Rummanah Aasi
  While searching for authors to read for the Southeast Asian reading challenge, I came across Roopa Farooki's name. Her debut novel, Bittersweets, was critically acclaimed and won the Orange Prize Award, an annual award given to female writers throughout the world. I actually wanted to read Bittersweets, but it was checked out from the library at time so I opted out to read The Corner Shop.

Description (inside panel): There are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting your heart's desire - and the other? Getting it. Fourteen-year-old Lucky Khalil loves three things: football, Star Wars and Portia, the girl who works in his grandfather's corner shop. In that order. But Lucky has a destiny – worse than a destiny, he has a dream. He dreams that one day, his lucky left foot will win the World Cup for England . It torments him, because it tastes real, because when he wakes he weeps with disappointment that it is just a dream.Meanwhile, Lucky’s mother Delphine seems to have had all her dreams come true.
  But Delphine feels increasingly trapped in her apparently perfect marriage and gilded lifestyle. She fantasizes about rediscovering the freedom of her youth, but rekindling a relationship with her maverick father-in-law, Zaki, is only going to end in disaster.Zaki, a charming gambler who loved and lost Delphine long before she married his sensible and successful son, feels equally trapped in the corner shop that he has unwillingly run for years for his family's sake. He wonders whether the time has come to abandon his middle class responsibilities, to try once more to achieve his own long-forgotten dreams.

Review: Aspirations and family ties are examined across three generations of the Khalil family in Farooki's enjoyable novel. Lucky Khalil is a talented young soccer player with his sights set on taking the World Cup home for England. His father, Jinan, is the serious-minded, hard-working son of a Bangladeshi  immigrant, married to Delphine, who feels her perfect marriage is confining. The patriarch of the Khalil family, Zaki, is a shopkeeper and gambler with wanderlust and an attraction to his son's wife. As you discover earlier on in the book, Delphine is approximately fifteen years older than Jinan and Zaki was once her lover. 
 When Delphine gives in to Zaki's advances, family bonds are stretched to the breaking point and the character's true colors appear. As each of the characters advance in their ambitions, the cross-purposes of their desires and responsibilities blend intricately and threaten to crush the family. 
   The Corner Shop is clearly a character driven novel. Each character struggles with attaining their dreams or rather the mere idea of what their dreams should be. Reality and aspirations clash. With the exception of Jinan, who achieved his dreams and is happy with the results, it was interesting how other Khalil family members felt trapped yet at the same time freed by their dreams. Before being a contender of England's football (what we in the US call soccer) team, Lucky is already plagued by a nightmare of failing his country. Delphine who came across as a modern day Madame Bovary is tired of her "perfect marriage" where she is adored and respected by her husband. Delphine wants more of the romantic notion of a marriage rather than the banal day to day moments with her husband. Zaki is suffers from the Peter Pan complex who abandons his conventional shopkeeper's life and responsibilities when things get too complicated for him and abruptly leaves to search for something fulfilling. 
  I like how The Corner Shop avoids the overly discussed theme of being immigrants adjusting to a new lifestyle and zeroes in what we all, regardless of our cultural, religious, social backgrounds may be, think of: what, exactly, leads to a more fulfilled life? Though told mostly in the omnipresent third person narrator, there are sections where the narration style breaks and some of the characters narrate their side of the story, which can be challenging to follow and interrupts the pace and tone of the book. For the most part I enjoyed the flawed characters, but the twisted love triangle between Delphine, Zaki, and Jinan was hard to wrap my head around and just felt wrong. All in all, a nice quick read for fans of Jhumpa Lahiri and Zadie Smith.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language as well as allusion to sex. Recommended for older teens interested in multicultural fiction and adults.

If you like this book try: Interpreter of the Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Rummanah Aasi
 So far for my Southeast Asian Reading Challenge I have been reading books that are targeted to an adult audience. I thought I would try reading some books for children/middle grade and YA books. I came across Toads and Diamonds, a fairy tale retelling set in pre-colonial, fictional India and thought it looked interesting. I've read good reviews on the book so I decided to give it a shot.

Description (from inside panel): Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family's scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks.
It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely stepsister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward.
  Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. Diribani’s newfound wealth brings her a prince—and an attempt on her life. Tana is chased out of the village because the province's governor fears snakes, yet thousands are dying of a plague spread by rats. As the sisters' fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love . . . or death?

Review: Set in the fictional Indian land of Hundred Kingdom, Toads and Diamonds is a retelling of Perrault's fairy tale "The Fairies". I haven't read the original fairy tale so book's plot was new and welcoming to me.
 Stepsisters Diribani and Tana are struggling to keep their household together after their father's murder. He was a jewel merchant and Tana hopes to follow in his footsteps, but these dreams are swept out of reach when both girls make separate trips to get water from the local well. Each sister meets a
snake goddess, Naghali, who bestows upon them a unique gift before asking them what their heart desires. Diribani is gifted with gems and flowers that drop from her lips when she speaks. Tana returns with an even stranger gift of snakes, frogs, and toads. The awe over Diribani's gift from people both humble and expected from the upper class who take note, but it's refreshing to see the matter-of-fact welcome that Tana's snakes receive from the townspeople who are trying to save their crops and vermin infested homes.
  Tomlinson's memorable novel employs magic realism to explore a universal truth: an individual's gifts and talents are not always as they might seem. I liked how Tomlinson stays away from the trite and overused devices of evil step sisters pitted against one another where one is clearly evil and the other virtuous. Though they may be stepsisters by relation, Diribani and Tana don't act like it. They genuinely care for one another. Each chapter is told from their alternating perspectives so we can see how they individually deal with their "gift". Dirbani and Tana's voices and personalities are distinct. The author's
lavish details starkly contrast the two girls' lives and personalities while emphasizing their strength, purpose, and enduring love for each other, despite their predicaments. I was able to connect more with Tana who is crafty and skillful than Dirbani who came across as too much of a dreamer. 
  I thought the book's description is a bit misleading. I expected the romance element would play a bigger part in the story, but it doesn't. There are touches of it, but they remain in the background and aren't developed which was disappointing. Tomlinson she creates a vivid setting of her fictionalized India, drawing references from both village histories as well as the Mughal Empire. I took me a while to get use to her world, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but the complexities of the cultural backstory and slow pace will most likely pose a challenge to readers. I still enjoyed it and will recommend it to readers who would like multicultural fiction and a different spin on your average fairy tale.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Beast by Donna Jo Napoli, Ash by Melinda Lo
Rummanah Aasi
  I have been looking forward to reading Mary Lindsey's debut novel, Shattered Souls, since earlier this year. Thanks to The Teen Book Scene, I was ecstatic to find out that I will be participating in this blog tour. I really enjoyed the novel and I hope you all will pick it up when the book is released (December 8th according to Amazon).

