Rummanah Aasi
  I have fond memories of story-time as a kid, where my class would gather up close to listen and watch as the teacher and/or librarian would read picture books or other books aloud. While I student taught in elementary school, I always looked forward to reading to the kids. The best times were when you see how the kids are involved in the story and you could tease them about what would happen next. This year I'm taking a part in a picture book challenge hosted by Jennifer over at An Abundance of Books  in hopes of finding some great reads and new favorite titles.  Today I'm featuring an eclectic mix of books that I've read so far this month and one I finished last year but never reviewed: Airport by Byron Barton, The Grand Mosque of Paris by Karen Gray Ruelle, and The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney.

Description: Describes in pictures what happens from the time an airplane passenger arrives at the airport, and boards the plane until the plane is in the air.

Review: Barton captures the wonder and excitement of discovering a new place, in this case it is an airport. With vibrant colors and drawings, we transport ourselves to the setting. His text is simple and brief while he lets his pictures do most of the work. I would definitely recommend this book to kids who are interested in learning about airplanes, trucks, and trains.  

Curriculum Connection: Unit on transportation

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None.

If you like this book try: Airplanes by Byron Barton, One the Move by John Searcy, 

Description: Presents the story of how Si Kaddour Benghabret, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, and other Muslims, gave Jews shelter and worked in the resistance to help them escape Nazi persecution during the German occupation of Paris.

Review: The Grand Mosque of Paris was a surprising find at my library. I never heard of this story, but I was anxious to read it. Despite the tensions between the two Abrahamic religious, the book focuses on brotherhood, hope, and where saving lives trumps all differences. The book begins with a quote that is well known in both the Islamic and Jewish traditions: Save one life, and it is as if you've saved all of humanity. During the Nazi occupation of France, Jews were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. One place of refuge was the Grand Mosque in Paris, where Jewish adults and children hid, some briefly until some could either migrate to another country, while others stayed for a longer time. Thanks to the mosque's rector, and particularly Berbers from Algeria, many lives were saved. 
  The Grand Mosque of Paris was a fascinating, little-known piece of history. The book's afterward even explains the difficulties in researching the information and contacting people to interview for the book. Although the authors try to hard to explain everything in a little amount of space, they did a pretty good job overall. There were a few Islamic terms that could have been clarified, but I think readers will be able to define them using contextual clues. The drawings and color contrasts heightens the tension and hope alternately.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4-6

If you like this book try: Passage to Freedom by Ken Mochizuki

Description: In this wordless retelling of an Aesop fable, an adventuresome mouse proves that even small creatures are capable of great deeds when he rescues the King of the Jungle.

Review: The Lion and the Mouse won the Caldecott Award in 2010 and I can see why. Besides a few squeaks, hoots and one enormous roar, Pinkney's interpretation of Aesop's fable is wordless. By eliminating text, the reader can come closer to the Animal Kingdom from a safe distance. Colorful, vibrant, yet humble illustrations show a mouse unwittingly taking refuge on a lion's back as it scurries away from an owl. The large beast grabs and then releases the tiny creature, who later frees the lion who has become tangled in a hunter's snare. I don't recall learning about this Aesop fable, so the story was completely new to me but it pulled me in very quickly as the events unfolded. I was equally worried about the mouse and the lion.

  Pinkney enriches this classic tale of friendship and the universal theme of family effectively in several scenes as well as in the back endpapers, which show the lion walking with his mate and cubs as the mouse and her brood ride on his back. The lessons aren't forced but flow naturally into the story, proving that the author doesn't need words to tell a well done story and clearly demonstrates that pictures speak a thousand words.

Curriculum Connection: Fables and folklore

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None.

If you like this book try: The Lion Saw Himself in the Water by Idres Shah, Once a Mouse by Marcia Brown, Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young
Rummanah Aasi
I've heard about Y.S. Lee's Agency series for quite some time. I've been meaning to pick it up since it is about a Victorian mystery series but never got around to it. After reading several glowing reviews from bloggers, I thought to give the series a chance and I'm so glad I did. I enjoyed every minute of it! There are currently three books (the third book released today!) in the series and I really hope Ms. Lee doesn't stop there.

Description: Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan and thief Mary Quinn is offered a place at Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls where she is trained to be part of an all-female investigative unit called The Agency. At age 17, she is given her first case as she infiltrates a rich merchant's home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. Being an agent isn't as easy as Mary thought as she meets unsuspecting friends and foes as well as a family secret.

Review: A Spy in the House grabbed my attention right away. As the book opens, Mary, a scrappy 12-year-old orphan and accomplished thief in Victorian London, is saved at her 11th hour from the gallows by a stranger and taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, an institution dedicated to turning out strong, independent, educated young women. Due to her rough upbringing she is reluctant at first, but then accepts the challenge and eventually becomes a teacher herself. At 17, she discovers the school is actually a covert group of female spies known as The Agency and is recruited by the mistresses of the school who believes Mary's street smarts make her a great candidate. After her initial shock has worn off, she is given her first assignment which involves posing as a lady's companion to the daughter of a man suspected of fraud and smuggling. She carries out her investigation at night and during stolen moments, but soon finds that she is not the only one on the case.
  While there was no such thing as an Agency in Victorian England, which the author fully admits, I found loved her idea of subverting the passive, submissive, and quiet Victorian woman stereotype. The women virtually go undetected, which makes them blend easily into the background and a great choice for spies. Lee's Victorian England is vibrant and rich in detail from the attention to clothes, dialect and the seedy underbelly of the poor. Historical details are woven seamlessly into the plot, and descriptive writing allows readers to be part of each scene. The book's slow pace, melodrama, and the mystery also reflects on the time period.
  As a heroine, I loved Mary Quinn. Her years as an orphan and pick-pocketer piques our interest in her personal story. Intelligent, feisty, determined, yet somewhat stubborn and impulsive, Mary has several layers to her personality that we can all relate to. Her complexity grows as we learn about her ethnic background, which I hope gets explored more as the series continues. I admire Mary for not wallowing about her dark past and actually use the skills of observation and street smarts while she is on the case. Unlike Nancy Drew, who always seems to make the right choices while sleuthing, Mary is over her head. She continuously makes mistakes but her quick thinking for the most part helps her out except when it comes to James Easton.
  James Easton is the debonair gentleman who is also interested in Mary's case. Unlike Mary, James reasons are more personal and directly related to the mystery as his brother captivated by Mr. Thorold's daughter and hopes to marry her. James is utterly charming, cocky, and continues fails to figure out Mary. Though James and Mary meet coincidentally, there is no doubt that they both strike up curiosity in one another. Watching these two banter and get flustered by one another is the spotlight for the book. There is definite romantic tension which crackles between them and makes us wait in anticipation to see if this 'relationship' progresses.
  Though the mystery is solved by the end of the book, we are still left with many questions that make us want to pick up the second book (which I have and it's even better than this one) right away. Class differences, love gone awry, racial discrimination, London's growing pains in the 1850s, and the status of women in society are all addressed. Lee knows her Victorian London and it shows. I would definitely recommend to people who enjoy historical fiction and cozy mysteries with a strong female heroine that are not too violent and graphic.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: The book is relatively clean, however, there are mentions of opium dens and mentions of the philandering Mr. Thorold. Recommended for strong Grades 6 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Body at the Tower (Agency #2), Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman, Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer
Rummanah Aasi
  It's Monday! I'm joining my blogging friend, Alison from Alison Can Read, on her manga meme Manga Mondays where bloggers can discuss manga we've read. I'm very much a newbie when it comes to manga and I like experimenting with different genres and series. Today I'll be reviewing the volume 6 of Library Wars.

