Rummanah Aasi
  I've meant to pick up Kevin Henke's Olive's Ocean for quite some time. The book has received many starred reviews as well as nominated for the Newbery Award in 2004. Olive's Ocean goes to show that even award and critically acclaimed books aren't safe from challenges either.

Description (from the book's inside panel): Martha Boyle and Olive Barstow could have been friends. But they weren't-and now all that is left are eerie connections between two girls who were in the same grade at school and who both kept the same secret without knowing it.
  Now Martha can't stop thinking about Olive. A family summer on Cape Cod should help banish those thoughts; instead, they seep in everywhere. And this year Martha's routine at her beloved grandmother's beachshide house is complicated by the Manning boys. Jimmy, Tate, Todd, Luke, and Leo. But especially Jimmy. What if, what if, what if, what if? The world can change in a minute.

Review: Olive's Ocean opens with a very simple yet powerful opening scene that stirs our emotions. Our main character, Martha, opens the door and is greeted by a strange woman holding an envelope announces who announces: "Olive Barstow was my daughter." Olive, a schoolmate that Martha had barely noticed, has recently been killed in a car accident. The envelope contains an extract from Olive's diary in which she shares her dreams, including the hope that Martha, who she states is "the nicest person in my whole entire class," would become her friend. With this original and compelling opening scene Henkes draws us into one summer in the life of a familiar, convincing, likeable twelve-year-old girl. A girl who is slowly losing her childhood innocence as she realized that we are all mortal.
  I liked Martha right away. She is a quiet, introvert who keeps her dreams of becoming a famous writer a secret in fears that her aspiring-writer father will think she is just copying him. She slowly comes out of her shell as her eyes are open to the world around her. Martha experiences at her grandmother's house has all the elements of a traditional summer novel: a house by the sea, playing at the beach and board games, and a summer crush. The book's setting offers the idea of summer as the time between, the hinge time of growth and change.
  What sets Olive's Ocean apart from all the other summer novels is that at its core the book is about the web of relationships with Martha. Like many younger siblings have witness and experienced, Martha's older and beloved brother begins to pull away, the first indication that times are changing. Martha sees her grandmother with new eyes, one who has a world of experience yet still retains vulnerability and insecurities in her old age. Martha and her mother can't seem to stop irritating each other. Her summer crush turns out differently from what Martha expected. All of these relationships are created and feel natural. The heavy issues of realizing death's sudden appearance are handled with care, grace, and humor. You can tell that the author has respect for his characters and they all come alive on the page. Although we don't know who the real Olive is, we do get a chance to see what her life could have been as we vicariously live through Martha's experiences. Olive's Ocean is a deceptively clever and complex look at how the life of another can add dimension to our own existence.

Rating: 4 stars

Why it was challenged/banned: Olive's Ocean was number 59 on the list for the most challenged book from 2000-2009 due to the book's "sexually explicit content and offensive language". I'm a bit surprised at the sexually explicit content charge since nothing even remotely sexual happens besides a kiss, which was even detailed. I'm guessing this claim was raised when Martha's 13 year old brother makes an offhand comment that his parents are exhibiting "morning sex behavior". The comment is something that I would expect a boy undergoing puberty to say. I'm sure many reasons would gloss this over and realize that the parents are happy because they have resolved their problems. There is mild language in the book, but nothing that you wouldn't find on a middle school playground or even a PG movie. 

Words of Caution: Mild language. I would recommend this book to strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Shug by Jenny Han or The Austin Family Chronicles (particularly A Ring of Endless Light) by Madeline L'Engle
Rummanah Aasi
  Like Lush, I never heard of Adam Selzer's debut middle grade novel How to Get Suspended and Influence People before. I'm not sure if I would have gone out of my way to check it out, but I saw it listed on a challenged list by ALA and that in it of itself made me curious. The book tackles the ever controversial sex education curriculum in schools. 

Description: Gifted eighth-grader Leon Harris becomes an instant celebrity when the film he makes for a class project sends him to in-school suspension.

Review: Leon Harris is our sarcastic, smart aleck, and extremely witty narrator. He is a gifted eighth grader who participates in an advanced studies activity along with several of his equally intelligent, socially outcast friends. For their first assignment, each advanced student must film an educational health or safety advisory video to be shown to the younger middle-school students. Leon immediately thinks of the boring videos that he and his classmates have seen throughout the year particularly the out dated and uncomfortable sex education videos that never really address that plagues the ordinary tween. Leon decides he wants to do a sex-ed video that will address his peer's issues and anxiety with honesty so he signs up for the sex-ed topic. He decides to deviate from boring anatomical line drawings and cheesy cartoons in favor of a surreal, avant-garde video inspired by Fellini and Salvador Dal!. In fact he goes even further and names his movie La Dolce Pubert. He knows he can't use real nudity in his movie but cleverly goes around this issue by using a montage of classical nudes with close-ups on the 'good parts' and frank rhyming narration that comes off as quite comical and tongue in cheek. 
  While his advanced studies teacher applauds Leon's creativity, the moralistic and conservative teacher, Mrs. Smollett, who heads the gifted program finds Leon's video inappropriate for the student body. Her interference with Leon's video results in Leon's suspension. Leon's peers' interest in the video skyrockets and Leon becomes an instant celebrity. Whether or not Leon achieves victory is what the second half of the book is about. 
  I liked Leon. He is definitely a lot wiser than his years. His intention of making a sex-ed video never deviates from making an educating video that states "it's okay. it's normal". I don't think he even thought he could reach celebrity or fame with his video nor does his head swell up when he does. The book is definitely more slanted to the unconventional bent that clearly empathizes with Leon's attitude toward school, his budding relationships and the adults who seemingly don't understand him. Unfortunately, the book falls a bit flat in the last half of the book as we are told how the video is made and what Mrs. Smollet's reaction is instead of showing it. I felt the lack of describing the process lessened the impact of the book's purpose and it showcases the one dimensional opposing viewpoint. Selzer doesn't take into consideration that there are parents that oppose to sexual education being taught in schools and that opinion is also valid too. Despite these flaws, I thought the book was enjoyable. 

Rating: 3 stars

Why it was challenged/banned: In 2009 the book was challenged at the Nampa, Idaho Public Library by a parent appalled that the cover included an abstract drawing of a nude woman and the back cover contains some profanity. Source: ALA

Words of Caution: While there is an abstract drawing of a nude woman on the front cover, that depiction is most graphic as the book gets. There are no detailed graphic descriptions of which pictures Leon uses for his project. There is some mild profanity in the book, however, it is mild and not unlike what is heard in the school hallways. I would recommend this book to Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashijan
Rummanah Aasi
  Author Chris Crutcher is not immune to challenges. In fact he is one of the authors listed that have been frequently challenged according to ALA. I only read a few books by the author including Deadline which was on the Abraham Lincoln list in Illinois. I just finished one of his well known book called Whale Talk.

Description: T.J. Jones is a multiracial, adopted teen, who shuns organized sports and the fervent athletes at his high school until he agrees to form a swimming team and recruits some of the school's less popular students when he is asked for assistance by his English teacher.

