Rummanah Aasi
  I had such a great time chatting with April and I couldn't fit all of our conversation on one blog post. So without further ado, here is the second part of the interview. You can read Part 1 here.

Rummanah: Welcome back, April. As most of my readers know, I read Jane Eyre when I was in high school. I’m sure most people have read Jane Eyre as a teen even though it might be considered as an “adult” novel, but I definitely think that it has YA appeal. Did you always want to write Jane for a young adult audience or was that your publisher’s decision?

April: While I was writing Jane, I thought of it as an adult novel. Though I’ve always been fascinated by the late teenage years, that fraught but thrilling time when a person is starting to choose her path in life, it never occurred to me that I was writing not just about young adults but for them. My brilliant agent Amy Williams saw that Jane had potential as a YA novel, and I’m so glad she did. The books I read when I was in high school and college thrilled me and shaped my psyche in a way nothing I read now is likely to do, no matter how wonderful it may be. 

Rummanah: Me too. I love how I can go back and reread some of my favorites books from high school and come away with a fresh perspective and new reading experience. Jane Eyre has been adapted many times for the big and small screens. Do you have a favorite movie adaptation of Jane Eyre? What is it?

April: Definitely the 2006 Masterpiece Theater version with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. It compresses the whole story into roughly three hours and takes some liberties along the way, but it’s so steamy and smart, and the cast is perfect. Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens ARE Jane and Mr. Rochester. 

Rummanah: That adaptation is a favorite for most people. What is your favorite quote from Jane Eyre?

April: "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? - You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.” *Sigh* 

Rummanah: Oh, that's my favorite quote too! It perfectly summarizes Jane's personality along with her admission that she does love Rochester but refuses to let go of her own beliefs. With Nico being a rock star (which is an awesome modern twist) I can’t help but wonder, do you have a Jane playlist?

April: Absolutely! I keep adding to it, but here it is, straight from my Ipod playlist:
It Happens Every Day (Dar Williams)
Bad Reputation (Freedy Johnston)
American Slang (The Gaslight Anthem)
Parachute (Train)
The Lucky One (Alison Krauss & Union Station)
My Love Will Not Let You Down (Bruce Springsteen)
Romeo’s Tune (Steve Forbert)
Hey, Soul Sister (Train)
Don’t Dream It’s Over (Crowded House)
Your Mind’s Playing Tricks on You (John Wesley Harding)
Rumors (Josh Ritter)
Janey Don’t You Lose Heart (Bruce Springsteen)
Troubled Times (Dar Williams)
Intro/Sweet Jane (Lou Reed)

Rummanah: I know this may sound totally random, but I pictured a young Bruce Springsteen as Nico while I read Jane. He just had The Boss's vibe, you know? Now I know it's not really a coincidence either.
I heard through the grapevine that your next writing adventure will be a modern retelling of Wuthering Heights, which happens to be my favorite book of all time. Please spare me from the suspense and anxiety and say that it’s true. *Crosses fingers*

April: It’s true. 

Rummanah: Yes! *Pumps fist in the air* Er, sorry. Please continue. *Blushes*

April: The setting is a night club on New York’s lower east side. The Heathcliff character is a punk rocker, and Cathy is the club owner’s daughter.

Rummanah: Heathcliff as a punk rocker makes complete sense. He defies authority yet I personally feel, completely misunderstood. I can't wait to read it! April, thank you so much for stopping by!

April: My pleasure.

Readers, if you haven't done so already, definitely check out Jane by April Lindner. You don't have to be familiar with Jane Eyre to enjoy this excellent Gothic romance thriller. To learn more about April, please visit her website or friend Jane on Facebook! 
Rummanah Aasi
  I recently read and enjoyed a modern retelling of Jane Eyre called Jane by April Lindner. I contacted April and asked if she would be willing to do an author interview with me. She graciously agreed. April is not new to writing. She is a poet, an editor, an Associate Professor of English at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where she teaches creative writing, freshman composition, and literature. April is also the mother of two teenage sons. Besides writing, she also loves rock and roll, coffee, dark chocolate, thunderstorms, and exploring cities she has never been to. April and I chatted about her debut YA novel, her love for the Brontes, and writing. Here is the first part of our interview.

Rummanah: Welcome and thank you for stopping by my blog, April. I’m so excited to have you here. What inspired you to retell Jane Eyre? Why did you choose Jane Eyre?

April: Thanks for having me. Jane Eyre is my favorite novel, and I love retellings of classic books, so I’ve long had the idea of a modernized Jane Eyre in the back of my mind, but I could never figure out how to make the class difference between Jane and Mr. Rochester work in the modern world. Then one day it occurred to me that the Mr. Rochester could be a rock star. My twin passions are books and music, and I have a major thing for rock stars. I knew right away that I had to write that book.

Rummanah: Who doesn't have a thing for rock stars?!  I have to say that making your Rochester character a rock star makes perfect sense when I think back on your book. The characters of Jane Eyre are iconic figures and the central pair, in particular, is beloved by many readers. Did you have a hard time making these characters your own? In what ways to do they retain their original characteristics and what ways (if any) are they different?

April: Nico Rathburn (my Mr. Rochester character) was definitely more elusive than Jane. I needed for him to be a bad boy rocker who was too busy touring to take time out for college, but he had to be smart and well-spoken in order to be worthy of Jane. Finding Nico’s voice took a long time. He started out channeling the patrician and hyper-articulate Rochester, but with each revision his voice got a little more down to earth. Another key difference is that Nico genuinely loved his first wife, and doesn’t blame her for her afflictions, something that always troubles me about Mr. Rochester.
    Jane was easier to write, probably because Jane Eyre made such an early and deep impression on me. I’ve always felt as though I had an inner Jane, counseling me to be true to myself (not that I always listened). I’ve written Jane to be a little out of her element in the modern world just as young Jane Eyre was a fish out of water in her adopted family. Like Jane, she’s practical and self-contained, capable of great love and friendship but without many opportunities to express the warmth in her nature. One difference is that my Jane is more shy and self-conscious, and sometimes clumsy about expressing herself. I wrote her that way probably because I’m a bit that way myself, but her shyness came in handy in answering the all-important question of why Nico doesn’t just come right out and profess his romantic interest in Jane as soon as he feels it. He can’t read her, and he doesn’t want to make an unwanted pass at her. He’s used to women throwing themselves at him, and Jane’s an enigma. 

Rummanah: To be completely honest with you, I never understood Jane and Rochester's relationship. I didn't get why they liked each other, but your book really helped clear a lot of my confusion. Bringing these characters into the 21st century, particularly their personality and dialogue, allowed me to appreciate them a lot more. Some people may say that retelling a novel is relatively easy because you already have the characters, setting, and plot, but in my opinion, it’s a whole other ball game. What challenges did you face writing Jane?

April: There were difficulties along the way, mostly having to do with translating plot elements in Jane Eyre into the 21st century. The biggest one was finding an equivalent for the fate of Nico’s first wife in our age of medical miracles, but there were lots of smaller ones. I’d hit a roadblock and panic. What if I couldn’t make it work? Would I have to abandon the whole project? But then I’d take a deep breath and talk the problem over with my husband or a good friend. Then I’d sleep on it, and somehow a solution would appear. 

Rummanah: Besides Jane and Nico, who are amazing characters by the way, who did you have most fun writing about? Why?

April: I especially enjoyed the minor characters who piped up in my imagination with loud and distinct voices. I’m very fond of Diana, whose voice sounds quite a bit like my best friend’s. I also feel great love for Yvonne and Dennis, characters from Nico’s rock star milieu who could have ignored Jane or made her feel inferior, but who chose to be kind to her. I didn’t plan it that way; I meant for Nico’s friends to be callous or snobby like Mr. Rochester’s party of visitors to Thornfield Hall, but Yvonne and Dennis had other plans. 