Description: It's Valentines Day in Japan. Iku finds her hopes for this special day ruined when her crush, Dojo, receives a box of chocolates from an admirer. Meanwhile the beautiful and flirtatious Shibazaki meets a suitor and Hikaru thinks he is being followed.

Review: This volume did really do much for me. It definitely felt like a filler/transition book. Nothing exciting happens and the characters are just riding along. 
The plot seems to split into three story lines. The first story line is a censorship issue wasn't well developed in my opinion. The Weekly World News magazine has printed an article about the teen serial killer and it has been banned by the new head librarian, which shocks everyone in the Library Task Force. I was confused about exactly why the library would consider censoring the article at all. It sounds counter intuitive if the purpose of the library is to ensure access to information for all. Maybe the article's writer use illegal sources and thus what is printed isn't allowed to be shown to the public because of the prisoner's rights? If so, then how the author get access to person in question's library history? As far as I know, libraries are not allowed to hand out patron history records to anyone even the government. The government would have to have a warrant or other documents in order to get anywhere near the history. I simply can't understand how this issue came to this decision.
 The second story line is about Shibazaki, Iku's roommate and friend. We gain a little insight into her past and her personality. Basically, she's just putting on a show on how others feel like she should behave in order to be well liked and popular. I do like Shibazaki in general and it's nice to know that she isn't all that confident and all knowing as she appears. She is more human and fragile in this volume. She meets a suitor who I think might become a recurring character and I hope that relationship is something to root for. 

  The third story line focuses on Tezuka, who believes someone is following him. Since this story line occurs in the last few pages, it doesn't have much time to develop. We do meet his mysterious brother, who may or may not work for the enemy. 
 In addition to these story lines, there are bonus chapters that focus on the Library Task Force team going out to a spa resort together and they happen to stop robbers who robbed a near-by bank from running away. The same nauseating Iku and Dojo 'banter' occurs and there are some slapstick humor and violence that occurs. Overall, this volume was okay and I probably wouldn't have missed much if I skipped it altogether. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There were several bath scenes with the two girls completely covered by the water, but then there was a scene where only strategic placement kept Dojo decent. No real language and much less violence in this one with the biggest injury being Iku's run-in with a door jam. Rated T for teens.

If you like this book try:  Library Wars Volume 7 by Kiiro Yumi, Saturn Apartments by Hisae Iwaoka, Kingyo Used Books by Seimu Yoshizaki
Rummanah Aasi

 I had an incredible time hosting and participating in my first read-along, Tempting Tuesdays, and now I'm thrilled to participate in another fantastic read-along, Kiss Me, I'm Irish which features Hounded, the first book in the Iron Druid Chronicles series by Kevin Hearne. I really enjoyed Hounded and I can't wait to discuss the book with others. The Kiss me, I'm Irish Read-Along is hosted by Felicia the Geeky Blogger, Amanda at On a Book Bender, Ash at Smash Attack Reads!, Jen at In the Closet with a Bibliophile, and Missie at The Unread Reader.

Hounded Discussion Schedule:

March 02nd: Chapters 1-5 hosted by Geeky Blogger's Book Blog
March 09th: Chapters 6-10 hosted by On a Book Bender
March 16th: Chapters 11-15 hosted by Smash Attack Reads!
March 23rd: Chapters 16-20 hosted by In the Closet With a Bibliophile
March 30th: Chapters 21-25 + epilogue hosted by The Unread Reader
April 06th: Special interview with Kevin Hearne & announcement of winners!


Everyone who signs up for the read-along and participates each week will be entered for a chance to win one of three prizes. Best part: there will one winner per prize! The first name drawn will get first choice and so on. Wondering what's up for grabs? A Third Eye Tote Bag, a Sausage Fest Pint Glass, and a personalized, signed copy of any book in the Iron Druid Chronicles.The prizes are also open to international readers as long as The Book Depository delivers to your country, though the prize is limited to any book in the Iron Druid Chronicles (not signed).

Visit Felicia at Geeky Blogger's Book Blog to sign up and to grab the first set of discussion questions for week one! 
Rummanah Aasi
 I've had Neil Gaiman's Stardust on my bookshelf for quite sometime. I had the intention to read it last year for my Off the Shelf reading challenge from last, but didn't get around to doing it. Stardust is a detour from Gaiman's other works which usually are in the dark fantasy (as far as the ones I've read by him) realm. Though marketed as a fairy tale for adults, I think it's highly readable for teens too, which is why it was awarded the Alex Award in 2000 and later made into a movie of the same name. 

Description (from the Publisher): Young Tristran Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria-even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. Beyond that old stone wall, Tristran learns, lies Faerie-where nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.

Review: Stardust is an enchanting, old-fashioned fairy tale full of mythic images, magic, lyrical passages, an assortment of strange characters, and of course romance.
As our story opens, we are introduced to the town of Wall, which has one opening and is guarded day and night. If that's not strange enough, on one side of the stone bulwark is England; on the other, Faerie. Once every nine years, the guard is relaxed so that the villagers can attend a fair held in a nearby meadow. There, as a young man, Dunstan Thorn is seduced by a strange woman, and not quite a year later a child is left at the wall. His name is Tristran Thorn.
  Tristan is your typical fairy tale hero. He is over his head, impulsive, and is driven solely by his emotions. When he grows up, he falls in love with Victoria Forester, Wall's most beautiful girl who is completely shallow and flirtatious. In order to win her win her affection and separate himself from her slew of suitors, he vows to do the impossible: bring her the fallen star that they see one night. If Tristan returns with the star, then Victoria must fulfill her end of the deal of doing anything he wants.
  Of course hormone driven Tristan talks before he thinks and truly believes he will succeed on this journey although he is completely clueless on how to go about it. Throughout Tristan journey, we also learn of many other people who are also searching for the fallen star. The sons of the Lord of Stormhold also seek the star, for it is said that he who finds her can take his father's throne. The oldest of three evil witches also seeks the star, for her heart can grant youth and beauty. Little do they know that the star isn't what it seems.
  While the basic foundation of the traditional fairy tale exists i.e. hero's impossible mission, the quest, seeking maiden's love, Gaiman offers a tale that is fresh and original. His prose is simple yet lyrical, allowing the reader to slowly build their own Wall and Faerie in their heads. Though the plot begins with what it seems disjointed, multiple story lines, by the end of the book, they are all tied together quite nicely. Even though the resolution is satisfying, I felt the romance was a bit lacking. Couples bicker and spend time with each other, which fuels the humor, but I didn't really get the sense that they cared for one another. Despite this flaw, I did find Stardust an enjoyable read. I've also heard that the movie fixes this common complaint from readers and I do plan on seeing it. I would recommend Stardust for those who like fairy tale settings and want a light yet fulfilling read.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, a few small sex scenes, and some violence. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: The Princess Bride by William Golding or The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Rummanah Aasi
 I've been in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian slump for quite some time. After reading a slew of books in this genre, where every story and characters felt the same. I figured I was just burnt out from the genre and took a break. After reading several rave reviews, I was glad I took a chance on Veronica Rossi's debut novel, Under the Never Sky, to help me get out of my genre rut. Thank you to Harper Collins and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of the book.

