Rummanah Aasi
  I really enjoyed reading Kimberly Derting's debut novel, The Body Finder, which blends two of my favorite genres: paranormal and mystery. You can read my review of The Body Finder here. I recently finished the second book in the series called Desires of the Dead.

Description: Violet has a special ability. She can find dead bodies that have been murdered, whether the body is an animal or human. She can also sense an "imprint" of the crime on the murderer. After the spine tingling incidents at the school dance that near got her killed, Violet wants to keep her ability a secret, especially from an FBI consultant who finds her and is suddenly interested in her when she leaves an anonymous tip to the police about the location of a body. She also doesn't want to tell anyone about the FBI, although keeping that secret strains her relationship with her adored boyfriend, Jay. Violet even wants to hide the fact that someone is stalking her. What she doesn't know is that the longer she keeps all these secrets hidden, she is getting closer and closer to being in real danger.

Review: We are first introduced to Violet, her lovable and swoony boyfriend Jay, and their families in The Body Finder. You do not have to read The Body Finder before Desires of the Dead. Both novels are stand alone titles with separate stories. Derting provides enough background to new readers without slowing down the story.  
  Desires of the Dead is a page turning, absorbing read that I finished in one sitting. Though not as creepy as the first novel, which included a narration of a serial killer, Desires of the Dead definitely held my attention. Sometimes when I read a book that has a paranormal element to it, I tend to envy the person who has really cool abilities; however, I do not want Violet's ability. Violet can hear echoes of people who have been killed unjustly and they won't leave her alone until they could be laid to rest.
  Unlike The Body Finder, whose mystery kept me on my toes and had me in the edge of my seat, the central mystery of Desires of the Dead is quite predictable but still disturbing. What I liked most about the latest installment of this series is the character and relationship growth between Violet and Jay. Violet wants to keep her ability hidden from those outside of her select few, mainly her family and Jay. After the incidents of the last school dance, she no longer wants to put anyone in danger which makes sense. Though she has known that ability seems to run in her family, she has yet come to terms with it. Is it a gift or a curse? Should she keep it a secret or feel obligated to use it to help others? These are the questions that plague Violet. By her side is Jay, Violet's best friend now turned boyfriend, who wants to keep her safe. Jay is understanding, sweet, funny, and charming. He understands Violet mostly without even communicating with her. He knows what she is feeling and gives her distance if that's what she wants. I thought Derting did a great job in describing the awkwardness of a new relationship between two childhood best friends. Both characters are mature and we aren't smothered with the endless "I can't live without him/her" that we routinely see in teen romances. I loved watching Violet and Jay grow.
   In addition to the great romance, we are also introduced to two new and interesting characters who seem to share a commonality with Violet. I hope to see more of them when the third installment of the Body Finder series is available next year.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and an allusion to sex in the book. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Clarity by Kim Harrington, Wake series by Lisa McMann, Kiss Me Kill Me by Lauren Henderson
Rummanah Aasi
  In Summer, Miki and Hiro were at the crossroads of their relationship. Miki wanted to expand on her romantic relationship with Hiro but Hiro is hesitate because it is completely forbidden with his line of duty. Like all couples in love, Miki and Hiro are having their share of troubles and must decide whether or not they want to move on. How they face their trouble and move forward in their relationship is the crux of Autumn, the third volume of this series.

Description (from Amazon): Is their secret safe? It's autumn, and Miki Yoshida's life is finally settling into a routine. She and Hiro are spending all their time together, and Miki couldn't be happier. There's just one problem.Hiro's breaking all the rules to be with Miki, and the more time they spend together—and the more they fall for each other—the more there is at stake. With jealous Reika on the prowl, Miki knows they can't hide forever.

Review: Miki Falls is a graphic novel series about two starcrossed lovers, one mortal and one supernatural. Miki is a high school student looking to find her own place in the world. She falls for Hiro, who works for a supernatural organization and is forbidden to have any relationships with human. Both Miki and Hiro can't fight their feeling with one another and decide they must fight against the forces that are determined to keep them apart. One of the reasons why I love this series is that Crilley expertly balances romance, mystery, and suspense in his series. Though Miki and Hiro's relationship may not be as advanced compared to other lovers in a series, their chaste passion is just as intense. Miki is a strong female character and doesn't let Hiro determine her actions. She refuses to allow him to make all the decisions and thus she avoids all the pitfalls and histrionics as many female leads in a romance. Hiro, though supernatural, acts as how a boy would act- doubtful of how the relationship would work yet willing to try his best. I also love how Crilley uses the theme of the seasons to not only set the scene of his series, but also reflect upon the stages of Miki and Hiro's relationship. Miki Falls is a must read graphic novel series for those who love a fresh take on starcrossed lovers.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended to strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Miki Falls Volume 4: Winter
Rummanah Aasi
  Throne of Fire is the second book in the Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan. Riordan picks up Egyptian mythology this time and incorporating it with humor, adventure, family, and a dash of romance for good measure. I really enjoyed learning about the Egyptian gods and goddesses, something that I knew very little about before picking up this series. Although I didn't enjoy this series as much as his Percy Jackson series or Heroes of Olympus, which focus more on Greek and Roman mythologies that I'm well versed in, I really did like it. 

Description: The gods of Ancient Egyptian are unleashed in our world. Each desiring to have ultimate power and control. Caught in the middle are Carter and Sadie Kane who share a strange connection to the gods. While they may temporarily have saved the world last time, the sakes are even higher now as they must outsmart the House of Life and the gods of chaos in order to complete their worldwide search for an ancient Egyptian book.Who can they trust for help? Who is an ally? Who is a foe?