Rummanah: Jane is your first novel, but I know you have also written poems and worked on anthologies, how is writing prose different from your other writings?

April:  Poetry is very intense and concentrated; ideally a poem doesn’t contain a single extraneous word, and packs a whole lot of music, imagery and emotional weight in a very small space. Writing and teaching poetry has taught me a lot about how to bring out the musicality in language and how to pare a piece of writing down to the bone. Another upside to poetry is that you can usually have the whole thing in front of you, which is great when you’re trying to make everything cohere. Writing a novel is much trickier in that way; it’s impossible to see the whole thing at once and there are so many details to keep track of.
  That said, the downside of writing poetry is that it involves a lot of starting from scratch. Once I’ve finished a poem I’ve got to come up with a whole new idea for the next one. I’ve spent countless frustrating days when the new idea just won’t come, and I fear I’ll never write another word. In contrast, there’s so much work to be done on a novel that even if I’m not feeling particularly inspired I can rough out a scene I know has to be in there, and inspiration has a way of sneaking up on me when I’m already busy writing. I love having a long project to dig into; there’s much less time spent staring at the blinking cursor waiting for lightning to strike. 

Rummanah: Writing in general is very hard. Personally, I know that I can't just write. I need an idea or an inspiration that moves me to write. I know it sounds cliche, but it's true. 

Readers, please tune in tomorrow for the second part of my interview with April Lindner!
Rummanah Aasi
  I don't consider myself to be a music expert, but I am definitely a fan and I do love a variety of music genres. Like movies, music is another form of storytelling. Movies use images, dialogue, and actors to express a story and emotion. Whereas music uses melody, instruments, and lyrics to tell its story. Both are unique and fascinating that allow us to express our emotions when we are not able to do so. Sometimes if you throw literature into the mix, it becomes even better or just scrambled and forced like it did in Adios, Nirvana.

Description: It's been a year since Jonathan has lost his twin brother in a fatal bus accident. He has been unable to come to terms with his grief and faces the possibility of repeating his junior year unless he gets his act together. The only way to move to next year and stay with his friends, Jonathan must attend all of his classes, help an ailing 88 year old war veteran write his memoir, and perform his principal's favorite song at graduation in front of the school community. Will Jonathan come through or will he say adios to nirvana?

Review: It is hard to describe Adios, Nirvana. The themes of grief and death are definitely serious, dark and heartbreaking, but the author tries to save his book from being another after-school special by infusing it with countless references to music, particularly of the Seattle grunge scene, as well as poets such as Whitman and Homer. Instead of being uplifting it becomes uneven both in plot as well as character development.
  The mission given to Jonathan by his principal is both unrealistic and too convenient. Of course it allows the school to show their support in Jonathan's long recovery, but it is just to easy to achieve. By meeting an ailing man in hospice is the driving force that allows Jonathan to learn and accept death; however, as a reader I don't buy his growth. I still see the sarcastic and cynical Jonathan from the beginning of the novel and I think this is due to the fact that everything wraps up too quickly just when they are starting to slowly unravel.
  It is obvious that Jonathan is in a dark place. When we first meet him, he is suicidal and tries to fall of a bridge. He only saves himself by thinking about how the loss of his life will affect his thicks, best friends, and his mother. He constantly drinks Red Bull and takes No Doz to avoid sleeping and meeting the 'dragon' that haunts him. He only seeks refuge in writing poetry, which he received brief celebrity status at his school, and secretly plays music. Jonathan has always seen himself as his brother Telemachus's shadow. This is told to us by Jonathan, but never shown. Telemachus never appears, neither in flashbacks or in spirit, in the book at all, which is a shame because that would allow the reader to track Jonathan's development and get into his psyche a bit better. As for the other characters, they don't make much of any impression and come across as one dimensional.
  There are several allusions to songs, which ironically is not a lot from the band Nirvana as I expected, but rather from a potpourri of artists and music genres. Their connections are either fully explained to the reader or not at all, thus lose their significance and come across as the author making his knowledge known to the reader. Similarly, there are also lots of allusions to literary figures and poems, but they don't necessarily fit with the narrative and characters. Adios, Nirvana is a mess, but I think readers who love music and poetry will take to this book.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the book as well as crude humor. There is also some allusion to sex. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jonathan Sonnenblick
Rummanah Aasi
  While being in a food coma from the past few days, I managed to finish The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. A friend of mine who works at Barnes and Noble recommended this title to me after I ranted on about having a hard time finding adult titles to read. The Lace Reader is an ambitious attempt in weaving folklore with mystery and a psychological thriller. It has a really interesting premise, but it was just an okay read.

Description: Set in the famous Salem, Massachusetts, Towner Whitney returns back home after a serious surgery. She is descended from a line of mind readers and lace readers, fortune tellers who use patterns of the fabric to tell people's fortunes. After her great-aunt Eva has suspiciously drowned and a young girl missing, Towner begins on a long difficult road to recovery and forgiveness while local detective John Rafferty looks into the mystery.

Review: The premise of The Lace Reader is very intriguing. A dark and fascinating story of a family's own dark past of psychics, lace readers, and complex family issues perfectly mirrors the famous city in Massachusetts. The book has a lot of things going for it, however, doesn't take full advantage of all of these aspects.
  For starters, I didn't really like any of the characters. The story is told mainly from Towner's point of view, but also has a third person narrator and from the detective, which does not make the narrative smooth. Towner bluntly tells the reader that she is a liar and not to trust her. Right away, I don't know what is fact and what is fiction. It is not until the police report is mentioned that I start beginning to put the pieces together. As Towner and the mystery unravels, she does become interesting but it that takes a while. Salem, which I hoped to be used a lot more as a character by itself in the story, makes a brief special appearance whenever its history of the witch trials and descriptions of the modern tourist business are mentioned, but I didn't get a rich, eerie sense of place like I expected.
   What also bugged me about the book is the side plot lines that were mentioned and not fully fleshed out. For example, we see the detective fall for Towner, but we don't know really why nor is there any romance. Needless to say their relationship falls flat. Even though the book is called The Lace Reader, there is a feeble attempt in incorporating it into the book. There are small bits of a "Lace Reader's Guide" included at the beginning of each chapter and part, but the idea kind of fizzles when the reader never sees it in action.
   The only reason I kept reading the book is to find solve the mystery, which I think was solved too quickly by giving huge chucks of background information all at once. It was hard to digest and sort out. The "plot twist" wasn't surprising at all and I had a hunch about it while reading the book. Overall, The Lace Reader is a decent read, but it's definitely not high on my recommendation list.   

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is language throughout the book as well as allusions to sexual and physical abuse.

If you like this book try: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane or The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
Rummanah Aasi
  I hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving! I'm avoiding Black Friday by all costs. Mostly because I don't like the crowds and I prefer sleeping in. ;) I finished Torment, the second book of the Fallen series by Lauren Kate late last night and didn't have the energy to post a review. While I thought Fallen was a decent read that held my interest, I'm sorry to say that besides its gorgeous cover Torment did the total opposite and left me frustrated. 

Description: After the disaster that took place at her last boarding school, Sword and Cross School, Luce is shipped off to the pacific coast called Shoreline that hosts humans, Nephilim, and angels. Without being told why she must leave, Luce begins on her own quest to find out about her past and learns how to use her own supernatural skills.

