Rummanah Aasi
  Happy Halloween! I know that I have to write a few book reviews before Anna Dressed in Blood, but the books fits perfectly with this holiday. In fact it is definitely on my list of Halloween Reads, especially if you like horror, romance, and humor. Anna Dressed in Blood is by far the best horror YA book I've read in a very, very long time.

Description (inside panel of the book):  Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
    When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.

Review: If you combined the cinematic vision of Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman's familiarity of the fantastical, and the laugh out humor of Joss Whedon, you would get a result much like Kendare Blake's debut novel Anna Dressed in Blood. I've heard much talk of this book when it was released late August and read nothing but great reviews. Thankfully, the book lived up to its hype and for me, became much more.
  Cassius Theseus Lowood grew up in an unconventional family. His mother is a white witch and his father was in the business of killing the dead until one of the ghosts he was hunting murdered him in the most gruesome way. In Cas’s world, dead people often don’t want to leave the place where they died, especially if they were victims of a violent crime. Instead, they stay behind as monstrous echoes of their former selves  where most of them seek revenge for the horrors they experienced. When Cas’s father died, Cas inherited his duties and his powerful athame. He has been moving all over the country and killing ghosts since he was 14 years old. Of all the ghosts he's encountered, he has never run into a ghost as powerful as Anna nor did he ever try so hard to understand what drives a dead person to murder innocent people. 
  I loved Cas and his narration. He oozes confidence, charm with a wicked sense of humor. I couldn't help but think of the ghost busters theme song every time he appeared much to his chagrin, I'm sure.  Cas is a layered character who feels genuine, so realistic in the way he carries himself in public and what goes on in his head. Given the nature of his life, he distances himself from people, doesn't ever try to form friendships or get close to others because he knows his time is only temporary, but Thunder Bay is nothing like any other place he has stayed and it completely turns everything upside down. People are suddenly becoming tangled up in the scary, ghost-filled life he leads and for the first time ever, he's making friends (who are in large part awesome secondary characters who come into their own). And then, of course, there's Anna.
  Anna is a character that I have not met before. She is different in every way. Her moniker Anna Dressed in Blood comes from the legend surrounding her death. She was killed in 1958 while walking to the prom in her beautiful white dress. She was found with her throat slit from ear to ear and blood completely covered her white dress. Ever since her murder, Anna’s been tied to the house she grew up in and kills everyone who has tried to enter her house. Nothing is black and white in Anna's story: she is both a killer and a victim, a horrible monster and an innocent girl. Just when I thought I had warmed up to her, she turns around and does something completely unexpected and freaks me out! Her mercurial personality changes as quickly as her appearance which forces Cas to doubt every single choice he made since the beginning of his hunt.
  The relationship between Cas and Anna is fascinating. Some may interpret it to be romantic, but I see it more as kindred spirits. Cas and Anna share many similar characteristics. Both abandoned in a very young age and forced to become something they are not. I think its their sadness that establishes their connection right away. I would love to see how this relationship develops in the future books.  
Blake perfectly balances her dark, horrifying story with ample amount of humor all the while keeping the suspense pounding. The comedy works even better when juxtaposed against serious suspense. Anna leavens the comedy even as the suspense boils into terror. (Seriously, don't go in the basement. *Shudders*) I was completely immersed in the story and had to tell everyone who would listen to pick up this book immediately. Yes, there are times when you want to put the book from the freezer and it definitely made me feel jumpy, but the story and the characters are all well worth it. To those wondering how gory the book is, I will say that Blake gives you enough description to picture the images in your mind, however, I think your interpretation of the images will be is what will scare you the most.
 Original, mesmerizing, dark, romantic, spine chilling, and enormous fun, Anna Dressed in Blood is on my favorite list of horror books I've ever read. I can't wait for Girl of Nightmares (Anna #2) to come out next year!

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some underage drinking and language. There are gory and disturbing moments in the book, but aren't overly descriptive. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride, Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Rummanah Aasi
 I told myself that I wasn't going anywhere near Hard Bitten, the fourth book of the Chicagoland Vampires, because of its supposedly jaw dropping cliffhanger. So what do you do when someone tells you no? You do it anyway. Thank goodness I don't have to wait too long to find out what happens next!

Description: Times are bleak for vampires in Chicago. Ever since their presence coupled by other paranormals have announced, humans have been rallying against supernaturals. What's not helping is a recent report about a violent vampire attack that has left three women missing.  Mayor Tate calls Merit and Ethan to a clandestine meeting and tells them about a violent vamp attack that has left three women missing. His message is simple: get your House in order or else.
  Upholding to her vows to protect her house and master, Sentinel Merit needs to get to the bottom of this crime, but it doesn't help that she can't tell who's on her side. So she secretly calls in a favors from various contacts to get information on the attack. Merit soon finds herself in a complicated mess and discover things that will change her forever.

Review: While I liked the first three books of the Chicagoland Vampire series, Hard Bitten is my favorite so far. Unlike the other books, Hard Bitten is much darker and serious in tone. We've watched Merit train as a new vampire and learning about her role as a sentinel. She's sought advise from her other House members and various other networks. I loved how her training wheels have come off in this book and for once she is truly independent and doing her duty. This is a big step for Merit, who has emphasized time and again that she didn't choose to be a vampire. In Hard Bitten Merit doesn't seek approval but rather calls the shots and must deal with the consequences of her actions.
  All of Neil's trademarks are evident in this latest installment. The snarky dialogue was a delight to read. Ethan garnered the right amount of sympathy along with irritation which makes him so.....Ethan. Recapping of the past books was kept to a minimum, so I do recommend reading this series from the beginning if you are interested. The journey to this book is so worth it. The pacing was smooth and quick, with every chapter offering progress. I couldn't put this book down. If I wasn't reading it, then I was trying to figure out the criminal's motivations. Neil had me guessing to the very end. The big reveal was shocking in several ways. Neill showed excellent timing and skill in giving out the details while still withholding one or two very important puzzle pieces until the very end.
With each book we learn more information about the other paranormals that live in Chicago. We've learned about the vampires in Some Girls Bite and Friday Night Bites, shapeshifters in Twice Bitten, and now in Hard Bitten we get a little more information on magic, which makes me hopeful that the sorcerer contingent will be coming soon. We also catch glimpses of Gabriel as well as members of other supernatural communities. I like how these characters reappear throughout the series and not just used conveniently as a plot device and completely forgotten once they served their purpose. 

  I know I keep mentioning about the setting, but as a resident of Chcago I can't help it. It's clear that Neil’s fondness and knowledge of its many neighborhoods, its people, and its traditions is genuine. I think it would be awesome to do a Chicagoland Vampire city tour. I can't help but get hungry while reading the books as Merit mentions her favorite foods. I'm completely jealous that Merit can eat all she wants without worrying about her health.
I experienced a wide range of emotion while reading this book, but the last page had me stunned. I was so flummoxed that I had to read the last 5 pages at least three times. Even then I called my girl friend who is reading the series along with me to see if I had a defected copy. I think my words were: "What the hell? Did that just happen?" Actually, they were a lot worse than that. *ahem* I do get emotional while reading. ;) And that is when you know you are reading a great series: you are surprised at how stealthily these characters become a piece of your heart.
  I don’t know where the series is going at this stage, though I have some probable theories. Like many readers, I felt like the carpet I was standing on was whipped out underneath me, leaving me in utter disbelief but I think I can trust Neil to tell the right story for Merit. There’s a lot of fodder for speculation after this one as the events are game-changing. I know many are doubting to continue the series after this book, but I'm ready for the ride.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and violence. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Drink Deep by Chloe Neil (Chicagoland Vampires #5), Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep, Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance, Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs
Rummanah Aasi
   Today I'm very delighted to have debut author Courtney King Walker to my blog! Courtney's book, On the Fringe, hit bookshelves last week. Many thanks to Courtney and the Teen Book Scene for allowing this interview to happen.
  Let's learn a little about Courtney: She grew up in Walnut Creek, California. After discovering she does not work well in the kitchen, Courtney discovered a love for writing, music and art. Eventually she decided on graphic design for a career, and earned her BFA from Brigham Young University. After residing in St. Louis, Chicago and San Francisco, Courtney now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and four children.
  Before we get to the interview, check out the awesome book trailer for On the Fringe below:


   Welcome Courtney and thank you so much for stopping by my blog today. I noticed that you lived in Chicago for quite some time. I do too. What area did you live in? Do you have a favorite spot or landmark? 