Description (from Goodreads): Lenzi hears voices and has visions - gravestones, floods, a boy with steel gray eyes. Her boyfriend, Zak, can't help, and everything keeps getting louder and more intense. Then Lenzi meets Alden, the boy from her dreams, who reveals that she's a reincarnated Speaker - someone who can talk to and help lost souls - and that he has been her Protector for centuries.
  Now Lenzi must choose between her life with Zak and the life she is destined to lead with Alden. But time is running out: a malevolent spirit is out to destroy Lenzi, and he will kill her if she doesn't make a decision soon.

Review: Shattered Souls is an enthralling debut novel of death, love, destiny and danger. While the plot summary may not seem that striking to those who read heavily in the paranormal/supernatural (personally, I don't consider ghosts as paranormal entities) genre, I was surprised how I could easily distinguish this book from all the others due to its smart characters and its combination of mystery, danger, and romance that makes the narrative flow natural, graceful, and quite possibly hard to put down once you start it. I read Shattered Souls in one setting a few months ago and I still remember it vividly.
  Lenzi’s father is dead. He heard voices and was placed in an insane asylum. Now that Lenzi has turned seventeen, she’s hearing them too and is afraid that she too will meet her father's fate: the hospitals, the medications, her mother’s sad face. The voices become intolerable and her troubled boyfriend, Zak, has begun to take notice. When visiting her father’s grave, Lenzi meets a stranger named Alden who assures her that she is not ill and that he can explain everything to her if only she'll listen and trust him. Without much of a choice, Lenzi accepts. Alden tells her that she is a famous Speaker, a mediator whose purpose is to bring troubled souls to peace and to eliminate the evil spirits, who has been reborn. If that is not crazy enough, Alden is her designated Protector, who has been by her side for many years and helps her do her job. Lenzi has absolutely no memory of her role as a Speaker and has no idea what to do. Now Alden is leading her rather than the other way around.
  I loved Lenzi. She isn't overly confident in the beginning of the book, but soon finds her place as she explores her identity as a Speaker. She's terrified that she will suffer the same fate as her schizophrenic father. And when she first starts hearing the voices of the spirits, it really seems like she's going crazy. I liked how Lenzi did not immediately believe Alden and embrace her role as Speaker at first. She wasn't sure of her actions or Alden's intention, but as she learned more about the role of Speakers and Protectors as well as saw the difference she was making and the consequences of not acting, she became a bold and determined girl. Lenzi is both cautious and brave, but what I love most about her is that she made her own decision and wasn't influenced by Alden at all.
  Alden was another character I absolutely adored. Utterly devoted to his job as Protector and to Lenzi without being overly creepy as some love interests in this genre. He keeps his distance for the most part and never pressured her. While he does have some feelings for Lenzi, he keeps them in check and we learn why he isn't forthcoming with his affections as we learn more about Alden's past. Extremely charming, sweet, genuine, smart, witty, and of course handsome, I fell for Alden almost immediately.
 The romance developed at a good speed. There was instant intrigue between Alden and Lenzi, but not instant love. Lenzi was devoted to her boyfriend Zak, who seemed like a nice guy, but had a scary dark side. I felt bad for Zak as we learn about his family drama, but he annoyed me to no end with his over use of calling Lenzi "babe".  Normally this wouldn't bother me, but using it every time he talked to Lenzi got on my nerves. The relationship between Alden and Lenzi is what kept me on my toes, waiting in anticipating to see how it would grow. Alden and Lenzi grew out of shared experience and respect, which to me made their love story that much memorable and stronger. While the book description hints at a love triangle, there really isn't one and thank goodness for that.
  The plot of Shattered Souls is not particularly original, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. I really liked how Lenzi played an active role in helping good souls finding their solace and way to the afterlife. Shattered Souls does combat evil, but Lenzi's altruism as Speaker propels the plot forward. I also enjoyed learning more about Speakers and Protectors and would have welcomed more information about them, but I thought the characters demonstrated their respective roles quite well. The story steadily grew on me as I read it. Every time I was going to close it, I'd tell myself just one more chapter. By the time I finished the last page, I was very sad and wanted more time to spend with Lenzi and Alden. I recommend Shattered Souls for an interesting plot, but mostly for its warm, passionate, and driven main characters, Lenzi and Alden. I look forward to reading many more book from Mary Lindsey.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are a few scenes of underage drinking, mild language and violence. Recommended for mature Grade 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Shade by Jeri Smith Ready, Angelfire by Courtney Moulton
Rummanah Aasi
  Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are all enjoying the holidays with friends and family. Today I have Saving June's author Hannah Harrington post about what kind of books we’d find on Harper’s bookshelf, or what books she would love/resonate with. You can read my review of Saving June here. Take it away, Hannah!

  In the novel I reference Harper reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut—I imagine she’s a really big Vonnegut fan. She of course would have a weathered copy of To Kill A Mockingbird inherited by her mother, since she was named after Harper Lee.
Since Harper’s biggest passion is photography, she’d probably have books of collected photography, too, like the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams, to look at for inspiration. At some point in the future Jake would give her a copy of Wall and Piece, the collection of Banksy’s street art, and she would be really amazed by his work and very briefly consider becoming a graffiti artist—or at least maybe seeing if Banksy would let her trail after him taking photos of his work, because it’s all too striking and beautiful to not be immortalized. 

 Thanks for allowing us to take a peek at Harper's Bookshelf, Hannah!

Harper Scott's life changes forever after her sister, June, commits suicide. Harper discovers that her sister always wanted to go to California and so to honor her sister's memory, Harper and her best friend embark on an impromptu road trip. Things take an interesting turn when a mysterious boy who seems to have known June better than anyone knew insists on joining Harper and her best friend on their trip.
Rummanah Aasi
  After reading the jaw dropping cliffhanger of Hard Bitten, I was counting the days until the release of Drink Deep. In the meantime, I formulated theories with a coworker who is reading the series with me during lunch breaks. Lots of questions were raised and I wondered how Neill was going to tackle them all in the next book.

Description (from Goodreads): Clouds are brewing over Cadogan House, and recently turned vampire Merit can't tell if this is the darkness before the dawn or the calm before the storm. With the city itself in turmoil over paranormals and the state threatening to pass a paranormal registration act, times haven't been this precarious for vampires since they came out of the closet. If only they could lay low for a bit, and let the mortals calm down. That's when the waters of Lake Michigan suddenly turn pitch black-and things really start getting ugly.
  Chicago's mayor insists it's nothing to worry about, but Merit knows only the darkest magic could have woven a spell powerful enough to change the very fabric of nature. She'll have to turn to friends old and new to find out who's behind this, and stop them before it's too late for vampires and humans alike.