Description (from Goodreads): Since she'd been on the outside, she'd survived an Aether storm, she'd had a knife held to her throat, and she'd seen men murdered. This was worse. Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland - known as The Death Shop - are slim. If the cannibals don't get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She's been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He's wild - a savage - and her only hope of staying alive.
   A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile - everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria's help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

Review: I'm not exactly sure which genre fits Under the Never Sky the best, but from what I've learned about the book's world I'm leaning towards post-apocalyptic. Regardless, it is a compelling account of characters searching for truth, love, and identity in two separate worlds. Aria has grown up in a Pod, where every aspect of life is highly regulated by technology and things can immediately happen just by thinking about it. Dwellers such as Aria lead sheltered, insulated lives in the Pod, enjoying protection from the often treacherous, unpredictable weather. They live their lives vicariously through their devices and really reminded me of the people glued to their chairs in the movie Wall-E. Peregrine lives outside of a Pod, an Outsider, in what the Dwellers consider perilous wastelands where humans live without the technology the Dwellers depend upon. The Outside world is very similar to what we would call the Stone Age where hunting, using ones survival skills are the only ways to guarantee your will survive.
  Aria and Peregerine's world intersects when ruling authorities banish Aria from the Pod and Peregrine loses something very valuable to the Dwellers. The two characters struck up an unlikely alliance as they help one another on separate quests that turn out to have unexpected connections. While the plot of Under the Never Sky isn't groundbreaking and uses common tropes of the genre, I really liked the characters and the traditional use of an epic journey that entails action, romance, and humor.
 Using alternating points of views, we are able to get to know the main characters intimately. I thought Aria's chapters were cold, whiny, and removed at first, which exemplifies her Dwelling lifestyle. She has grown accustomed to getting what she wants immediately just by voicing her desires and quickly moves into a fetal position when she's thrown out of her comfy home (not that I don't blame her). I loved her development from a passive to a strong girl who can fend for herself and roll with the punches. Her transition isn't immediate and does mess up but her determination is admirable. Unlike Aria's chapters, I instantly connected to Peregrine's as his voice was filled with real, raw, emotions. While he may be commonly seen as a 'cave man' to Aria, we quickly learn how much he cares about his family and his fears of becoming the leader of his tribe. Aria and Peregrine not only strike up a rocky friendship, but they slowly dispel their stereotypes of one another, gain mutual respect and admiration. Their romance slowly burns and for the most part a bonus to their story as they never lose sight of their original mission.
  Rossi establishes her world building in creating a unique language for her characters, which add texture to their respective regions. As a reader you plunge head first into the action with very little explanation. Thankfully, I was aware of this before reading the book and it didn't hinder my enjoyment too much as I expected it. I did, however, grow a bit frustrated in trying to figure out what exactly are the Aether storms and how the weather helped mutate the Outsider's genetics as they are known to have special powers, which are repeatedly mentioned. I also didn't like the book's abrupt ending. I hope these issues are addressed in the next book, which I'll definitely will be reading. Rossi has got me hooked and I can't wait to see what happens next in her offbeat and mesmerizing series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence, a few scenes of underage drinking, and a few allusions to sex. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Blood Red Road by Moira Young, Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Rummanah Aasi
  One of my reading goals this year to diversify my graphic novel/manga reads. I normally read for teens since that is the target audience I spend the most time with at work. This year I'm digging a little more deeper into the Children's Department at my library. Today I'll be reviewing Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale, The Secret Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis, and Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge.

Description (from Goodreads): Jack likes to think of himself as a criminal mastermind…with an unfortunate amount of bad luck. A schemer, plotter, planner, trickster, swindler...maybe even thief? One fine day Jack picks a target a little more giant than the usual, and one little bean turns into a great big building-destroying beanstalk.  With help from Rapunzel (and her trusty braids), a pixie from Jack’s past, and a man with inventions from the future, they just might out-swindle the evil giants and put his beloved city back in the hands of good people ....while catapulting themselves and readers into another fantastical adventure.

Review: Calamity Jack is the companion novel to Rapunzel's Revenge which I quite enjoyed. Unfortunately, Calamity Jack isn't quite as good. Though tongue in cheek humor and exciting action scenes fill up the pages, Jack, who is the leading character of Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale, isn't really an exciting character nor is his tale. Unlike Rapunzel's Revenge where the fairytale is reconstructed, there are hardly any changes in Jack's story except the fact that he is of Native American descent. It would have been interesting if that element was discussed in the book. Overall, I enjoyed it enough to read and finish it. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is violence that leans towards PG-13. There are some disturbing images of the giants eating bones that might be a bit too scary for younger readers. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Three Thieves series by Scott Chantler

Description (from Goodreads): Super-smart Julian Calendar thinks starting junior high at a new school will mean he can shed his nerdy image–but then he meets Ben and Greta, two secret scientists like himself! The three form a secret club, complete with a high-tech lair. There, they can work to their hearts content on projects like the Stink-O-Meter, the Kablovsky Copter, and the Nightsneak Goggles.
  All that tinkering comes in handy when the trio discovers an evil scientist's dastardly plan to rob a museum. Can three inventors, armed with their wacky creations, hope to defeat this criminal mastermind?

Review: The Secret Alliance of a Copycat Crook is a prime example on how the structure of a graphic novel can have an impact on the reader's experience. I found this book very hard to read. The colors are on full blast and the text box for dialogue are all crammed in together. There were many times where I could feel myself squinting from the harsh print or even trying to figure out the sequential pattern. As a result, I didn't really for this book at all. The story is predictable and boring: smart kids invent a really cool product and an evil, famous professor steals it and uses it as his own. I couldn't connect to the characters, but I did like the fact that the characters are from various social sectors of the school and form a friendly bond over science. I definitely do think if the graphic novel had more white space and a readable layout, I would have enjoyed it much more. The only reason why I read this graphic novel is because it was on the Bluestem Award for Grades 3-5.

Rating: 2 stars

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

If you like this book try: Akiko on the Planet Smoo by Mark Crilley or Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Description (from Goodreads):  Paige Turner has just moved to New York with her family, and she's having some trouble adjusting to the big city. In the pages of her sketchbook, she tries to make sense of her new life, including trying out her secret identity: artist. As she makes friends and starts to explore the city, she slowly brings her secret identity out into the open, a process that is equal parts terrifying and rewarding.

Review: Poignant, beautifully drawn, and universal, Page by Paige explores how Paige, a shy introvert, tries to establish her own identity in a brand new school and place. Gulledge does an amazing job in showing Paige's isolation, loneliness, and confusion through her images that are subtle yet pitched perfect to the emotions rolling through Paige. What I loved about this story is that Paige doesn't try to buy the latest clothes or mimic what all the cool kids are doing, but uses her great skill, her art, to make herself special. As Paige slowly opens up, she is able to embrace new friends and new opportunities including love. I would have loved this graphic novel more if I read it as a middle schooler. A big two thumbs up for me.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None, but I think the context of this story would be more suitable for middle schoolers.

If you like this book try: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Rummanah Aasi
  Today I'm delighted to have Julie Chibbaro, the author of Deadly, here on the blog today. Medical mysteries have captivated the world with TV shows from E.R. to the various C.S.I's tv shows. I asked Julie about the popularity of these mysteries and here's what she had to say:

Why are medical mysteries so intriguing? 

We all get sick. Much of the time, we don’t know why. I don’t know about anyone else, but as soon as I have symptoms, I start looking on the web for what I might have. That’s the mystery. What’s making us sick? Or what’s making a town sick? Or a virus has spread, and is taking a whole country down. Why?

I also think we want to know how to control these illnesses, both in our own bodies, and when they turn into epidemics. We fear getting so sick we’ll never get better, which makes us morbidly fascinated with how people get sick. How disease spreads. Why we can’t find cures to old diseases like cancer.