Review: I tend to be lenient on my critical analysis of the first book of a series. I understand that in the first book the author has to set up his or her world building, characters, as well as introduce a plot arc, which most often than not slows down the plot and pace of the book. However, when I read the second book in the series, I would like to think that the story and its characters can move forward but Torment did not.Torment begins where Fallen left off. You could possibly read Torment without reading Fallen, but you may be a bit confused when events at Swords and Cross are mentioned.
   The intriguing aspects of both reincarnation and fallen angel mythology that were introduced and held my attention in Fallen were not explored in Torment at all. In fact there are no answers given at all in the sequel. For 400+ pages, Torment revolves around this tiring dialogue of: "I can't tell you what's going on because it's not safe for you, but know I have your interest at heart and I'm doing this for you." Not only is this dialogue cliche, but so repetitive in the YA paranormal romance genre. I wished the characters could move beyond this and man up to their vulnerabilities. Enough with the melodrama! Thankfully, Luce felt the same way and at least attempted to find answers, but it always seems like the reader catches on much before she does. There were a few cool scenes where we see Luce learn about her supernatural power. As for Luce's main love interest, Daniel, I didn't care for him. His character arc didn't grow and I frankly don't understand why he loves Luce. We're just told that they have a strong bond over long periods of time, but that's about it. I needed more evidence. His actions in with holding information from Luce makes me not like him and be suspicious about his intentions. 
  What annoyed me about Fallen is the sheer amount of new characters that I didn't get a chance to meet and know. Without fleshing out these first set of characters, we are introduced to more new characters in the sequel. I'm just glad that I actually liked a few: Shelby, Luce's cheeky roommate and friend, and Miles, the sweet, friendly normal guy who provides Luce with another love interest. Thus we have our requirement of a love triangle. I liked Miles simply because I got to know his sweet and friendly nature. He is actually the sole reason why I rated this book 2 stars instead of 1. 
  With all said and done, there is not much new learned in Torment. I could have easily skipped this book and read the last book without being worried that I missed out on anything. I do plan on reading Passions, the third book in the Fallen series, just because I already invested time in reading the first two. I just hope something happens in the last book to make my time worthwhile.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the book along with violence. Recommended for strong 7th grade readers and up.

If you like this book try: Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick
Rummanah Aasi
  The Mercy Thompson series is my second urban fantasy series that I have read this year. Although I enjoyed the first book in the series, Moon Called, I thought its pace was a bit too slow for me. Since I loved the characters, I was willing to read Blood Bound, the second book and hoped that things pick up. I was advised by friends of mine that this series starts a little bit slow but quickly picks up. They were right.

Description: Mercy Thompson is a mechanic and walker, she has the ability to turn into a coyote at will. She has friends who happen to be werewolves, vampires, and the fae, which can be both a good and a bad thing. Well, at the rate that Mercy's going, it's more of a bad thing. When a sorcerer-turned-vampire wreaks havoc and goes on a killing spree in Washington's Tri-Cities, the paranormal community attempts to stop the destruction and fails. Mercy, who will do anything for her friends and to save the innocent, finds herself pulled into the fray. It turns out that her unique abilities make her an excellent candidate in taking out the new evil in town, but can she save them all? 

Review: Blood Bound picks up right where Moon Called finished. Although this book is a stand alone, I think readers should read Moon Called first to get a better handling on the various characters and their communities in Mercy's world. That being said, Blood Bound finds Mercy's vampire friend Stefan calling on her to fulfill one of her favors from Moon Called. Stefan need's Mercy's help in bringing down the sorcerer turned vampire down. From here the narrative involves the various paranormal communities and their politics and their plans to stop this evil.
  What I love about this series is that Briggs allows her readers to get involved in the paranormal politics. Even though there are definite tensions amongst werewolves, vampires, and the fae, they all get together to fight a common evil that threatens the shaky peace they have with humans. Another thing that I absolutely love about this series is that characters from both genders are equally powerful and strong in their own way and refreshingly come from diverse backgrounds. For example, Mercy is half Native American, which makes her more interesting and appealing.
   Mercy is once again an excellent, strong female heroine who is constantly struggling to keep her own stands in midst of the alpha males around her. She refuses to back down when she is faced with a challenge. Finally there is a series where a woman saves the day instead of a man. Mercy is resourceful and smart. Although there is romantic tension between two central alpha male characters, I am thankful that Briggs does not dumb down Mercy nor her story so that she can be with one of the heroes.
   If you enjoy a good paranormal tale with a plethora of paranormal creatures and a combination of mystery and suspense, then this is the series for you. Briggs characters truly make the book come alive and
fosters my desire to continue the series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is language and some strong violence. Although it is marketed to adults, I think teens will be interested in this series.

If you like this book try: Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson #3), Magic Bites and Magic Burns by Iona Andrews, Fray by Joss Whedon, or Paranormalcy by Kristen White
Rummanah Aasi
  When I think of mermaids there is usually a few things that immediately come to mind: Han Christian Anderson's tale The Little Mermaid, Disney's adaptation of that same tale, and for some odd reason the 1984 movie Splash starring Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks. Most of these pieces focused on the romance between the mermaid and the mortal, but in L.K. Madigan's second novel The Mermaid's Mirror, she goes beyond these boundaries and digs deeper.

Description: Lena has lived by the Pacific Ocean her whole life and always felt drawn to the ocean. She loves to swim and dreams to surf the waves like her best friends; however, her father forbids her after a near fatal surfing accident. When Lena turns sixteen strange things begin to happen to her. She finds herself sleepwalking to the beach and searching for things that she feels is missing but doesn't know what it is. On an early morning birthday walk, Lena sees a woman with a "glistening silver tail" out in a dangerous ocean cove. She doesn't know for sure if it's a woman she saw or an ocean animal. The only way to find out what she really saw, Lena has to learn to surf and get close to verify her theory. Slowly Lena begins to discover a world under the ocean and unlocks the mysteries from her family's past. 

Review: I really enjoyed L.K. Madigan's debut novel, Flash Burnout, last year and was a bit surprised that she chose to go in the fantasy direction instead of another realistic fiction for her second book. Regardless of the genre, I looked forward to reading more from this author. Like Flash Burnout, the main focus of The Mermaid's Mirror is not just the teen protagonists but rather the entire family unit. In many young adult novels, the family (particularly the parents) are completely clueless of the ongoings in their son/daughter's life or they have such a minor role that doesn't leave any impression on the reader. Madigan has a gift in making the reader care for not only the family but other secondary characters as well. Lena's parents care for her truly and deeply. Their love shows not just through dialogue, but their body language and expressions. It is so refreshing to read about a step-mother and step-brother who do not fall in the stigma of being cold and callus.
   Although The Mermaid's Mirror has a paranormal element and a light romance, the heart of the book is Lena's inability to feel at home or belong. She is caught between two worlds and needs to decide where she fits. I identified Lena's struggle mostly because I, too, find myself born to two very separate cultures. My family is from Pakistan but I was born in America. I don't necessarily feel I'm completely Pakistani nor am I completely American either. I fall in the gray in between area. Once Lena begins to learn about her family's past and her connection to the ocean (which I found out quicker than Lena), she explores both worlds and finds what is most important to her.
  As I mentioned earlier, I loved all of the characters that Madigan created especially Cole, Lena's adorable six year old brother who lights up the page and makes me smile every time her appears, and Kai, Lena's boyfriend, who is incredibly sweet and funny. Speaking of Kai, I'm glad that Lena and Kai had a realistic relationship. One that is not all consuming, but familiar. Lena explains this further when she talks to her best friend Pem.
  The details of the mer- world were fascinating. The book nicely splits its attention on land and in the ocean equally. I felt that there was enough information about both settings that allowed Lena to make her choice. The Mermaid Mirror doesn't necessarily have a happy ending, but it has an ending that is quite realistic for a fantasy novel and I couldn't really see how it could have ended any other way. Another winner from Madigan and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.
Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: Some really mild language. Perfect for ages 12 and up.