Review: All of Chris Crutcher books, at least the ones I have read so far, have a sports foundation that also incorporates important issues. Whale Talk has all of the author's trademarks. Adopted, biracial high-school senior The Tao Jones (his birth mother named him after a philosophy and prefers to be just called T.J.) is well-adjusted on the surface. T.J. is a smart, likable kid with a great sense of humor and athletic ability. He is your model student who effortlessly glides through school with decent grades and for the most part active in the social scene. Unlike many males in his high school, T. J. doesn't need competitive sports to create his identity. Though Cutter High School jocks and coaches see he is wasting his athletic potential and go far as calling him a traitor and other insults for not having enough school spirit.  T. J. backtracks his promise of not joining a sport when English teacher-coach Mr. Simet makes an unconventional offer: Be the anchor of the swim team and pick your teammates.  The offer is perfect, especially since racist football bully Mike Barbour has taken up letter jackets as a cause. It seems developmentally disabled Chris Coughlin has been wearing his dead brother's jacket, and Mike is annoyed. If Chris, naturally comfortable in the water, is on the swim team, T. J. reasons, Chris will earn a jacket of his own, and Mike will be put in his place.
  Whale Talk is more than your average sports book as the author also includes several side plots in his story such as T.J.'s father atoning for a past tragedy, T.J.'s therapist treating the biracial and severely abused daughter of Cutter's biggest athletic booster, and the misfit team members T.J. has assembled have their own personal problems. While this may be over the top, Crutcher handles these several topics well with honesty, humor, and wonderful insight. The characters are well-constructed characters and quick pacing add tension to how the sometimes cruel and abusive circumstances of life affect every link in the human chain. There is a heartwrenching series of plot twists leads to an end that I wasn't ready to deal with but shows that goodness at least partially prevails.
 While most people may be alarmed at the language used in this book, they are overlooking the great themes presented in the story: overcoming obstacles and adversity, everyday acts of racism, and most importantly forgiveness. If there is anything that bothers me about this book, it is the book cover which features a white male on the cover running. The cover does not reflect anything about the book or the characters at all.  Firstly, T.J. is mixed race and that is a huge part of his identity and main focus for the story. Secondly, the sport is not running but swimming. I'm alarmed at how this blatantly wrong cover could be placed on this book. It is another example of whitewashing covers of books that feature a character of color. I actually had to do a double-take when I retrieved Whale Talk from the library's bookshelf. I had thought I had made a mistake and picked up a different book. I even had to reread the inside panel to make sure it was the story. 

Rating: 4 stars

Why it was challenged/banned: Whale Talk has been challenged several time and even has been banned. Here is a look at the book's controversy: In 2005 and 2006, Whale Talk was removed from all five Limestone County (AL) high school libraries because of the book's use of profanity. It was also removed from suggested reading list for a pilot English-literature curriculum by the superintendent of the SC Board of Education. At this time, the book was also challenged at the Grand Ledge (MI) High School. In 2007 and 2008, Whale Talk was challenged at the Missouri Valley (IA) High School because the book uses racial slurs and profanity as well as challenged as an optional reading in a bullying unit at the Lake Oswego (OR) Junior High School because the novel is "peppered with profanities, ranging from derogatory slang terms to sexual encounters and violence." Source: Marshall Library

Words of Caution: Whale Talk does contain strong language, primarily with the use of the "n" word. The offensive language is not just thrown into the novel just for the sake of controversy, but rather it serves as a reason to make us uncomfortable. It is alarming how easily the word is used by the characters, but it also serves us as a reminder of how prominent it is used in our culture. Why don't we talk about racism and prejudice in a though provoking novel such as this instead of taking the easy and well stupid way out of removing it out of the discussion because it makes us comfortable? Chris Crutcher responded by to his banners and challengers. If you're curious, you can read his response here. In regards to sexual situations, there is allusion to some of the characters who have experience sexual abuse in their childhood. There is nothing explicit or graphic in the book. I think this book is suitable for Grades 8 and up.

Curriculum Connection: Teachers interested in using Whale Talk in their classrooms should take a look at this great lesson plan starter by CCHS. The ALA and AASL (American Association of School Libraries) have also created a discussion guide for teachers to use.

If you like his book try: Black and White by Paul Volponi or Response by Paul Volponi
Rummanah Aasi
 I don't think book banners realize how counterproductive book banning/challenging really is. I know I'm more likely to pick up a book that I'm told not to read, aren't you? Lush by Natasha Friend was the sixth most challenged book last year. To view the top 10 frequently challenged books from 2010, go here

Description: Samantha has watched her father deteriorate. She remembers him drunk more than she remembers him when he is sober. Unable to cope with her father's alcoholism, Sam corresponds with an older student, sharing her family problems and asking for advice.

Review: Friend adeptly takes an issue and turns it into a believable, sensitive, character-driven story, with realistic dialogue in less than 200 pages. Samantha may have a perfect family externally, but internally they are struggling to keep her architect father's alcoholism a secret and pretending this problem is just a simple phase that will soon pass. Instead of addressing the issue, the family's balancing act of pretending enables Samantha's father's addiction and protecting their image is becoming more and more difficult.
  Sam is your ordinary junior high girl who is self conscious about her body, mostly because her chest size draws attraction and insults from others, and a very keen observer. She understands her father has a drinking problem and she is constantly albeit unsuccessfully trying to make her mother realize her father's problem. She tries to stay positive and afloat, but some days are harder than others. When she is unable to internalize her struggles and fears, Sam decides to seek advice and unload her burdens to an anonymous friend by leaving an autobiographical letter in a library book. Her anger and frustration are palpable as she struggles with her love for her dad. She doesn't believe her father when he promises to stop drinking because she knows that his promises to clean up never materialize. When Sam is chastised by her mother and grandmother for not believing in his ability to change, I was angry and sympathized with Sam because of the injustice of her difficult situation. When the adults in your life deny there is a problem, who do turn to?
  Lush could have turned into a very dark novel yet the author avoids this by infusing the plot with details of typical teen life, such as Sam's crush on an older boy and embarrassment at her developing body. Witty dialogue and smooth writing move the novel along at a fast pace with short chapters. Instead of telling how worse her father becomes, Friend successfully builds the tension as her father's illness takes a dangerous turn, which sets off a chain reaction as the family to confront their problem, Samantha's crush comes to a head, and her anonymous library pen pal is revealed.
  I had a big issue with the stereotypical portrayal of the school librarian. I also didn't like how Samantha didn't turn to any adult for help, but I can understand her hesitation. I liked the idea of the anonymous help, yet I would have liked to see this character developed more, especially since the help also has problems that were one brought up but never revisited again. Lush is a perceptive novel featuring a likable protagonist to whom readers will easily relate and the resources found at the back of the book are useful.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Why it was challenged/banned: Lush was judged by some 2010 readers to be "unsuited" for young readers. They also objected to the presence of "drugs, offensive language" and "sexually explicit" activity in the plot.

Words of Caution: Since alcoholism is the subject of the book, situations around drinking are present. There is even an underage drinking party scene that Samantha attends, however, this scene isn't filler but rather shows Samantha the dangers of bad choices make when they are influenced by alcohol. There is nothing beyond kissing in the book so I don't know where the sexually explicit charge is coming from. There is mild language that contains words as slut, whore, etc. Nothing that isn't found in a PG movie. I would recommend this book to Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Inconvenient by Margie Gelbwasser or Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Rummanah Aasi
  Graphic novels are, unfortunately, the easiest targets for challenges and banning. 'Objectionable' pictures are easy to spot and cause for alarm despite the fact that they serve an important part of the story. Due to this there is an organization called The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and its mission is to protect "the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers. The CBLDF provides legal referrals, representation, advice, assistance, and education in furtherance of these goals." Check out their website for more information. The comic anthology called Stuck in the Middle was targeted in 2009-2010.

Description: Seventeen short comics stories are written from a variety of graphic novelists who explore their middle school experiences.

Review: Do you remember junior high? Was it a pleasant or unpleasant experience for you? Seventeen graphic novelists come together to visualize the anguish and awkwardness of that age in this honest, sometimes hilarious and other times cringe-worthy compendium of cartoon black humor. Some of the writers are well known such as Daniel Clowes, whose comics were adapted into an Oscar-nominated movie, Ghost World. Though the stories became repetitious, the comics nevertheless hit the mark in terms of emotional content, whether the subject is making friends, embarrassing parents, or suffering through a first date. Kids going through adolescence or looking back in the past will easily relate to these stories. For the most part the stories didn't show great pain or great joy, but small vignettes of life at that age exposed for what they are: small, sad and occasionally moving. Everyone gets over middle school eventually, and perhaps the strongest essay in the book was a how-to guide to making it through those difficult years. One of my complaints is not getting a wide viewpoint. Each of the story offers a story of an outcast or someone desperately trying to fit in with the in-crowd. I wondered about those who were considered popular or even the bullies. It would be nice to get a balanced perspective.
  Though all the comics are in the same in color schemes, the black, white, and gray-tone, the artwork is very unique from one story to the other. Moving from short story to short story was a bit challenging because each  cartoonist has his/her own style. Sometimes I had to figure out the panel sequence before reading the comic. Some artists draw sparse art and text, while others have a dense text and intricate artwork.
  While reading this book I can see why some parents may be uncomfortable with this book. Yes it has some language and crude humor, but it does realistically depict how children talk and think at this age. Mature middle school readers will most likely go beyond the superficial level and understand the purpose of this book which is: we all go through this awkward age and get we get through it. You are not alone. I think Stuck in the Middle would be a great place for parents and tweens/teens to discuss important issues like bullying together.