Review: Drink Deep is really hard for me to review because of my conflicted feelings about the book. There were lot of things that I really enjoyed, which added to the story. There were other parts that I thought weren't fully flushed and incredibly rushed at the end. I'll try my best and highlight both the strength and weaknesses of the book. 
   Drink Deep is entertaining and full of little twists and surprises that kept me turning the pages. Neil has created a new mystery where no one seems to know what is going on, which builds tension and the right amount of suspense. Magic is unbalanced and the supernaturals are blaming each other for the causes. Merit is on the case to clear the vampires' reputation. During Merit's investigation, we learn more about the lesser known paranormal creatures such as the nymphs and the fairies, which I found interesting. I always love learning new tidbits in Neil's intricate world.
  After the devastating events that left Merit shattered, it was nice to see her back on her feet. She could have easily wallowed and whined her way throughout the book, but I'm glad to have old Merit back. Of course she is still in pain and trying to wrap her head around what happen, but I'm glad that her life isn't on pause. 
  I also enjoyed learning about Jonah, who was an important side character in the last two books. We get to see him in action. He is smart, witty, and incredibly good looking. He knows his place and doesn't push. I wasn't quite sure of Jonah before this book, but I grew to like him. 
  Though I was enthralled by Drinking Deep, the book is not up to par with the other books in the series. I actually think in some respects that it is the weakest book in the series thus far. The book came across a little bit as filler or even a transition book. While the mystery had me guessing for a good chunk of the book, I thought it was too conveniently solved at the end. I'm still wondering how all the pieces come together actually. Some of my favorite characters seem to adopt new and unwelcoming personality changes. The main question that all readers asked of Neill is answered yet I felt it was rushed and not really rewarding (I can't really complain all that much. It was nice to see.). Overall the plot arc of the book isn't integral to the series, except for the last few chapters. When I finished the book, I'm still left with questions, but I'm looking forward to the adventure that Neill is setting us up for in Biting Cold and hopefully a return the Chicagoland Vampire normalcy that I can expect.
Rating: 3.5

Words of Caution: There is some language and allusions to sex. Recommended for mature teen readers and adults.

If you like this book try: Biting Cold by Chloe Neil (Chicagoland Vampires #6), 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
 Many thanks to The Teen Book Scene for placing me on the Never Eighteen book blog tour. I would also like to thank Netgalley for providing me an advanced reader's copy of the book so I could do this review. Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic is a 2012 debut novel. The book will be released on January 17, 2012 (according to Amazon).

Description: Austin Parker is on a journey to bring truth, beauty, and meaning to his life.
Austin Parker is never going to see his eighteenth birthday. At the rate he’s going, he probably won’t even see the end of the year. The doctors say his chances of surviving are slim to none even with treatment, so he’s decided it’s time to let go.
    But before he goes, Austin wants to mend the broken fences in his life. So with the help of his best friend, Kaylee, Austin visits every person in his life who touched him in a special way. He journeys to places he’s loved and those he’s never seen. And what starts as a way to say goodbye turns into a personal journey that brings love, acceptance, and meaning to Austin’s life.

Review: Despite its slim 200 pages, Never Eighteen packs an emotional punch that causes us to pause and reflect on the important things in life. Austin is dying and has a deadline from Father Time. Knowing that he can't change his hand at fate, Austin makes the decision of how he wants to be remembered and to leave. His need to believe that he can make a difference in the lives of others propels him to creates a list of people he would like to talk to and places he would like to visit before he goes. He recruits his best friend and secret crush, Kaylee, to be his chauffeur and thus sets off on a three day journey.
  Though I knew Never Eighteen would be a somber read, I loved Bostic's idea of a three day journey of self reflection. Throughout the book, we see Austin visiting a different friend and giving his advice on their troubles. Though Bostic includes a description on how each person has a connection with Austin, I didn't get emotionally invested in them and as a result, what is suppose to be an important moment came across as two characters who are simply talking with one another, which really is such a shame since many of Austin's friends have serious issues ranging from alcoholism to being in an abusive relationship. Their stories require a long of page presence to add weight to the book. With the exception of Kaylee, Austin's best friend, I remained distant to all the other characters. I think one of the reasons I felt this way is because there is such a large number of people that Austin visits.  Had the author picked a selected number of people and expanded their stories, I think I would have a much stronger reaction to the book.
   Despite this hiccup, I really liked Austin. Austin's voice is so real and genuine. I never once felt that he was preachy in talking to others nor did I ever question his motives for starting his journey. It is obvious that he spent a long time working on his plan and though what transpires may not always be what he expected, he wanted to do his best and let others know that people do indeed care about them. Austin's relationship with Kaylee is one of the book's highlights for me. I loved how their relationship began and evolved. Without saying much they are able to understand one another. They can kid around but also call each others bluff, which is what best friends do. Their shared moments of epiphany, particularly went out hiking left me teary eyed and nodding along in agreement.
  Yes, Never Eighteen is a sad book but it is not brought down by Austin's "woe is me" and "I'm dying so I know all life's answers" attitude. It is heartfelt, uplifting, and some may call it didactic. My eyes did water at the end of the book, but I remember Austin like he would want us to remember him: sweet, funny, caring, and all around a great guy who reminds us to live the life we want to live because we never know when it will be taken away from us.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking scenes, and an allusion to sex. Recommended for mature 8th graders and up.

If you like this book try: Before I Die by Jenny Downham, Deadline by Chris Crutcher, I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Rummanah Aasi
I would like to introduce you today to Austin, the protagonist of Megan Bostic's debut novel, Never Eighteen, which will be released next year. Austin is here to chat about his very important deadline and answer a few of my questions. Be sure to look for my review of the book tomorrow. 

 Thank you so much for being here, Austin. I know that you are on a very strict deadline and what to make the best out of the time you have left. What type of illness did your doctors diagnose you with? 

Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

What were the first thoughts that popped into your head when the doctors told you about your disease?
I felt numb and trapped in a nightmare from which I couldn’t wake up.

Did you ever have a bucket list of things you wanted to do before you got sick? Has it changed since and if so, how? 
I never really thought about death before. I mean, what teenager does? Even when Jake died, I never considered that it could happen to me. So, no, no bucket list. I was just enjoying life.
Everything has changed since I got sick. Having a terminal disease makes you see the world differently. I did end up making a bucket list. I wanted to do things I’d never done, visit places I’d never been, or that had meant a lot to me at some point in my life. I wanted to face my deepest fears.
Most importantly, the disease opened my eyes to the people that were standing still while life moved on without them. I wanted them to see the value of their lives, to show them that you only get one shot and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

What does the common phrase carpe diem mean to you? 