Review: As you may recall from the first book, The Red Pyramid, the gods of Ancient Egypt were unleashed in our world. Our main characters, Carter Kane and his sister Sadie have recently discovered each other and their connection to the gods. The Kane siblings are descendants of the House of Life and have unusual powers, destinies. Like the first book, Sadie and Carter narrate their new adventure with much urgency, warning us that the world is going to end and they need our help.
   Throne of Fire starts with a bang with a fire and a theft in the museum. Carter and Sadie, with the help of their trainees adn friends, try to get an ancient artifact from the museum that will help restore order in the world where the god of Chaos is quickly rising to power. If you are new to this series, I would highly suggest that you read The Red Pyramid first. Although Riordian provides a glossary of the Ancient Egyptian deities and a brief recap sprinkled throughout the story, a lot of the character and world is established in the first book. You can read my review of The Red Pyramid here.
   Throne of Fire was a quick read for me due to Riordan's excellent pacing. There are plenty of action packed moments in the book along with great character introspection as Carter and Sadie reveal their insecurities and worries to the reader. Though Egyptian mythology is not as familiar as Greek or Roman mythology, I never felt Riordan dumbed things down for me nor were they over my head. I learned as Carter and Sadie learned along the way. Seeing how duplicitous the gods are in the book was also a delight.
  I think Riordan connects to a wide range of audience because of his fantastic characters. Carter and Sadie are much more flushed out in Throne of Fire. Their bonds to one another is strengthened. Though they might disagree with each others plan, they are always on the same side. Carter, who seemed to be more serious and kind of bland, opens up more and his complexity begins to show as he reveals his fear of failing the people that he loves. Sadie,who constantly cracks me up with her one liners, is a feisty, smart, and snarky heroine. She can stand on her own two feet and take care of herself yet she too at times is doubtful of her abilities. We are also introduced to two new secondary and important characters, Walt and Jaz, who are important to Carter and Sadie and help move the story along. Throne of Fire, though a bit darker than the first book, is an adventurous roller coaster ride that fans of this series will no doubt love. I look forward to seeing how this exciting series comes to an end with the third and final book. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, English

Words of Caution: There are some scary, fantasy violence that would be rated PG in the book. Recommended for Grades 4 and up, especially those who are interested in mythology and ancient worlds.

If you like this book try: The Ank of Isis by Christine Norris, Children of the Lamp series by Philip Kerr or The Secrets of the immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott
Rummanah Aasi
  I wasn't really sure what to expect when I picked up A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. I knew a couple of coworkers who really enjoyed the book but our reading tastes really don't match. I also knew that A Reliable Wife spent sometime on the New York Times Best Seller list too, but that's not really saying much either. After finishing A Reliable Wife, I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked it.

Description: In rural Wisconsin during the early twentieth century, wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt advertises for a 'reliable wife' to make a home for him. Catherine Land answers his ad and is chosen as the woman Ralph will marry. Although he knows immediately that Catherine Land is not the woman she presented herself to be, he decides to marry her anyway. What Ralph doesn't know is that Catherine has a different plan and motive, which results in a risky arrangement for them both.

Review: A Reliable Wife starts off slowly but quickly gains speed and suspense as the characters reveal their personal motives. Catherine Land, who uses her wit and sexuality as a weapon, is a woman caught in a tale of duplicity and vengeance. In hopes to forget her traumatic past behind and live in luxury, Catherine answers a newspaper ad from a "reliable wife". She invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she's deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown by simply using another person's photo instead of her own, this instance marks one of the many tricks that Catherine has up in her sleeves. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and lust, Ralph marries her anyway. After the wedding, Ralph seeks Catherine's help in locating his estranged son. What happens next quickly spirals out of control.
   A Reliable Wife is a darkly, multi-layered psychological thriller. None of the characters are admirable or even well liked, however, they kept surprising me with their actions. The interplay between love and age works well in the story. There is strong use of sexuality with characters having sexual thoughts or depicted having sex, but I thought the Goolrick used well as a mechanism of power and I didn't think it was used excessively but other readers may disagree. The ending of the story really surprised and satisfied me. I knew what was going to happen but I didn't know how it was going to unfold. A Reliable Wife is a different kind of murder story, a story that  unfolds in ways neither the characters nor the reader expect. If you like complex characters, plot twists, and the gray shades of morality, be sure to pick up this book. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, drug and alcohol use. There is also strong sexuality throughout the novel including semi-explicit sex scenes. Recommended for mature teen readers and adult readers.

If you like this book try: Damage by Josephine Hart, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, or Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Rummanah Aasi
   Bree Despain's Dark Divine series has a different take on the paranormal. Blending religious undertones to the paranormal is what caught my eye in her first book, Dark Divine. You can read my review of Dark Divine here. I recently finished Despain's second book in this trilogy called Lost Saint. While I enjoyed reading the latest book in this series, I was expecting a bit more from it.

Description: Grace Divine made the ultimate sacrifice and now she must leave with the consequences. While she may have special abilities, her family is in pieces and her boyfriend Daniel has become hot and cold. Grace hates not knowing what is happening and befriends Talbot, a newcomer to town, who willing to aid and guide her. As Grace's pride grows, she is unaware that an old enemy has resurfaced and that she has been the bait all along.

Review: Lost Saint picks up a few months after the life altering events in Dark Divine. While you can get read Lost Saint if you haven't read Dark Divine, I wouldn't suggest doing so. There is a lot of mythology worked into Dark Divine that sets the framework for Despain's later novels. Unlike Dark Divine, there isn't a slow build up in Lost Saint. There are lots of action scenes, mostly featuring Grace as she learns the extent to her abilities, packed into the sequel which made for a quicker reading; however, I missed the thoughtful and fascinating explanation of the paranormal blend with religion in the first novel.
  Grace is a likable character. She is smart, funny, and cares deeply for her family. She struggles with her relationship with Daniel who seems to be pulling away without giving her any explanations. She is also trying to find out information about her missing brother albeit all the warnings that she shouldn't be doing so all alone. There were times when I was frustrated with Grace for doing stupid and impulsive things but I knew she had the right intentions. 
  Lost Saint introduces a new character to the mix, Talbot, a charming stranger who has a knack for popping up every time Daniel is away. Grace finds herself drawn to Talbot, yet her attraction is only limited and her heart doesn't seemed to be be deterred from Daniel. I thought Talbot was okay, but I knew I couldn't trust him the moment he appeared on the page. I always had a sneak suspicion about him though I can see how he might appeal to some readers.
  Overall Lost Saint suffers from middle book syndrome. The pace seems a bit off with some parts going really slow and others going really fast, particularly with the action scenes. The plot was fairly predictable. After reading the first fifty pages, I knew where Despain was heading and there weren't really that many surprises. I looking forward to reading the next volume in this series.I hope that the third book in this series goes back to what I loved most about the Dark Divine series: an exploration of faith, duty, loyalty, and love.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and violence. Recommended to Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Shiver series by Maggie Stiefvater or Dark Divine 3 (title coming soon) due out December 2011
Rummanah Aasi
  It's really hard finding graphic novels that are appropriate for middle school readers. One has to be weary of how much violence or any other objectionable things found in graphic novels. Although one can argue that these objectionable things can be found in prose, the fact that it is depicted in graphic novels makes this format easily targeted. Thankfully, Miki Falls is an excellent graphic novel that is reading level appropriate along with a great story, romance, and characters. I recently finished the second volume of this four volume series.