Rating: 3 stars

Why the book was challenged/banned: In 2009-2010, this graphic novel was pulled Pulled from the school library collections at two Sioux Falls, S.Dak. public middle schools. Masturbation and marijuana show
up in passing, and several of the vignettes include words most parents wouldn’t want to hear from their children. Source: ALA

Words of Caution: Due to some language, an implied image of masturbation, some crude humor, but more importantly the context of the graphic novel, I think this book would be better appreciated by teens and adult readers. 

If you like this book try: Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross or Girl Stories by Laura R. Weinstein
Rummanah Aasi
Image credit to Albany Poets

   Banned Book Week is upon us once again. This week is about celebrating your freedom to read. Starting September 25 through October 2nd, I will be pausing my current reading pile and participate in reading books that have either been challenged or banned.
 Do you know what the difference is between a challenged and banned book? Many people use the words  interchangeably, however, each word has a different meaning. A challenged book is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the actual removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view. This person/group wants to remove the material from the curriculum or library, which thereby restricts the access of others. 

  I will be picking 7 titles to read and review for each day and from each literary cannon: children's, YA, and adult. Not only will I be doing a review of the book, I will also include information as to where and why the book was banned/challenged. Here is my reading list as it stands:

 Books I will read during Banned Book Week

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  3. Lush by Natasha Friend
  4. Whale Talk by Chris Cutcher
  5. Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
  6. Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age edited by Ariel Schrag
  7. How to Get Suspended and Influence People by Adam Selzer

I participated in a similar reading challenge last year hosted by Steph Su at Steph Su Reads and Donna over at Bites. I read the following books for Banned Books Week Reading Challenge:

Join me in the fight against censorship and celebrate the freedom to read. To get your booklist started, check out the helpful websites below:
  • The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's (my alma mater!) Challenged Children's Book List. This list is divided up into age group, which is very helpful.
  • Hit List for Young Adults 2 by Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance. Written for librarians combating censorship but also provides a list of 20 titles of YA books that have been challenged/banned. 
  • The Illinois Library Association has a great bibliography every year noting the books challenged that year. This would be most help if you were looking for the most current challenged books.  
  • ALA's Yearly Challenged/Banned Books, which lists books challenged, restricted, removed, or banned in that year as reported in the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom.
Rummanah Aasi
 I'm relatively new to the urban fantasy genre. Thanks to friend recommendations I've found great reads. I first heard about Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicle series from Missie over at The Unread Reader. It's kinda hard to not pick books that are featured in her My Book Boyfriend meme. When she featured Atticus O'Sullivan, I knew I had to go out and find this book. Thanks for the recommendation, Missie!

Description (from Amazon): Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.
   Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

Review: When I picked up Hounded, I read a few books that didn't work well for me and I needed a change. Hounded hit the spot with its witty characters, a great blend of mythologies and the modern world along with a sharp sense of humor. Before reading this book, I've only read urban fantasy series such as the Kate Daniels and Mercy Thompson series which are driven by a strong female character. Hounded is the first male driven urban fantasy series that I've read.
  Atticus O'Sullivan is a 2100-year old Druid, supposedly the last of his kind. He is disguised as a good looking 21 year old Irish guy. He lives in Tempe, Arizona, and runs a New Age herbal and book store. Atticus is on the run from the Celtic god of love who wants a mystical sword that Atticus took from him in a battle centuries ago. The god also wants Atticus dead. Periodically, as the god has located Atticus, he sends his minions after him to kill him. In Hounded, the god of love wants to kill him personally. 
   In the scope of the urban fantasy genre, many of the common tropes exist. The Tuatha De Danann, werewolves, vampires, witches, ghouls, gods, goddesses, demons, etc., are present in the story but they are not common knowledge to the general human population. Though the book focuses on the Celtic mythology, which I'm not well versed in at all, Hearne gives the reader enough contextual clues to understand the mythological figures and to not make the reader feel lost. Elements from other mythologies such as Native American, Slavic, Nordic and Indian mythologies are included in the book too, which made the book rich and even more interesting.
  I thought all the characters are fleshed-out and interesting, and most of all, the highlight of this book is its sense of humor. The plot has some nice twists and turns. There is enough action in the book to keep the reader's attention. I never felt bored while reading the book. Things that seem impossible things are given enough logical explanations so that I didn't have to suspend too much disbelief to take me out of the story.  
  Atticus is a delightful hero who is paranoid, smart, snarky, yet has a warm heart. He is rough around the edges, but you can easily see why he has been alive for many centuries. I loved how well he tries to adjust to live with today's world. His commentary of why today's people do the things they do were extremely amusing. As he looks back on his past, you can tell he has definitely retained life lessons that has helped him along the way. His loyalty to his Irish wolfhound, Oberon, is heartwarming and brought a smile to my face several times. Oberon and Atticus are able to communicate mentally and their conversations are hysterical. Here is one of my favorite snippets: 

Oberon: Well, give her back her check and send her packing! We don't need to play her witch's games. They always want to get you and your little dog, too!

Atticus: "I knew I should have never let you watch the Wizard of Oz."

Oberon: Toto didn't deserve that type of trauma. He was so tiny.

In addition to Atticus and Oberon, one of my favorite secondary character is the Widow MacDonaugh, an elderly woman that is Atticus's neighbor and a friend. MacDonaugh has survived the sectarian conflicts in Northern Ireland. She is incredibly funny and not your stereotypical old lady who is completely oblivious to what's going on. She actually picks up things quite quickly and in her own unique way accepts Atticus's quirks and explanations. I would love to have her as my grandmother.
   This is one of those books that I wish I could hear on audiobook. I would love to hear the Irish accent and the proper way to pronounce the various ethnic names in the book. Thankfully, there is a glossary included in the first book that I found to be useful and referred to a lot in the beginning. Hounded is one of the books that you want to read to the end once you start it.  I know that I will definitely be getting the next two books in the series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and violence in the book. There are also allusions to sex. Recommended for mature teens and up only.

If you like this book try: Hexed (Iron Druid Chronicles #2) by Kevin Hearne or Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher
Rummanah Aasi
  James Klise is a teacher-librarian in Illinois. His debut novel, Love Drugged, was selected as a Stonewall Honoree by the American Library Association. The Stonewall Book Award is awarded to books who exceptionally merit the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience. You can find the list of award winning and honoree books here.

Description: Jamie doesn't feel normal. While boys his age are attracted to girls, he is dismayed by his attraction to boys. When a beautiful girl named Celia shows an interest in him, Jamie feels he can try to feel normal or at least try to pretend. Things get trickier when he discovers Celia’s father is a doctor who develops behavior-modification drugs and is experimenting with one that will “cure” homosexuality. Determined to find his way to normalcy, Jamie steals the drug and he is willing to deal with the side effects even if it costs his life.