As a kid growing up, I loved Robin Cook’s medical mysteries, especially Coma, which they made into a movie. The human body is so unpredictable. The eruption of a rash could mean anything, from an allergy to poison ivy. Right there is a mystery. That’s what makes shows like CSI and House so interesting – we meet the characters with their symptoms, and we have to guess at the right diagnosis. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel – you have the dead (or sick) body, now you have to find out why it happened. 

 Thank you for stopping by, Julie! I'm all for finding cures and answers to questions, but I don't think my sensitive stomach could handle it all, which is why I safely avoid the CSI shows.  

Courtesy of Goodreads
If Prudence Galewski is ever going to get out of Mrs. Browning’s esteemed School for Girls, she must demonstrate her refinement and charm by securing a job appropriate for a young lady. But Prudence isn’t like the other girls. She is fascinated by how the human body works and why it fails.

With a stroke of luck, she lands a position in a laboratory, where she is swept into an investigation of the fever bound to change medical history. Prudence quickly learns that an inquiry of this proportion is not confined to the lab. From ritzy mansions to shady bars and rundown tenements, she explores every potential cause of the disease. But there’s no answer in sight—until the volatile Mary Mallon emerges. Dubbed “Typhoid Mary” by the press, Mary is an Irish immigrant who has worked as a cook in every home the fever has ravaged. Strangely, though, she hasn’t been sick a day in her life. Is the accusation against her an act of discrimination? Or is she the first clue in a new scientific discovery?

Prudence is determined to find out. In a time when science is for men, she’ll have to prove to the city, and to herself, that she can help solve one of the greatest medical mysteries of the twentieth century.
Rummanah Aasi

  I'd like to thank everyone for stopping by the blog and entering in the Touch of Power giveaway. I do recommend checking out the book if you're in the mood for a high paced fantasy with great characters! The book is now available in bookstores and libraries near you. According to the winner for the Touch of Power giveaway is Amoonsiong. Congrats! I have sent you an email, please respond within 72 hours or else I will have to choose another winner.
Rummanah Aasi
 Part of the fun of participating in the Middle Eastern Reading Challenge is learning about different countries, cultures, and exploring new authors. When I picked up Crescent, I was in the mood for an engrossing read especially after a few books that left me wanting more. I'm happy to say that Crescent delivered in lots of surprising ways.

Description (from book's inside panel): An Arab-American novel as delicious as Like Water for Chocolate. Praised by Critics from The New Yorker to USA Today for the first novel, Arabian Jazz ("an oracular tale that unfurls like gossamer"), Diana Abu-Jaber weaves with spellbinding magic a multidimensional love story set in the Arab-American community of Los Angeles. Thirty-nine-year-old Sitine, never married, lives with a devoted Iraqi-immigrnt uncle and an adoring dog named King Babar. She works as a chef in a Lebanese restaurant, her passions aroused only by the preparation of food--until an unbearably handsome Arabic literature professor starts dropping by for a little home cooking. Falling in love brings Sirene's whole heart to a boil--stirring up memories of her parents and questions about her identity as an Arab American. Written in a lush, lyrical style teminiscent of The God of Small Things, infused with the flavors and scents of Middle Eastern food, and spiced with history and fable, Creseent is a sensuous love story and a gripping tale of risk and commitment.

Review: Crescent is a complex, rich novel with multiple layers that weaves the story of a romance between an alluring chef and a handsome, haunted Near Eastern Studies professor together with a fanciful tale of a mother's quest to find her wayward son. The author does an incredible job in exploring  private emotions and global politics with both grace and conviction.
  Sirine is a beautiful, single woman who also happens to be the leading chef at an Arabic cafe where many of the customers are Arab immigrant students who flock to the cafe in order to get a taste of home. Raised by her uncle after the death of her relief-worker parents, Sirine isn't really connected to her cultural roots. While others around her experience homesickness, Sirine feels a part of her that is missing. When her uncle introduces her to his colleague Hanif, her easy going lifestyle is disturbed.
  By far the most interesting character in Crescent is the male lead, Hanif, who has been exiled from Iraq and hasn't seen his family for twenty years. He is incredibly intelligent, filled with mysteries, and handsome. He constantly struggles to adjust to his life in the U.S. while still holding on to his fond memories of Baghdad he loved as a boy. I found myself being immediately drawn to him and I instantly wanted to know why and how he left Iraq and can't go back.
 While the romance between Sirine and Hanif happens rather quickly, you do get the sense that they have done the flirting dance for a while. Both are afraid of commitment though their definitions of commitment may be different. For Sirine, it's about embracing her Iraqi cultural roots and she seems to find that in Hanif. For Hanif, it's the balance between his past and his present which he seems to find in Sirine. Sirine and Hanif's relationship isn't perfect and it does have rocky moments, which made their romance realistic.
 Abu-Jaber's prose is sensuous. The city is vibrant and you can practically picture yourself sitting in the cafe as the sights, sounds, and smells come alive. Throughout the book I had a really strong craving for Middle Eastern cuisine and I will warn you that the multiple dishes mentions will make you hungry. The secondary characters also come alive, especially the wry, meddling, wise cafe owner Um-Nadia and the charmingly narcissistic poet and satyr Aziz, are appealingly eccentric. I loved that all the characters are real, honest, and three dimensional. They are not perfect. While I may not agree with the decisions they make, I can understand the choices they made.
  I thought the pacing was good and was surprised how quickly I finished the book. Normally, it takes me twice as long to finish an adult book instead of a YA or children because the setting, plot, and characters take time to fully establish. I think with my prior knowledge of the cuisine, familiarity with the language, and atrocities under the Saddam Hussain regime helped me read and enjoy the book much more. I know of many other readers who thought the book was slow and boring. I, however, was enthralled and enamored with the story. I look forward to reading more books by this author.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some small sex scenes and some language in the book. Recommended for mature teens interested in multicultural fiction and adults.

If you like this book try: Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran, The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan, Chocolat by Joan Francis, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Rummanah Aasi
  I have fond memories of story-time as a kid, where my class would gather up close to listen and watch as the teacher and/or librarian would read picture books or other books aloud. While I student taught in elementary school, I always looked forward to reading to the kids. The best times were when you see how the kids are involved in the story and you could tease them about what would happen next. This year I'm taking a part in a picture book challenge hosted by Jennifer over at An Abundance of Books  in hopes of finding some great reads and new favorite titles.  Today I'm featuring three books that I've read so far this month: Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown, In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming, and Owl Babies by Martin Waddell.

Description: When Lucy, a young bear, discovers a boy lost in the woods, she asks her mother if she can have him as a pet, only to find him impossible to train.

Review: Children Make Terrible books is an adorable and hilarious read that cleverly switches the roles of pets and their owners. A girl bear named Lucy makes a pet of a small boy she finds hiding in a forest. She declares him "the cutest thing she's ever seen", brings him home, and begs her mother to keep him.  Her mother unbearishly seated in a comfy chair and reading a book, delivers the title's sound advice and tells Lucy that she is solely responsible for the boy. The boy, who Lucy names Squeaker, because that's the only sound he makes, throws tantrums and mimes all the escalating challenges of animal care. Even though the humans in the book wear clothes and live in a house, they are basically like critters who only "squeak" because the book is written from the bears' point of view. This would make an excellent read-aloud as the pictures are cleverly drawn and the dialogue as well as narration are distinctly separate. After I finished reading this one, I immediately had to read it to others. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Preschool to 1st Grade.

If you like this book try: Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern, Skunk Dog by Emily Jenkins, Detective LaRue by Mark Teague

Description: In a series of collages, a frog views a year of changing seasons in a small pond.