Description (from back of the book): Has Miki fallen too hard? It's summer, and Miki Yoshida is learning all about love. Her senior year has blossomed with promise ever since she gained Hiro Sakurai's confidence. Now, she's resolved to keep his trust as he reveals more about his secret mission and warns:  "Don't get involved!""But Miki fears his work might do more harm than good, and she takes control—with disastrous results. How can trying to make things right turn out so dangerously wrong?

Review: I'm really enjoying the Miki Falls series! Summer takes place a few months after the first volume, Spring, but readers new to this series don't necessarily need to read the first book in order to enjoy this latest installment. Crilley provides enough recap to not drag the story down and continues at a good pace to keep the story moving forward. Miki has been successful in gaining Hiro's confidence and discovered his big secret. Now the two have formed a strong friendship as Miki learns about what exactly Hiro's special mission entails. As Miki learns more about Hiro and his past, she begins to realize that her place next to Hiro is impossible yet she can't help but feel close to him and she thinks Hiro feels the same.
 In Summer, we see Miki and Hiro become more dimensional characters. While Hiro tries to back away from Miki and conceal his feelings for her, Miki pushes forward and dares to ask why. She refuses to take no as an answer and doesn't dissolve into a pool of tears, which is one of the reasons why I like her so much. Similarly Hiro struggles with his choice of doing his duty or listening to his heart. More information about Hiro's job is provided in the book, which is really unique and interesting. We also see a female acquaintance of Hiro's past that adds more tension to this sweet love story.
   Miki Falls is an OEL, original English language manga-style graphic novel series. It is perfect for those readers who are hesitate about reading Japanese manga yet curious about the stories they contain. The soft black and white illustrations perfectly complement this gentle story about first love. I especially love the set up of separate panels that express the emotions that run across the character's faces making them real. I hope that you pick up Miki Falls and I look forward to reading Autumn, the third volume of the series. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended to strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try:  Miki Falls Volume 3: Autumn by Mark Crilley
Rummanah Aasi
  Most of my knowledge about the the Titanic disaster comes from the small snippets from my history textbooks from school or one of my many viewings of James Cameron blockbuster movie Titanic. The ships disaster has caught the attention of many but how do you pitch it to young readers without overwhelming them? Don Brown's All Stations! Distress! is a great example how to make a complex topic suitable and interesting for young readers.

Description: A glimpse into the construction of the Titanic as well as an illustrated account of the ship's disaster on April 12, 1912, when two thousand passengers fought to survive the tragedy. 

Review: All Stations! Distress! recounts the complicated, compact last moments of the Titanic's disastrous voyage. While the book's focus isn't focused on children, it does provide information few details about the construction of the ship and a general sense of what happened on the ship leading to the tragedy. While the text can make this book stand on its own, the illustrations enhance the story without being overly dramatic and horrifying yet adds to the somber mood of the narrative. As the book ends, we get to peak in the lives of some of the ship's survivors including Mrs. J. J. Brown, the Unsinkable Molly.  A brief bibliography can be found in the back of the book, but I would have liked to know where the quotes that Brown uses come from. This book would be a great introduction to the youngster who are still not ready to see Cameron's movie but don't want to miss all the excitement and fuss about the Titanic.

Rating: 4 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Words of Caution: None. Recommended to Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: The Titanic Disaster by Peter Benoit
Rummanah Aasi
  When you hear Charlotte Bronte, you immediately think of Jane Eyre, one of the most and well loved novel of all time. While Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte's most popular book, she did write many other books such as The Professor, Shirley, and Villette.  For the Victorian Literature Reading Challenge, I had hoped to read the other novels of the Bronte sisters. I recently finished Villette, which is herald by many authors such as George Eliot and Virginia Wolff as Charlotte Bronte's most critically acclaim novel or masterpiece.

Description (from Amazon): With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls’ boarding school in the small town of Villette. There she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, an initially suspicious headmaster, and her own complex feelings, first for the school’s English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor, Paul Emmanuel. 

Review: Readers hoping to get another story like romantic suspense story of Jane Eyre will be disappointed in Villette. The atmosphere and even the heroines of the two novels are completely different in many ways despite that share the occupation of being a governess. There is not much plot in Villette and it does tend to be cyclical. The characters meet again and again, but during time periods. It is almost as if everything was a coincidence.
   Villette is a character driven novel. It is very dense and slow moving, which is why it took me a while to finish the book. I would read about five chapters a day yet I couldn't help but be drawn to the book. Bronte does a wonderful job in examining the gender roles and the constraints of Victorian England. Readers knowing the Bronte's personal history can pick up many of the same similarities to Lucy's struggle. Some critics have gone on to say that Villette is probably Charlotte Bronte's most autobiographical novel.
  Lucy Snowe is a unique heroine and narrator that I ever met. She is passive and so quiet that you probably wouldn't notice her if  you were in a room with her. She is very observant of her surroundings and independent. She seems to be more comfortable in being in the background like many women of her time, yet she struggles within herself because she wants to express her emotions, thoughts, and opinions yet uses her logic or reason to suppress this and internalizes everything. Throughout the novel, I wasn't sure if Lucy is a victim of her own society, however, as we watch the other women in Lucy's life have their own experiences of living, I can't help but think that Lucy willingly placed herself in situations that don't all her to grow and explore. We do see a flicker of change and progress when Lucy admits her feelings to the arrogant and pompous Paul Emmanuel but we can't help but be skeptical of their happiness not because their feelings aren't genuine but rather because Lucy's reason doesn't allow her to have it.
  Readers wanting to dig deeper into character's psyche and become an observer like Lucy will really enjoy the complex layers of Villette. Just don't expect to be riveted by the basic plot. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong teen readers and up.

If you like this book try: Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, Charlotte and Emily by Jude Morgan, A Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.
Rummanah Aasi
  Of one the bad (or good depending on how you look at it) things about reading a manga series that you love is that you fly through the volumes and then have to wait for months in the next installment. I feverishly finished Vampire Knight Vol 11 because I had to know what happened after the two previous and tumultuous volumes. Now I have to wait until late June or early July to read Vol 12.