Review: Love Drugged is a chilling read because the issues it addresses isn't far fetched given the latest suicides amongst teens who have either been ridiculed or labeled because of their sexuality.  Jamie Bates may seem like your average teen on the outside, but deep down he knows he is far from it. Instead of being attracted to girls like "normal boys", he constantly finds other guys attractive. To the reader his attraction to other guys could be a huge hint that he's gay, but Jamie does not want to come to this conclusion. In a world where phrases like "homo" and "fag" can be thrown around jokingly, guys like Jamie fear it, understanding the torment and consequences that would result if their peers knew of their sexuality.
  At first, Jamie tries to find solace with his homosexuality in an online forum, being able to discuss his interests in anonymity. Unfortunately, his escape is short lived once he discovers a fellow user just so happens to go to the same school. Panicked and paranoid, Jamie tries to find a way to shake his freak label and become normal. His answer comes in the form of his fellow service club member, Celia Gamez. Extremely gorgeous, rich, and smart, Celia is the girl every guy would want but she sets her eyes on Jamie. With her flirtatious manner towards him, Jamie takes this as an opportunity to be put on the straight path. Though he consciously knows inside that he harbors no attraction towards Celia, Jamie seeks comfort in her friendship. His loyalties and intentions change when he finds out that Celia's father is a doctor who is working on an experimental drug called Rehomoline, which is meant to suppress ones feelings toward the same sex.
   In a moment of panic along with Celia's growing frustration in wanting to become more intimate, Jamie takes this second chance to live like every other guy and steals, takes the drug without knowing the side effects that will ensue. Before he knows it, Jamie's relationship with Celia, his parents, and his friends veer in a direction that he never expected. His actions become completely out of character, and the drugs begin to have serious consequences, but all will be resolved once he becomes normal and straight, right? How Jamie starts to unravel and faces the consequences of his actions is the crux of the novel.
  Reading Love Drugged is like witnessing a car crash. You immediately know things are not going to go well for Jamie, but you can't help but continue to read to see how far he is willing to go to feel normal. Klise, who is a gay teacher-librarian in Illinois, successfully captures the voice of a teen who desparately wants to fit in with his peers and the terrible anxiety of discovering the truth of his sexual identity. The story leaned sometimes toward the melodramatic and the writing was a bit clumsy. Most of the adult characters are kinda one dimensional and the ending did wrap up too neatly. The reason why I gave this book 4 stars instead of 3 is because I think the cautionary tale on the sinister personal and social ramifications of medical technology’s attempt to change one’s sexual orientation is worthwhile to discuss and out weigh's the book's weak points. Love Drugged would be a good starting point for a class and gay-straight alliance discussion in dealing with bullying and acceptance.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language along with homophobic slurs in the novel. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon or What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson
Rummanah Aasi
 After receiving lots of great feedback from my post regarding reluctant readers, I wanted to do a follow-up post. The one concept that was reiterated again and again is how important it is for a reader to choose what he/she wants to read. Now I'm curious as to how do you decide which book to read?
   At first I thought this was a really dumb question because I obviously pick what interests me, but once I started to break down my answer things got slightly more complicated.  As I scan my bookshelves, I noticed that I choose a book based on one or more of the following: book cover, description, author's reputation, reviews, recommendation from a friend, and/or if the book is going to be a movie soon.

Image from Great Inspirational Quotes

  • Book Covers
 Normally, the book cover is the last thing I look at when it comes to choosing a book, however, I can't deny how important it is for some readers and even the book market. The book cover is generally people's first impression. If it is eye appealing, then more often than not people will pick it up from the shelves. Even I'm not immune to reading a book because of its beautiful cover. I've actually picked up a few books (Halo, Torment) because of their gorgeous cover and unfortunately, I was disappointed with both. 

  •  Book Title & Description
    I don't know about you, but when a book title catches my eye I immediately flip to the back of the book or read the inside panel to find out what the book is about. Generally, the book's blurb will highlight themes or concepts that will capture the reader's attention. There are even some horrible ones that basically tell you the entire plot *coughTwilightcough*. If the book blurb sounds interesting, I may pick it up. There are some key descriptions such as "__ will change his/her life forever", "his/her life will never be the same again", "tale of forbidden love", "__will need to make the ultimate sacrifice" that make me roll my eyes and simply say, "No thank you". It's funny how I tend to scoff the descriptions for contemporary fiction for adults more than teens.
  • Author's Reputation
 I have authors who I auto-read particularly when it comes to YA such as John Green, Sarah Dessen, David Levithan, Libba Bray, etc. I enjoyed their writing style and the types of books they write. I can almost always count on them for a good read and have yet to be disappointed. At times I'll even pick a book up by a renown author just to see why people are captivated by them and whether or not, in my opinion, live up to their hype. 

  • Book Reviews
  By far, the most influential and deciding factor of picking up a book for me is how well the book is reviewed. I may be considered a book snob, but I look to see how many good reviews a book gets. The larger the number, the higher the chances that I'll add it to my to be read pile. I know there has been a lot of debate throughout the blogosphere about rating systems and their accuracy, but I do think they are important. I know that the reviews are subjective and I take that into consideration when I read. I primarily use the review and the book's rating as a way to determine whether or not the book is worth my time. Now, will I like the book as much as others? It depends. There are several books such as The Help or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society where I thought the book was just okay while some of my colleagues absolutely adored. There is no rule that states you have to like books that other people read. Frankly, disagreements about book is what makes book discussion and blogging fun. We all have our distinct tastes and feelings toward a book which is why we write/argue/talk about them.

  • Recommendations from a friend
  Have you ever notice how sometimes people cringe when you ask them for a book recommendation? Books, like music and movies, are very personal. Some may argue that the books we choose is a reflection of our own identity. If I'm stuck as to what to read or have really bad book aftertaste, I'll ask a friend. I've read a lot of books that have been recommended, but again, I'm not guaranteed I'll like the book as much them.

  • Coming soon to a theater near you 
   I'm not going to lie. I've picked up books because I either discovered the movie's trailer and found out it was originally a book. There some cases like the Lord of the Rings trilogy where I picked up the books after watching the movie because the world was so expansive and intricate that I was afraid of getting lost. In this case, I found it much helpful to see the movie first and then read the book. I've also had the opposite happen. For instance, I hated the film adaptation of The English Patient though the movie had a great cast. On a whim I picked it up and realized it was nothing like the movie at all and actually loved it.

 These are some of my determining factors on choosing which books to read. How about you? Which of these criteria, if any, prompts you to put a book in your reading pile?
Rummanah Aasi
  Looking back at my history classes in elementary and secondary schools, I don't recall learning about the Black Panther organization when I studied about the Civil Rights Movements. Though I know that the organization existed, the nonviolent movement spear headed by Dr. Martin Luther King was the main focus. While reading Kekla Magoon's Coretta Scott King award winning novel, The Rock and the River, I learned a lot about the difficulties the African American community faced during the turbulent 1960s.

Description: It is 1968 in Chicago. Sam's father is a well-known nonviolent civil rights activist who strongly believes in Dr. King's movement. Sam's brother, Stephen also known as Stick, feels that the nonviolent movement is too passive and has joined the Black Panthers. When a close friend of the brothers is beaten and arrested by white police officers, Sam must decide his own feelings about the Civil Rights Movement and choose a side. Will it be the rock or the river?

Review: The Rock and the River is a compelling novel that aptly conveys the frustrations and uncertainties dividing the civil rights movement at the time of Dr. King's death especially within one African American family. Sam is the son of minister and civil-rights leader Roland Childs, a revered community figure and movement heavyweight whose counsel is sought by Martin Luther King Jr. When Sam witnesses one of his close friends brutally beaten and arrested by the police, he does not get involved but instead joins the onlookers on the side of the road. Sam's passiveness taunts him and he finds his faith in and respect for his father's stalwart commitment to nonviolence shaken. Hoping to get some guidance from his older brother and best friend, he is shocked to discover that Stick is involved with the Black Panthers. Sam is torn between the two people he looks up to most.
  As he poignantly wrestles over which direction to take, Sam both observes and experiences firsthand the injustice of racism. Magoon is unflinching in her depictions of police brutality and racism. While it may be hard to read, it is not overly done but rather propels the plot and themes further. She also offers readers a perspective of a political group that is rarely explored. While some may think the Black Panther's ideology is romanticized, I thought the author provided enough information as to why and how this group was created. I loved how this novel shows that racial prejudices were not confined to the South and that the Civil Rights Movement was a truly national struggle. If the nonviolent movement is deemed too passive and the Black Panther movement is too aggressive, what movement is in between? Do you really have to choose one? These are the questions that swarmed my head long after finishing the book. I think The Rock and the River would serve as a great book discussion in class.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Words of Caution: There is some strong riot violence in the book and minor language. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try: One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams or Jumped by Rita Garcia-Williams
Rummanah Aasi
  I've had the Chicagoland Vampire series by Chloe Neil on my to be read pile for quite a few years. At the time, I had just finished reading a slew of vampire books, both good and bad, either while the Twilight Saga was on going and/or had just finished. Since most of the books had the same cookie cutter format, I got burnt out in the genre and had to move on to something new. There are currently 4 books out in the Chicagoland Vampire series, with the fifth book coming out in November. After reading several great reviews from trusty bloggers, I thought to give this series a shot and I'm so glad that I did.

