burgeoning skills on the break dancing team her brother starts. While Shirin is drawn to Ocean’s honesty, she is terrified of a possible future: Would a "tentative relationship" even succeed? What happens to him when he is confronted by the hate she receives? Would he stand by her at her utmost vulnerable state?
   I really liked Shirin’s sharp, crisp, and honest voice as she narrates her story. Constantly dealing with racist and Islamophobic threats has made her abrasive and standoffish. Mafi clearly demonstrates the common comments Muslims teens deal with daily. Mafi holds nothing back when she openly addresses many common misconceptions about Islam and what it means to be a woman of color in the face of racism. I admired how Shirin takes a stand on practicing her faith and makes the reader understand that it is her choice to wear the hijab. I would have loved if she discussed why she  wears the hijab as everyone has a different reason. I also enjoyed the warm and supportive relationship Shirin has with her older brother.
  My biggest issue with A Very Large Expanse of Sea is that there is a lot of telling and less of showing. For example, there is a small but important scene in which Shirin meets another Muslim girl who does not wear hijab at her school, who mentions that she is also dealing with Islamophobic comments. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to show this moment in the narrative and focus on a friendship between these two characters. I also was disappointed that we are told about Ocean instead of fleshing out his character. I did not have a good grasp on him as a character, which lead me to not really feel invested in his and Shirin's relationship.  
 A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a compelling and compulsive read. It is one of the strongest Muslim #ownvoices contemporary books that are out right now. While not every Muslim reader who picks up this book will agree with Shirin's decisions and/or actions, it will serve a mirror for many of them. While readers may be disappointed in the romance, it will certainly enlighten them. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language in the book. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They’ve made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there’s a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win.
   Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought. Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry. And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they’ll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.

Review: Scourged is a very fitting series finale to the Iron Druid Chronicles. For eight books in this series we have watched Atticus dodge danger, widen his network of friends and enemies, and survived for centuries. The last few books, however, made me very frustrated with Atticus because his tunnel vision and stubbornness had essentially lead to the Apocalypse. It's not until he is standing at the very edge of the cliff does he realize all of his biggest mistakes. This character arc is a testament to Hearne's writing and makes Atticus a flawed hero who despite his mistakes still makes you want to root for him.
  Scourged is essentially Atticus's wake-up call. He has to correct his mistakes and form unlikely alliances all to preserve the world as we know it. His relationship with Granuaile was slowly fracturing in the last few books as she continued to disapprove Atticus's actions, but now it might be irreparably broken. I loved that Granualie has graduated from a secondary character to now a main character and especially in this book calls Atticus out on his mistakes.
  In Scourged we see a lot of favorite characters from the past books make a presence. The battle scenes were cinematic and well written. It felt as if I was witnessing it right before my eyes. There were difficult casualties to endure, but it had to be done with this epic war. Hearne does a nice job in balancing the lighter moments with humor without losing the serious and darker notes as we get closer to the big conflict. The ending was fitting though the door has been left open for new adventures. As I learned from Hearne's newsletter an Iron Druid Chronicles series is in the works and I'm definitely going to read it.
   
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and violence in the book. Recommended for Adults and mature teens only.

If you like this book try: Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Age of Misrule by Mark Chadbourn
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
   But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Review: Dread Nation is a very clever and subversive horror novel set in an alternative American Civil War. The North and South have set aside their differences and slavery has ended when the dead rise up, prowl the battlefields, and eat their compatriots. The horror has birthed a new nation and a different type of slavery disguised by the Native and Negro Reeducation Act which forces Native and African American boys and girls into combat schools. Graduates from these schools are a buffer between the living and the undead.
  Jane McKeen is a biracial girl sent to Ms. Preston's school of combat to obtain an attendant certificate. She is trained in combat, weaponry, and etiquette so she can protect her future white employers. Though not an ideal life, the life of an attendant provides an opportunity for education and a chance at a better life. Jane yearns for the chance to be reunited with her mother and return to her home in Kentucky. Jane is an admirable heroine who is above all a survivor. She is quick on her feet, incredibly intelligent, and outspoken which leads her into trouble multiple of times. We get glimpses of her past as she writes letters to her mother and reminisces about home.
 When she is about to graduate her friend, Red Jack, asks for help locating his sister Lily. Jane's attempts to discover Lily's whereabouts land her in a survivalist colony called Summerland, whose motto is restoring America's former glory. Survivalists advocate a disordered view of natural selection that places Jane on patrol from zombies because her skin color makes her expendable and she is firmly under the watchful eye of a vicious sheriff and his psychopathic family. Jane now has an insurmountable task of finding a way out of Summerland not only for herself, but also for those she loves. She must make some unlikely alliances of her own if she is to survive long enough to find her own path to freedom.
  I am not a fan of horror novels and particularly not of zombies, but Dread Nation drew me in as a reader. It is a smart, thought provoking novel that explores horror of the fictional and unfortunately real kind. Ireland skillfully works in the different forms of enslavement, mental and physical, into a complex and engaging story. It is absolutely horrifying to see characters justify oppression, racism, and slavery. Despite these heavy topics, the novel also has lighter moments too where it explores friendship, love, defying expectations, defiance, and resisting paths that are thrust upon you. I am happy to see that this is a beginning of a series, but there is so much more that I want to know about Jane and her friends. This is a solid horror novel for fans of the movie Get Out and the television show The Walking Dead.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence including a scene of torture. There is minor language and antiquated racial slurs. Drug use is also mentioned. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry, Devils Unto Dust by Emily Berquist
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