To me it means to live every day as if it were your last.

What does the meaning to life and beauty mean to you? 

Life is a gift and beauty is what’s earned by living it. You know the saying, stop and smell the roses? That’s what I’m talking about. Enjoy life, the big things and the small. Breathe them in, embrace them; let them wrap themselves around you. If you do that, beauty will surround you. But, if you speed through life or become stagnant letting it pass you by you will inevitably miss the beauty within it.

Do you have any regrets? 

The only regret I have is not seeking those people out before the cancer. We shouldn’t wait until life hands us tragedies to help those around us. The sooner we step in, perhaps the sooner a resolution will be found.

What was your favorite journey with Kaylee? 

Definitely Mount Rainier. To share with her a place that meant so much to me felt profoundly eternal.

If you could give us one piece of advice about living, what would it be? 

Live it like you mean it. You never know when it will be taken from you.

Austin Parker is on a journey to bring truth, beauty, and meaning to his life.
Austin Parker is never going to see his eighteenth birthday. At the rate he’s going, he probably won’t even see the end of the year. The doctors say his chances of surviving are slim to none even with treatment, so he’s decided it’s time to let go.
    But before he goes, Austin wants to mend the broken fences in his life. So with the help of his best friend, Kaylee, Austin visits every person in his life who touched him in a special way. He journeys to places he’s loved and those he’s never seen. And what starts as a way to say goodbye turns into a personal journey that brings love, acceptance, and meaning to Austin’s life.

Rummanah Aasi

Thank you to all of those who entered my Goth Girl Risng giveaway. According to, the winner for this giveaway is Lori! Congrats, Lori. I sent you an email. Please respond within 72 hours or I will have to pick a new winner.
Rummanah Aasi
 Ever since I read Nic's review of Saving June by Hannah Harrington, I had my eye on the book. When the opportunity to join the Saving June book tour arrived, I jumped at the chance to read it. Saving June is another good addition to the ongoing list of books that discuss grief in YA.

Description: Harper Scott's life changes forever after her sister, June, commits suicide. Harper discovers that her sister always wanted to go to California and so to honor her sister's memory, Harper and her best friend embark on an impromptu road trip. Things take an interesting turn when a mysterious boy who seems to have known June better than anyone knew insists on joining Harper and her best friend on their trip.

Review: I can't exactly pinpoint why I couldn't connect with this book. It's possible that I've read this type of book before and can't really pick out from the crowd. Generally, I don't mind a "sad book" as long as it stirs some kind of an emotion in me, but I really didn't feel anything while reading Saving June mainly because it didn't have enough depth for me.
  Harper is sixteen years old and she’s just lost her older, perfect, over-achieving sister June. Like many people, Harper only knew the exterior image of June but she's come too late to realize that really her sister had a hidden sadness that no one really understood. When Harper finds a mysterious mix CD in June’s room, it leads her to Jake, an eighteen year old music lover who has a knack for classic rock. As Harper begins to understand her sister, she hatches a wild plan to fulfill June’s last dream: to go to California.
   I had a hard time conjuring up a picture of Harper in my mind. She’s a girl who rebels in a knee-jerk reaction to her sister’s perfection. It's possible that Harper only acts that way because that's what is expected of her. She doesn’t have any deeply held beliefs or even her own taste in music. She came across as a sponge absorbing personalities of others but with no identity of her own. To me, I found her to be deeply insecure and have low self worth, which would have been fine if the author chose to explore this part of her character more. As a reader, we are repeatedly told how strong, stubborn, and so much healthier than her sister, but I didn't see it.
   Saving June is suppose to be Harper's journey through grief and self discovery, yet the book seems to be going into two different directions. The grief plot line is strong in the first few chapters of the book. I thought the opening scenes of June's funeral was well done. As the book continues and the plan is hatched to go to California, however, Harper's grief becomes secondary (more like in the background) to the love story angle featuring Jake. 
 Harper's grief didn't ring true to me. We see her run and collapse in tears many times. If she didn’t didn't this, I wouldn't have known if she is still grieving. And if she didn’t engage in reckless behavior such as drinking, smoking, and joining mosh pits, I wouldn't have known that she is full of angst.
The author had a lot of opportunities to depict emotional catharsis, but they are either ignored completely or magically solved.
  Needless to say, the grieving plot line fell completely flat for me. Thankfully, the romance between Harper and Jake held my attention. Their relationship grows steadily as they spend more time with one another and for the most part, I thought it what was somewhat realistic. I like the fact that Jake wasn't perfect. He too has some family baggage, which I wished the author explored more. His passion for music came out strong in the book too and I think all music lovers could easily relate to him. There were two things that bothered me about Jake. The first is that he's suppose to be this walking encyclopedia of music, but it seems as if he only listens to Top 40 classic rock. I mean who hasn't heard of The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, or Janis Jopin before? The second is that I really wanted to hand this guy Nicorette gum or at least breath freshner because he smokes like a fiend. I couldn't help but get squirrely every time he and Harper kissed. Personally, I don't find smoking guys attractive.
  Overall while I didn't hate this book, I thought it was okay in general. I laughed in a few places, I enjoyed a few quotes in the book, and there were swoony moments between Harper and Jake. I didn't have too much trouble finishing it. I would recommend this book to those who want to read about grief, death, and music without being overly heavy. 

 Again, I think my problem of the book could be me. If you're still on the fence about reading this one, I would definitely read another reviews on the Saving June blog tour. I know many others really enjoyed the book and couldn't get enough and I may be the only one who had a difficult time getting this book under my skin so take my review with a grain of salt.

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: Hold Still by Nina LaCour, The Sky is Everywhere by Janet Nelson
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. Today I'm highlighting a beloved character that is loved by many: Buffy Summers, the leading heroine in Joss Whedon's phenomenal TV series based off on his original movie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BVS). I wasn't a big Buffy fan at first only because I watched an episode here and there, enjoyed it, but I didn't fully understood its brilliance. Last year, I started watching the show on DVD right from the beginning and then it clicked. BVS is funny, light-hearted, but also had its share of darkness and seriousness along with a great characters. The main draw for me, however, was spotlighting a female heroine who is strong in every sense of the word yet vulnerable, approachable and that's why this post is dedicated to the epitome of girl power: Buffy Summers.