   I lived just west of Chicago in a quaint little town called Glen Ellyn. It is one of my favorite places…with a Main Street, a little train depot, and a gorgeous stone high school overlooking a lake. On the 4th of July we’d spread out blankets and watch fireworks being set off over the lake; it was as Norman Rockwell as you could get. Chicago is my absolute favorite city – I can’t rave about it enough. From Lake Michigan to the food to the landscape to the art, museums, architecture and enthusiastic sports fans, to the river and drawbridges and the train system…
    Because I’m a food enthusiast, my favorite spots happen to be restaurants. Here’s a few:
  Steak: Gene & Georgetti (Talk about integrity: they’ll refuse to cook your filet well done. “I’m sorry…you must get another cut if you want it well-done.”)
Dessert: Heaven on Seven (get the coconut cake or key lime pie and you will never be the same. I often dream about that coconut cake.)
  Pizza: Gino’s East or Giordano’s (you can order their deep-dish and pay a hefty price to have it delivered anywhere in the U.S. I have done this more than once.)
 Hot Dog, Chicago-style: Portillo’s (Yes. Get everything on it.)

 You're pretty much summed up my love for Chicago. Let's talk about your main characters in On the Fringe. In a few words, how would you describe Claire and Daniel? 

Claire is quiet and observant, and keeps everything inside. Daniel is fun and outgoing with a tinge of sarcasm. He’s like a sunny day.

  Sarcasm is a very good thing to have, especially in a cute guy. :) If you had to choose one song to best describe Daniel and Claire's relationship, what would it be? 

I love when I’m asked this question because music has such a huge influence on my writing. Middle Distance Runner by Sea Wolf perfectly nails Daniel and Claire’s relationship… What I get out of the lyrics is that he can’t run the whole way to reach her, so he needs her to run to him instead, and then they can meet half way.
  Sea Wolf is a great band that I recently discovered and the song is great. What is your favorite passage or moment in On the Fringe

I love when Daniel “revisits” his past to find the bits of Claire in his life he’d overlooked when he was alive. It’s fun picturing them as kids, and understanding the progression of their relationship over the years.

 I really like the sound of Daniel and Claire's relationship. I've always wanted to ask mystery writers how they compose their stories. Did you know the ending to On the Fringe before writing the story and if so, how do you prevent giving the answers away too quickly when you begin the book?

   I believe mystery writers are geniuses (which means I’m really not a mystery writer). I hate to even put myself up there with them. However, there is a bit of mystery to On the Fringe, which I didn’t really plan beforehand. You can say I had an idea of where I wanted the story to go, but not necessarily how I wanted to get there. There were many instances in which the twists and turns popped into my head as I was writing. During the editing process is really where you take a step back and insert clues here and there.

 Very cool. By profession you are a graphic designer. What made you decide to write? Did you approach writing your book as you would have with a graphic design project?

  As a child I retreated into my imagination a lot. On my bio I mention making rafts and spaceships out of cardboard—I remember two things specifically about those projects: 1. Worrying that our raft would eventually make its way down Niagara Falls (I lived in California). And 2. Why did Mom say yes when I asked her if we could fly to the moon? My childhood was like that—full of oversized dreams and endless possibilities. As an adult, the only way to extend that feeling is by writing about the world inside my head and hope others want to go there with me, at least for an hour. Funny thing is, I thought I was going to be an illustrator before I ever even thought about being an author. Then I kept getting C’s in my drawing classes, and reconsidered.
   In college, my design teachers taught me that every project starts with a problem, and your job is to solve it. That’s now how I attack everything in life, whether writing a story, cleaning a house, helping kids with schoolwork, or rolling a piecrust. When I view things as solvable projects, everything seems much more manageable.

  That's such a great way at looking at obstacles. Sometimes I think I throw in the towel too quickly when things get difficult and forget to take things into perspective. A obstacle for me is cooking and finding out the dish I made isn't as great as my mom's. You mentioned about several cooking disasters on your bio. What is your most memorable kitchen catastrophe?

  Using spray whip cream for a cream pie I was making for my mom’s birthday. I was lazy, and didn’t want to go to the store to buy cream, so when I saw the can of spray whip cream in the fridge, I thought I was saved. When my mom pretended all was fine while slurping it up like soup, I felt horrible.

Well, at least you attempted to tried to make something. *grins*  From a graphic design artist perspective, what is your favorite book cover (you can pick any genre) and why? What book cover makes you cringe every time you look at it?

I don’t think I can pick just one. But in YA, there are a couple over the years that I’ve thought were ingenious either for pure concept or for being strikingly gorgeous (or both):
1. Twilight
2. Matched
3. Wintergirls
4. Glimmerglass

 There really are a lot of average covers out there, and as a designer you notice stuff like that. I pick out logos and signs and spacing and apostrophes all the time. So it’s fitting to say that I’m a design snob. Not that I am an awesome designer myself, but I can definitely pick out the good, the bad and the ugly. Still, I hate picking on a bad book cover because it’s really not the author’s fault (most of the time). I’ll have to say that Breaking Dawn’s cover bugs me somewhat not because it’s bad, but because the concept is so literal compared to the series’ previous covers. Twilight’s cover was such a fresh, subtle illustration of what the book was about, which was especially important before readers were really convinced they wanted to read a vampire story.

  It's interesting that you found Breaking Dawn's cover to be too literal. I can't tell you how times I've come across people who are so confused about the cover. What's your opinion about your own book cover? Unlike many other authors, this is your main field, did you have any input? 

  Designing a book cover is any graphic designer’s dream. After completing On the Fringe back in 2008, I started dreaming up my book cover during the whole waiting game that happens to be a huge part of the publishing process. I liked the idea of underwater photography because it really fit the story as well as the mood of the book. I found a lot of really great photos by various photographers, but it wasn’t until Lands Atlantic picked me up and my editor let me have a stab at designing the front cover when I found Elena Kalis’ gorgeous photos. I’m pretty sure she has other shots that have been used as book covers. But this particular one just embodies the essence of On the Fringe. I love how it captures a critical scene in the book, as well as the mood of the entire story. It feels beautiful and innocent, with the blues and pinks melting together, yet completely frightening the way her body is sinking.

  The cover of your book is so haunting and beautiful. I find myself wondering what happened in the story that led to Claire's sinking. I take notes when I read and keep either post it notes in my book or a separate journal to write down favorite quotes. Do you have any reading quirks? 

  I have a tendency to “speed-read,” which means I occasionally miss stuff and have to go back and re-read. I love reading, but don’t always have as much time as I’d like to get through every book. I have a hard time listening to tapes on books because I want the reader to hurry it up, already! But it’s like yoga – I know reading is better if you can absorb it and experience it rather than just get through it. That’s how I know I really love a book, when I want to read every single word.