If you like this book try: Sea Change by Aimee Friedman
Rummanah Aasi
  I read Jane Eyre in high school and mostly to appease my older sister who repeatedly told me that it was the best book she ever read. If you think I'm an avid reader, you wouldn't believe how much she reads. She was a Biology and English major in college. The girl can devour a 400 pages novel in the matter of hours. Next to her, I'm really not that remarkable. Anyway, I didn't connect much with Jane as a teen. I thought she was a bit distant, cold, and serious. I didn't understand her relationship with the famous Mr. Rochester. Actually I was always suspicious of Rochester. I just had a 'bad' feeling about him and I still do. This weekend I read Jane by April  Lindner and I really enjoyed it.

Description: Jane Moore is forced to drop out of Sarah Lawrence because she couldn't afford it, especially after the sudden death of her parents. She doesn't have much job experience besides baby sitting and seeking a nanny agency to get a job. Jane Moore is offered a nanny position at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Despite being practical and logical, Jane can't help but be drawn to her charismatic and brooding employer. Soon she finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance. Of course her romance doesn't come with a price. There is a secret from Nico's past that he refuses to share. A secret that threatens their happiness and Jane's true self. Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?

Review:  I must say that I had three distinct thoughts when I came across Jane. One: It was nice to see one of the Bronte's sisters get a modern retelling instead of another Jane Austen novel. Don't get me wrong. I like Jane Austen, but how many times can you retell the same story over and over again? Two: How the heck do you modernize a book that is so rooted in Gothic, Victorian times? Three: Rochester as a rock star? This retelling could go either horribly, horribly wrong or it can be really good. Fortunately, Jane is the latter and quite entertaining. 
  It is no secret that Jane is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. The main characters, the Gothic setting of Thornfield, the forbidden romance, a dash of a dark mystery, and its central themes from the original novel are retained in JaneLindner does a great job in making the characters approachable and likable. Jane is still resolute, strongly opinionated, but honest. She is also a teen who is insecure about her looks yet she admits that she can never be conventionally beautiful. Unlike most heroines in a romance novel, she refuses to cave in to her emotions (it's not that she doesn't acknowledge her feelings about Nico but her feelings don't color her decision) and does not abandon all of her beliefs when her romance is in jeopardy. As you can see, Jane is a teen who is wiser than her years even though she is 19 years old in the book. These are the characteristics that I admired and some how overlooked in the original Jane when I first read Jane Eyre a really long time ago. 
  Similarly, Nico Rathburn is much more accessible than the mysterious and aloof Rochester. The fact that he is a rock star suits him for several reasons. The celebrity status retains his high social status, but also gives him worldly experience. His evolution from a bad boy rocker into a man shows his growth and maturity (For some reason, I couldn't help but picture Bruce Springsteen as Nico). I can see why Jane likes Nico. He is arrogant yet charming and magnetic. He strives to become better and it shows. He has such a strong presence and you can't help but observe him. Although Nico shares similar flaws with Rochester, there is a clear distinction between the two by how each person handles his secret.
  There are some things that I found unsettling in Jane, but that is because I found them unsettling in the original book such as the huge age difference between Jane and Nico as well as Nico's secret. Readers who love Bronte's original work will probably enjoy this title. The modern spin of a rock star is actually really cool and brilliant. Those who have not been exposed to Jane Eyre, will love Jane for it's Gothic romance and will most likely pick up the original book after they have finished Jane. I actually think it helped me appreciate Bronte's work a bit more than I did as a teen. Overall, a really enjoyable and well done retelling of a classic novel.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and allusions to sex in the book.

If you like this book try: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte or Villette by Charlotte Bronte or for something a bit contemporary about a rocker try Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Rummanah Aasi
  I was approached by Thomas Sullivan, a writer for several magazines such as Word Riot and 3AM Magazine,who asked if I could review his book entitled Life in the Slow Lane on my blog. After reading the excerpt found on his blog, I accepted. The author provided me an electronic copy of his book in order for me to do an honest review for you.

Description (Thomas's website): Being an instructor for a private driver's ed company sounded like the launch of a career that would last a lifetime. Not! During his short stint in the instructor's seat, Sullivan learned more than he wanted about poorly maintained cars, calm kids with angry parents, inefficient efficiency campaigns, too-rapid business expansion, and suburban angst. Oh, yes, and a bit about mustaches. An irreverent account of one man's descent from hope to a struggle to escape the chaos of sub-prime suburbia, Life in the Slow Lane celebrates the humor, resolve, and intelligence teenagers use to survive the dysfunctional world their elders have created.

Review: Driver's Ed is a class that all teens look forward to taking in high school and a course causes probably the most anxiety for parents. Driving is usually used as a metaphor for freedom, a way to escape and discover new things. It can also be a metaphor for the choices that we make in life, where our choices lead us to make different turns and take us in different directions that we originally had planned on taking. Life in the Slow Lane, an enjoyable, quick read, shows the reader how both of these metaphors work quite well.
   Life in the Slow Lane is best described as a memoir-ish novel, where Sullivan details his journey of becoming a Driver's Ed teacher for a private company. In the novel he not only shares his experiences of being an instructor in which he details his students' lessons, but also a commentary on how a dysfunctional company works and to his (and my surprise) survives.
    The best parts of the book are the variety of students and their driving lessons that appear throughout the novel. These lessons, I think, reflect on most people's own first driving experiences from the hilarious but honest mistakes to near life threatening accidents. The novel did make me laugh several times, mostly because it often reminded me of my own experiences where I either shook my head and thought, "Oh, I've been there" or "I can't believe I did that once".
   Sullivan's writing is very much laid back and conversational, but sometimes his own personal flashbacks tend to not only digress from his story, but also take the reader out of the book. I have read a few reviews before in which readers thought Sullivan was a bit preachy, but I didn't think this was the case nor did I think it was his intention. I think the whole purpose of the book was to show how corrupt and abysmal the private company is. I just wished that Sullivan fleshed this out more by showing it through his lessons rather than the big "ah ha" moment at the end, which I found to be a bit repetitive and tedious. Nonetheless I found Life in the Slow Lane a fun read and sad look at how some companies run.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

If you like this book try: Crusader Guy by Thomas Sullivan
Rummanah Aasi
  Carl Hiaasen is probably best known for his Newberry Award Nominee title, Hoot, which was also made into a movie. Hoot combined a mystery element with environmental issues and humor. His other big hit, Flush, was in the same vein. I was expecting a bit different when I read Scat, but it seemed like a rehash of his previous two titles.

Description: Nick and Marta are both suspicious when their biology teacher, Mrs. Bunny Starch, disappears after a field trip and fails to come back. Mrs. Starch leaves a message saying that she is on a family emergency, but most people know that she really doesn't have any family, but does she? Nick and Marta try to uncover the truth when one of their classmates is suspected of being involved with their teacher's disappearance or are things just not what they seem?

Review: I was disappointed when I finished Scat. I was hoping for something new, but I was left with a story that was already done quite well in his previous two books. Once again we are served a mystery/comedy combined with environmental issues. If you replaced Hoot's owls with panthers, you pretty much have Scat in a nutshell.
  The mystery for me was too predictable and I pretty much knew the plot by the third chapter. The characters were okay, but forgettable. The only thing that I found hard to understand is why the students cared for their odious biology teacher. Why would they go through so much trouble for someone who only berates them five days a week? I also didn't like the idea of a strange man wearing a ski cap forcing kids to ride with him in a car either. Although he turns out to be one of the good guys, just that concept made me feel a bit uneasy. The pace of the book was a bit slow for me. There were a few humorous parts of the book as well as an off tangent side story of Nick's family which was nice to read but didn't add much to the book as a whole. Speaking of Nick, I thought he was just too good as an adolescent and I didn't think he was too believable. Overall, Scat is an okay read but not great.   