Description: The secret about the Night Class at Cross Academy is out and now has been abolished. Humans are now aware of their surroundings and Cross's goal of living peacefully amongst humans and vampires is now more important than ever. While Yuki has withdrawn from her past life and tries to adjust to her new lifestyle with the help of Kaname, Zero still attends the Day Class and carries out his duties as a vampire hunter. With their lives changed forever, can they embrace the changes?

Review:  Volume 11 takes place one year after the world altering events in the last two volumes. Though this latest installment has less action and violence, we get more of a story and possibly a new story arc. Volume 11 focuses on the aftermath the battle for Cross Academy on those who were affected. Yuki is learning to adjust to her new lifestyle with the help of Kaname and his companions. She learns a little bit of Kaname's bloody past and admits to her torn loyalties to Zero. I've always liked Yuki. Her compassion and willingness to love is very admirable. I also love that she never hides what she is feeling and is very open about her feelings. While there is angst in this manga, I don't find myself screaming at the characters to admit their mistakes or to speak up.
    While Yuki learns to look inward to help her move on, Zero is trying to turn off his emotions. We can clearly see that he is desperately trying to recover from the heartbreaking events in the last two volumes. Like the loner that he is, he lives in solitude. He tries to channels his emotions of anger, hurt, and pain and use them when he works as a vampire hunter.
  Unlike Yuki and Zero, Kaname is also learning to deal with the consequences of his actions. He slowly reveals what he has done in order to protect Yuki. Kaname, in my opinion, is the most mysterious character in Vampire Knight. He is very secretive and we don't know much about his past. He is a man of power and prestige though we can't but note his loneliness and his fear to show his true self.
  Besides these three main characters, we also get a glimpse at what the secondary characters are doing. Aidou is trying to balance his duties to Kaname and along with his new assignment of helping Yuki. Rima and Shiki are worried about the disappearance of Ichijo and go on an independent search to find him. Both Rima and Shiki are questioning their loyalties to Kaname who seems to not care about anyone besides Yuki. To matters more interesting, a new villain seems to emerge which brings a whole slew of questions that need to be answered. Though Volume 11 is a transition volume, it does seem to set the stage up for the next direction in this manga and I'm more than willing to follow. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some violence in the book. Rated T for Teen.

If you like this book try: Vampire Knight Vol 12 by Matsuri Hino, Vampire Kisses manga series by Ellen Schreiber and Rem, Evernight series by Claudia Gray, Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, Vampire Diaries series by L.J. Smith
Rummanah Aasi
  Relationships are complicated. With emotions and hormones ranging, it's hard to distinguish what is and isn't a healthy relationship. It startling to read statistics on teen dating violence. Programs such as Love is Not Abuse works along with teens in educating them on what exactly is domestic violence and how they can help end the cycle of abuse. Books like Stay by Deb Caletti also help teens deal with emotional abusive relationships and hopefully, give them courage to speak up and get help.

Description: Clara has just graduated from high school. She ended her intense relationship with Christian, but doesn't seem to get the hint. His obsessive behaviors causes Clara and her father travel to a remote region of Washington State. In hoping of starting over again, Clara meets Finn who captain a sailboat and works for a lighthouse keeper who is hiding something, and a friend of her father who knows the lighthouse keeper's secret.Clara tries to move forward but her past always gets in the way. Can she finally find peace from Christian? What is the lighthouse keeper's secret and does it have something to do with her father's strange behavior?

Review: Stay examines an unhealthy, obsessive relationship as seen in its aftermath. Clara catches Christian's eye from across a crowded gymnasium. Instantaneously, they become an exclusive couple with elevated emotions and promises to be together forever. However, Clara soon realizes that exclusivity means something completely different to her boyfriend as Christian's devotion takes a frightening turn to emotional and verbal abuse including stalking Clara. In order to protect his daughter and to give her safe place to start over, Clara's famous novelist father takes her away to a sleepy coastal town without notifying anyone of their new location.
  The story is told in two alternating story lines and time period. In the present, we learn about Clara and her father's life at the beach, and in the past Clara opens up to the reader about her unsteady relationship with Christian. Caletti's writing shines through in the chapters that take place in the past because the reader feels like they are witnessing Clara's attempt to be honest with herself and her realization that she needs help and is afraid of what Christian will do next. Though it may seem that Christian is a flat character, his threat is definitely alarming and important to take note. I think we were not suppose to get personally vested in Christian unlike our heroine in order to see and analyze his actions unbiasedly. There is a sweet romance between Clara and Finn, which serves as a contrast to the abnormal, dangerous relationship and prevents the book from being a completely dark and depressing story. Also the secondary characters and a subplot involving secrets that Clara father has add layers of depth to the story. I loved the relationship between Clara and her father, which seemed genuine and realistic.
  I was a bit annoyed with the footnotes found throughout the story, which I felt was disruptive and pointless. I also felt there are some metaphors and allegories that were too forced in the story. Yet despite these flaws, I think Stay is an important book that should be read and discussed, especially amongst teen girls.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some allusion to sex and strong lanugage. Recommended to strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Dreamland by Sarah Dessen, Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn or Things Change by Patrick Jones
Rummanah Aasi

  Thank you to everyone who entered and commented on my interview with Sybil Nelson. Priscilla the Great is a really fun middle grade read. I do hope you check it out from your library or your local bookstore. I used to pick the winner for this giveaway. The winner is: Jenny Schwartzberg! Congratulations, Jenny! I've sent you an email requesting your mailing information. Please respond within three days or I will have to choose another winner.
Rummanah Aasi
  The new list of Bluestem titles for 2011 is now available at the Illinois School Library Association. You can find the new list, recommended by librarians, teachers, and students for Grades 3-5, here. I love reading from these lists, because I don't read too many children's books. I discover many new books, stories, and authors that I love. In fact I never even heard of the amazing Sugihara story until now.

Description: Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania in 1940. He risked the safety of his own family members and defied his government by issuing visas to as many as 10,000 Jews who were facing death at the hands of the Nazis.