Review: In a series of bright colors that reflect the seasons, young readers will be able to identify the various animals that either live or do various activities in the pond. The illustrations and rhyming text compliment the pictures really well. While adults will pay attention to the author's subtle changes in season and the various animals presented in the book, I think young readers will have more fun with reading the rhymes aloud.

Rating: 4 stars

Curriculum Connection: Habits, Seasons, Animals

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for ages 2 to 6.

If you like this book try: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aarderma, The Earth and I by Frank Asch, Hello Artic! by Taylor Theodore

Description: Three owl babies whose mother has gone out in the night try to stay calm while she is gone.

Review: Do you remember the anxious feeling that your parents suddenly left you and you're concerned whether or not they returned? Owl Babies captures those feelings simplistically and beautifully as three baby owls find themselves alone when their mother leaves. They reassure one another that she will return and make guesses as to what happened. Children and toddlers would be relieved to find out that the mom does come back and all is well.  I will say that I wasn't captured by the text of this story. I actually think it pales in comparison to the rich, detailed illustrations that does a much better come in reflecting the babies' emotions. This would be a good one to use to relieve a child's fear of doing something alone such as going to school for the first time without a parent.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Good Night Owl by Pat Hutchins or Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm really excited to have Scarlet's author A.C. Gaughen on the blog today discussing her favorite retellings! I thoroughly enjoyed Scarlet and highly recommend it if you're in the search of a clever retelling with a strong female protagonist that can fence like nobody's business. If you missed my review of Scarlet, you can find it here.

A.C. Gaughen's Top 10 Favorite Retellings

1. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Best retelling ever. Seriously! Levine’s retelling of Cinderella was amazing. This was one of the most fun and best-loved books of my entire childhood. I even loved the vastly different but fun in it’s own way Anne Hathaway Bollywood flick. 

2. The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey. This book kicked off a major obsession with all Dokey’s retellings for me, actually, and whether it was because I read it first or because it was a genuine observation, this is by far the best of them. Shahrazad’s story (1001 Arabian Nights) is retold in a magical, beautiful, impossibly romantic way. Wonderful! 

3. Avalon High by Meg Cabot. I LOVE King Arthur, so I was really excited for this medieval adventures in high school treatment of the old legend. On the fun and light side, but that’s not a bad thing. 

4. Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey. Okay, I’m going back for #2 from Dokey. I loved her treatment of Cinderella. The setting became so real and tangible and it was like putting this three dimensional backdrop behind something you were already familiar with. Loved it.

5. Abandon by Meg Cabot. Dude! A retelling of a Greek Myth. Can you get cooler than that? And further more, who can make Hades a compassionate character and Persephone truly torn between the world of the living and the dead? Totally obsessed with this book.

6. Once Upon a Time, er, TV Show. I’m going to veer off books for six and seven because I LOVE two current TV shows as fairytale retellings. I love ONCE for it’s endless intricacies that serve to weave all of the fairytale world rather diabolically together, but also serve to shed a new light on the complicated motivations of some of our favorite characters.

7. Grimm, TV Show. I was probably the only person who loved that Brothers Grimm movie, mostly because I’m really intrigued by these brothers and their original fairy tales that were horrific and brutal (and supposedly rewrote local legends that villified mothers into step mothers because they were so partial to their own dear mama). Really digging that Grimm is giving it a CSI detective kind of feel. 

8. Golden by Cameron Dokey. Okay, clearly I like Dokey’s retellings. There’s a lot to choose from. Golden puts Rapunzel in a industrial age where she’s struggling to make her own choices and find her own way--but the tale is still recognizable and toys with your expectations. 

9. Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Okay, I haven’t gotten my hands on this one yet, but I’m DYING TO!! It looks so good. Cinderella is a ROBOT. A ROBOT!! Give it to me, please! 

10. Impossible by Nancy Werlin. Okay, I don’t know that this is actually a 'retelling' as such, but it’s definitely a modern day fairy tale that’s based on an old ballad called Scarborough Fair. Surely that counts, right? It’s clever and endearing and Lucy’s search to break the curse is just magical enough! 

 How is it that I've never heard of Cameron Dokey before?! I must check her books out, especially a YA retelling of the Arabian Nights. That's so cool!  I've got Ella Enchanted on my tbr pile, but haven't read it yet. *Blushes* I'm also digging Once Upon a Time, but haven't had the chance to watch Grimm, but it does look interesting. I also loved Brothers Grimm: Matt Damon + Heath Ledger + Fairy Tales = Awesome! Thank you so much for stopping by, A.C.!
Rummanah Aasi
 Truth: The tagline of the book, "Pretty in Pink" meets "Anna and the French Kiss" in this charming romantic comedy, grabbed my attention. Truth: I'm a really big John Hughes fan. Truth: I adored Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I dare you to not make any comparisons to the movie and book while reading The Fine Art of Truth or Dare. I also dare you to not smile or laugh while reading this book.

Description (from Goodreads): Ella is nearly invisible at the Willing School, and that's just fine by her. She's got her friends - the fabulous Frankie and their sweet cohort Sadie. She's got her art - and her idol, the unappreciated 19th-century painter Edward Willing. Still, it's hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he is your French tutor, and lessons have started becoming, well, certainly more interesting than French ever has been before. But can the invisible girl actually end up with a happily ever after with the golden boy, when no one even knows they're dating? And is Ella going to dare to be that girl?

Review: Melissa Jensen's The Fine Art of Truth or Dare is the perfect book to read when the weather is horrible outside and all you want to do is crawl into bed or on your favorite couch to read. I had a stressful week at work it was nice to sit back, relax, and read this book. Every now and then I'd like to read a book where I didn't  have to think too hard and enjoy the moment, which is exactly what I did with this one. 
  Our heroine and narrator, Ella Marino is your average, everyday girl. She is a scholarship student at an elite Philadelphia private school. I really liked Ella, but I often thought she was two entirely different person when she was at school and with her best friends. The first Ella is the awkward, quirky girl who hates and complains about going under the radar but does nothing to make her presence known. The second Ella, the one I really liked, has a shining personality that demonstrates her warmth, kindness, intelligence, self deprecating humor, and her passion about art. The second Ella came in waves as the first Ella took over, which made me want to shake her every time she wallowed about how others perceive her.
  Although the book is deemed as a romantic comedy, all of the plot revolves around Ella's self perception. Ella's confidence issues takes center stage as her crush on Alex, one of the most popular and handsome boy in school, grows stronger after he is assigned to be her French tutor. I liked the slow burning and growing relationship between Ella and Alex for the most part. The stop and go feel to their relationship made you wonder if it would actually work and/or last. While I did like Alex, I'm not entirely sure what Ella sees in him. Sure, he's cute, rich, and artistic, but he didn't really make an impression on me and maybe that's because Ella was constantly undermining her own self worth (i.e. "he's really not interested in me because I'm x, y, z") whenever she was with him and fears she may be his dirty little secret instead of focusing on what is real and important.
  As you can see, there is a lot of self discovery in The Fine Art of Truth or Dare, which causes the story arc to meander. Though I loved witnessing Ella's life from spending time with her her loud, incredibly warm, loving, funny family (think the Portokalos family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding) that runs a local Italian restaurant and her best friends Frankie and Sadie (who I loved and wished had more page presence and depth to their characters); as well as seeing Ella at work on her honors thesis she is writing about her favorite painter Edward. While all these details may be important if the book was made into a movie, it doesn't serve much of a purpose because it has such a touch and go feel to it. There were many times where I skimmed the pages just to find Ella and Alex together. Readers, like me, may grow impatient with the wandering plot and waiting for Ella to realize that she has to look inside and not outside in order to be happy. Despite the long route to get to this realization, The Fine Art of Truth or Dare is an adorable read that is sure to induce smiles and laughter.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, a few scenes of underage drinking, and crude humor. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: books listed on my Can't Help Falling in Love book list.
Rummanah Aasi
 I would like to welcome Sadie from Melissa Jensen's adorable, new book The Fine Art of Truth and Dare, which will be released this week. Be sure to stop by tomorrow for my review of the book. Please help me welcome Sadie to the blog!
If you were Andie Walsh from Pretty in Pink, who would you choose: Blaine or Duckie? 