Image and Quote from IMDB
Buffy: So here's the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

  At the young age of 15, Buffy Summers was chosen to hunt vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness. After the ordeal at Hemery High, Buffy Summers moves to Sunnydale High in hopes of starting fresh. Along the way she finds finds, love, and a Hellmouth full of evil that never seems to stop. Joined with Willow, Alexander "Xander" Harris, and her watcher/mentor Giles, Buffy fights the challenges of High School and saves the world...a lot.
  While watching the show, there were times where I wished I was Buffy. A character who is resilient, physically powerful, a natural born leader, not to mention pretty with a good snarky attitude. It's only when the hard challenges arose, the complete elimination of normalcy, a forced destiny came up did I realize that I could never really be her. I was glad that I didn't have to shoulder the responsibility of the world on my shoulders. The most important thing, however, is that her character showed the world that a woman can be powerful, strong, aggressive (all traits usually assigned to males) while retaining femininity. And for this reason, I will always be grateful of Joss Whedon's creation.
  Please note that the following books contain various definitions of "strong" and by no means a complete list of books. This post would be very, very long if I had to include all of them. I'm always on the lookout for strong female heroines. So if you see glaring holes, please feel free to include them in the comments. The usual site that I use to compose this list is currently out of order so I will try my best to list them here.

The Reel Shelf Presents Buffy Summers

Buffy the Vampire Season 8 (graphic novel) by Joss Whedon and an assortment of writers. The highly acclaimed TV show continues now in the 8th season in graphic novels. I believe there are 8 volumes in this season. The first book in the series is called The Long Way Home which takes place right were the TV show ended Buffy and the gang are facing a new evil called Twilight. (Amazon)


Archangel by Sharon Shinn- The fate of the world rests in the voice of an angel. An age of corruption has come to the planet of Samaria, threatening that peace and placing the Samaritans in grave danger. Their only hope lies in the crowning of a new Archangel. (Amazon)

The Declaration by Gemma Mailey- It's the year 2140 and Longevity drugs have all but eradicated old age. A never-aging society can't sustain population growth, however…which means Anna should never have been born. Nor should any of the children she lives with at Grange Hall. The facility is full of boys and girls whose parents chose to have kids--called surpluses--despite a law forbidding them from doing so. These children are raised as servants, and brought up to believe they must atone for their very existence. Then one day a boy named Peter appears at the Hall, bringing with him news of the world outside, a place where people are starting to say that Longevity is bad, and that maybe people shouldn't live forever. Peter begs Anna to escape with him, but Anna's not sure who to trust: the strange new boy whose version of life sounds like a dangerous fairy tale, or the familiar walls of Grange Hall and the head mistress who has controlled her every waking thought? (Amazon)

The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri Teppers- Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning. The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women's Council. (Amazon)

Kindred by Octavia Butler- Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned across the years to save him. After this first summons, Dana is drawn back, again and again, to the plantation to protect Rufus and ensure that he will grow to manhood and father the daughter who will become Dana's ancestor. Yet each time Dana's sojourns become longer and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not her life will end, long before it has even begun. (Amazon)

Tithe by Holly Black-Sixteen-year-old Kaye is a modern nomad. Fierce and independent, she travels from city to city with her mother's rock band until an ominous attack forces the sixteen-year-old back to her childhood home. There, amid the industrial, blue-collar New Jersey backdrop, Kaye soon finds herself an unwilling pawn in an ancient power struggle between two rival faerie kingdoms -- a struggle that could very well mean her death. (Amazon)

Eon by Goodman- Also Known As: Two Pearls of Wisdom, Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye, and Eon (All the same book just published with different publishers)
Eon has been studying the ancient art of Dragon Magic for four years, hoping he'll be able to apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. But he also has a dark secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been living a dangerous lie for the chance to become a Dragon-eye, the human link to an energy dragon's power. It is forbidden for females to practice the Dragon Magic and, if discovered, Eon faces a terrible death. After a dazzling sword ceremony, Eon's affinity with the twelve dragons catapults him into the treacherous world of the Imperial court, where he makes a powerful enemy, Lord Ido. (Amazon)

 The Naming by Alison Croggon-Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She doesn't yet know she has inherited a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the noble School of Pellinor and enables her to see the world as no other can. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true identity and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now, she and her mysterious teacher must embark on a treacherous, uncertain journey through a time and place where the forces of darkness wield an otherworldly terror. (Amazon)

Stray by Rachel Vincent- I look like an all-American grad student. But I am a werecat, a shape-shifter, and I live in two worlds. Despite reservations from my family and my Pride, I escaped the pressure to continue my species and carved out a normal life for myself. Until the night a Stray attacked. I'd been warned about Strays—werecats without a Pride—constantly on the lookout for someone like me: attractive, female and fertile. I fought him off, but then learned two of my fellow tabbies had disappeared. This brush with danger was all my Pride needed to summon me back…for my own protection. Yeah, right. But I'm no meek kitty. I'll take on whatever—and whoever—I have to in order to find my friends. Watch out, Strays—'cause I got claws, and I'm not afraid to use them….(Amazon)

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong- After years of frequent moves following her mother’s death, Chloe Saunders’s life is finally settling down. She is attending art school, pursuing her dreams of becoming a director, making friends, meeting boys. Her biggest concern is that she’s not developing as fast as her friends are. But when puberty does hit, it brings more than hormone surges. Chloe starts seeing ghosts–everywhere, demanding her attention. After she suffers a breakdown, her devoted aunt Lauren gets her into a highly recommended group home.
  At first, Lyle House seems a pretty okay place, except for Chloe’s small problem of fearing she might be facing a lifetime of mental illness. But as she gradually gets to know the other kids at the home–charming Simon and his ominous, unsmiling brother Derek, obnoxious Tori, and Rae, who has a “thing” for fire–Chloe begins to realize that there is something that binds them all together, and it isn’t your usual “problem kid” behaviour. And together they discover that Lyle House is not your usual group home either…(Amazon)

Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow- Dru Anderson has what her grandmother called "the touch." (Comes in handy when you're traveling from town to town with your dad, hunting ghosts, suckers, wulfen, and the occasional zombie.) Then her dad turns up dead - but still walking - and Dru knows she's next. Even worse, she's got two guys hungry for her affections, and they're not about to let the fiercely independent Dru go it alone. Will Dru discover just how special she really is before coming face-to-fang with whatever - or whoever - is hunting her? (Amazon)

Nobody's Princess by Freiser- She is beautiful, she is a princess, and Aphrodite is her favorite goddess, but something in Helen of Sparta just itches for more out of life. Not one to count on the gods—or her looks—to take care of her, Helen sets out to get what she wants with steely determination and a sassy attitude. That same attitude makes Helen a few enemies—such as the self-proclaimed "son of Zeus" Theseus—but it also intrigues, charms, and amuses those who become her friends, from the famed huntress Atalanta to the young priestess who is the Oracle of Delphi. (Amazon)