Description (from Goodreads):  Sure, the life of a graduate student wasn't exactly glamorous, but it was Merit's. She was doing fine until a rogue vampire attacked her. But he only got a sip before he was scared away by another bloodsucker-and this one decided the best way to save her life was to make her the walking undead.
  Turns out her savior was the master vampire of Cadogan House. Now she's traded sweating over her thesis for learning to fit in at a Hyde Park mansion full of vamps loyal to Ethan "Lord o' the Manor" Sullivan. Of course, as a tall, green-eyed, four-hundred- year-old vampire, he has centuries' worth of charm, but unfortunately he expects her gratitude- and servitude. But an inconvenient sunlight allergy and Ethan's attitude are the least of her concerns. Someone's still out to get her. Her initiation into Chicago's nightlife may be the first skirmish in a war-and there will be blood.

Review: Some Girls Bite is a entertaining, smart, sexy, and delightful read. I was completely sucked in right away. This is definitely a book where you want to put up the "Do Not Disturb, I'm Reading" sign. Yes, it's that good and now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to read this series!
  As the series title suggests, this series takes place in Chicago. Since I live in the Chicagoland area and lived in the actual city for several years, I know the area where most of the action takes place. The attention to the architecture, sports, culture, and dialogue of the Windy City makes it obvious that Neil knows the city really well. I loved how the city became a character itself in the book. 
   Unlike many paranormal books I've read, our heroine, Merit, does not choose to be a vampire nor does she really have any desire to become a creature of the night. She is changed and given a second chance at life. Though she's not happy with the changes in her life, she adjusts with as much dignity as she can muster. I actually liked how Merit did some soul searching and not immediately accept her new identity. She had everything from her normal life taken away from her and was within her rights  to be completely upset by it. I know I would feel the same if I was in her situation. While some readers disliked Merit for whining too much in the first half of  the book, I actually thought it made her believable and endearing. Merit deals with her problems intelligently and confidently, though she may be unaware of the taboos she crosses. As you can tell, I loved Merit right away. It is so refreshing to read a character so mature and who holds herself up with grace. She is definitely far from perfect, but nonetheless a character that I would want as a best friend.
   I also enjoyed meeting Ethan Sullivan, the 400 year old vampire and Master of the House of Cadogan, who turned Merit into a vampire. Ethan is incredibly sexy, an enigma that is hard to figure out. I think the best way to describe would be a male personification of Pandora's box. So tempting to open yet you are terrified about what demons that are stored inside. Due to his age and his political ranking, Ethan is not prone to easily accept emotions and humanity. He is constantly thinking as a political figure, using his people in ways that are most helpful to his House. 

   I loved watching Ethan and Merit interact. There is obvious attraction between both of them, however, Merit does not quickly submit to Ethan. In fact, she constantly questions whether he is a good part of her life, how her relationship with him might change her, and most importantly whether she wants to change. Despite whatever role Merit plays, she doesn't see herself as Ethan's subordinate and she stands up to him in numerous occasions much to his frustration. This kind of self reflection was an absolute delight.
  In addition to Merit and Ethan, there are several secondary characters like Mallory, Merit's best friend who is more like a sister, and the mercurial Catcher Bell that are integral to the story and move the plot forward. Each of them come alive and add something to the story. The characters work well together and balance each other out quite well. Their banter is hilarious and makes them appealing, it's clearly evident that they have an affinity towards one another. Neil gives them vulnerabilities that mirrors our own which makes them not only more human but also relate-able and approachable. None of the characters are absolutely good or bad, but each contain shades of gray that makes us ponder when they do something that is completely unexpected.
   The political maneuvering between the supernaturals, humans, and other various groups is interesting and thoughtfully executed. I loved how the vampire houses, which are very much like college fraternities in a way, use the feudal system as their political and social structure. I've never seen that before. Neil sets a good foundation as to the origin of the Houses and their rules. I'm definitely hooked and want to know more as we discover a great battle is now brewing.    

    Readers looking for a kick-butt heroines and sexy male leads with lots of snark and action should not miss this series. I'm already itching to read the next book!
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some sex scenes in the book and strong language. Recommended for mature teen readers and up.

If you like this book try: Friday Night Bites (Chicagoland Vampire #2) by Chloe Neil, Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Fray by Joss Whedon, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs
Rummanah Aasi
  I dread reading the second book in a series. The second book usually suffers from middle book syndrome where nothing new is revealed for a large part of the book and is written, as it seems, to build up to the third, final book. For this reason only, I didn't have any expectations for It's Not Summer Without You, the second book in the Summer series by Jenny Han. I loved Han's debut novel Shug and also really enjoyed the first Summer book, The Summer I Turned Pretty, which I highly recommend you read first before jumping to book two because it establishes the characters and setting so well.

Description (From Goodreads): Can summer be truly summer without Cousins Beach? It used to be that Belly counted the days until summer, until she was back at Cousins Beach with Conrad and Jeremiah. But not this year. Not after Susannah got sick again and Conrad stopped caring. Everything that was right and good has fallen apart, leaving Belly wishing summer would never come. But when Jeremiah calls saying Conrad has disappeared, Belly knows what she must do to make things right again. And it can only happen back at the beach house, the three of them together, the way things used to be. If this summer really and truly is the last summer, it should end the way it started--at Cousins Beach.

Review: It's Not Summer Without You went beyond my expectations. I actually liked it much more than the first book. Though the title and the cover of the book scream "beach read", It's Not Summer Without You is much more. The characters and the plot have become stronger and more nuanced. You can't help but get swept away by Han's writing. She perfectly captures the turbulent emotions of being a teen and in love. The situations that these characters face are real and realistic though the drama may sometimes lean on the melodramatic at times. Nonetheless it's hard to not get emotionally invested in the characters and their plight. You smile when they are happy and your heart aches when they are sad. 
  Belly who at a first impression comes off as selfish and a little too self involved. She does grow and mature in this book. She still makes mistakes but begins to smarten up a bit and use her head. Her relationship with Conrad and Jeremiah is so tangible and genuine. Most books usually write off characters being best friends, but Han does a great job in showing the various relationships that Belly has with the two brothers. She genuinely loves them both, which is where the inevitable love triangle gets all so good.  
  Conrad is moody and reserved. He can't deal with his emotions and rather than talking about his problems, he emotionally shuts down. While he irritated me at times, I understood his feelings and didn't hold it against him because for once he knows what he is doing.  
  Unlike his dark and brooding brother, Jeremiah is a like a ray of sunshine. The person you can always count on to make you feel better after a really crappy day. Forever seen in the shadow of his brother, Jeremiah struggles to make his own mark. It's very hard to not fall in love with Jeremiah, but you know there is heartache waiting for him. He is definitely the underdog in getting Belly's heart. A really great surprise for me in this book is getting to hear Jeremiah's voice in alternating chapters with Belly who is the main narrator. As I mentioned before, it's really hard to make a choice between the brothers. Once again my love for them is torn and I just want to see them both happy, especially with what they have gone through in the last two books. 
  Luckily, the book does not end in a major cliffhanger but I'm still very anxious to see how the last summer with these characters will turn out. If you haven't read this series yet, I highly recommend it especially if you enjoy a YA contemporary romance!
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language as well as scenes of underage drinking and partying. Recommended for mature 8th grade readers and up.

If you like this book try: We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han (Summer #3), The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Rummanah Aasi
  For my spot on the Christine Seifert's The Predicteds blog tour, hosted by The Teen Book Scene, I am hosting a Character This or That list with Daphne. Also be sure to check out my giveaway at the end of this blog post for your chance to win a copy of The Predicteds!

Popular or blends well in the crowd? 
Probably popular. Daphne likes to be different, so there’s no way she’d want to just blend in. She’s too bold for that.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee. Daphne stays up way too late. She needs the caffeine to keep going.

Morning or night person?
Night person. Probably because of all that coffee she drinks.