I know I should say Duckie. Right? I should say Duckie. But that would be like kissing my really, really good friend Frankie. Nope. I have to say Blaine. He’s cute. And I figure his family’s a lot like mine, so we would be able to talk… Yes, definitely. Blaine.

Coffee or tea? 

Cinnamon latte. But sugar-free with skim milk. Sigh.

Who are you most likely to fall for: the nice guy or the complex bad boy (or girl in case that is the gender preference)? 

Well, what I really really want is someone who will maybe write a poem for me or sing to me. And totally not care that I am not a size 2. Honestly? I don’t think you can change people and I don’t think people are ever really transformed from beastly to beautiful because someone loved them enough. So shouldn’t we just go for the nice to begin with…?

Would you rather live in London or Dublin?
I’m trying to decide whether to be a pastry chef or a psychologist. So maybe London? I love Dublin. I adore Dublin. But London just does cake and crazy a little better.
In your opinion is Ella's crush on Alex unreasonable, crazy, or just a fleeting experience?
I don’t want her to get hurt. I really really just don’t want her to get hurt. I mean, Alex is better than most of his friends, but guys like him just don’t see girls like Ella, not really. Or they see the unimportant stuff. So, I don’t know. I just don’t want her to get hurt…

Being dressed up or the causal, comfortable look? 

Oh, God. My mom is into deconstructed Japanese couture and wants to pick all of my clothes. My jacket has a third sleeve stitched to the back. It’s like wearing a straightjacket. Please please let me fill my closet with soft sweaters and Uggs!

Sixteen Candles or Some kind of Wonderful

Sixteen Candles. For my sixteenth birthday, my dad had his girlfriend buy me a watch at Cartier. It was exactly the same watch that his last girlfriend picked out last year. My mom was in Paris. She sent me a pair of Christian Louboutin sandals with four inch heels. I know I sound horrible, complaining like that. I’m so sorry! But, still, I just hoped, maybe… No, no. I’ll stop.

Do you prefer an instant love or the slow burn romance?

Oh, yes, please. Please.

Optimist or pessimist? 

Well, I love fairy tales with happy endings and John Hughes movies and acapella music. I can’t see how a world that has those things could be bad. So, an optimist. Absolutely.
Book endings where everything is tied up in a bow or a realistic yet hopeful ending?
Honestly? I really really love the Happily Ever After. I especially love the stories where the ordinary girl gets the really interesting boy. Because I really believe we’re not ever quite as ordinary as maybe other people see us as being. And a boy who’s interesting is probably interested in all sorts of things, so he’ll probably look a little deeper… I’m babbling. Sorry!

Superman or Batman?
Batman. The idea of x-ray vision makes me a little uncomfortable.

Introvert or extrovert? 

When I’m with Ella and Frankie, I’m a total extrovert. They’re the best friends remotely imaginable. I’ll even do karaoke when I’m with them. Except Frankie hates my song choices… Otherwise? I’m pretty quiet.

Favorite feature on a person of interest: eyes or smile?
Eyes. They tell you an awful lot. My mom insists on me going to Philadelphia’s top dentist and orthodontist. I’ve seen the before and after pics of the smiles they can create.
If you have a crush on someone would you like him/her from a distance or act upon it?
I would like to say that I would act on it. I would really like to say that. But the only thing that scares me more than talking to boys I don’t know is the idea of being naked in front of anybody! I probably shouldn’t have shared that, right? TMI. I’m so sorry.

Love and have lost or not love at all? 

Love. Completely. Isn’t that sort of the meaning of life? To love completely, no matter what happens in return?

Thank you so much for stopping by, Sadie! I may be in the minority but I would have chose Duckie. Blaine just seems, pardon the pun, plain and boring. 

"Pretty in Pink" meets "Anna and the French Kiss" in this charming romantic comedy
Ella is nearly invisible at the Willing School, and that's just fine by her. She's got her friends - the fabulous Frankie and their sweet cohort Sadie. She's got her art - and her idol, the unappreciated 19th-century painter Edward Willing. Still, it's hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he is your French tutor, and lessons have started becoming, well, certainly more interesting than French ever has been before. But can the invisible girl actually end up with a happily ever after with the golden boy, when no one even knows they're dating? And is Ella going to dare to be that girl?
Rummanah Aasi
  I was highly anticipating reading Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen because of its cool premise. I haven't read any books about Robin Hood, though I did enjoy some of the movies based on the legend. I was curious how the switch in gender any other changes would work in this new retelling of the famous legend. Thank you to Walkers Children and the Teen Book Scene for giving me an advanced reader's copy of the book to do an honest review. 

Description (from Goodreads): Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in. It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

Review: Full of swashbuckling adventure, romance, and humor, A. C. Gaughen debuts with a historical re-telling of the renowned legend of Robin Hood, the prince of thieves. Instead of focusing on the legend himself, Gaughen zeroes on Will Scarlet, a well known, prominent member of Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men. What sets Will Scarlet apart from the others is the mere fact that Scarlet is a girlWith this clever premise, Scarlet re-imagines a woman's role in this English folklore.
  When I first heard about this book through several bloggers, I was instantly intrigued by the concept of a fearless girl working alongside the famous men and who has cleverly kept her identity as a disguise for so long. Will Scarlet, mostly known as Scar to Robin and the boys (Little John and Much the Miller’s Son) was a terrific character that I loved and supported right away. She is impulsive, brave, and strong. She also didn't lose her feminine touch either. As a great strategist, Scar is the first to come up with a plan. Her disguise as a boy allows her to bend her society's expectations of a woman. As a man, she can make her own decisions and stand up for herself. Her voice is very distinct. Like all the characters in Scarlet, she is not perfect but flawed, which makes her accessible and approachable to the reader.
  The book is filled with chalk full of great characters. All of the secondary characters stand on their own and have distinct personalities and voices. Each of them have scars, some physically and/or emotionally, from their past which serve as a catalyst to aiding Robin in his adventures. By helping others, they are able to try and correct their own mistakes. All of Robin's men work as a family who take care and look after each other. There is a great friendship amongst them that feels natural which is demonstrated by their dialogue and body language. 
   Of course a retelling of Robin Hood is incomplete without a great Robin Hood. Gaughen's Robin is definitely swoonworthy in looks and in behavior. He treats Scar equally and respects her. His charisma and passion to  fight the injustice in his society leaps off the page. Despite of all this, I loved how he never saw himself as a hero who deserves all the accolades that his community bestows upon him. Though his reasons behind his actions can be seen as selfish, you can't help but admire him. It goes without saying that I loved watching him and Scar interact. Their romance and longing is slow burn which makes it exquisitely tantalizing. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for one of these characters to make a move.
  The plot of Scarlet focuses on unveiling Scar's real identity since she is the focus of the book. What is nice is that none of her friends knows Scarlet's secret and they are learning the truth right along with the reader. We are told snippets of her past and of the new threat, Guy of Gisbourne, who is keen on looking for her. The book does a good job in keeping the reader entertained with lots of action scenes, great romantic tension, and well placed clues to Scar's history. I thought the pacing of the book was relatively fast as I finished it in one sitting. By the end of the book, we get answers to many questions, but it does leave it wide open for future books, which I hope the author writes because it was so hard to say goodbye to these fantastic characters. All in all, if you're looking for a quick, fun, retelling of a popular folklore with a kick butt heroine be sure to check out Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen. I really recommend it. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Some mild language and a scene of attempted rape. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Rowan Hood by Nancy Springer, Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson
Rummanah Aasi
  I would like to welcome Cam from Emilly Denforth's provocative and poignant debut, coming of age novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, on the blog today. Last month I reviewed the book, but if you missed it you can read it here.