Review: Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story captures a snap shot of time where duty and ethics clash. In 1940 Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat, was stationed in Lithuania. He saved the lives of hundreds of Polish Jewish refugees by issuing them hand written visas which allowed them to escape the Nazis. He spent numerous days debating whether or not to jeopardize his family's security and his job in order to help hundreds of people. In the end, he consciously could not let all the refugees die. The story is told in the first person by the consul's son, Hiroki, who remembers himself at the age of five when desperate refugees were crowding at his father's door. He remembers how his father consulted his family and how they all discussed their choice: either help the people outside their door or let them all die. Hiroki at time could not understand the enormity of the situation until much later, but he did witness his father's dedication to personally hand write hundreds of visas. Lee's illustrations are lifelike, humane and beautiful. The pictures capture the intensity of situation by focusing on the faces of the characters and when we actually see Chuine sit at a desk with many people crowding the desk as he writes the visas. The gesture is monumental both in size and in meaning while looking from Hiko's point of view. grandure those days--when the crowds were at the gate and one man wrote and wrote the visas by hand--from the child's viewpoint. The narrative immediately grabbed my attention and made me think. There is an afterword that explains what happened to Chuine and his family as well as some of the people that were saved from the Nazis.  

Rating: 4 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 to 6.

If you like this book try: Terrible Things by Ellen Bunting or Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
Rummanah Aasi
  Blogger was down yesterday and much of this morning. My blog post from yesterday disappeared. I apologize in advance if you've read this review already but I wanted to re-post it for those who missed it. I recently finished Savannah Grey by Cliff McNish. This review is based on an advanced reader's copy that I received from Netgalley for an honest review.

Description (from backcover): Savannah Grey needs to keep moving. She doesn't know why, but she can't let herself get tied down by too many people. It’s almost like she's being chased by something. And now something strange is happening with her neck—with her throat. Then she meets Reece—a guy who seems to understand her needs. He even knows about her neck. The same thing is happening to him. It's as if their voices are becoming weapons, warming up for some kind of attack. Nature has been preparing for battle with the universe's ultimate monster for millennia. The time to fight is almost here. The weapon is Savannah Grey.

Review: Savannah Grey is the strangest book I've read this year. Cliff McNish has a knack for combining elements of the supernatural, horror, and mystery into his story while creating characters who go through disturbing and weird transformations in order to combat evil. Savannah Grey is always uneasy. She is constantly moving from one foster home to another, not really finding a niche for herself. Her throat is perpetually sore and starts to make weird noises or even some sort of music whenever someone gets near it, which means she can’t get close to anyone. Savannah meets a boy named Reece at a party, who’s experiencing the same things. They discover strange growths in their throats; while Reece’s aren’t functional nor seem threatening, Savannah’s looks as if its a weapon created to fight a monster that seems to be creeping about in their neightborhood.
  Savannah Grey has two different narratives. In alternating chapters, Savannah details her discovery of her powers in the present tense meanwhile we get to know the ecological monsters that are hunting her in the third person. The alternating narration builds the tension between the prey and the predator, making us wonder when the two will meet.
  Savannah’s transformation is fascinating and strange, but requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, which I couldn't do and found it to be pretty silly. There is a small subplot of a love story between Savannah and Reece which drives the story well and gives weight to a surprising plot twist. I found the ending to be abrupt. Personally, I'm not the right reader for this book, however, I will recommend to middle grade and reluctant YA readers looking for strange stories.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing scenes and some minor language. Suitable for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Silver sequence series by Savannah Grey
Rummanah Aasi
  After finishing Volume 9 of Vampire Knight, I couldn't wait to dive in to Volume 10. Volume 10 is world shaking. Everything that was so nicely set up in the past installments have suddenly crashed and burned. I have no idea how things are going to settle and I'm anxious to find out.

Description: While Rido is gone, the battle rages on at Cross Academy. The Night Class is still under attack by Rido's followers. Headmaster Cross has joined the war to protect his students. Zero has finally taken a stand to get rid of all the Purebloods even if it means he will endear heart break forever.

Review:  Volume 10 of Vampire Knight begins with the end of the epic battle for Cross Academy, with the main group being led by Kain and Ruka, Kaname's friends and members of the Nigh Class, securing the perimeter. Fellow Night Class member, Aido actually earning his nickname "Idol" by defending the girl's dorm against anything that got through. We also see a disturbing flash of what has transpired with Ichijo. Despite the action in the volume, the main focus is on the two love triangles of the series.
   Yuki has realized what her true destiny and knows that she has lost the only life she has ever known. She demands to have a final conversation with Zero. The intense goodbye between Yuki and Zero had me teary eyed. It is gut wrenching and one of the most emotional chapter of the entire series so far. The chapter also contains a moment between Zero and Yuki that I have been waiting for so long. Finally feelings are revealed. There is nothing left to uncover.
  We also finally get confirmation of a hinted romance involving Kain, which has been lightly hinted at thus far in the series.Kain is probably my favorite secondary character. He doesn't have a bravado like his cousin Aido and has always been laid-back and brought wry humor to the story. His romance hasn't really gotten the spotlight our our main love triangle yet nonetheless it is sad to watch. The chapter dedicated to him is something that I wanted for quite some time. Kain suffers silently though he does speak out loud when things get unbearable for him, which makes me respect and like him even more. Volume 10 of Vampire Knight leaves the series, its characters, and even the reader at a crossroad, wondering which way the story will go.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is violence and same language in this volume. Rated T for teens.

If you like this book try: Vampire Knight Vol 11 by Matsuri Hino, Vampire Kisses manga series by Ellen Schreiber and Rem, Evernight series by Claudia Gray, Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, Vampire Diaries series by L.J. Smith
Rummanah Aasi
  For centuries fable stories were created in order to teach children and adults life lessons. If fables are done right, the lesson is so cleverly incorporated in the story and subconsciously take root in your brain. You tend to get wrapped up in the story's plot that you unknowingly process the moral. My dad gave me his review copy of Island of Animals which is based on a famous 10th century Islamic philosophical text. He told me it would be great for kids and that I had to read it. Unlike the last book he recommended to me, he actually read this one and we had a lively discussion after I finished the book.

Description: A fabulous island is inhabited only by animals and Djinn, a race of invisible beings, until the day a great storm shipwrecks men upon its shores. Soon men begin to use the animals living there for their own needs, but the animals rebel, taking their case to the Djinn. The King of the Djinn listens to testimony from both men and animals, and ultimately decides who is superior.