On a set schedule or go by the seat of her pants?
Seat of her pants. Daphne isn’t much of a planner. Frankly, she’d drive me nuts. I’m set schedule all the way.

North Dakota or Utah?
North Dakota. Daphne likes the Midwest. Utah would be too outsdoors-y for her. They kick you out of the state if you can’t climb, hike, or ski. (I’m sliding by under the radar).

What's more important to you as a writer: character or plot development?
Character. Good plot is a bonus. But I need an interesting character to propel that plot.

What's more important to you as a reader: character driven or plot driven books?
Character driven. A bad plot can be saved by characters that are super compelling.

Jersey Shore or Real Housewives (pick any state)?
Jersey Shore. That Situation is something else.

Blonde or brunette?
Daphne would pick brunette because she’s into Jesse. My husband’s blonde, though, so I’ll go with that one!

Classic novels or contemporary novels?
Classic. Daphne’s old-fashioned at heart, and she loves anything vintage. I pick contemporary novels.

Daphne is the new girl in town and is having trouble fitting in. At least she has Jesse... sort of. He wants to be more than "just friends," but there's something he's not telling her about his past. Something dangerous. When a female student is brutally attacked, police turn to PROFILE, a new program that can predict a student's capacity for drug use, pregnancy, and violent behavior, to solve the case. As the witch hunt ensues, Daphne is forced to question her feelings for Jesse-and what she will do if her first love turns out to be a killer.

GIVEAWAY: Thanks to Sourcebooks, I have 1 copy of The Predicteds to giveaway. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only. You must be 13 years old or older to qualify. You do not have to follow my blog, but it is appreciated. To enter, please comment on this post with your name/alias along with an email so I can contact you if you win. This giveaway will end September 30th at 10 PM EST. The winner will be selected by and announced on my blog on October 1st. Good luck!
Rummanah Aasi
  Combining history, fantasy, and adventure is a winning trend for children's literature. I'm finding it that kids get more excited about learning facts through fiction instead of reading them in a dry, boring textbook. The Flight of Phoneix by R. L. LaFevers is sure to have high appeal to younger readers who are anxiously waiting to go on a great adventure.

Description (from Goodreads): Nathaniel Fludd’s life has taken a turn for the worst. With his parents lost at sea, he lands on the doorstep of a distant cousin—the world’s last remaining beastologist. Soon Nate is whisked off on his first expedition, to Arabia, where the world’s only phoenix prepares to lay its new egg. When disaster strikes, Nate quickly finds himself all alone.
   Will he be able to see the phoenix safely hatched, keep his accidental pet gremlin out of trouble, and rescue his guardian from the Bedouin? If he fails, nothing will stand between the world’s mythical creatures and extinction. Too bad Nate’s not the sort of boy who enjoys adventure . . .yet.

Review: Nathanial Fludd, who lives with his governess, has been anxiously waiting since his eighth birthday to be summoned by his parents, who are beastologists. Unfortunately, the only summoning comes from the family lawyer, who explains that Nathanial’s parents have been lost at sea. Nathanial must now live with a distant relative, who might as well be a complete stranger to him. Nathanial has only just settled in to his new "home" when he finds himself being whisked along to Arabia in a new adventure, where he witnesses the birth of a phoenix, an event so rare it only happens every 500 years.
  Flight of the Phoneix is a fast-paced story that successfully combines fantasy and history into an entertaining, believable world. The characters are definitely likable. Nathaniel is a reluctant adventurer and more of an artist who loves to draw, but does prove to himself and others that he can be brave and resourceful. LaFevers provides some details about the extensive Fludd family tree and the origins of beastology, but there are still plenty of mysteries left for a sequel. While the historical details may not be completely accurate, and the book uses the general tropes of traditional English boys' adventure stories as well as implies colonial clich├ęs about the Bedouin culture, the book is exciting. Straightforward, simple sentences along with a linear narrative and short chapters with lively illustrations should make this book very exciting to beginning and middle grade readers.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2 to 5.

If you like this book try: The Basilisk's Lair (Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist #2) by R.L. LaFevers,
The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull
Rummanah Aasi
  Did you know that the word "curry" is actually a misnomer introduced by the British in attempt to generalize Indian food? Curry is common referred as the sauce of the dish. For example, Chicken Curry is a chicken dish with a curry (sauce made of spices). A dry chicken dish has no sauce, and therefore it has no curry. In Southeast Asia, people use the word 'masala' to describe a mixture of spices. A masala could be a dry powder or a wet combination of herbs, spices, vinegar, etc. You're probably what curry has to do with the fifth volume of Black Butler, right? Well, Sebastian, the otherworldly butler, participates in a curry contest in a large part of this volume. See, I told you this manga is deliciously bizarre!

Description: For Sebastian Michaelis, the word "impossible" is just not in his vocabulary. Everything demanded of him inn England is well within his grasp and easily handled. Does his talent also extend in all things foreign? With a Royal Warrant on the line, Sebastian is in a curry battle. Can he defeat Agni, the Indian born butler who also possess supernatural abilities? May the best butler win!

Review: Volume 5 showcases the absurdity yet also flashes of seriousness that makes this series a joy to read. As the fourth volume ends, Indian Prince Soma and his butler have fought and gone their separate ways. Ciel commands Sebastian to enter the curry contest in order to get the coveted Royal Warrant for the Phantomhive corporation. For the first time Sebastian is faced with a real challenge. He has to not only figure out how to make a curry, but also beat out Agni's most famous curry and win the challenge. Many funny situations ensue when Sebastian tries his hand at cooking. He uses Prince Soma as a taster. 
  The big curry contest goes as planned and it ends as expected. Prince Soma finally meets Meena, the servant girl that he wants to take back to India, but his plan fails. As if a light bulb goes off in his head, Prince Soma realizes what he selfish jerk he is and tries to patch things up with Agni. 
The last chapter was probably the most interesting in the entire volume as Soma and Agni stay on in England and Agni, in spite of being warned, tries to turn himself over to justice. As I mentioned before, the other staff of Phantomhive are incompetent and pretty useless, however, we get to see them a bit more humanized. We get to learn a bit more about Ciel's staff and how very odd it is that before this they all had no one and nothing before taking up their jobs. As always, the art work of Black Butler is gorgeous and amazing. This volume ends with a strange circus coming to London and I'm sure there is something dark and sinister about it. Looking forward to the next crazy adventure that lies ahead. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Black Butler Vol 6 by Yana Toboso, Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizu, Godchild series by Kaori Yuki
Rummanah Aasi
  I've been anticipating reading Amy Plum's debut novel Die for Me ever since I've heard the book's early buzz about being a paranormal romance unlike anything I've read before. Once the book was released, I've read mixed reviews, ranging from glowing to "meh" reviews. Small Reviews has a terrific book comparison for Die for Me that I found incredibly useful where she breaks down the book's structure and provides links to the various reviews. Curiosity got the best of me and I decided to take the plunge and read the book. 

Description: After their parents are killed in a car accident, Kate Mercier and her older sister Georgia  move to Paris to live with their grandparents. While Georgia tries to be social and overcome her grief, Kate keeps to herself and finds solace by escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Sitting at her favorite cafe, Kate meets and finds herself powerfully drawn to the handsome but elusive Vincent who seems to harbor a mysterious and dangerous secret. Kate is not sure if she is willing to be hurt once again but can Vincent melt her heart and make her feel again?