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is mild language sprinkled throughout the novel. Recommended for Grades 6 to 8.

If you like this book try: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, Flush by Carl Hiaasen, or Bloodwater Mysteries series by Pete Hautman
Rummanah Aasi
   My last post on movie news was back in September of this year. Since then there are numerous upcoming movies that have my caught my eye. All of the movies below are book adaptations, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on who is the director and the cast selected. Nonetheless these films seem impressive and I might give them a shot.

First up, we have another adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's masterpiece Jane Eyre. It stars Mia Wasikowska (Jane), Michael Fassbender (Rochester) and Madame Judi Dench (Mrs. Fairfax). I really liked Mia Wasikowska in Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland and I think she'll make a great Jane. Jane Eyre is directed by Cary Fukunaga and the screenplay is written by Moira Buffini. The movie is rated PG-13 and will be in theaters in March 2011. As you watch the trailer, notice how the movie has more of a gothic, dark tone to it which I think is unique amongst its many adaptations:

    Second up is Adjustment Bureau, which is a movie that is loosely adapting Philip K. Dick's short story, Adjustment Team. When it comes to classic science fiction writers like Dick, sometimes I prefer watching a movie adaptation first and then reading the original in order to get a better grasp of the material. Adjustment Bureau stars Matt Damon (David Norris) and Emily Blunt (Elise Sellas). The director and screenplay writer is George Nolfi, who did one of the Bourne movies. Not only do I love both of these actors, I also love the director too. This should be a pretty good movie. It is rated PG-13 and is coming September 2011. Here is a brief synopsis of the movie: "The affair between a politician and a ballerina is affected by mysterious forces keeping the lovers apart." Source: Internet Movie Database. Check out the trailer below:

      Third up is an interesting adaptation of William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. The Tempest is one of the few Shakespeare plays that I have not read. Looks like I have to fix that for next year. The Tempest stars Helen Mirren (Prospera), Russell Brand (Trinculo), Djimon Hounsou (Caliban), and a whole slew of other actors. I never thought I would see a movie that starred Helen Mirren and Russell Brand together, but I guess it works. I think it's pretty interesting that the male lead, Prospero, was changed into Prospera, a woman. The movie is directed and written by Julie Taymor. The Tempest is going to be released December 10, 2010 and it is rated PG-13. See the trailer below:

      Fourth is a film adaptation of famous Grimm Fairy Tale The Little Red Riding Hood called Red Riding Hood. The film is set in a medieval village that is haunted by a werewolf and a young girl falls for an orphaned woodcutter, who her family dislikes. The movie stars: Amanda Seyfried (Valerie aka Red Riding Hood), Lukas Haas and Gary Oldman. Wow, I haven't seen Lukas Haas in a movie for a really long time! The movie is directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by David Johnson. I have to admit that this one made me ponder. I don't care for Catherine Hardwicke's directing, especially after her atrocious Twilight adaptation (seriously, the whole movie is blue!), but I'm glad she is no longer directing Gayle Forman's fabulous novel If I Stay. Despite my own opinions, I think some of you might be interested so I added it to this list. The movie is slated to release March 2011 and it has not been rated. Check out the trailer and let me know what you think:


       Last but not least, I'm really hoping there is going to be a Baz Lurhmann adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. There has been lots of talk that the movie will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. I think Baz Lurhman is an innovative director who gives a fascinating spin on a lot of stories. i absolutely loved how he handled "Romeo and Juliet". I can watch that movie over and over again and will always find something new. Needless to say that I have watched and enjoyed all of his movies. There's no official word from Lurhmann, but it looks like things are headed in that direction. *Crosses fingers* 
      Rummanah Aasi
        This week is my fourth time participating in the Top 10 Tuesday meme created by The Broke and The Bookish. I have to say that this is by far my favorite list, both in compiling and reflecting back on all the villains that I loved to hate throughout my years as a reader. This list is also, in my opinion, the hardest to compose, because I couldn't limit it to 10. In order to meet the ten requirement, I listed villains that are mostly from classic literature who seem to be forever ingrained in my mind.

      My Top 10 Villains, Criminals, and Degenerates (in no particular order):

      1. Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Surprised? Many people are quick to point to Heathcliff as a villain. Yes, he can be cruel and cold. I don't dismiss how he horribly mistreated Isabella, but then again he never mislead her with what would happen if she would marry him. What most people forget is that Catherine Earnshaw was the sole person who started Heathcliff's downfall. Not only did she ruin her and his life, but she also destroyed the Lintons too. For what? Her chance to hold fickle social status. 

      2. Richard III from the play Richard III by Shakespeare. Sometimes watching the villain is more entertaining than the protagonist. Richard III is a deformed in mind and body. He is evil, corrupt, sadistic, manipulative, and he will stop at absolutely nothing to become king. I couldn't help but like the guy. In fact I wrote a paper for my Shakespeare class in college defending Richard III, which was really fun and floored my professor. I would argue it was the best critical analysis that I've ever written.

      3. Iago from the play Othello by Shakespeare. Like Richard III, Iago is both brilliant and terrifying. He is very observant on everyone's flaws and insecurities. He is terrifying because the reader never knows exactly why he played the other characters in the play like puppets, but we do know is that he took great pleasure in watching others suffer and destroy themselves.

      4.  Alec D’Urberville and Angel Clare from Tess of D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy. Alec is Tess's smarmy, manipulative, duplicitous cousin who did everything that he can to take advantage of the inexperienced Tess when she comes to work for his family. Not only did he take advantage of her, but stated that she was responsible for coming on to him. As for Angel Clare...He is suppose to be intelligent and the antithesis of Alec yet he when he is forced to face the gray shades of reality, he runs away and shuns the woman that he supposedly loved. Yup, these guys are fine male specimens.

      5. Paris from various Greek Myths including The Illiad by Homer. Whether or not you believe the Greek Gods were behind the Trojan War, I think it's very hard not to acknowledge the creep that is Paris. A selfish, self centered, hormone driven boy who ruined both his family and a great city.

      6. Agamemnon from various Greek Myths including Agamemnon by Aeschylus. While he may be considered a great military leader or even a hero to some, I have always hated him. He is arrogant, thirsted for war and power, and treats the women in his family like dirt. How I can forget the fact that he sacrificed his own daughter, Iphigenia, to gain a favorable winds to Troy? I can't blame his wife, Clytemnestra, for seeking revenge.

      7. Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A shallow, superficial, gold digger. Need I say more?

      8. Fernand Mondego and Baron Danglars from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Both of them are despicable characters who were jealous and imprisoned Edmond Dantes for a crime he did not commit and robbed him of all the happiness in his life. I'm glad that they were both avenged by The Count (aka Edmond), who will never be the same man he was before the horrible incident began. 

      9. Kurtz from The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. A man who treated the natives of Congo like animals, built his castle with human bones, and declared himself God. "The horror!"

      10. Briony from Atonement by Ian McEwan. Even though this is not considered a "classic" per se, I hated this character just as much as the others above her. Briony is a spoiled, selfish, self-centered brat who destroyed many lives around her. She tries to find atonement by writing a "happy ending". Sorry Briony, in my opinion, you didn't succeed. You never came close to atoning for your lie and betrayal.
      Rummanah Aasi
        I have read lots of rave reviews of Jean Kwok's debut novel, A Girl in Translation, on the blogosphere as well as literary magazines. The premise of the story caught my interest and found a copy of the book at my local public library. Immigrants, new and old, will relate a lot to this incredible story based on some of the author's personal experiences. 

      Description: Kimberly Chang and her mother have immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn in the 1980s with the help of Kim's Aunt Paula. As a result, they are are forced to work for Aunt Paula in a Chinatown clothing factory earning one and a half cent per item they make in order to repay their debts. With barely enough to keep them alive and living in a dilapidated, rodent and insect infested  house house without heat, Kimberly is determined to make her and her mother's life better. 