Review: I don't like preachy books that forces messages down your throat when you read. I like to think critically about all the books that I read. To be honest, I was a bit hesitate to read the Island of Animals and was wondering if it would be an appropriate book to include in a public library or school setting. With that idea in mind, I decided to read the book and really enjoyed it.
  The Island of Animals is based on a famous 10th century Islamic philosophical text written in Basra, Iraq. Basra was known in the Islamic Empire as the "Venice of Middle East". This fable incorporates both the question of animal rights along with key Islamic teachings. Islam teaches that man is responsible for animals and should always treat them with respect. This concept is illustrated in the fable as man take control over the animals on an island that is only inhabited by animals and Djinn. The animals tired of the injustices they face, demand their voices to be heard. The Djinn advises both animals and man to chose a representative to best testify their needs and arguments. Though much of the book is focused on the case, I couldn't help but side with the animals more than the humans especially when man's pride and greed are concerned. Moving and educational, this fable is accompanied by superbly detailed black-and-white illustrations that are characteristic of Arabic art. The Island of Animals has a great and thorough introduction to help the reader understand the context of the story. It could be read as a basic story supporting animal rights and it can also be used as a guide in highlighting the basic tenets of the Islamic faith.
  As for adding this book in a library, I wouldn't have any hesitations as long as other fables representing other faiths are present. I think it would be really cool to compare and contrast other religious fables but that's just me. The Island of Animals is a great example of classic Islamic literature and one that I recommend with no hesitation to children and adults. 

Rating: 4 stars

Curriculum Connection: Islamic Studies, Social Studies

Words of Caution: None. Recommended to Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: The Rose Garden by Saadi
Rummanah Aasi
  I've been excited about reading Kim Harrington's debut novel Clarity for quite some time. The plot combination of a murder mystery along with the paranormal hooked me right away. While I enjoyed reading Clarity, I was a bit disappointed.

Description: Clarity "Clare" Fern is a member of a family with paranormal powers. Her mother is telepathic. Her brother, Perry, is a medium and Clare is a psychic. When a murder occurs during the height of the tourist season in Cape Cod, Clare is recruited to help the mayor and a skeptical detective find the killer. Clare has an additional incentive to find the murderer because Perry is a prime suspect. Is Perry the murderer? It is a coincidence that the murder occurred when it is very close to a mayoral election in Cape Cod?

Review: Clare Fern works in the family business doing psychic readings for summer tourists in their Cape Cod town. She has the ability to uncover memories and emotions by touching objects. Her mother is telepathic and her brother, Perry, is a medium. When a tourist girl is found murdered, Clare's assistance is sought by the police. Excited to use her powers to actually help people, Clare jumps at the opportunity. Unfortunately, also working on the case is her cheating ex-boyfriend and the hot son of the town's new detective who seems to be giving Clare mixed signals. To complicate things further, Clare discovers Perry is the prime suspect and two more people are killed. Clare must put her differences and complicated feelings about her ex-boyfriend and new comer aside as well as use all of her smarts and abilities to uncover the truth before she becomes the next victim.
  Clarity is a plot driven novel where the characterizations takes a back seat. There is no discussion where Clare or her family gets their powers nor any internal conflict of them having powers. They do their job in entertaining people and then call it a day. Clare, always known as a freak to her town members, isn't really that vested into the murder until it involves Perry, her older brother whom she adores. She manipulates and uses other people in order to get information about the murder and people's whereabouts. While there is a potential love triangle (come on, it's a YA novel what did you expect?), I didn't really care for either male leads. I also didn't feel any connection to Clare or in fact any of the characters. Perry's womanizing habits, which had the potential to be an interesting angle and a possible tie-in to an absent father, wasn't discussed and irritated me. Perhaps these elements that I felt lacking will be flushed out in the next book, Perception, which is due out March 2012.
  The murder mystery in Clarity is predictable and lacks intensity or creep factor found in other paranormal mysteries. Nonetheless, I did enjoy reading Clarity and look forward to reading the next book by Kim Harrington. I think it would a be a good choice for a beach read or for those who like a typical "who done it" mystery with a dash of paranormal and romance.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is allusion to sex, mention of underage drinking at a party, and some language. Recommended to Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Body Finder or Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting, Kiss Me Kill Me by Lauren Henderson, or the Wake trilogy by Lisa McMann
Rummanah Aasi
  I don't know much about the manga or graphic novel genre, which is why I tend to take more liberties in my selection of what to read. I either solicit recommendations from other librarians, friends, and/or teens that I work with. Vampire Knight is a very popular series in many libraries. It also has two anime series based on the manga called Vampire Knight and Vampire Knight Guilty, both of which I've watched, loved, and thought was a faithful adaptation to the manga. I started the manga series last year and read up to Vol 8. I was thrilled to get the next few volumes and am anxiously waiting for the Vol 12 to come out next month.

Description:  Yuki's earliest memory is of a stormy night in winter, wherein she was attacked by a rogue vampire and then rescued by another. Now 10 years later, Yuki Cross is the adopted daughter of the headmaster of Cross Academy and a guardian of the vampire race who attend the prestigious boarding school. She is in awe of her hero and love interest, Kaname, who saved her on that frightful day. Also at Yuki's side is Zero Kiryu, a childhood friend with a dark and tragic past that fuels his hatred for the vampires and is determined never to trust them. The coexisting arrangement between humans and vampires seems like a good idea, but have the vampires truly renounced their murderous ways, or is there a darker truth behind their actions? Is Kanames infatuation with Yuki the beginning of a forbidden romance, or is it something in her forgotten past that draws him to her? In this world of secrets, nothing is as it seems, and the price of misplaced trust may even be worse than death.

Review: Vampire Knight is mostly a character driven manga. The beginning volumes of the series focuses on building the relationships between the main characters. The first five books in particular, follows and focuses on the back story of Zero, my favorite character of this series. When we first meet Zero, he is distant and moody. He is cloaked in mystery and as we learn about his tragic beginning we began to realize what he is: a tortured hero who is destined to never find happiness. Zero finds his stability and humanity in Yuki, a happy go lucky girl who always wants to see her friends happy and who craves yet is afraid of her desires for the powerful pure blood vampire Kaname. Kaname is a shady character whose motives I can not clearly understand. At times he can be sincere and at other times to be a calculating politician. Moving key pieces as if he's playing a game of chess with people's lives. It is the interaction and romantic tension between these three characters that keep me on the edge of my seat.
   Beginning in the sixth volume of the series, the Yuki story arc begins. She no longer wants to be ignorant of her past. There are strong forces preventing her to know the truth and all roads somehow lead to Kaname. Once Yuki's past comes to light, everything is in jeopardy. The academy, once a safe haven built with the notion that humans and vampires can live symbiotically, is now crumbling as a new strong villain comes to town. Loyalties and relationships are given the ultimate test. Volume 9 starts with a bang and is nonstop action throughout the volume. Kaname finally reveals his hidden plan to Zero, and Zero must choose on which side he will fight.
 Unlike the previous installments of this series, the secondary characters play a bigger role as they fight in a battle that is only to get worse. I was really surprised to see Yuki's adopted father, who is generally portrayed more a child than a serious adult, take charge. There are lots of great character moments as each of them try to make sense around the chaos that surrounds them. New questions are raised as Yuki re-examines her relationships with Kaname and Zero and as the Cross Academy comes under fire. My only small complaint about this series is that some of the secondary characters are drawn a lot alike and it's at times hard for me to distinguish who is who. After watching the anime, while waiting to get the other copies of the series from the library, I was able to jump that hurdle.
 Vampire Knight is an addictive manga series. If you are like me and wondering how you are going to pass the time until the next season of Vampire Diaries, be sure to pick this series up. You will not be disappointed!