Welcome to the blog, Cameron. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure. I usually go by Cam, but Cameron’s fine too: whatever works for you mostly works for me. I’m a swimmer and a lifeguard. I’m way into movies—pretty much all movies. I’ll watch just about anything. I’m from this little cowboy town in eastern Montana that you’ve probably never heard of called Miles City. I chew more Bubblicious than I realize, I think. Is that enough? It’s
weird to introduce yourself like this.

You've heard about the Promise group while on a religious retreat. Did you have any interest in it before you were forced to go there after your secret was discovered?

Um, well, I was interested, I guess you’d say, in what a treatment center specializing in conversion therapy would actually be like. You know, what it would look like, what we, the “disciples,” would be asked to do there. I wouldn’t say that I was at all interested in being sent there, or that I believed that I “needed” to be sent there, or that a place like that would have anything to offer me. But it’s natural curiosity, isn’t it, to wonder about an operation like Promise—just what kind of “tricks” they have up their sleeves. And if I’m being honest, I suppose I wondered about the teens who would be sent to such a place. I was curious about them, their stories. I wanted to know if they’d be “like” me, whatever that means. It sounds sort of stupid when I say it aloud, but it’s true.

You seemed to have a quite strange experience at Promise. What do you remember most about your stay there?

So many things, really. I remember the sound of the mountain wind, which could be really intense. And the smell of the pine and cedar. I remember getting so tired of giant, mushy casseroles for dinner four nights a week. I remember the sound of the Viking Erin’s whistling snores, even though I guess she usually fell asleep before me. I remember hanging out in the hayloft with Jane and Adam, the prickle of the hay and the dampness up there. I remember that well. I remember Reverend Rick playing his guitar and making us all sing with him. Of course I remember that horrible day in group session with Mark, but I don’t want to talk about that now.

Looking back on your life now, is there anything that you would have changed? I don’t really believe in that, so much, looking back with regret or too much longing or even just wishing for second chances. I tried to process a lot of the junk I had built up, stuff from right after my parents’ died that I never dealt with, while I was at Promise, actually, and I think I mostly did. I mean, there are some things, sure, like wishing that I’d gotten to know my parents as people--and not just as parents—before they died. And I think I could have been a bit more generous to Aunt Ruth, sometimes. But you know what—that was me then, those were my choices, and this is who I am now because of them. I wouldn’t change things with Coley, if that’s what you mean. I wouldn’t change any of that. I would have brought my swimming suit to Quake Lake with me, maybe. But, I mean, even that: it worked out, didn’t it? It worked out.

Have you kept in touch with Lindsey, Adam, or Jane? What are they up to now?
   First Lindsey was part of the Riot grrrl music scene. She was lead singer in a band called Molly Bolt. Then that band broke up and she was the lead singer in a different band, this one called Well I’m Not Lonely, Radcliffe Hall. Then that band broke up and she was the lead singer in a different band, this one just called The Radcliffe Halls. They’re still around today, working the Portland indie music scene. Oh yeah, I guess I should add that she lives in Portland, Oregon and she’s in a “monogamISH” relationship with a woman named Nel. You’d have to ask her the details of that particular arrangement. There’s no way I could fully explain them to you.
   Jane’s a super famous photographer, her stuff is everywhere, now. She does print; she does gallery shows; she’s got work hanging in the Tate Modern: she’s a big deal. As far as I know she’s single, but Jane can be quiet when it comes to “affairs of the heart.” (That’s how she’d put it, I think.) She has this amazing cabin in Montana, actually not all that far from Quake Lake, and I think she’d like to stay there more than she can right now because she travels so much for work. It’s a beautiful place, though. She cooked me dinner there not so long ago. I think, if she had enough land, she’d run a commune there, just start one up. She never really got commune living out of her blood.
   I haven’t heard from Adam for a long time. Last I knew he was bumming around LA, surfing—both literally and on people’s couches—occasionally modeling, just kind of getting by. I don’t know if all of that is still true or not. He was dating another model, a woman: she was gorgeous and had the endless legs and strut of someone who’s well acquainted with the catwalk, but that was awhile ago, now. He just sort of drops off the planet for a spell and then resurfaces. I hope he does that again soon. I miss him.

What would advice would you give to teens who are struggling with their sexuality?

Well, I think we’ve come a long way in the twenty years between the time my story takes place and today in terms of human rights legislation, yes, but just as importantly, in terms of visibility. The work is not near complete, don’t get me wrong, but something as “small” as seeing Ellen DeGeneres—an out lesbian--host her talk show every afternoon on network TV, often mentioning her wife, or knowing that your local library or bookstore likely carries one of the many David Levithan novels with powerful and interesting gay characters, and if they don’t, that you can get those books online, gives me hope. The internet alone, with its many horrors, can also be an amazing place to build community, ask questions, and find a support system. But, I’ll say this too, for what it’s worth: know that everyone—gay, straight, bi, trans, curious, questioning, sexually active or sexually reluctant or sexually horrified-“struggles” with their sexuality. Struggling with one’s sexuality—in all the complicated ways we might think about it, from desire to attraction to actual physical acts--is not limited to only the non-straight identifying folks around you. Nor, I should add, is it limited to being a teenager. Desire and attraction can be tricky things-fluid and fleeting, surprising and sometimes overwhelming in the most unexpected of ways. All of this is normal for everyone. Know that you don’t have to figure everything out tomorrow or the next day. Certainly you should seek out friends you can talk to about these things, particularly if they’re worrying you. But sex and sexual attraction and sexual identity are all complicated and nuanced and often confusing subjects. Just know that it’s perfectly fine to be confused.

I couldn't have said it better, Cam. Thank you so much for stopping by the blog today! 

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief she’ll never have to tell them that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.
   But that relief soon turns to heartbreak, as Cam is forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and not making waves, and Cam becomes an expert at this—especially at avoiding any questions about her sexuality.
   Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. To Cam’s surprise, she and Coley become best friends—while Cam secretly dreams of something more. Just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, her secret is exposed. Ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self—even if she’s not quite sure who that is.
   The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.
(Cover and summary from Goodreads)
Rummanah Aasi
  I realized that I still have some children's books that I didn't get a chance to review yet from last year. Though the mini-reviews are brief, I think they cut to the chase and let you know my impressions about the books. Today I'll be reviewing: Animal Heroes by Sandra Markle, Kira, Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.

Description (from book's back cover): A guide dog leads its owner to safety down seventy-seven flights of stairs in the World Trade Center before the building collapses. A female gorilla in a zoo picks up and protects an unconscious toddler who falls into her enclosure. An elderly dog named Frisky keeps his owner awake and alive when Hurricane Katrina floods the house. Winnie the cat saves her owners from carbon monoxide poisoning. Animals, both wild and domestic, have become heroes when they've come to the rescue of humans. In these heartwarming, true stories, Sandra Markle shows how dogs, cats, cows, monkeys, and even dolphins use their normal senses or special training to help people in trouble or in need all over the world.