  I also have the same problem with audiobooks, but I learned a trick. Get the audiobook and a copy of the book in print. This way if the audiobook gets slow, you can stop it and pick up the book instead. It's helped me out a few times. Alright, inquiring minds want to know: what's on your tbr pile?

Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin
And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor
Pathfinder, by Orson Scott Card

Wow, such a great mix of genres! Courtney, thanks again for being here today. Readers, if you would like to know more about Courtney and her book be sure to stop by her website or find her on Good Reads.  

 Claire is struggling to overcome the murder of her childhood friend and secret crush, Daniel. Everyone else seems to be moving on with their lives, but she's still trying to cope. The fact that she finds herself alone and drowning on her 16th birthday isn't helping.
  Neither is thinking she sees Daniel's face in murky water as she mysteriously resurfaces. But something happened during those four and a half minutes that will make her realize it was not just her imagination.
  As Claire and Daniel try to grasp a possible reconnection, other grudge-holding beings have plans of their own. Now, the two of them have to decide if their fleeting relationship is worth the possibility of Claire being trapped on the fringe forever.

Beautifully told, On the Fringe intertwines fresh ideas about devotion, revenge, and the consequences that come with life and death.
Rummanah Aasi

   It's Tuesday and today I'm participating in this awesome meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. The meme is created to share top 10 lists with fellow bloggers on bookish topics. Today's topic is books I think would be great reads for Halloween. Here they are my picks in no particular order:

Top 10 Great Halloween Reads

  1. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendra Blake- I recently finished this one and absolutely loved it. It's probably the best YA horror book I've read in a very long time.
  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker- I can't believe I never read this book considering how many paranormal books are on my reading list. I think it'll be very interesting to see how this cautionary tale and genre evolved.
  3. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury- A Halloween pick from the children's librarian at my local library. I have this one sitting on my shelf for a while and never read it.
  4. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff- This book has an extremely creepy cover. It's been on my tbr pile since last year.
  5. Dust and Frail by Joan Francis Turner- A great pick for zombies lovers, but I couldn't handle the blood and the gore. 
  6. Solitary: Escape from the Furnace #2 by Alexander Gordon Smith: An edge of your seat horror/ thriller series that will really appeal to middle school/teen boys and reluctant readers. I've read the first two books and really enjoyed them.
  7. The Dreaming by Queenie Chen- A three book, horror graphic novel series that revolves around dead boarding school students who disappear outside of campus.
  8. The Collector by John Fowles- I started this book in high school but it really creeped me out. I think I'll give it a second chance.
  9. Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman- I stumbled upon this book when I was compiling a book list and it sounds really good.
  10. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey- I've heard great things about this series. I have it on my tbr pile, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet.
What about you? What are your All Hallow Reads? Leave them in the comments!
Rummanah Aasi
  I really enjoyed reading Andrea Cremer's debut paranormal romance novel Nightshade. You can read my review for Nightshade here. The Nightshade series is highly recommended for readers who like a strong female character, excellent and intricate world building, and searing romantic tension.

Description (from Goodreads): When Calla Tor wakes up in the lair of the Searchers, her sworn enemies, she’s certain her days are numbered. But then the Searchers make her an offer—one that gives her the chance to destroy her former masters and save the pack—and the man—she left behind. Is Ren worth the price of her freedom? And will Shay stand by her side no matter what? Now in control of her own destiny, Calla must decide which battles are worth fighting and how many trials true love can endure and still survive.

Review: Wolfsbane begins immediately where Nightshade ends. Readers new to this series must read the first book in order to gain a familiarity with the earlier story and a large cast of characters since the author offers little explanation to new readers.
  As the book begins, Alpha Calla awakens in a room where she has been held captive by the Searchers, a group of humans who fight the Guardians, a pack of werewolves. Having left her wolf pack to save Shay, she reluctantly allies with warily trusts the Searchers yet finds herself questioning all she once believed in, including the nature of her own species. Plagued by the idea that she is solely responsible of putting her pack in trouble and shocked to learn her real history, Calla joins forces with the Searchers, led by the dark and stoic Monroe. Together they hatch a scheme to infiltrate the Keepers, an evil group that controls the wolves (Calla's pack in particular). The crew embarks on deadly missions to try to save them.  
  The tone of Wolfsbane is much darker and sinister than Nightshade. As readers, we can't help but feel the urgency, seriousness, and danger that infiltrates the air and surrounds our characters. Much of this change of ambiance from the friendly banter of Nightshade is due to the large absence of the wolf packs, particularly Calla's, but that isn't to say that the wit, charm, and romantic tension is completely gone from this book. In a lot of ways, Wolfsbane is like a new story. We are introduced to new characters and learn a lot about how the Searchers function and their community. Like the wolf packs, I also really enjoyed learning about these characters. Adne is a weaver of portals and Monroe's daughter. Connor is a strong, snarky, and flirtatious Searcher who might have a thing for Adne. Connor reminded me a lot of Jace from Cassandra Clare's popular Mortal Instrument series. Ethan is a powerful fighter with a chip on his shoulder. I was surprised to see how much I warmed up to these characters who were once deemed as Calla's enemies.
   Wolfsbane is a really fast read. There are so many plot twists and action scenes that filled the pages that I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. As Cremer has promised, we learn more about Ren's past, the war between the Keepers and Seachers. We also learn more about Shay's role in the grand scheme of things. There is a lot of heart break and loss in this book as lives were lost. Unlike many other paranormal romances that I read where I can predict where the author is going in his/her storytelling, I have no idea what will happen next.
  I really enjoyed Wolfsbane, but I did have a problem with how the love triangle was presented in this book. In Nightshade we were first introduced to the love triangle between Calla, Shay, and Calla's betrothed, Ren. The tension escalates as Shay and Calla become closer. Calla is sure she loves Shay, but she is racked with guilt over abandoning Ren and the rest of her family and pack. Even though Ren doesn't appear in this book hardly at all, his presence can be felt. Shay continues to irritate me to no end with his incessant reasoning of how things "should be done". Though I understand and see why his assertiveness is coming out, there is something about him that I don't trust. For me, I thought the love triangle was less exciting this time because we get to know Ren's past but not him as a person. I really hope Cremer gives Ren a larger role in the next book, which I think she will as Wolfbane leaves off with a very big cliffhanger revolves around him. I can't wait to see what Cremer has in stored for us next.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, some language, and an allusion to sex. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Blood Rose (Nightshade #3) by Andrea Cremer released January 2012, Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, 13 to Life by Shannon Delaney
Rummanah Aasi

  I'm happy to be part of Michael Griffo's Archangel Academy series blog tour hosted by The Teen Book Scene. For today's post I had invited Michael to give us his top ten favorite songs he has on repeat. Here is his list:

Top 10 Favorite Songs On Repeat

  1.  Judas by Lady Gaga
  2. Boys, Boys, Boys by Lady Gaga
  3. Kiss Me in the Rain by Barbara Streisand
  4. I Love a Rainy Night by Eddie Rabbitt
  5. Come On Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners
  6. Too Shy Shy by Kajagoogoo
  7. The Look of Love by ABC
  8. Everything from Duran Duran
  9. Everything from Human League
  10. Anything from the Jekyll and Hyde musical
 Thank you so much for stopping by, Michael. Some of those songs are my favorite too. Readers, what do you think of Michael's choices?
Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to The Reel Shelf, a new weekly feature here at Books in the Spotlight where I imagine what's on my favorite TV/Movie character's book shelves. There are very few television shows that accurately depict the life of an average American teenager. The short-lived but much loved show, My So-Called Life, was ahead of its time in combining wonderful insight, realistic teen issues, and a great cast of characters. It was one of the most talked about show when I was a teen and could really see myself as the main character and narrator Angela Chase.