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and violence. Rated T for Teens.

If you like this book try: Vampire Knight Vol 10 by Matsuri Hino, Vampire Kisses manga series by Ellen Schreiber and Rem, Evernight series by Claudia Gray, Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, Vampire Diaries series by L.J. Smith
Rummanah Aasi
  The Taj Mahal, located in Agra, India, is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. It was built during the reign of Shah Jahan when the Mughal Empire ruled India. Shah Jahan was grief stricken when his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during child birth. Legend has it that his wife requested her husband to build her a memorial after she died.  The main mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. For romantics, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of an eternal love story. For cynics, it is just simply a tomb and another indication of one's hubris and selfishness. Personally, I love the love story behind the Taj Mahal, though I can see the opposing viewpoint as well. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors brings the legend of the Taj Mahal to the forefront of his story.

Description: Princess Jahanara is torn between living life for herself and fulfilling her duties as a member of Hindustan's royal family, a daughter, sister, and mother. When her mother dies and promises her father to create a memorial in her memory, Jahanara tries to help her father, Shah Jahan, in his quest while also working to save the empire from civil war, and falling in love.

Review: I grew up with the legend of the Taj Mahal. In fact one of my favorite Bollywood movies is Taj Mahal from 1963 that stars Pradeep Kumar and Bina Rai. The movie perfectly captures the romance and court intrigue of the Mughal time period. Beneath a Marble Sky does the same for an audience who are not aware of this time period. 
  The novel is told from the perspective of Jahanara, who recounts her life to her two granddaughters. The granddaughters are unaware of their true lineage to the throne. Now a grandmother, Jahanara goes backward in time to explain why the girls were kept in the dark about their imperial connections. Though Jahanara is royalty, we also get a glimpse of what life is like outside the palace halls where women had influence on political decisions and the constant struggle between keeping peace and tolerance in a nation of multiple religions.
  Beneath a Marble Sky is most certainly a plot driven novel, where the time period and court intrigue takes center stage rather than a critical look at the empire. Though the novel is subtitled a love story, the love story of Jahanara is a subdued one. Keeping up Indian traditions, the individual's desire takes a second priority to family obligations. Thus the love in 'love story' is mainly a familial love as Jahanara tries to become the perfect daughter and sister. 
  Jahanara is an interesting character that appealed to both my traditional and modern viewpoints. She was active when she needed to be and pretending to be passive when it was necessary. I connected to her struggle to fulfill her family duties as well as putting herself second. Jahanara was encouraged by her savvy mother to learn the arts of influence and political strategy. Thus the young woman is able to pick up where her savvy mother left off and from behind the court scenes able to protect the throne. Jahanara becomes the emperor's main adviser instead of her dreamy and idealistic brother, Dara, who is the rightful heir to the throne. She is also a key player in the construction of the Taj Mahal, where she gets involved with a forbidden romance. I was really impressed on how Shors, a man with no personal connection to India, was able to capture the voice of a believable Mughal Princess. He provides enough rich, historical details to transport the reader back in time.
  Though the secondary characters are kind of one dimensional, I couldn't help but be caught up in the romantic tale of the Taj Mahal. The book reads quickly with plenty of situations where loyalty, family, and passion are called into question. Though not a bodice ripper nor filled with historical inaccuracies like The Other Boleyn Girl, it has plenty of melodrama and romance to keep the reader busy.  I think this book will appeal to a wide audience and does give a good sense of what it was like to live during the Mughal Empire.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and lots of war violence. Rape and physical abuse are also alluded in the story. There is also a few sex scenes though they are not very explicit. Recommended to high school students who are interested in learning about India's history and to adults.

If you like this book try: The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan
Rummanah Aasi
  When you don't have many to pay for your bills, a roof over your head, and your father who promised to return but has suddenly disappeared, who do you turn to? Faith, family, friends? How do you keep going when every opportunity is closed to you? What risks are you willing to take? As the title of Bettina Restrepo's debut novel suggests, Illegal, tells the story of contemporary illegal immigrants.

Description: Nora’s lives in a small Mexican town called Cedula. Her family's farm is not having luck in selling crops and are rapidly running out of money. In order to help his family, Nora's Papa immigrants and illegally works on a construction site. Papa promises Nora that he will send money back hope and return in time for her quinceaƱera, her 15th birthday party, but that was three years ago. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora and Mama leave family behind and set out to find him.

Review: Illegal is a heart wrenching story that never trivializes the harsh daily struggles for illegal immigrants in search of food, shelter, and community. The book begins with an emotional goodbye as we see Nora's Papa leaves for Texas in hopes of providing his family with a better life. Unlike most immigrant novels I've read, the decision to migrant from one country to another is a last resort. It becomes apparent that Nora's family has done everything they could to stick together in Cedula until they ran out of options.
  What struck me the most in this book is Nora's voice and her resilience to push forward when anyone in her shoes, including me, would sit and cry in defeat. Nora is simply a teen who girl would love to paint her nails and wear nice clothes, but instead she has to accept the reality that her family need's come first before her own. Unlike most of us, Nora is forced to become an adult and take charge. She takes charge of devising a plan to find her father, convinces her mother to cross the border and to find a job. Nothing is easy for Nora. She doesn't speak fluent English but only recognizes a few words. She fights off violence, including an attempted gang rape; makes friends (who also need help and a place to belong); and questions her faith in God.
 While sometimes the book can come across like a documentary as other character's back stories are involved, Nora's daily struggle maintains the book's tension mounting and heartbreak. Nothing but her family's heartbreak is constant yet their determination to have a better life is memorable and admirable. There are a few small acts of kindness sprinkled throughout the harrowing journey to prevent the book from being completely dark. Restrepo doesn't glorify the dangers of crossing the border. Nora’s immediate first-person and honest narrative will hook readers with its gritty specifics, genuine anger, confusion and sorrow. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are a few instances where there are attempted rapes in the book. Gang violence is also suggested but take place mostly off the page. Recommended to Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs
Rummanah Aasi