      Review: There are many immigrant stories told throughout the years. Their struggles with culture shock and poverty are nothing new, but nonetheless familiar. What sets apart Girl in Translation is the voice and strength of the main character, Kimberly Chang. Kim is a very smart girl who is practical, incredibly intelligent, hard working, loyal, and a dutiful daughter. She knows her limits in terms of her poverty and learning a new culture that is completely different from her own, yet she is resolute in finding a way out of her situation as well as naive. I connected with Kim right away. I understood her desire to grab on to education as her way to gain freedom, both economically and personally. Her dutiful roles and thinking of her family mirrored my own beliefs. Although she has her own share of flaws, Kim never resorts to long term angst and anger towards her mother for their dire situation, which is mainly due to the fact that her mother is doing all that she can to survive. The book is Kim's odyssey from adolescence to womanhood.
        The writing of Girl in Translation is very simple and straightforward. I liked how Chinese proverbs and sayings are interspersed throughout the book. The anguish and plight of the Chang women are well developed and tangible. I couldn't help but root for Kimberly in her small and large victories. Just when I thought I had the book figured out, there was a big twist at the end that made me cry. Looking at Kimberly's story and knowing her personality, I don't think it could have ended any other way but it still broke my heart. Girl in Translation is an immigrant's story, a story of coming of age, of love and loss, and of dreams to achieve. It is one that you should definitely read and experience.  

      Rating: 4 stars

      Words of Caution: There is minimal language. Some underage drinking and drug use. There is also some allusions to sex. Although the book is marketed to adults, there are a lot of aspects of this book that would appeal to teens. I would recommend this book for Grades 10 and up.

      If you like this book try: A Step From Heaven by An Na, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, or Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
      Rummanah Aasi
        I had originally planned on reading America by E.R. Frank for this year's Banned Books Week. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to it on time, but I left it in my to be read soon pile and I'm glad that I did. America reminded me of stories and people that I knew while growing up in the inner city of Chicago. Kids who lost their innocence too quickly and had to become grown ups in order to survive. Kids who were lost, but instead of being found, found their place in jail or worse.

      Description: America is a runaway boy who is being treated at Ridgeway, a New York hospital that specializes in rehab and mental health. After many years at the hospital, America finds himself opening up to one of the doctors on staff and revealing things about himself that he had always vowed to keep secret.

      Review: America is a gritty, raw, real, and emotionally heartbreaking story. The story begins with a teenage America in a treatment facility after a failed suicide attempt. It alternates between the present mostly his therapy sessions with Dr. B. and the past. At first, the shift from present to past confused me mainly because the flashbacks were at bit unclear in the prologue. It finally cleared up as the chapters were clearly labeled "Then" and "Now".
          Born to a crack addict mother, America was raised by kindly Mrs. Harper, the nanny of a rich white foster family who gave him up due to his mixed race. The weekend before he starts kindergarten, he visits his birth mother in New York City, who abandons him in a seedy apartment with his two younger stepbrothers. He soon learns how to curse, steal, and be "bad" in order to avoid the wrath of his brothers and to prove his worth. One of the most heartbreaking scenes from America shows America desperately trying to find a phone to contact Mrs. Harper and writing her phone number everywhere so that he won't forget it.
         When the police find him years later and return him to Mrs. Harper, he's behind in school, swears constantly and has internalized the belief that he's bad. America is not a perfect character as he constantly reminds himself and the reader, but we can see that he is intelligent, artistic, and sweet.
       The novel is composed of America's gradual progress through therapy and it is very well done. America doesn't open up right away, but do to Mr. B's persistence and genuine concern for his patient he eventually does. The obstacles that he faced in his life are insurmountable, but unfortunately not far from what we read or see daily in our newspapers. Frank's ability to capture so much emotion in America's stream of consciousness and dreams makes this book remarkable and memorable. Like many gritty novels such as Push by Sapphire or any of Ellen Hopkins's works, there is no happy ending, but a long road of recovery. America is the story of forgiveness both of oneself and of others. . For example, when America works up the courage to visit Mrs. Harper in the nursing home, her walls are covered with angels she painted to look like him. A powerful, cathartic story told with brutal honesty and an unflinching look of how children get lost in the system that was created in order to protect them. It is also one of forgiveness both of oneself and of others.

      Rating: 4.5 stars

      Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the book. Many scenes of underage drinking and drug use. There are also allusions to sexual abuse. I would recommend this book for Grades 9 and up.

      If you like this book try: Push by Sapphire, Impulse by Ellen Hopkins, Identity by Ellen Hopkins, or Wrecked by E.R. Frank, Jude by Kate Morgenroth
      Rummanah Aasi
        I don't remember ever having an imaginary friend when I was younger. Maybe it is because I come from a large family. I have four other siblings who are always with me and I never had a chance to be alone. If I was going to have an imaginary friend then I would want someone who was funny, fun to be around with, and a huge bonus would be if he/she had magical powers in case I got in trouble. Wouldn't that be great? As Will finds out in Dodger and Me, that decision is yet to be made.

      Description: Poor Will. He is completely miserable. His best and only friend has moved away. He cost his baseball team a game because he can't hit a ball and Lizzie, the English girl at his school, won't leave him alone. After walking home alone after a long day, Will takes a trip through the forest only to find Dodger, a blue chimpanzee who has special powers who promises to be his new best friend.  

      Review: Dodger and Me is an enjoyable read. Will aka Willie by his peers, is funny and self deprecating. At first I felt bad for Will as I learned about his horrible day, but then he changed into a character who tried to use his wishes to gain things from himself and I was a bit annoyed at him. Like many other stories that revolve around wishes and genies, Will grows more wary and realizes what's really important to him. Similarly to heroes who are granted wishes, he doesn't make good choices, but he finds a way to correct himself and becomes smarter because of it. He is a good narrator, who thankfully, doesn't have spell out the lessons that he learned along the way. At times though, the narration seems a bit unbalanced. There are quite a few complex words like "stupefied" and "rendezvous" used and I'm not entirely sure that a fifth grader knows what those words mean or would even use them. 
         I think kids will love the humor in this book, especially Dodger, who reminded me a lot of Genie from Disney's Aladdin (I just realized that both are blue!). A character who has good intentions and means well, but has poor execution on his promises. As a side note Dodger's surfer dialogue, which I'm sure will be a hit with kids, really irritated me mainly due to the overuse of the word "Dude". I hear "Dude" 40 hours a week at work while working with teens and it gets a bit irksome. It's hard enough to avoid using the word in my own vocabulary along with extraneous amount of "like". Overall, Dodger and Me is a cute, but predictable story.  

      Rating: 3 stars

      Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 to 5.

      If you like this book try: Dodger for President by Jordan Sonnenblick
      Rummanah Aasi
        I love the Parasol Protectorate series. It's incredibly witty and smart with the right amount of steampunk and paranormal to keep me entertained. When I finished Changeless, the second book in the series, I was taken aback by the cliff hanger and Lord Maccon's behavior. It came at me from left field and I knew I had to get my hands on book three, Blameless, as soon as it came out.

      Description: Alexia is the central figure in the biggest scandal that Victorian England has ever seen. She's been kicked out of her house, removed as an adviser for the Queen, and a social pariah. Lord Akeldama, the only person who could make sense out of anything suddenly disappears. If that's not bad enough, Alexia is attacked by mechanical lady bugs, which could only mean that vampires what her dead. When she's left to no choice, Alexia goes to Italy in hopes of getting some answers. 