Sometimes it seems like we're all living in some kind of prison. And the crime is how
much we hate ourselves. It's good to get really dressed up once in while. And admit the truth: that when you really look closely? People are so strange and so complicated that they're actually... beautiful. Possibly even me.

 Angela Chase, played by Claire Danes, is a sophomore at Liberty High School in Three Rivers, Pennsylvania. Like most teens trying to survive high school, Angela is attempting to discover and assert her identity. To do this, she expands her circle of friends which allows her to get out of her own comfort zone and see the real world. Angela has a complex relationship with Jordan Catalano. Though Angela finds herself in precarious and sometimes dangerous situations, she always remains true to her values. I imagine Angela's bookshelf to contain several contemporary, realistic novels featuring a protagonist who are also stumbling through adolescence and trying to make sense of their life.

Rummanah Aasi
  If you thought about jumping into the urban fantasy genre and wasn't sure where to start, I would suggest picking up Chloe Neil's Chicagoland Vampire series. The series has a great blend of humor, action, mystery, and romance. There are currently 4 books out right now with the fifth book coming out in less than 2 weeks. Here is the reading order, which I highly suggest you follow, to prepare you for book five: Some Girls Bite, Friday Night Bites, Twice Bitten, and Hard Bitten.

Description (From Goodreads):  Shapeshifters from across the country are convening in the Windy City, and as a gesture of peace, Master Vampire Ethan Sullivan has offered their leader a very special bodyguard: Merit, Chicago's newest vampire. Merit is supposed to protect the Alpha, Gabriel Keene-and to spy for the vamps while she's at it. Oh, and luckily Ethan's offering some steamy, one-on-one combat training sessions to help her prepare for the mission.
  Unfortunately, someone is gunning for Gabriel, and Merit soon finds herself in the line of fire. She'll need all the help she can get to track down the would-be assassin, but everywhere she turns, there are rising tensions between supernaturals-not least between her and a certain green-eyed, centuries-old master vampire.

Review: Twice Bitten picks up shortly where Friday Night Bites left its readers. We find out who was sending Merit those mysterious unsigned invitations, which sets up a really cool plotline. Unlike the first two books that solely focused on the houses of vampires stationed in Chicago, we get a sneak peak into the shape shifters. The shifters are coming to town and Ethan tells Merit he needs her help in providing security for them during their convocation. His hope is to convince the shifters to stay and become allies. A pending yet inevitable war is on the horizon so an alliance amongst vampires and shifters may be fruitful to all involved. Working as Sentinel for the Cadogan House, Merit continues her training as she excels at her sword work but still struggles with sparring.
  The romantic tension between Merit and Ethan really heats up in this book. I'm not really sure what to call their connection, but it is definitely entertaining and frustrating to watch and observe especially as Ethan seems to slowly break his defenses in one moment and then quickly builds them back up the next. I couldn't help but feel emotional whiplash in this book as these two try to figure out what to do with themselves.
  As I mentioned before, I love Merit, our heroine who is snarky, smart, honorable, and loyal, but most of all she doesn't let her world crumble over a guy. She makes mistakes and picks herself up from the ground when she falls. I enjoyed seeing her grow as a character over the course of the series. She starts as a grad student with a closely defined, much smaller world outlook. After she is converted, her world becomes much bigger and she grows to fit into it without changing who she is.
   I also continue to love the secondary characters in this series. The relationships in this series are organic which make them real to the reader. I actually picture them chatting and fighting, which doesn't happen a lot when I read paranormal stories. I really enjoyed how we got to know some important background information about Ethan, which gives us a little understanding how his brain works. Ethan is one of the rare love interests that I simultaneously hate and love, which I think speaks volume of how far he is removed from his humanity. 
  The world building continues to be one of the strengths of this series. We learn a few more tidbits of the vampire lifestyle in this book. We also see how sorcery magic works, as well as an in-depth introduction to shapeshifters--how they are organized, their magic, their politics, etc. I have to be bias and say how I absolutely love Neil for using Chicago as the backdrop to her series. The touches of real-life Chicago and the city's culture add color and depth to the series. 
   I know that there is a huge cliffhanger that awaits me when I pick up book four, Hard Bitten. I told myself that I would read the next installment as the release date of book 5 approaches (Nov. 1st) but I don't think I can wait that long.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a semi-explicit sex scene, strong language, and violence. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Hard Bitten (Chicagoland Vampires #4) by Chloe Neil, Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews, Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead
Rummanah Aasi
  Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls is my leading favorite YA werewolves series. What sets this series apart, in my opinion, is that it moves beyond the werewolf and human relationship and delves into the various aspects of our humanity. I highly anticipated Forever's arrival this year as I loved the previous two books, Shiver and Linger, and I was not disappointed at all. This review may contain spoilers for Shiver and Linger only.

Description (From Goodreads): In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. In Linger, they fought to be together. Now, in Forever, the stakes are even higher than before. Wolves are being hunted. Lives are being threatened. And love is harder and harder to hold on to as death comes closing in.

Review: Forever is a poignant, beautiful, heartbreaking, and an incredible climax to Maggie Stiefvater's werewolf trilogy. I was looking for something close to a happy ending for characters that have suffered a lot in the previous books, but I discovered something even better and powerful: a novel full of hope and an extremely captivating book that I didn't want to end.
   Maggie Stiefvater's writing is fabulous. She is unbelievably gifted in creating scenes and especially emotions in such pitch perfect yet simple phrases that makes the reader ride on an emotional roller-coaster. I get so immersed in her world that I find it hard to imagine these characters don't exist in real life. The internal struggles of the characters only add to this depth and tug at your heart strings.
  Unlike many other paranormal romances that I've read, the Wolves of Mercy Falls is a series that is driven by first and foremost by its characters. I fell in love with Grace and Sam's relationship in Shiver, I wanted Isabel to find healing in Linger, and I couldn't help but by smitten by the reckless and snarky rock star that is Cole St. Clair.
  Stiefvater doesn't shy away from putting her characters through strife in her books. Emotions are raw, real, and gritty. There's no sugarcoating. People just don't die in order to move the plot along or build suspense, but they leave a residue for the remaining characters, who grieve and search for healing.
  There isn't much of a plot in Forever.  The book begins right where Linger leaves off: Grace is a werewolf for half of the book, and Sam misses her desperately. Isabel is depressed, though she won't admit it to anyone, let alone herself. And all the while, the threat of Tom Culpeper and his desire to get rid of all the wolves is looming. What drives the plot forward and builds nail biting suspense is the fact that Tom Culpeper actually gets his wish: the government comes in to stage a massive hunt to exterminate all the wolves in Mercy Falls, meaning everyone from Beck to Grace are all in danger. So Sam and Cole must come up with a plan to save the wolves before they're all murdered.
  The magic of this series is the development of the various relationships. The devotion and love between Sam and Grace, who have fought so hard for their love, the romantic tension between Cole and Isabel, and surprisingly, the budding friendship between Sam and Cole. I love the fact that all of these characters are not one dimensional. They are severely wounded from their own tragic pasts. In a way, I think Stiefvater uses the wolf as an allegory for the inner demons these characters are fighting to either control and in some cases accept and move on. Amazingly, characters who are neglected by their birth families, either by choice or by fate, they manage to to find solace in one another and creating a community of their own. 
  In midst of the angst, pain, and self discovery, there is an abundance of romance. There are short glimpses of the affection between Sam and Grace that maybe might have made me almost cry once or twice. And every time Cole and Isabel are together, you just feel the collision of personalities and the crackle of sexual tension. 
     I sobbed in Shiver and Linger for different reasons. In Forever, I really thought I would finish the book dry eyed, but that was before I reached the last few chapters of the book and they just seemed to pour out of me. I know many people were disappointed with the book's ending, but I really don't think it could have ended any other way. We are given clues as to what happens next, but most importantly a feeling of hope that our characters will be just fine.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, a couple of allusions to sex, and a few violent scenes. Recommended for Grades