Review: I read Die for Me over the summer and I still find it hard to express my reading experience. If I could describe the book in one word, it would be: peculiar. I didn't really have any strong feelings for Die for Me so I'm going to focus on what worked for me and what didn't.
  I really enjoyed reading the book's setting. Paris is an incredible city that I was very lucky to travel to some years ago. Plum's descriptions about the city and culture brought back pleasurable memories of my trip. I can clearly picture the cafes and the streets of the city where the characters interacted on a daily basis. It was definitely refreshing to get away from the stagnant high school setting that usually takes place in a paranormal romance.
   In terms of the book's structure and writing, I felt the book's writing wasn't overly descriptive nor were there too many repetitive phrases or passages. It had the right balance of imagery and simple prose allowing for the plot to unfold in a relatively quick pace. We are given hints of unusual activities that are happening around Kate that draws us into the story, particularly when we are introduced to Vincent. I kept trying to figure out why strange events were happening and what is Vincent's real identity.
  While I had no trouble with the book's writing style and structure, I couldn't stomach the odd mythology and the characters. Before reading Die for Me, I never heard of revenants before. Is it a zombie, an angel, or a ghost? Well, it's a unique combination of three in the case of Plum's series. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around this idea because each of these well known paranormal/supernatural entities are so distinct in my mind and really had no connection to each other. It was as if the author had hand picked what she liked about each entity and combined them all in one. There was just too many things going on at the same time. After learning the bizarre rules of Vincent's species, especially being "reanimated", keeping a watchful eye on Kate, and discovering the species's purpose, I found it hard to warm up to his kind. I hate to sound superficial, but they really, really creeped me out.
  Due to my aversion to Vincent's species and his stalker like behavior, I didn't really feel any chemistry between him and Kate. Every time they got together, I couldn't help but think "Eww, how is that romantic?" Their attraction is instant and they are obviously drawn together for some reason, which not unlike many books in this genre, and I have a few guesses as to why. I just couldn't connect to either characters. Kate is very plain. We really don't know much about her besides her love of reading classic novels and that she doesn't find herself pretty while everyone else does. She doesn't stand out and her identity is really overshadowed by her relationship with Vincent. I was glad to find that she was a bit reluctant to have anything to do with him and his family from the start, which I thought was believable. Too bad that didn't last long. Kate does get a bit interesting towards the end, but I can't really give her credit for that since it's not really her (I'm trying to be vague in order to not give out a big spoiler). Like Kate, I thought Vincent was also pretty bland. He's your average nice guy with a mysterious past. We are given pieces to his history and get the sense that it is very painful. He tries to be chivalrous by putting Kate first, but again I couldn't overcome his bizarre behavior. 
  Die for Me has many similar characteristics to the Twilight Saga, especially where the adopted family is concerned, and it is hard to not pick them out while reading the book. Readers who enjoy the paranormal romance genre might find this book appealing and probably more forgiving than I am. I'm still up in the air about reading the next book in this series and will mostly likely wait to read reviews before making my final decision.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing scenes and mild violence. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Until I Die (Revenants #2) by Amy Plum coming soon in 2012, The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller, Falling Under by Gwen Hayes
Rummanah Aasi
  I have enjoyed reading fairytale retellings. While the crux of the story may not be entirely new and I already know how everything will end, I'm always curious to see how each author brings something new and fresh to the tale. When I came across Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon at the library, I knew I had to read it. It has been a while since I read an adult fairytale retelling. I'm so glad that Mermaid did not disappoint.

Description (from book's back cover): Princess Margrethe has been hidden away while her kingdom is at war. One gloomy, windswept morning, as she stands in a convent garden overlooking the icy sea, she witnesses a miracle: a glittering mermaid emerging from the waves, a nearly drowned man in her arms. By the time Margrethe reaches the shore, the mermaid has disappeared in to the sea. As Margrethe nurses the handsome stranger back to health, she learns that not only is he a prince, he is also the son of her father's greatest rival. Sure that the mermaid brought this man to her for a reason, Margrethe devises a plan to bring peace to her kingdom. Meanwhile, the mermaid princess Lenia longs to return to the human man she carried to safety. She is willing to trade her home, her voice, and even her health for legs and a chance to win his heart.

Review: Turgeon's retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's beloved classic, The Little Mermaid, is darker and possibly more foreboding than the original tale. When two women vie for the heart of one man, it's pretty obvious there is going to be heartache and misery. After rescuing a human from the sea, mermaid Princess Lenia falls hard for Prince Christopher. She is willing to give up her beautiful voice and endure the constant pain caused by her new legs in order to pursue him on dry land. Meanwhile, Princess Margrethe has also set her sights on the handsome prince in hopes of uniting their two warring kingdoms. 
  Unlike the original fairytale, Turgeon's brooding retelling gives a voice to both women, giving us a tragic tale of destiny and desire that shatters our heart in pieces. Lenia is an optimist, completely enchanted with fragile humanity. She yearns to have a soul that will live forever instead of just turning into sea foam when she dies in the sea. Though she is warned that nothing good can come out of humans, she desires above all else to explore the upper world. 
  Like Lenia, Princess Margrethe of the Northern Kingdom is also sheltered, living in a convent disguised as a nun to ensure her security from her warring kingdom. Margrethe keeps to herself and her destiny has been preordained: to become the next best ruler. As she lives amongst the peasants, she realizes how the poor status her people are living in and vows that she will make everything better when she has the throne.
  Turgeon follows the outline of Christian's fairytale pretty well for the most part. The chapters are divided by Lenia and Margarethe's point of view in alternating chapters. I felt myself torn between the two female characters who share many similarities. I wanted both of them to be happy. What I couldn't understand is why they both loved the womanizing prince so much. If I could find a flaw in the book, it would be the flat, uninteresting prince who actually has very little page time. Nonetheless I found Mermaid to be a compulsive read. I wanted to know how all of the three characters will collide in the book's climax. It kept me guessing who if anyone will live happily ever after. Mermaid is definitely a dark tale meant for adults and not exactly a cozy bedtime story. Readers interested in fairytale retellings should definitely pick this one up and will find it hard to put the book down once they begin reading it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some small sex scenes in the book. Though targeted to an adult audience, I think mature teen readers interested in fairytale retellings would really enjoy the book.

If you like this book try: The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson, The Mermaid's Maddness by John C. Hines, Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli
Rummanah Aasi
 Last week I had the pleasure in interviewing Karen Kincy, the author of the Other series on her birthday. If you missed my interview, you can read it here. As part of the Bloodborn tour, I am reviewing the first book in the Other series. Other is an interesting blend of paranormal romance along with a "who done it" murder mystery. 

Description (from author's website): Seventeen-year-old Gwen hides a dangerous secret: she’s Other. Half-pooka, to be exact, thanks to the father she never met. Most Americans don’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for Others, especially not the small-town folks of Klikamuks, Washington. As if this isn’t bad enough, Gwen’s on the brink of revealing her true identity to her long-time boyfriend, Zack, but she’s scared he’ll lump her with the likes of bloodthirsty vampires and feral werewolves.
  When a pack of werewolves chooses the national forest behind Gwen’s home as their new territory, the tensions in Klikamuks escalate–into murder. It soon becomes clear a serial killer is methodically slaying Others. The police turn a blind eye, leaving Gwen to find the killer before the killer finds her. As she hunts for clues, she uncovers more Others living nearby than she ever expected. Like Tavian, a sexy Japanese fox-spirit who rivals Zack and challenges her to embrace her Otherness. Gwen must struggle with her own conflicted identity, learn who she can trust, and–most importantly–stay alive.