      Review: Blameless picks up immediately where Changeless left off. Alexia is in her darkest days, but still continues to be feisty, snarky, witty, and fashionable. While this installment of the series is still full of humor, snappy dialogue, very cool steampunk elements and fantastic supernatural action, there was still something that I thought was missing and I think it has it do with the brief appearances of Lord Maccon, the hunky, Scottish alpha werewolf. Although we see that he is suffering, deservedly so, I think his realization of his mistake wasn't developed enough so the ending didn't do much for me.
       In this third book we are introduced to some new characters that didn't make any impression on me. Alexia is traveling (or more appropriately getting in trouble with) this time with Floote and Madame Lefoux, both characters that I was familiar with from the first two books, but they did not provide enough comedy relief. I missed seeing the clueless, ditzy, yet loveable Ms. Hisslepenny and even Alexia's annoying sisters, who usually have me rolling on the floor with laughter, but unfortunately they had very minor roles in this book.
        As you can see this volume really brings out the secondary characters. Professor Lyall (my second favorite werewolf) was pleasantly prominent, and I enjoyed the sub plots involving the vampire intrigue and the Professor's efforts to keep the pack together in the face of Lord Maccon's crisis.Although not as funny as the first two books, I still really enjoyed Blameless and I look forward to finding out what other troubles that Alexia finds herself in. In order to prevent yourself from being spoiled and to get a better handle on the numerous characters, I highly suggest that you read the first two books, Soulless and Changeless, first.

      Rating: 4 stars

      Words of Caution: There is some language and an allusion to sex. I would say it's appropriate for teens, but I think they would get frustrated by the slow pace and dry humor.

      If you like this book try: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
      Rummanah Aasi
        I read a lot of paranormal fiction. Up until now I've read 19 titles that fall under the paranormal umbrella. Some of the titles I loved, while others were okay. I just finished number 20, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White and it definitely falls under the "I loved" category. It's surprisingly refreshing in the sea of paranormal books and I enjoyed every moment of it.

      Description: Evie is a pretty normal sixteen year old. She's had her share of a bad boyfriend, who just so happens to be a faerie and wants her soul. She has a best friend named Alisha, who is a mermaid. It doesn't matter that she lives and works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, or that she is the only one on the planet who can see through a paranormals' glamour. Nothing strange about that. What's weird is that Evie keeps hearing a prophecy in her sleep that doesn't make sense to her and falls for a guy who seems to be some kind of shape shifter who thinks she's responsible for the recent deaths of paranormals everywhere. So much for normal, eh?

      Review: I adored Paranormalcy right from the first page. Evie is an awesome character who is sassy, smart, brave, incredibly funny, yet at the same time vulnerable and insecure. Her voice and personality reminded me of Buffy, a girl who is given a huge responsibility and has no clue how to solve it by herself. I absolutely loved Evie's obsession with being normal. Here's a character who actually wants to go to high school and can't wait for all the teen drama. Can you believe it?!
        The pacing is quick and the plot had lots of twists and turns that I didn't see coming. Just when I thought this book would be about the underbelly of the International Paranormal Containment Agency (which it kinda is, but the not the sole focus) in comes a mysterious, riddle-like prophecy that had me guessing right along with Evie.
        What I love most about Paranormalcy besides its humor (which is fantastic), is that it never really takes itself seriously. For once there is a paranormal romance book without a brooding male lead. I like a brooding male lead, but after reading book after book with the same cookie cutter type it gets boring and easily predictable. Don't worry, the male romantic lead is definitely swoon worthy. I'm sure that you'll love him just as much as I did. He is for sure on my list of crush worthy characters and I would be surprised if he didn't end up on yours.
         In Paranormalcy, you will find your ordinary vampires, werewolves, and the fey, but you will also discover an unique paranormal. I won't elaborate on this because it'll give too much of the story away, but I thought it was very creative. I'm glad that Paranormalcy will be a trilogy (Yes, I did say that) because I loved the characters so much and wanted to know more. I can't wait until Supernatually, the sequel, will be released this coming fall.

      Rating: 4.5 stars

      Words of Caution: None. This book is squeaky clean. Good enough for 12 yrs old and above.

      If you like this book try: The Dark Divine by Bree Despain, Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston, Supernatually by Kiersten White (coming Fall 2011)
      Rummanah Aasi

      Thanks to the Top 10 meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, I look forward to Tuesdays. Today's topic is composing of list of horrible character names. I can empathize with those who have unfortunate names. I spent the whole year of kindergarten trying to write my name correctly. Honestly, dad, did you have to include 2 'm's and lots of 'a's? I can't tell you how many times my name has been misspelled and mispronounced. To this day, I remember a math teacher who never uttered my name. The only way I knew he was talking to me was if he was looking directly at me. No joke. You've probably noticed some of my friends call me "Rum" when they post a comment. It's a nickname a few of my friends came up with because they were lazy to spell it out and then  I guess it stuck. Hey, at least it's short and recognizable unlike some of these names.

      Top 10 Most Unfortunate Character Names (in no particular order)

      1. Minnie May from the Anne of Green Gable series by Lucy Montgomery. I couldn't stomach the book series, but I loved the TV miniseries. It's been a family tradition to watch the series during Thanksgiving/Christmas break at home. One of my favorite line of the movie is: "Minnie May, hold your tongue." Whenever someone at home gets out of line, this line can heard. I always thought that was her nickname, but not that's her full name. No wonder she was spoiled and bratty. Can you blame her?

      2. Bartleby from Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville. Okay, technically this is a short story, but I always thought this name stuck out as a sore thumb. I guess if you're name was Bartleby then you're excused from doing anything. 

      3. Renesmee Carlie Cullen from Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. Enough said.

      4. Ms. Hisslepenny from the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. I absolutely love this series, but this name cracks me up every time she appears. Like her name, her sense of fashion is atrocious.
      5. Frodo from the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R. Tolkein. Really, Tolkein? You want me to have faith and root for a character named Frodo to save Middle Earth? It's bad enough the poor guy is a hobbit!

      6. Elwin "Leper" Lepellier from A Separate Peace by John Knowles. *Sigh* Nice, poor kid, who never had the chance. 

      7. Shakespeare Shapiro from Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner. Yup, that's his full name. His parents were having too much fun (if you catch my drift) when they named their children. Don't worry his younger brother, Gandhi, can commiserate with him. 

      8. Ponyboy Curtis from The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I adore this book and love the movie adaptation, but there were definitely strange names. 
      9. Bearstein Bears from The Bearstein Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstein. As a kid who loved this series, I was always upset that the family was never given any names. You would think that a husband and wife writing team would come up with any name besides Father Bear, Mother Bear, Sister Bear, and Brother Bear. Come on!

      10. Biff and Happy Loman from The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. I was probably the only one in my sophomore English class that loved this play, but couldn't Miller come with better names. And can someone tell me how a guy named Biff can be a lady's man? As for his brother...*shakes head*
      Rummanah Aasi
        I thought I might change things up a little bit to kick off Monday's posting with doing a movie review. I haven't done one in quite a while. Last night I watched BBC's 2009 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray called simply Dorian Gray. The Picture of Dorian Gray was my first introduction to the brilliance of Oscar Wilde. I first read the book in junior high and still remember it well to this day. When my good friend, Jules told me of a recent adaptation of the novel starring Colin Firth, I knew I had to watch it soon. Unfortunately, the movie is rather disappointing.