If you like this book try: Nightshade series by Andrea Cremer, Trail by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Rummanah Aasi
 I'm still trying to find my way around the graphic novel and manga canon. I've come to realize that I need to read more graphic novels and manga for children. I jotted down a few title recommendations from fellow colleagues and websites such as The Graphic Novel Reporter and the No Flying No Tights website that I frequently visit to find out the latest titles.
 I finished reading Adventures in Cartooning, which is the graphic novel found on the Bluestem reading list, I'm glad to see graphic novels on the list and hope many more will be included.

Description (from Goodreads): Once upon a time . . . a princess tried to make a comic.  And with the help of a magical cartooning elf, she learned how – well enough to draw her way out of an encounter with a dangerous dragon, near-death by drowning, and into her very own adventure!  Like the princess, young readers will discover that they already have the drawing and writing skills it takes to make a comic – they just need a little know-how.  And Adventures in Cartooning supplies just that.

Review: Adventures in Cartooning is an insightful and enjoyable way for anyone learning how a graphic novel is created. In fairy-tale story telling fashion, the Magic Cartooning Elf helps a young princess with writer's block create her first comic. A story-within-a-story emerges, and the princess creates a deceptively silly tale of a knight, a dragon, a whale and a horse that loves candy. Along the way, the Elf drops informative hints to the reader about the structure of the story, introducing basic elements of cartooning and rudimentary techniques and how these elements effect the story.
 On the surface Adventures in Cartooning seems very simplistic, but it's simplicity is its strongest asset in teaching aspiring young artists. I loved that there is story with a plot twist in the book which hold even the youngest reader's attention. The "how to" tips don't overwhelm the fairy tale and aren't forced but only pop up when they are relevant to the cartoon. Simple cartooning basics offered after the story are quite appealing. Even the most reluctant artist, such as myself who really can't draw anything besides stick figures, may be inspired to pick up a pencil and give it a shot. Entertaining and educational fun for all ages.

Curriculum Connection: Art and English/Reading

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Great for all ages.

If you like this book try: Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, Alexis Frederick-Frost or Art for Kids: Cartooning by Art Roche
Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to The Reel Shelf, a new weekly feature here at Books in the Spotlight where I imagine what's on my favorite TV/Movie character's book shelves. Since this meme was inspired by my love for Gilmore Girls and books, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight my favorite character, Jess Mariano. 

Rory: So you did read this before.

Jess: Yeah, about 40 times.

Rory: I thought you said you didn't read much.

Jess: What is much?

  Jess is the bad boy of Stars Hollow. His mother dropped him off to his uncle, Luke, because she couldn't handle him. He works at Luke's Diner in order to earn his own money. While he spent his time in Stars Hollow he has caused a car accident, vandalism, and seduced Rory with his sarcasm and love of books as well as broke his heart. The following books are perfect for fans of Jess because they represent his wide spectrum of his personality. Like the main characters of these books, he is also struggling to find his own identity and understand the world around him.

Rummanah Aasi
  I really enjoyed Judy Blundell's debut and National Book Award winning novel, What I Saw and How I Lied, and was excited when her book was released this year. Strings Attached returns to themes of lies and secrets. Unlike many historical fiction novels, String Attached takes place in the less written era, at least in the YA realm, of the 1950s.

Description: When she drops out of school and struggles to start a career on Broadway in the fall of 1950, seventeen-year-old Kit Corrigan accepts help from an old family friend, Nate Benedict, a lawyer said to have ties with the mob. Kit isn't all that surprised that Nate asks her to do some favors for him, but she never thought he would ask her to keep tabs on Billy, Nate's son and Kit's former sweetheart.

Review: Everything changes for Kit Corrigan on November 1950 in New York City. Kit drops out of out of high school in Providence to pursue dancing and acting on Broadway and ends her relationship with Billy Benedict, a college boy and the son of a powerful mob lawyer. A fraternal triplet whose mother died in childbirth, Kit has been raised by a working-class father with the sometime help of his sister, Delia. Her brother, Jamie, and Billy have enlisted in the Korean War. In New York, Kit's talent and gorgeous red hair help land her in the chorus of a quick-to-close Broadway show. Her money begins to dwindle and an offer from Mr. Nate Benedict conveniently shows up to offer a deal that she can't ignore: a cozy apartment and an audition to be a Lido Doll, a member of a exclusive night club, as long as she does little favors for him. Nearly homeless and barely living from one small paycheck to the next, Kit doesn't see what harm those favors could be and accepts. Soon she finds out that the on-goings at the club get increasingly sinister and Kit almost immediately regrets her decision but is unable to prevent a future tainted by heartache, deception, and murder. The web of lies that Kit finds herself entangled in go beyond the nightclub and is somehow correlated to the disappearance of Aunt Delia. The past and present collide as Kit tries to find out the truth.
  Blundell vividly describes the life and times of the 1950s era. I immediately found myself immersed in Kit's world. The dialogue, attention to clothes, fashion, and music are perfectly and expertly detailed. There is no denying that Blundell loves history. Fans of history and theater will find a lot of things to appreciate here, but other readers may become a bit bored with the overly descriptive narrative as the story circles back and forth through the years of Kit's life including her Great Depression childhood and her family's bootlegging past. Sometimes the narrative became a bit too wordy for me, paragraphs  are written where a few sentences could suffice. In fact a lot of the twists and turns in the story were actually anti-climatic as I predicted them before they were revealed.
  Besides Kit, the feisty, ambitious teen who wants to rush into adulthood head on, I had a hard time connecting with the other characters. I like to picture myself as a character in the book and to actively participate in the story, with Strings Attached however, I always felt like a stage director watching the scenes unfold from a large distance. The romance between Kit and Billy was there, but I didn't feel it. I liked that Blundell addressed the prejudices of the time especially with the Irish American community and the beginning of the Red Scare, but this angle wasn't explored as much as I would have liked. I found myself putting down the book quite a lot and completely forgetting about it.
  I actually think Strings Attached would work more as a movie than as a book. Perhaps it would be easier to see the characters and background scenes play out on the screen instead of reading them thus making it a bit more personal and approachable. Nonetheless I would recommend this book for fans of historical fiction and those who love an old fashioned family drama out of the 1950s. I liked this book, but I enjoyed What I Saw and How I Lied much more.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some mild language, a few allusions to sex, and a few scenes of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9-12.

If you like this book try: Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Two Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm moving steadily along the Illinois Bluestem reading list this year. I hope to finish this list by December. I recently finished Kate Klise's Dying to Meet You which is the first book in her 43 Old Cemetery Road series. I anticipated a scary ghost story for kids but was delightfully surprised that it was a ghost story-comedy instead.