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund- Astrid had always scoffed at her eccentric mother's stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend—thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to the prom—Astrid finds herself headed to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries. However, at the cloisters all is not what it seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from the crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to—perhaps most dangerously of all—her growing attraction to a handsome art student ... an attraction that could jeopardize everything. (Amazon)

Nomansland by Lesley Hauge- Sometime in the future, a lonely, windswept island is populated solely by women. Among these women is a group of teenaged Trackers—expert equestrians and archers—whose job is to protect their shores from the enemy. The enemy, they’ve been told, is men. When these girls come upon a partially buried home from the distant past, they are fascinated by the strange objects—high-heeled shoes, teen magazines, make-up—found there. What are they to make of these mysterious things? And what does it mean for their strict society where friendship is forbidden and rules must be obeyed—at all costs? (Amazon)

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder- I'm Trella. I'm a scrub. A nobody. One of thousands who work the lower levels, keeping Inside clean for the Uppers. I've got one friend, do my job and try to avoid the Pop Cops. So what if I occasionally use the pipes to sneak around the Upper levels? The only neck at risk is my own…until I accidentally start a rebellion and become the go-to girl to lead a revolution. (Amazon)

Intrinscial by Woodland- Sixteen-year-old Yara Silva has always known that ghosts walk alongside the living. Her grandma, like the other females in her family, is a Waker, someone who can see and communicate with ghosts. Yara grew up watching her grandmother taunted and scorned for this unusual ability and doesn't want that to be her future. She has been dreading the day when she too would see ghosts, and is relieved that the usually dominant Waker gene seems to have skipped her, letting her live a normal teenage life. However, all that changes for Yara on her first day at her elite boarding school when she discovers the gene was only lying dormant. She witnesses a dark mist attack Brent, a handsome fellow student, and rushes to his rescue. Her act of heroism draws the mist's attention, and the dark spirit begins stalking her. Yara finds herself entrenched in a sixty-year-old curse that haunts the school, threatening not only her life, but the lives of her closest friends as well. Yara soon realizes that the past she was trying to put behind her isn't going to go quietly. (Amazon)

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon- No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger's subservient bride banished to the inner quarters. But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she cannot comprehend. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn't only a quest to find her beloved father but a venture with stakes larger than she could have imagined.
  Bravery, intelligence, the will to fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She will also need help. It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying to drag her under. On a quest of his own, Chen Yong offers that help . . . and perhaps more. (Amazon)

The Fray by Joss Whedon - Hundreds of years in the future, Melaka Fray learns she has a great destiny that may unite a fallen city and save mankind from a demonic plot to destroy the world. (Amazon)

First Test by Tamora Pierce - In the medieval and fantastic realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan is the first girl to take advantage of the decree that permits females to train for knighthood. (Amazon)

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendra Blake - 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. (Amazon)

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien -  In the Enclave, you scars set you apart, and the newly born will change the future. Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants every month. But when Gaia’s mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty. (Amazon)

Foiled by Jane Yolen -  Aliera Carstairs doesn't fit in any of the cliques in her high school. The only place that makes her feel special and important is her fencing class, however, she seems to be in the spotlight for the handsome, new student Avery Castle. Aliera knows something is not right. Her ordinary and used fencing foil with a large ruby on the hilt that her mother found at a sale is trying to tell her something about Avery and the world around her. What is Aliera's weapon trying to tell her? Who is Avery and why is he so interested in Aliera? (Amazon)
Rummanah Aasi
 After reading the phenomenal Wonderstruck, I wanted to go back and read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, which inspired Brian Selznick. Though I've heard of the book, I never really sat down and read it. The book was originally published in 1967 and won the Newbery Medal in 1968.

Description (from the backcover): When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn’t just want to run from somewhere, she wants to run to somewhere — to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing her younger brother Jamie has money and thus can help her with a serious cash-flow problem, she invites him along.
    Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at auction for a bargain price of $225. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master, Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn’t it?
Claudia is determined to find out. Her quest leads her to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue, and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

Review: I have no idea how I missed this book when I was younger. I think the third grader in me would have enjoyed this book filled with humor, suspense, and intrigue. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is narrated with a dry sense of humor by a wealthy old lady named Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Mrs. Frankweiler’s purportedly true story tells of how she encountered two young children named James and Claudia Kincaid. The book begins with Claudia who is fed up with being unfairly treated in the Kincaid household in Greenwich, Connecticut. She is tired of her monotonous routine and yearns to have an adventure of her own. With her prized adventure in mind, she decides to teach her parents to learn how to value her by running away from home. Considering her very low tolerance for discomfort, she chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as her hideaway, and considering her very low supply of money, she persuades her penny-pinching younger brother, Jamie, to join her.
 With the snazzy and awe inspiring art museum as their home/playground, sister and brother make the most out of their new freedom. Claudia and Jamie come up with a plan to remain hidden and spend their money wisely. They hide in the bathrooms at opening and closing time to evade the museum personnel, sleep in ancient canopy beds while pretending to be 16th-century monarchs, bathe in the restaurant fountain while picking up wish coins to add to their dwindling funds, and mingle with visitors for their daily dose of art history. While the plot isn't plausible at all, I still enjoyed reading about their adventure which brought out the childlike innocence and hope in me. The events at the museum aren't small plot conveniences so much as the developing relationship between Claudia and Jamie as well as highlighting each of the character’s individual strengths: Claudia at planning while Jaime being conservative about money.
 I loved Jamie and Claudia. Though they constantly bicker, they reminded me a lot of my younger brother and myself developing schemes of our own. You can tell that they love each other very much and that this relationship will last a long time. Jamie had me laughing at loud with his grammar slip-ups. I can vividly picture these two characters wandering the halls of the museum.
  Along with great humor, warmth, and intrigue when an unidentified statue is discovered, there is also an important lesson learned: that you only have to look inside to find what makes a person different and beautiful inside. In other words, you yourself become the living work of art. I'm really glad I read this one off my bookshelf and I hope that you read it too.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 to 6. I also think it would work great as a read aloud book choice too.

If you like this book try: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet
Rummanah Aasi
  I don't read much nonfiction, but when I'm in the mood to try something in this section I generally choose nonfiction narratives. Nonfiction narratives are books that read like a novel. One of the few times I come across a title that makes me pause and ponder, which is how I found My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me, at my library.