  Thank you to everyone who celebrated the end of the Cornucopia of Dystopia blog tour as well as my belated blogoversary. I can't believe I've already been blogging for a year. I hope to bring you more reviews, author interviews, as well as giveaways. If you have any suggestions on how to improve my blog, please feel free to contact me at rummanaha at hotmail dot com. I'm always looking for ways to grow. Now, on to the fun stuff...according to, the two winners for this international giveaway are:

Ashley @ The Bookish Brunette and Viven! Congratulations, ladies! I've sent you an email requesting your mailing information and which book you would like to have. Please respond within three days or I will have to choose another winner.
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm very excited to bring you an author interview with Sybil Nelson today. Sybil's latest release is a middle grade novel called Priscilla the Great. The novel is a perfect fit for elementary and middle school students who love superheroes, fantasy, and/or adventure stories. You can read my review of Priscilla the Great here.
  Sybil Nelson is a very busy woman. While she worked as a math teacher at Ashley Hall School in Charleston, South Carolina and finishing her masters thesis at the College of Charelston, she began writing stories, poems, and novels that featured strong black women. Sybil now attends the Medical University of South Carolina pursuing her Ph.D. in Biostatistics. She continues to write and, to date, has written ten complete novels. And here I thought, I was busy! Help me welcome Sybil to Books in the Spotlight.

Welcome and thank you for stopping by, Sybil. You've written so many books, but this seems to be your first middle grade novel. What made you decide to write for younger readers?

I really love that age group. I remember when I was in middle school I would read anything and everything. I love how open middle schoolers are to reading new topics. They are the perfect age to just fall in love with reading. I wanted to be a part of that love story.

I completely agree. I can't help but get swept away by their contagious enthusiasm for reading and discussing books. How is writing for younger readers different from your other audiences? 

I try to keep the two audiences I write for separate only because of subject matter. Other than that, I would say they are pretty similar. No matter what their age is everyone loves a good story. My books for older audiences just deal with more controversial topics. For middle readers, I like to keep it safer.

There is a plethora of books written for children. What do you think is missing from children's literature?

Well, elaborating on what I said earlier, I think we need to keep children safe, but I also don’t think we can shield them completely from the world. So while my younger books are “safer” than my adult books, I still like to touch on topics of great importance. That way maybe a dialogue can be started with the child’s parents. For example, themes of racism are addressed in Priscilla the Great. Also, Priscilla’s mother wants to start giving her sex education. Though one of my recent reviewers disagreed with using the word “sex” in a middle grade book, I honestly don’t think 12 years old is too young to have that conversation. In fact, it’s a little late. Kids are already talking about it amongst themselves.

Yeah, when it comes to sex education things get complicated to say the least. I don't think the issue is discussing the subject matter, but when it's appropriate. Each parent and child is different, but you are right, kids are already curious. I thought you approached the subject tactfully with a mother having a discussion starter with her daughter. With your incredibly busy schedule, how do you find time to write?
The writing is the easy part. I have to force myself to not write and work on my grad school homework instead! I usually carry a notebook with me throughout the day and I jot down ideas. Then after I cook dinner, put my girls to bed, and solve some math problems I tried to spend a few minutes typing out my ideas. Lately though, my writing time has been pushed to the side for promoting. Book promotion is hard work!

Your schedule puts mine to shame! I am just tired thinking about all that you do. I don't know how you have the energy and drive for all of this. How did you come up with the concept of the book and Priscilla's character?

The concept for the book came a few years ago. It was originally called The Adventures of PMS Girl and was about a girl who got super powers with her first period. I thought it was a hilarious concept. How great would it be for your period to bring you something else besides cramps and cravings? Then three years ago I taught a student named Helen who was just completely hilarious. She would come to class every day with a story about something wacky that happened to her. She is who I based Priscilla’s personality on. That same year I had another student named Ellen. She was an adorable red head who I based Priscilla’s looks on. So Priscilla is the combination of Helen and Ellen.

*Laughs* Sounds like a fantasy twist to "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret?" You began writing stories, poems, and novels that featured strong black women, however, Priscilla is not black. Is it hard to write a character who is out of your race or does race of the character not matter to you? 

Not at all. Priscilla is such a strong character that her voice came to me fully formed. I never even imagined her as a black character. For some reason, she was always exactly who she was.

What I loved about the book is that the characters are so diverse and that uniqueness is what is celebrated in the book. Priscilla loves comic books, especially the superhero ones. Do you have a favorite comic book series?

X-MEN!!!! I was completely addicted to them as a child. There are a lot of similarities between the Priscilla the Great series and the X-Men series.

I knew it! Xmen is one of my favorites too. I kept making all these connections to the comic book. If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?

I would like the ability to pause time. That way I could have a few extra hours a day to get things done!
I think everyone would love to have that ability, especially when life gets incredibly busy and out of hand. What character surprised you the most while you are writing the books?

 Specimen Xi. She was a late addition to the book but I really grew to love her psychotic self. She has a major part in the remaining books of the series. She’s such a funny character to me that I could even see her having her own spin off book. I already have plans for separate books for Tai and the Twins. But Xi is a strong contender as well. I love villains for some reason. The villains are just as important as the hero. Nothing ruins a book or movie for me more than a villain who makes no sense or has no good motivation.

She is a really interesting character. One of which that you just love to hate. I can't wait until Priscilla and Specimen Xi meet face to face again. The book ended with a cliffhanger. Please tell me there are more books on the way! How many and when will they be available?

There are five books in the series. Books 2 through 4 are already written and I’m working on book 5 now. My agent sold the TV/Film option and the production company is currently working on pitching it to studios. I had planned on releasing book 2 in May, but my agent wants me to wait to see if the TV show gets picked up. He thinks then I’ll be able to sell the series to a major publisher. Personally, I’m happy with WorldMaker Media. As long as people are reading my work and enjoying it…that’s all I need.

 Thank you so much for stopping by, Sybil!

Thanks and I'm glad you enjoyed the book!

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