Review: Animal Heroes is a juvenile nonfiction book that contains lots of colorful pictures and information. As the title suggests, the book features numerous animals who have rescued humans, either their own owners or complete strangers caught in a dangerous situation. Rescues from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina as well as more obscure disasters are included. One of my favorite stories was about a gorilla at a zoo who helped keep a child, who accidentally slipped into the cage, safe. The stories are remarkable. The stories also contain informative panels that further explain the situation in scientific terms such as the animals habit, what it means to have frostbite or hypothermia. An extensive bibliography, including a few website links, and a glossary is included along with further reading suggestions.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some photos and details of the 9/11 attack especially of the building crumbling and on fire which make be a bit scary for young readers. As an adult, I know I felt a bit uncomfortable. Recommended for Grades 3 to 6.

If you like this book try: Shelter Dogs by Peg Kehret

Description (from book's back cover): Glittering. That's how Katie Takeshima's sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people's eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it's Lynn who explains to her why people stop them on the street to stare. And it's Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering - kira-kira - in the future.

Review: Kira, Kira won the Newbery Award in 2005. It's one of those books that make you scratch your head and wonder why it was awarded. The writing is quite good and the plot is ok, but there's nothing really remarkable about it. It moved at a snail's pace kinda like a movie you thought was finished but only to find another scene pop on the screen. I liked knowing Katie's family and the Japanese culture. I was a bit confused, however,  as to what ailed her sister Lynn. There are hints about a terminal illness, which I thought was cancer but the illness was never explained. In the end Kira, Kira really didn't do anything for me and had it not win the Newbery I wouldn't have picked it up.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are some racial slurs and PG language in the book. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

If you like this book try: Return to Sender by Julia Alveraz

Description: A black family living in Mississippi during the Depression of the 1930s is faced with prejudice and discrimination which its children do not understand.

Review: I didn't realize that Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was part of a series by Mildred Taylor. While I didn't feel lost reading the book, there's not much of a plot to the story. The book does a good job in showcasing the family's struggle against prejudice and racism. I loved learning about the members of the Logan family and was inspired by their tenacity to stand up to the injustice they are faced. My main problem with the book is how the adults, particularly the mother of the Logan family,  tries to shelter her children about what is happening around them such as the terrorism caused by the KKK. While her reasoning is understandable, I think it does a disservice to her children and I found it unbelievable. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was awarded the Newbery Award in 1977.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: The "n" word is used quite frequently, but it does serve a purpose. There is also some violence in the book too. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Logan family series by Mildred Taylor, Guardian by Julius Lester
Rummanah Aasi
 I've heard lots of great buzz surrounding Brodi Ashton's debut novel, Everneath, since last year. I've been very curious about the book, especially in how it would retell the Hades and Persephone myth which has been very popular recently. I was thrilled that the galley for the book was available on Netgalley and I was able to read it. I'd like to thank Harper Collins and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity. Everneath was released on January 24th.

Description (inside of book's panel): Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she's returned - to her old life, her family, her boyfriend - before she's banished back to the underworld . . . this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.
  Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance - and the one person she loves more than anything. But there's just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.
 As Nikki's time on the Surface draws to a close and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's queen.

Review: Everneath surprised me in many ways, all good. I had expected your average paranormal romance with an angsty heroine, an adoring love interest, and the inevitable bad boy. While the book has that, it also has a lot of depth and avoids most common tropes of the genre by exploring the consequences of choices that the characters make. In most of the paranormal romances that I've read or learned about, the choice and its associated consequences are often discussed. Impulsive decisions eventually end up being the right one and the characters have a happy ending, but what happens when you make the wrong decision? Is there a way to correct your mistake or is it too late? These questions are the foundation to Everneath and what made the book such a compelling read for me.
  Eveneath is steeped in melancholy and Greek mythology, particularly about the myths of underworld. Nikki Bennett, commonly called Becks by her loved ones, has been gone for six months in the Everneath (aka the Underworld), a place where Everlivings, immortal beings, feed off the emotions of humans to survive. Nikki has come home to say a proper good-bye to her family and friends, most of all to say good-bye to Jack, the love of her life and her best friend. Nikki has six months on the surface before the Everneath reclaims her for good to serve either as essentially their battery in the dark tunnels or to become an Everliving with Cole, the Everliving who took her. 
  When the book begins, you are aware that Nikki willingly made the choice to go with Cole. The reason behind her choice is cloaked and slowly revealed throughout the story. The narrative switches between two time periods, before and after the Feed. I hadn't expected the narrative to switch, but the transition felt smoothed, well timed, and flowed nicely. 
 I wasn't sure what to think about Becks. I felt sorry for her and knew something drastic must have happened that lead her to the Everneath. As I learned more about her rough life, I really liked her. Becks is a steely, quiet girl who is not perfect and has insecurities that we all have, but what I loved most about her is that she admits her mistakes and is resolved to correct them. She took the easy way out the first time, which ended horribly and now she's ready to fight, determined to win. Ashton weaves the metaphor of drug use and addiction quite well into her story especially as we witness Becks' downward spiral.
  The romance in Everneath is done very well. I loved the fact that it wasn't an instant romance and that there is no love triangle, two plot devices in this genre that are overused constantly. Becks' relationship with Jack and Cole are very different. Each of the male characters are fleshed out. Jack is the loveable boyfriend, but he is also Becks' strongest supporter. I guess you could argue his is the angel sitting on her shoulders guiding her, representing happiness, hope, and light in her life. Damaged, yet loving and courageous he battles to keep Becks from being dragged back into the Everneath. I liked that their relationship isn’t always strong and that they work on it together. There’s so much honest emotion and history with these two characters that their relationship arc is solid and real. I ached for their story and desperately wanted to see them happy. Needless to say that I absolutely loved Jack.
  If Jack is the angel, then Cole is the devil that constantly tempts Becks. He is dark, seductive, yet more complex than your average hot bad boy. I didn't think his character was romanticized. You got to see all of him, yet he isn't a one dimensional villain either. It's really easy to hate Cole, and believe me I did, but there was a small part of me that felt bad for him. I wondered how he became an Everling and despite his bravado, if he ever felt guilty about his job. I took notice whenever there was just a shimmer of humanity in him that came to the surface. There is definitely more to Cole than meets the eye and I look forward to learning more about him. Cole has a strange relationship with Becks. He depends on her to live yet he also relies on her for companionship. Though Cole declares he has feelings for Becks, I don't consider them romantic but rather a longing for something that he can never have, which is being truly alive. 
  I found the pacing of Everneath was pretty slow but fans of action and adventure books will probably find themselves wanting to speed things up. Everneath is mainly a character driven novel so I didn't mind the slow pace, but I think the pacing is a reflection on how people grieve, heal, and learn to trust one another. The rushing timelime looms on each chapter, which made me bite my nails in anticipation of how everything will end. I was in the wee hours in the morning finishing the book because I couldn't put it down. Ashton’s writing is strong and serves well for this novel. Her use of imagery is great and she manages to create a rather unique world while staying true to mythology in this book. I will warn you that this is a beginning of a trilogy and the book ends in a cliff-hanger that made my jaw drop and left me teary eyed. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, underage drinking, and some disturbing images. Recommended for strong Grades 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman, Abandon by Meg Cabot, Goddess Test by Aimee Carter
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