Description: An Emmy Award-winning writer shares her misadventures in dating. When she finally got over a hard relationship she runs across a novel her ex-boyfriend wrote about their relationship at a Barnes and Noble Bookstore.

Review:  Hillary Winston is an Emmy award winning writer, most notably known for her work on the TV shows My Name is Earl and Community. Like all of us, Hillary has her string of bad relationships but hers hit an all time low that I'm sure puts all of ours to shame. While perusing the new releases section of her local Barnes and Nobel bookstore, Winston found herself portrayed on the pages of her ex-boyfriend's thinly veiled fiction novel in which her own character was barely disguised and conversations, dates, issues, etc. they'd had are written up word for word. Devastated and humiliated, Hillary decides to seek revenge in the form of writing her own true, nonfiction memoir to set the record straight. 
 Self-conscious, soul baring, and told with large doses of self deprecating humor, Winston holds nothing back, including her own ego, in her effort to make sense of her own horrendous relationships (and a few that I would actually call triumphs). She starts her retelling from her misstep in not acknowledging the first boy who really cared about her in fourth grade that basically foreshadows all of her bad relationships. Thereafter she continues to fall for jerks (that's really an understatement) who really don't want anything to do with her besides fulfill their own sexual urges.  
   I couldn't help but laugh and at the same time cringe at reading her dating disasters. And I will tell you, the girl has a knack for picking out the worst guys ever. Most of the time, however, I wanted to give Hillary a hug, chocolate, and large bowls of ice cream. It's easy looking outside in that Winston's problem is herself, plagued with extremely low self esteem and equating sex with love and approval. I cheered when Winston came to her own conclusion. I think she's extremely brave to expose her self, warts and all, to clear her name but I think she accomplished much more. Winston's memoir is funny, sensitive, and in the end will last and sit much longer on the nonfiction shelves with its bright pink cover facing out for all to see.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and sexual content in the book. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler, Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner
Rummanah Aasi
 Today I'm very happy to introduce to self published, YA fantasy writer Gena Naffin! Gena is a very busy and creative 17 years old. Her debut novel, Defiance, can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Gena loves nothing more than three very simple things: riding, running, and writing. Before we start the interview, take a look at the Defiance book trailer starring Gena!

 Welcome and thank you so much for stopping by today, Gena! With all the activities that you've got going on in your life, how do you make time to write?

If I need to write, the opportunity presents itself. I could go days or weeks without writing because I haven’t been inspired by anything but the second something catches my attention – a phone call, maybe – I’ll be at that laptop, typing away. And whenever I write, I always have music on. It’ll be the same song on repeat for hours until it becomes white noise. So sometimes, if I have no music that I like at the moment, I can’t write!

 From reading your bio on your website, you are very passionate about riding your house. What type of horse do you ride and what is his/her name?

I own a chestnut Quarter Horse named Dalton, as is mentioned in Defiance, however, around the barn everyone calls him “Munchkin”. Trust me, he’s not small!

Munchkin is such an adorable nickname! I don't know much about horses, but looking at his picture, he is beautiful. Do you participate in any riding competition or do you ride only for pure enjoyment?

We’ve done smaller, less recognized shows for fun since I’m not the type to collect ribbons and trophies. He is always up for anything and that’s the best thing about him. We have herded cattle, jumped, trained in a type of advanced riding called dressage, barrel raced, and last but not least, competed in timed trail rides known as hunter paces. Munchkin also starred in the Defiance trailer and cover – he’s a pro with the cameras!

Wow, that's fabulous! Let's talk a bit about Defiance. How would you describe the world and the characters of Defiance?

The world is slightly, but not overly, magical. The characters are strong-willed but also human and prone to mistakes.

For a fantasy-lite reader like myself, I can easily warm up to a book that eases my way into the magical world. The flawed characters make them approachable. What about you? As a fantasy reader, what is more important to you: world building or character development? What's more important to you as a writer?

I’m inclined to say world building as both writer and a reader. When I’m reading something, the world has to be believable, tangible enough that I forget I’m sitting in a chair and I can see, hear, and smell the things going on. If a book can transport me somewhere else, then I can forget a character that is dormant or uninteresting. In writing, as much as the world-building and character development should go hand-in-hand, they may not always. Character development is a very important part of a book and determines much of the plot, but sometimes having a good world can force the character into change.

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you? What is the easiest?

Deciding what direction to take the story in gives me trouble. I don’t write down anything that might help me organize, such as outlines or notes, because I believe it’s better to work it all out in my head. It’s like I’m writing on a blackboard and I can effortlessly erase something if I don’t like it. The easiest part, though, is creating characters. I get an image of how I want them to look or act in my mind – especially if they’ll have a certain, identifiable trait – and I’ll mold them around that. Characters are especially important because they are what brings the story to life.

Writing is a very personal experience. What did you discover about yourself as a person and as a writer while you wrote Defiance?

I learned that sometimes impatience isn’t the way to go. I can’t force the words. They have to be there, in my mind, playing out like a movie. I’ve tried writing uninspired and it’s gotten me nowhere – I had to cut out the sections afterwards. It’s better if I just wait out a dry spell until something comes along that leaves my head spinning.

If you had to give one piece of advice to other young aspiring writers like yourself, what would it be?
 Self-publishing is hard work – even harder if you want to be successful. Patience and determination will get you far but it’s important to realize that some people may have an important piece of information that you might not. Even if their advice isn't delivered in the nicest way, take it. The smallest bit can help you go a long way.

I know you are a big fantasy reader. So I have to know, who do you prefer: Legolas or Aragon?

Aragon. He had a certain drive to complete his destiny and took idiot risks to advance toward it, making him passionate and likeable.
 I also like Aragon for the same reasons. I think it was an added bonus that Viggo Mortenson played him in the movies. ;) I need some book advice I've never read any books by Tamora Pierce before but have heard great things about them, what book would recommend that I read first?

Her entire collection is based on the first quartet, The Lioness, featuring the character Alanna. References to Alanna and the other characters introduced in that series are made continually, so that would be your best place to start. I started reading Pierce’s work when I was young and I’m still pre-ordering her books!