Description: Ignatius B. Grumply is a washed up children's writer. His last best selling book was published about a decade ago. Convinced that he absolutely does not have writers block but just needs a quiet place to write, he moves into the Victorian mansion at 43 Old Cemetery Road where he will pen his masterpiece. There is a slight problem, however, as the mansion is already occupied by eleven-year-old Seymour, his cat Shadow, and an irritable ghost named Olive. It's hard to say who is more outraged. Is it possible that a grumpy old ghost can inspire this crotchety old man and the abandoned kid?

Review: Although the title invokes a horror story its rickety, dilapidated mansion,  Dying to Meet you is a mock-Gothic, ghost story-comedy. Instead of being scared and slowly turning the pages in fears of what could be lurking next, we are laughing hysterically at the clever puns in the book as we meet our cast of characters.
  When former best-selling children's author I.B. Grumply moves into a Victorian mansion in Ghastly, IL, to write the latest installment in his "Ghost Tamer" series, he is flustered not just by his overwhelming case of writer's block, which he strongly denies, but also dismayed to find the mansion is already occupied by boy named Seymour (who really does see-more *wink wink*) Hope, his cat, and Olive C. Spence, a unhappy ghost living in the cupola who never managed to publish her books in her lifetime.
  Although Grumply has written ghost tales, he himself is a nonbeliever. Olive and Seymour attempt to convince him by pulling pranks on the cranky author. Animosity slowly turns into friendship as Grumply realizes that Olive and Spencer could actually help him out with his book. The three collaborate on a book about their own individual experiences.
 Along with the fun plot, I loved how the narrative is composed. We don't find our traditional prose and illustration but rather the book is all told through letters, newspaper articles and other documents along with Sarah Klise's whimsical line drawings, which add substance to the plot and a quick pace that will appeal to reluctant readers as well as leave its audience eager for book two. I plan on continuing this series because I had such a good time reading it as I hope other readers will too.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: The scenes with the ghost may be a bit scary for the younger readers, but they should be okay if the book is read with an adult. Recommended for Grades 3-6.

If you like this book try: Over My Dead Body by Kate Klise (43 Old Cemetery Road #2), Dial-a-Ghost by Eva Ibbotson, Regarding the Fountain series by Kate Klise
Rummanah Aasi
 With the fifth Chicagoland Vampire book, Drinking Deep, comes out next month, I'm trying to catch up on this awesome series. The Chicagoland Vampire series is a must read for those who like feisty and strong heroines, great world building, humor, and steamy romantic tension. I just finished the second book in the series, Friday Night Bites, and really enjoyed it.

Description (from Amazon): Ten months after vampires revealed their existence to the mortals of Chicago, they're enjoying a celebrity status usually reserved for the Hollywood elite. But should people learn about the Raves-mass feeding parties where vampires round up humans like cattle-the citizens will start sharpening their stakes.
  So now it's up to the new vampire Merit to reconnect with her upper class family and act as liaison between humans and bloodsuckers, and keep the more unsavory aspects of the vampire lifestyle out of the media. But someone doesn't want peace between them-someone with an ancient grudge...

Review: Friday Night Bites begins about a month after the events of the first book. Neil does a good job in recapping in the first few chapters that new readers to this series will appreciate. I, however, think you would get a better appreciation for the characters if you read the first book.
  Merit is still struggling with her transition to a vampire, but things are getting worse now because almost every single relationship in her life is undergoing major changes. Her best friend, Mallory, is caught up in her own identity crisis. It was painful to watch these friends who are more like sisters slowly begin to drift apart because they belong to different worlds. I really hope this change is temporary because I really the bond that Merit and Mallory share. Merit is trying to adjust to her new life as a member of one of Chicago's most elite vampire houses. She is recruited to solve a new mystery by using her well known family connections. What is distressing Merit the most is hiding her dark secret- the fact that she feels separate from her inner vampire and has to spend a lot of energy trying to control it.
   Unlike the first book, the action and mystery takes a slight back seat as the character development and relationships are explored, which is not to say the book is boring. Friday Night Bites still contains all the reasons why I enjoyed the first book so much: wonderful characterization and character development, interesting plot and world building, humor, and crackling romantic tension. What is even better is that the book ends without a major cliffhanger but more of a lead into the next book in the series.
  I absolutely love Merit. She is a character that I wish I could be: feisty, strong, smart yet not immune to vulnerabilities and self doubt that plagues all of us. The portrayal of Merit's pain and struggle is both sensitive and sympathetic. For once, I couldn't help but nod my head in agreement as Merit made her decisions instead of throwing the book across the room due to the heavy handed melodrama that is usually found in paranormal books. What is remarkable is that Merit can call herself out when she is being unreasonable and for the most part can admit to it. 
 Merit's relationship with Ethan has grown even more complex. It's hard to give their relationship a name: boss and employer? friends? would be lovers? Regardless it is very entertaining yet frustrating to watch because these two are clearly attracted to one another. I found myself alternately wishing she would just realize how destructive their attraction was, and hoping that maybe things would work out.
  I still have a hard time to pinpoint my exact feelings for Ethan. He is distant, cold, and definitely calculating but you know there is something more to him beneath his hard exterior. He has his small moments where we get a peak at the real him, the human Ethan, but they are gone in a blink of an eye. I think Merit feels the same way about Ethan, which makes it hard for me to not feel offended on her behalf for the way Ethan treats her most of the time but at the same time I can't help but wonder what will happen with their relationship and whether or not they will let that relationship form.
  There is more plotting and intrigue in Friday Night Bites than action scenes mainly because there are many mysteries left to unravel. With each book we learn something new about the Chicagoland universe and the various political figures.  I can't wait to find out what happens next in the third book!

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Some strong language and violence. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Twice Bitten (Chicagoland Vampire #3) by Chloe Neil, Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs
Rummanah Aasi
  I have a great stash of books from the library this week. I can't wait to dive in! I was very excited when I found out Vampire Knight Vol 13 was ready for me at the library. I read the last volume quite some time ago and completely forgot the latest volume would be available this month.

Description (from back of the book): Yuki is attacked by another pureblood outside a graveyard for meddling in the ways of the vampire society. Injured, she returns home to Kaname, who shares with her his past memories and the truth behind the Kuran family. 

Review: The thirteenth volume of Vampire Knight is dark, moody, and surprisingly philosophical. As this volume opens, Yuki and Aido are caught in a bind. While Yuki continues her mission, she is attacked by a pureblood vampire. In Hino's world a pureblood vampire does not have any human blood in them, they are extremely powerful and have the ability to turn humans into vampires. Zero, who is visiting a nearby cemetery senses that Yuki is trouble. Aido, who trusts Zero's common decency and his feelings about Yuki, allows Yuki to be taken to Hunter headquarters for aid in spite of his personal discomfort. The romantic tension between Zero and Yuki is palpable and leaps off the page as these characters silently make eye contact.
  Miserable and realizing that she's overreached herself, Yuki requests Kaname's help and is whisked back home. The volume finally picks up speed as Kaname opens his memories to Yuki. The revelations, much of what the reader already knows from small tidbits leading up to this volume, are finally clarified. I enjoyed learning more about Kaname, especially as to how he lived his life before he became a powerful vampire leader. We are also shown how and why the vampire hunters originated, which was very cool. For Yuki, all of these new revelations once again turns everything she thought she knew on it's head. I'm curious as to how her relationship with Kaname will change after finding out this new information.
 Unlike Yuki, Aido isn't very lucky in his escape. He is hold against his will by Zero. Aido is actually a decent guy who has a cocky exterior. He seems to respect Zero and actually warned him about the possible presence of Shizuka at Cross Academy instead of coveting the information. Aido clearly sees that Zero still cares for Yuki and even tries to get Zero to start a dialogue with Yuki again. What scares me is that Zero knows that Aido has done nothing wrong but he also knows that the society now has a young but relatively high ranking vampire in confinement who can be tortured for information. Will we see Zero finally crossing the line towards evil? Will he become the monster that he sees in Kaname? I'm worried about him and I really hope not.
  Though Yuki may be resetting her life and relationships once again, I'm more concerned with the dark turn the male characters have gone. I also wonder why Kaname has finally opened up to Yuki. From previous volumes, we know that he doesn't do something without a plan in place. What that plan will be is what I'm highly anticipating in discovering in the future volumes. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and violence. Rated OT for older teens.