      I'll let the movie trailer provide you with a description in case you have not read the book:

      Review: I was very curious how a modern-day director would interpret the widely read and known story, especially since the book mainly is composed of complex relationships and character driven. Needless to say, I tried to push away any preconceived negative notions about the movie when I saw it.
        The movie has a promising beginning as it focuses on the introduction of our three main characters: Dorian (Ben Barnes), Basil (Ben Chaplin) and Lord Henry (Colin Firth). However, after the famous portrait is created and fawned over by many, the movie gradually deteriorates and becomes more of Dangerous Liaisons rather than The Picture of Dorian Gray. The director seems to have more of an intention to define Dorian's pleasures rather than to dig into his psyche and explore his character. Although Dorian's moral corruption is key to the novel, the director shifts the corruption up to the limits of pornography as we see Dorian take part of orgies, threesomes, BDSM, and consuming opium. The first of Dorian's pleasures would have been enough and the point would have been made. Unfortunately, the director didn't think it was enough so they added about 30 to 40 minutes more, which not only dragged the movie, but almost made me want to turn it off. Not only did I find those scenes non-erotic and gross, I thought this choice quite inadequate for today's audience. We are, unfortunately, overwhelmed by having things overly sexualized as it is. The other main themes of the novel such as youth, beauty, and the role of art are hardly touched upon.
        As far as the cast, Colin Firth seems bored and at times as if he has deja vu. His character is almost identical to his role of Valmont in the same titled movie. Ben Barnes, who plays Dorian is miscast completely. His looks and beauty lean towards boyish and lanky than desirable. A more physically mature and experienced young man would have been more suitable for the role. Female performances are quite insignificant (besides being Dorian's brief conquests), the least underdeveloped throughout the story, and not given enough space to make any impression whatsoever. The general Victorian England atmosphere, sets, and costumes are created pretty well. I was very disappointed with the overall, infamous portrait. Given today's CGI abilities, the portrait was a complete letdown and comes across quite cartoonish.
        The screenplay writer had a few interesting new perspectives on the characters such as Dorian being an abused child who always yearned for attention and a place to belong. However due to the time spent on the "decadence" of his lifestyle, none of this is ever explored. As a result, this film adaptation is a failed attempt to adapt a great novel with lots of witty dialogue and homoerotic overtones. Instead of a credible adaptation, this is more like a porn movie under the disguise of a literary, period film. The only thing this film made me do is actually seek my copy of the novel and want to re-read it capture everything I had lost while watching the film. Bottom line: If you enjoyed the novel, you will be greatly disappointed. If you didn't read the novel, you might like it.    

      Words of Caution: The movie is rated "R" for sexual content, drug use, and violence. I would take this rating seriously.

      Rating: 2 stars (Get it from the library if you can)
      Rummanah Aasi
        So far majority of the children's books that I've read this year leaned toward the serious and kinda sad side of spectrum. I was hoping that I would pick up a fun and uplifting read. A humorous book would be a bonus too. Luckily, I got all three when I read and finished All Shook Up by Shelley Pearsall.

      Description: Josh's parents split up when he was five years old. He lives with his mother in Boston, but when his grandmother slips and breaks her hip, Josh is shipped off to stay with his father in Chicago for a few months. When he arrives in the Windy City, he discovers, to his horror, that his dad is an Elvis impersonator. Josh does everything thing he can to keep his dad's embarrassing 'job' and has done quite well to be inconspicuous...until his dad is hired to perform at his school.

      Review: All Shook Up was exactly what I was in the mood for reading this weekend. It is hilarious, heart warming, and uplifting. Josh is a great character who is snarky and sarcastic. Like many kids in junior high, he solely focuses on how others, particularly his clueless dad, embarrasses him. He is very funny and his voice is authentic. I felt bad for him and was frankly mortified at several parts of the book right along with him.
       Although the plot is quite predictable, I think Pearsall does a great job weaving both interesting characters such as Josh's dad's wacky girlfriend and her daughter along with music and a message of finding yourself and connecting with others. What I loved about All Shook Up is that it's funny and has warmth. Josh does go through a transformation as he starts to wear his father's shoes. I think anyone, but maybe boys especially with connect with Josh's struggle to avoid being humiliated by his/her parents.

      Rating: 4 stars

      Words of Caution: A handful of mild swear words. I'd recommend this title to grades 5 to 8.

      If you like this book try: Deliver Us from Normal by Kate Klise or Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
      Rummanah Aasi
         I think we all had a moment in our lives where we feel insecure. We live in a society where physical beauty is defined in narrow terms and if you don't fall within those categories then 'something is wrong with you and this is how you fix it'. How else would you explain the billion dollar cosmetic industry? I thought about beauty, especially directed at teen girls, when I read 18 year old Kody Keplinger's promising debut novel called The Duff.

      Description: Bianca knows she isn't as pretty as her two best friends, Casey and Jessica, but she doesn't consider herself unattractive that is until Wesley Rush, the school hottie, calls her the DUFF aka the designated, ugly, fat, friend, at the local high school hangout. Wesley admits he is only being 'nice' to Bianca in order to score with one of her hot friends. Like any respectable girl, Bianca spills her Cherry coke on Wesley and takes off. Whether she likes to admit it or not, Wesley's label haunts and hurts Bianca. To make things worse, things aren't so great for her at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And to her horror, she likes it. Eager for escape and the blissful silence she gets from Wesley, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him until it all goes horribly wrong. It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up too. Suddenly Bianca realizes that she's falling for that one guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

      Review: The DUFF was an interesting read. I had read several reviews about the book throughout the blogosphere as well as on Amazon. It seems as if it's a book that you either loved or hated. I, however, fall somewhere in between. There are some aspects of the book that I loved, but I also had several problems with it.
          The best thing about the entire novel is the characterization of Bianca. She is a great, complex character. Her snarky, sarcastic, cynical voice is a pleasure to read. I enjoyed her humor and internal dialogue. I couldn't help but nod or laugh out loud at her remarks regarding high school. She would be the first to admit that she is flawed and not necessarily a shining role model for others. Bianca confesses her own insecurities and short comings. She also admits her mistakes. Readers get to see a vulnerable and honest Bianca, who worries about her family falling apart and keeping up with her friends. What I didn't like about Bianca, however, is how easily she resorts to sex as a way to prove her worth and to escape from her problems. I especially didn't like how she never truly faced any emotional backlash from anyone on how she dealt with things. Throughout the book, I never understood why she chose to have any relationship with Wesley, especially after he constantly insults her by calling her a DUFF and its other variations.
        Speaking of Wesley, I didn't enjoy his character at all. He reminded me of Rory's boyfriend Logan Huntzberger from my favorite tv show, Gilmore Girls (For the record, I was furious at her for dating him). He is arrogant, self centered, filthy rich, and I guess handsome. He virtually cares about nothing except finding someone who will warm up his bed for one night. Wesley, I guess, is the bad boy who surprise! has a good heart. I didn't buy it. I didn't like him from the start nor was I convinced that he changed throughout the story mainly because we actually don't see much of him outside of his physical relationship with Bianca. We get only a small glimpse of his life and his problems, but that too I thought was a bit cliched. I definitely needed more in order to convince me that he had a good heart and that he had transformed. I did not swoon over him, which is contrary to most of the other book reviewers. True, he could be somewhat charming, but for me, he had a lot of "ick" factor.
        I liked the idea of addressing DUFFs as a universal feeling that we all have. I also liked how it honestly portrayed the sexual parts of teen lives, though the execution wasn't as nearly as good as it could have been. Sure there were steamy parts, but I felt that the character development outside of Bianca was a bit flat. Strong issues such as alcohol abuse were brushed upon and not addressed. The book doesn't dig deep enough in its plot or characters and comes off as rather cliched.
       The DUFF has a really interesting premise and a great protagonist, but I was left wanting more. Keplinger definitely has talent and I am interested to see what she comes up with next and see how she grows as a writer.

      Rating: 3 stars

      Words of Caution: There is some strong language in the book as well as numerous sexual situations. The sexual situations aren't overtly graphic, but there is enough details to let readers know what is going on. Recommended for high school and up. 

      If you like this book try:  The Lighter Side of Life and Death by CK Kelly Martin
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