Review: In Other, Karen Kincy has created an interesting world. Shape-shifters, vampires, werewolves, and various other creatures are called "Others," and humans are well aware of their existence. Gwen is an Other with a human mother and a Pooka father (a Welsh shape-shifter spirit). Gwen and her mother prefer she keep her otherness a secret in fears of receiving backlash from their small town where Others are not quite so welcome as in large urban areas.
  When Gwen and her boyfriend Zack are on a date, they stumble upon dead Others. Given the way they have been killed and their bodies displayed, Gwen has a strong feeling that Others are being targeted and murdered. As more Others are found dead, it wouldn't surprise her if a serial killer may be on the prowl. One death in particular is too close for comfort for Gwen and she can't shake the eerie feeling that someone is constantly watching her and knows who she really is. Knowing that the police isn't doing their best to search for the killer, Gwen searches for answers with an unexpected friend, all the while unsure of whom to trust and what exactly it means to be Other.
  Other was an enjoyable read, but I did have a few qualms about the book. While Gwen does seem to be an ordinary teen girl who faces common insecurities about her identity and has her share of boyfriend drama, she is very reckless and presumptuous.  She spends most of the book complaining how unfair Others are being mistreated and misidentified as criminals on her anonymous blog yet she applies the same generalizations and stereotypes to Bloodborns (those who are Others via being bitten by an Other creature such as a werewolf or a vampire). She clearly makes a distinction between these two types of Others and fails to realize that the plight of both groups are the same. Thankfully, her view of Bloodborns changes as she becomes more involved with the ongoing murder investigation and actually socializing with Bloodborn. I found her epiphany in a few pages a bit hard to believe and rushed.
  Unlike Gwen, I really liked Tavian, the sexy Johnny Deep lookalike Japanese foxfire. He was spunky, quirky, and just a pleasure to meet. I wish we got to learn more about him early on. He appears about halfway in the book as a marginal character but becomes a strong character towards the latter half of the book.
  As a paranormal romance, Other falls rather short. Half of the book is dedicated to Gwen and Zack's relationship. She is constantly debating on whether or not she should reveal her identity to her human boyfriend whose family is very religious and opinionated about Others. Gwen's fears are realized when she does in fact tell Zack the truth, but you can't blame his reaction. Zack didn't really do much for me. He definitely was a catalyst to the story, but he was just there. I was a bit surprised how quickly Gwen jumped into another relationship as her first one ends, especially when it seems she is so deeply hurt by Zack. Unlike the realistic relationship Gwen shared with Zack, her relationship with Tavian is just too perfect. Gwen and Tavian are connected by their secret otherness and instant attraction; however, I never really felt a spark in their relationship. I was a bit surprised how fast they both declared their love for one another.
  Other does, however, excel at a suspenseful mystery. The mystery of who is behind killing the Others and the specific victims are well played out. It's actually the mystery that kept my attention. While avid mystery readers can probably figure out the killer early on, I thought the clues were spread out and come together quite nicely. The short chapters and quick pacing should work well for reluctant readers. Other by Karen Kincy would be a good introduction to the urban fantasy genre. Kincy is a promising writer and I look forward to reading her other books. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, underage drinking, as well as a semi explicit sex scene in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Blood and Chocolate by Annette Klause Curtis, Bloodborn (Other #2) by Karen Kincy, or the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs
Rummanah Aasi
  I wanted to write a post about reading for quite some time, but I wasn't completely sure where to start. I began to reflect on my own literacy autobiography, wondering how I transformed from someone who wouldn't give a book a second thought to someone who is constantly reading. Looking back on my childhood, I would definitely label myself as a reluctant reader. In fact I didn't really develop a love for reading until about fourth or fifth grade. Believe it or not, I would actually get reprimanded for not reading. My journey from a reluctant reader to an avid reader is not very different from other stories I've heard or witnessed while working at a library. I'm dedicating this post on the Top 5 things I've learned about my own journey and including some tips to help out struggling parents or readers themselves.

Top 5 Things I've Learned about My Own Journey

 1. Allow the reader the freedom to choose his/her own books to read instead of being forced to read it. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the following: "If I hadn't been forced to read it in school, I probably would've liked it". Like many, I too, once believed that reading was just like any other homework assignment: frustrating, boring, and painful. I actually spent more time as a child sitting in front of the TV more than reading because it was more active with lively characters, crafty plots, and virtually effortless on my end. It's not until someone asked me what I liked and gave me a choice to read book with appealing stories that my mindset about reading changed.  

2. Finding the right book for the right reader can make all the difference. I believe everyone is a reader. My definition of a reluctant reader is someone who hasn't found the right book for them to read. I went through a series of hit or misses with books when I was a kid. The Boxcar Children and Pollyana were a definite no while the Ramona books and Encyclopedia Brown books clicked. Why? That leads me to #3 and #4.

3. Knowing the readers likes and dislikes is very important. Narrow down what the reader wants from a book early on. Does he/she like character or plot driven novels? A fast paced book that will keep them on the edge of their seat or a book that will slowly grow on them? Books that introduce them to new worlds and creatures or a setting that mirrors their own lives? For example, I didn't like The Boxcar Children or Pollyanna because the stories were sad, unrealistic, and repetitive. How could these children survive, practically unscathed, and overcome all obstacles by just being good?

4. Reading is a personal experience. Most of the time you have to be vested into the characters, the plot, or even the themes of the book. Therefore, its essential that I like books that contain believable and relatable characters without the author's condescending tone. For me, there is nothing worst than reading about a perfect character who never gets into trouble, because frankly that person doesn't exist. When I read, I want to be able to picture myself in the book, wonder if I would make the same decisions as the characters that I'm reading about. I didn't see any part of myself in Pollyana, but the rumbustious, lively Ramona Quimby? Heck, yeah. I got in trouble for snooping around, breaking things, doing things that I was told not to do. Who didn't do those things when they were little?

5. It's okay not to love books that other people like. My reading tastes are very different than my siblings and even from my own coworkers. I don't know why, but it took me a long time to realize that I don't have to like everything that everybody else does. Having a community of eclectic readers allows discussion and insight. I can't tell you how thrilling it is to see that spark of excitement when a fellow reader tells me about a book that I have to read or better yet rant why I recommended this book to them because it was "awful". Once a reader has a positive experience about reading, they are more likely to want to have that experience again.

6. Reading should not be limited to just books only. The way we define literacy is much more complicated that the simple "read and write definition". Some people are visual learners while others are auditory. If you find reading books boring, try reading a magazine, an online webcomic, graphic novels, newspaper, reading blogs, checking out audiobooks from your library, etc.The bottom line is: find a format that works best for you. 

"Shameless!: the true story of how I won over a reluctant reader, in graphic form, by LaDuska Adriance and Ellen Lindner. Found on School Library Journal (9/26/2008)

Tips to Help Reluctant Readers
1. Learn why he/she is a reluctant reader. There are a wide variety of reasons why people don't like to read. Some claim that they don't have time, others find it simply boring, or they are just unmotivated, or unskilled at reading. The more you know about the person you are helping, the more prepared you will be.

2. Find out what the reader likes and doesn't like to do when or after they read. Some readers are very specific of their likes and dislikes. Some may like to have their teacher read-aloud a book, compare the movie to the book, or even do activities based upon a book which isn't necessarily a book report, but the single most important thing to keep in mind is let them choose a book of their own choice from a narrow list. Giving the reader an option allows him/her to take an active role and shows them that their interests matter.

3. Find books that are appealing to them, particularly in the book's description, cover appeal, and writing style. First impressions are very important to reluctant readers. If you give them a book that has a catchy, action-oriented, attractive, appealing, a good "blurb", chances are they are going to pick it up. Other things to keep in mind are: print style (i.e. is the book easy to read without squinting or using a magnifying glass?), format (i.e. is it consistent?, is there enough balance between text and white space in the book?), artwork/illustrations (is it appealing, does it add to the story?) As for writing style, you should think about the sentence structure and use of sophisticated vocabulary. The last thing you want to do is to make the reader feel dumb. Of course, you also need to keep the structure of the book in mind as well: does it hook the reader in the first 10 pages?, are the characters well defined, distinguishable and easy to relate to?, is the plot believable?, are the plot lines developed through dialog and action instead of paragraphs filled with descriptive text?

4. Know which book list to look for titles. Don't just choose books that are popular and expect reluctant readers to like them, but provide them a list of books that is suitable for their maturity and reading level. Some books that worked really well for reluctant readers in my experience are: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowlings, The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and Monster by Dean Walter Myers but by no means are these the only books. If you are looking for more titles, be sure to check out Marilyn Reynolds's  I Won’t Read and You Can’t Make Me: Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers in which Renyolds, a current author for teens and a former teacher, shares her motivation and strategies for reaching reluctant teen readers, including success stories from her past students and questions from readers, Edward T. Sullivan's Reaching Reluctant Young Adult Readers: A Handbook for Librarians and Teachers which not only identifies additional titles but also gives new strategies to reach reluctant teen readers, and you can always find helpful titles and a wide variety of book suggestions from the ALA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers which comes out annually.

5. If you don't succeed, try and try again! Working with reluctant readers can be frustrating experience for both, but use this opportunity to get to know your reader better and keep pitching them books that you think will catch their interest. Seek help from your school librarian, public librarian, your reader's peers, and even your trusted bookseller. You never know what will catch their eye.

I would like to hear from you. Were you once a reluctant now turned avid reader like me? What was your experience like? Any there any essential tips in helping reluctant readers that I missed? Please include them in the comments!
Related Posts with Thumbnails