If you like this book try: Vampire Knight Vol 14 by Matsuri Hino, Blackbird series by Kanoko Sakurakoji, Black Butler by Yana Tobo
Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to The Reel Shelf! The Reel Shelf is a new special feature on Books in the Spotlight. I have always wanted to a feature for my blog as well as compose more book lists for my readers. In this feature, you will find a post that will showcase books that are matched with my favorite TV show/movie character. I like to imagine what would be on their imaginary bookshelves. Yes, I know. I'm such a book nerd. I can't help it!
  What inspired me to create this feature is a readers advisory project that I did for my YA literature class. The objective of the project was to create a website that showcases books and resources that will attract readers. My teammate Amanda and I are both huge Gilmore Girls fans and we thought it was a neat idea to match books to our favorite TV show characters. We had a lot of fun and I thought it was a clever way to connect media with books.
 I hope you will join me in the fun! If this feature gets popular, I will open it up for other bloggers to participate in this meme. I know book lists can be extensive and devote a lot of time which is why I'm already in the process of creating my first book list for this feature. Check back next to see who is starring on The Reel Shelf.

Please note: The website that I used to list all of the book recommendations for this feature is no longer available. As a result, I lost all of my work. I will slowly fix these posts. Thank you for your patience.
Rummanah Aasi
  Are you a zombie fan? Personally, the whole undead eating humans isn't very appealing. I prefer the other paranormal creatures like vampires, shape shifters, and the fey. When my friend and fellow blogger, Jen over at That's What I'm Talking About, asked if I could do a guest review on her blog for Joan Frances Turner's books, Dust and Frail, I really had no idea what kind of zombies I'd run into. I'll give you a hint, they are not the good kinds! Since my review of Frail is already posted at Jen's blog, here is my review for Dust.

Description (from Goodreads):  Nine years ago, Jessie had a family. Now, she has a gang. Nine years ago, Jessie was a vegetarian. Now, she eats very fresh meat. Nine years ago, Jessie was in a car crash and died. Nine years ago, Jessie was human. Now, she’s not.
  After she was buried, Jessie awoke and tore through the earth to arise, reborn, as a zombie. Jessie’s gang is the Fly-by-Nights. She loves the ancient, skeletal Florian and his memories of time gone by. She’s in love with Joe, a maggot-infested corpse. They fight, hunt, dance together as one—something humans can never understand. There are dark places humans have learned to avoid, lest they run into the zombie gangs.
   But now, Jessie and the Fly-by-Nights have seen new creatures in the woods—things not human and not zombie. A strange new illness has flamed up out of nowhere, causing the undeads to become more alive and the living to exist on the brink of death. As bits and pieces of the truth fall around Jessie, like the flesh off her bones, she’ll have to choose between looking away or staring down the madness—and hanging onto everything she has come to know as life.

Review: If you've been reading my blog for quite some time, you know that I'm not a horror fan. I find gore scary just repulsive. I'm also not a big zombie fan either so please take this review with a grain of salt if you root for Team Zombie.
  Dust is not your stereotypical zombie book. Granted my personal knowledge of zombies are limited to movies like Shaun of the Dead, and the Night of the Living Dead, where your average zombie is eating humans while the humans go around and try to kill off the "invading" zombies. Dust far from this and actually present zombies in a new light. These zombies are capable of teaming up, communicating, and forming their own societies apart from human societies.
  Our main character, Jessie, is likeable. Her past made her a sympathetic character. I liked how Jessie desperately tried to hold on to her humanity even in her darkest hour. She was competent, aware of her surroundings, and over all a strong female character.
  Dust has a slew of secondary characters that was at times very hard to keep track of, but my favorite characters were Florian and Linc. Florian was old and wise man, always giving out helpful advise. I was sad to see him die and wanted more time with his character. Linc was a great, kind, caring, friend to Jessie. He was reliable and always supported her. 

  The concept of zombies and humans cohabiting and working together was interesting. As I said above, I'm not a zombie fan but I liked Turner's philosophical approach on what it means to live and to die, but I felt this fell short and flat in the book. In terms of a plot, there really isn't much besides the fact of a new virus out that makes another entire creature that isn't exactly human or zombie, but more like a hybrid. The narrative was very verbose and could have definitely used a lot more editing to take out the extraneous dialogue that didn't add to the story. My biggest problem with the book though it is the sheer amount of gore that is graphically detailed in the book. I lost my appetite many times while reading this book and I couldn't really eat long after I finished it either. I actually had to skim long passages due to the gore because I couldn't handle it. This book is definitely for those who have strong stomachs. 
  Had I not been requested to do a guest review for this book, I would honestly have to say I wouldn't have picked it up on my own. Readers who enjoy horror or zombies in particular may find this book interesting.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is extreme amount of gore and blood, strong language, and violence. For these reasons, I think the book is more appropriate for adults.

If you like this book try: Frail by Joan Frances Turner, Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield, or Rise Again by Ben Tripp
Rummanah Aasi
  When I went to the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago in 2009, one of the main highlights was seeing renown children authors Jon Schizeka and Mo Willems be the master of ceremonies for the library book cart drill event. The event showcasing library workers performing inspired dance routines with costumes and creatively decorated book carts is something to be witnessed by all. The MCs were hysterical and the performances were out of this world. Take a look below:

I never read anything by Schizeka but I enjoyed his comedy routine and was really excited to read his humorous memoir for children appropriately called Knucklehead.

Description: In a response to one of his most frequently asked question, where do you get your ideas?, Jon Scieszka Presents a memoir of what it was like to grow up in the 1950s and other almost true stories.

Review: Well written autobiographies that are a pleasure to read are hard to find, especially with younger readers. Knuckelhead is a delightful and hilarious memoir that I think both young and older readers will thoroughly enjoy. Jon Scieszka writes about growing up in Flint, Michigan with his parents and five brothers with his down to earth personality shining through. Each brief chapter is sparsely illustrated with family photographs and clipart, which will appeal even to reluctant readers. Scieszka writes about his love of reading that continued as he grew older. Scieszka's humor along with events that we all went through in childhood such as fooling our siblings and driving our parents is what makes this book such a fun read. I read Knucklehead in a couple of hours because I wanted to keep turning the pages to see what craziness he and his brothers will pull next. Readers looking for a genre break or even want to attempt nonfiction narrative should definitely pick this book up.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some bathroom humor in the book. In fifth grade Scieszka's class got in trouble when they were swearing on the playground. As a punishment they couldn't leave the classroom until they wrote down all the swear words they knew. The scene is handled with humor, but several words may not be appropriate for a younger reader. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Boy by Roald Dahl, Bill Peet: An Autobiography by Bill Peet, or The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
Rummanah Aasi
  I noticed that there is a lack of GLBT main characters in a fantasy and/or paranormal romances in YA literature. Many of the popular series do have characters with various sexual orientations such Magnus Bane from the extremely popular Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare; however, many of them are regulated to be secondary characters and/or plot line. Michael Griffo's Archangel Academy series is the first vampire series with a main focus on its gay protagonists. Today I will be reviewing the second book of the series as part of the Teen Book Scene blog tour.