Thank you so much for stopping by, Gena! Readers, you find more information about Gena by visiting her website, Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

With her nation at war and her parents lost on the front lines, 16-year-old Vivian must find the strength to leave home and become a spy among her own people. There is only one problem: her parents are the king and queen, and she their only heir. Vivian must find the strength to leave home and become a spy among her own people—in order to discover the fate of her parents and assume the throne in their stead. On the other hand, if Vivian falls victim to their fate, the throne of Iledora will pass to her detestable aunt, Jaileene. Unexpectedly thrust into a tempest of political and imperial intrigue, Vivian is left with only two options. She must find her parents and bring them home, or stand back and watch as her country falls into the hands of the enemy. Armed only with a new alias, two trusted guards, and her stolid determination, Vivian scours the country for any information leading to her parents. However simple her intentions of returning them to the throne may be, her journey is complicated by challenges she'd not foreseen: encountering love, trusting in the unknown, and being at the mercy of the Bulvan emperor she swore to conquer.
Rummanah Aasi
  Bram Stoker's masterpiece, Dracula, has captured the imaginations of many and have spawned an endless fascination of vampires in our pop culture. I really don't think you can call yourself a vampire lover without reading the book. I read Dracula for the first time this year during Halloween and really enjoyed it.

Description: When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman's neck; and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his 'Master'. A battle of wits between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries ensues with the safety of England is at risk.

Review: I only knew a few things about the original story of Dracula, mainly the names of the characters involved and a good sense of the book's plot. What I didn't know, however, is that the book is solely composed of journals, letters, telegraphs, newsletter clippings, etc from a variety of characters' points of view. I found the structure of Dracula to be absolutely fascinating more so than the book's plot.  
   Dracula as a narrative is deeply embedded in the cultural consciousness. The main male characters have larger sections of the book that details interesting tidbits about the setting and specifically trying to understand the human psychology. With the minor exception (but not all that much) of Mina Murray, the other women in the book are one dimensional either portraying the overly sexed female or the virtuous Victorian female who is easily seduced by the dark side. Though Dracula is the title character of this masterpiece, he doesn't appear very often in the book. We aren't really given any background information about him at all, which would usually annoy me but it works for this book. Dracula becomes more than a character. He is an allegory of all what the Victorians feared: sexuality (specifically women's sexuality), paganism, and the paranoia of the "other". Often times it is hard to distinguish the character's personalities from the Count himself, creating the doppelganger of the character's evil/dark side.
  Gothic and darkly atmospheric, Stoker plays with his audience, manipulating the multiple perspectives of the characters in his novel to play the reader's knowledge and recognition of danger against the character's obliviousness. The different narrative voices are for the most part distinctive from one character to the next and the telling of the story through primarily diary entries as well as letters and newspaper articles is used to its benefit. After reading Dracula, I can now understand why certain vampire characteristics are so commonly used by writers today.  Dracula could be read as a Gothic pulp thriller or an examination of the phobias of the Victorian time period, regardless of how you read it you can't deny its everlasting impact on our culture today.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing scenes in the book. Sex is indirectly mentioned by the use of euphemisms and other literary devices. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Dracula, My Love by Syrie James, Dracula in Love by Karen Essex, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Rummanah Aasi
  If you've been reading my blog, you know how much I love Greek Mythology and have been recommending the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan to everyone. Luckily, Percy fans don't have to say goodbye and can enjoy another epic adventure. Riordan has a spin off series called The Heroes of Olympus which will contain five books that feature new and old characters as well as figures from both Greek and Roman mythologies. You can read my review of the first book in the series The Lost Hero here. While it's not necessary to read the Percy Jackson series first, I think readers will miss out on important character development, references, and inside jokes found in this series. The Son of Neptune is the second book in the series and one of the hottest children books that is checked out from my local library.

Description:  In The Lost Hero we discovered a new blood-chilling quest:

Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire the world must fall.
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.

Who are the other four mentioned in the prophesy? The answer may lie in another camp thousands of miles away, where a new camper has shown up and appears to be the son of Neptune, god of the sea.

Review: While reading and enjoying The Lost Hero, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to Percy Jackson, a character I've come to love for five books. Surely, Riordan couldn't return to Camp Half-blood and not include him. The Son of Neptune answers all of our nagging questions that The Lost Hero generated.
    In last book we learned that Percy had disappeared and there were only vague vague hints of what could have happened. In The Son of Neptune, Percy returns as one of the main characters but can't remember anything. At the very beginning of the novel we find Percy Jackson being hunted by two gorgons. He encounters Juno in the form of an old lady, who gives him a choice: he can regain his memories but go to the Roman half-blood camp where he will be lead to a treacherous journey or stay where he is and be assured of his safety.
   Percy's decision to accept the challenge and go to the Roman camp allows the reader to be introduced to the Roman demigods, the Roman way of life, and discover a new quest. The Roman camp named Camp Jupiter (Jupiter is the roman name for Zeus) is fascinating. Unlike the laid back attitude of Camp Halfblood, Camp Jupiter is organized and has rules that everyone seems to follow. Lares (house gods) saturate the area and the demigods are divided into legions similar to those of the Roman army. Riordan does a great job in introducing his readers to the various aspects of Roman culture. I loved comparing the differences between Greek and Roman mythology.
   The Son of Neptune introduces us to new demigods, Hazel and Frank, who come from very interesting backgrounds and have special powers that we haven't seen before. I don't want to go into their details in fear of giving a lot of the story away, but I'm always stunned how Riordan creates new fascinating characters that are ethnically diverse. I had absolutely no trouble in embracing these new heroes and I'm glad they were able to work together so well with Percy. 
   The Son of Neptune picks up nearly all of the key threads that were started in The Lost Hero. We get further hints as to the meaning of the prophecy about the seven half bloods. It's very possible that we've already met the seven demigods, but like readers of mythology, we all know that prophecies aren't always what they seem. Unlike the plots of the Percy Jackson series, where readers can guess which famous Greek hero stories Riordan uses for inspiration, The Heroes of Olympus is much more complex and intricate. We get a better understanding of what troubles the gods are having and why the Greek and Roman demigods must work together. If the Percy Jackson's overall lesson is to learn and accept family then the Heroes Olympus lesson seems to teach its characters and readers to challenge and not accept prejudices. The brooding tone of the book foreshadows the tough choices and sacrifices our heroes will make throughout this series.
   Unlike in the Percy Jackson series, which was written entirely in the first person, The Son of Neptune continues with the third person narrative, giving us the perspectives of Percy, Frank and, Hazel. This style feels more mature in many ways, especially since the characters are at different points in their lives. Percy has definitely grown since we last saw him, but he still holds on to those endearing characteristics that made readers love him. Just a warning: the book ends with a cliffhanger and I'm very anxious to see how things unfold in the next book. It's just too bad that we have to wait another year for the next book.

Rating: 5 stars

Curriculum Connection:  English and Social Studies

Words of Caution: There are some scary, fantasy violence that is PG rated. I think this book is appropriate for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: The Mark of Athena (Book 3 of the Heroes of Olympus series, available Fall 2012), The Red Pyramid and Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan, Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus, The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh, Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu
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