Description (from back of the book): Life as a just-made vampire is challenging for Michael, even with Ronan, and experienced vamp, to guide him. Michael's abilities are still raw and unpredictable. To add to the turmoil, the ancient feud between rival vampire species is sending ripples of discord through the school. And beneath the new headmaster's charismatic front lies a powerful and very personal agenda. Yet the mysteries lurking around the Academy pale in comparison to the secrets emerging from Micheal's past. And choosing the wrong person to trust- or to love-could lead to an eternity of regret.

Review: Unwelcome is the second book in the Archangel Academy. I would highly suggest to read the first book, Unnatural, first since there is a large cast of characters, both supernatural and human, and not enough background information given in Unwelcome to new readers.
  The series focuses on our primary couple, Michael and Ronan, who are still getting adjusted to their new relationship status. Michael is an American teen who is becoming more comfortable in being gay. He moved from his rural, intolerant, Nebraskan hometown to northern England to live with his distant father after his mother's sudden suicide and to attend the prestigious Archangel Academy. At the Archangel Academy, Michael meets the charismatic and mysterious Ronan, who is also an outsider due to his hybrid vampire status and sexuality. I really liked Michael and Ronan together. They are cute and go through the same struggles as any other couple such as insecurity about past experiences, keeping secrets from one another, etc. Despite the reader's sexual preference, I think they can find many commonalities with this couple. Michael and Ronan both share a common passion for literature and sports. It's clear that they enjoy each others company and made me smile on more than one occasion. There were moments, however, where the couple becomes a bit melodramatic and a little too co-dependent for me but I can overlook this since this is Michael's first real relationship.
  Griffo's take on vampires is unique. Both Michael and Ronan are water-vampires, a web-handed variety that feeds on blood once a month and then drinks from the Well of Atlantis. The idea of water-creature who once mated with a vampire to create this hybrid race is unexpected and piqued my interest, but I wished Griffo would expand on this topic and explain it a bit more in his world building. I had a hard time trying to sort out the rules for this species and getting a good sense of the mythology.
 Though there are numerous subplots in Unwelcome, Griffo handles them quite well since I didn't really feel bored while reading the book. The book reads like a screenplay as characters enter and exit the story quickly making the third-person narrative voice jump briskly among points of view, even within a single scene. The screenplay feeling may be expected since the author is a screenplay writer himself. I did like how the characters' motivations often remain opaque making the reader wonder what are their true motivations.  
  Unwelcome is a book filled with action, passion, angst, and betrayal. I would recommend this book to readers who are looking for a different take on vampires and interested reading about a cast of mixed race and sexual orientations in a paranormal romance setting, which I hope other writers pursue writing about too.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to sex and some language. Recommended for readers 14 years and up.

If you like this book try: Unafraid by Michael Griffo (released in March 2012), House of Night series by P.C. and Kristen Cast, Immortal series by Alyson Noel
Rummanah Aasi
  I feel like one of the last readers who haven't read Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird. I was never required to read for school. I had originally planned to read it for last years Banned Books Week but didn't have enough time. After finishing the book, I can see why it has remained so popular and given the marks of a classic novel.

Description: A young girl growing up in an Alabama town in the 1930s learns of injustice and violence when her father, a widowed lawyer, defends a black man falsely accused of rape.

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird is a complex novel that seamlessly weaves a coming of age story along with a critical look at the injustice and prejudice of a small southern town. Scout, our main narrator, is an unconventional girl in her society. She is a precocious child who is eager to learn, has plenty of self confidence, well aware of her surroundings, and has a pretty good moral compass thanks to her mild mannered father, Atticus Finch. I loved how Scout isn't forced to live within the confines of her social identity, but continues to act freely by wearing whatever clothes she likes, plays with boys, and openly addresses her father by his first name. She doesn't care of what people think of her nor what other girls her age are doing. She is comfortable in her own skin. It is through Scout's eyes that we slowly see the world we once thought was so simply divided into right and wrong become muddled, unfair, and even evil.
  Like many readers I'm sure, Atticus Finch was my favorite character. He is a role model and the epitome of a hero. He is intelligent, calm, and always well mannered. Atticus is respected by everyone, including the very poor. He functions as the moral backbone of Maycomb, a counselor whom others seek advice from when they are in times of doubt and trouble. It's ironic that his conscience that makes him so admirable ultimately causes him to be a social outcast as he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white man's daughter. Though Atticus’s action makes him the object of scorn in Maycomb, he also seems to retain his dignity and respect after the trial as before. What I love most about Atticus is that he practices the ethic of sympathy and understanding that he preaches to his children and never holds a grudge against the people of Maycomb. As a reader I had a hard time overlooking their racial intolerance but Atticus sees the goodness of the people. He recognizes that people have both good and bad qualities, and he is determined to admire the good while understanding and forgiving.
  It is obvious why To Kill a Mockingbird is controversial as it brings out the dark side of the American society, however, in less than 300 pages it manages to teach us many important lessons such as to place ourselves in other people's shoes before we make a rash decision, to not take advantage of those who are helpless than us, and that yes, sometimes life is really unfair. I'm amazed that Harper Lee wrote an edgy book 50 years ago and it still remains to challenge us to this day. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Why it was challenged/banned: To Kill a Mockingbird has been one of the most popular classics that have been challenged/banned. Challenged in Eden Valley, Minn. (1977) and temporarily banned due to words "damn" and "whore lady" used in the novel. Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, N.Y School District (1980) as a "filthy, trashy novel:" Challenged at the Warren, Ind.Township schools (1981) because the book does "psychological damage to the positive integration process " and "represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature:" After unsuccessfully banning Lee's novel, three black parents resigned from the township human relations advisory council. Challenged in the Waukegan, III. School District (1984) because the novel uses the n word. Challenged in the Kansas City, Mo. junior high schools (1985). Challenged at the Park Hill, Mo. Junior High School (1985) because the novel "contains profanity and racial slurs:" Retained on a supplemental eighth grade reading list in the Casa Grande, Ariz. Elementary School District (1985), despite the protests by black parents and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who charged the book was unfit for junior high use. Challenged at the Santa Cruz, Calif. Schools (1995) because of its racial themes. Removed from the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, La. (1995) because the book's language and content were objectionable. Challenged at the Moss Point, Miss. School District (1996) because the novel contains a racial epithet. Banned from the Lindale,Tex. advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book "conflicted with the values of the community." Challenged by a Glynn County, Ga. (2001) school board member because of profanity. The novel was retained. Returned to the freshman reading list at Muskogee, Okla. High School (2001) despite complaints over the years from black students and parents about racial slurs in the text. Challenged in the Normal, ILL Community High Schools sophomore literature class (2003) as being degrading to African Americans. Challenged at the Stanford Middle School in Durham, N.C. (2004) because the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel uses the n word. The challenges continue today.  Source: ALA.

Words of Caution: The n word is prominent in the book and it is used by all age levels in the book. The book is a reflection of how people felt and thought during the 1930s which is the time setting of this novel. It further emphasizes the racial prejudices in this town. I'm not sure where how the book promotes prejudice and racism, but rather, advocates people to take a stand and not tolerate these injustices.

If you like this book try: The Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I am Scout by Charles Shields
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