Rummanah Aasi
  I will say that Mondays are not my favorite day of the week. It's hard to get your mindset back on track after a relaxing weekend. I do, however, look forward to sharing my excitement reading manga with other bloggers and finding out new series to try. Thanks to Alison over at Alison Can Read for her meme of Manga Mondays.

Description (from Goodreads): JOAN OF ARC (1412-1431)
A patriotic young French maiden. After beginning to hear voices at the age of 13, Joan led the French army in the liberation of Orleans in the Hundred Years' War against Britain. But not long afterward, she was convicted of heresy by a religious tribunal and burned to death at the stake.

Review: Afterschool Charisma is one of those books that leave you with more questions than answers. If it was a print book, I would be extremely frustrated and abandoned it by now, but as a manga format I think this approach works well mainly because the visuals builds the suspense, a sense of foreboding, and even hints at the answers. 
  Unfortunately, the description I could find only gives you information about Joan of Arc, which is very important in this volume, but it doesn't tell you much about the plot of the book. There were a lot of interesting subplots in this book, some of which came out of nowhere and others that I had suspected.
  Shiro has been given two major responsibilities. His first duty is to play host to the mysterious head of the school, Mr. Rockwells. We aren't given much information about Mr. Rockewells, who seems to be very important to the academy though it isn't clear on what exact position he holds. He appears to be reckless, has adopted a young girl, and has no respect for the clones. He’s in town for the festival where the clones show off their yearly projects. Shiro's second duty is to be on suicidal watch after a clone attempts to commit suicide. 
  While Shiro is doing his best to balance his time and attention between his two duties, there is a strong religious storyline that caught my attention. Since the assassination of clone President Kennedy, the clones have been concerned about their safety. A cult ran by clone Rasputin have raised a beanie-baby like sheep cleverly named the almighty dolly as a their protector since they have no family or god of their own. It's been said that the almighty dolly will protect the clone's life as well as separate their ties with their original's lives. Along with the religious overtone, there is a hint that the  the dolls might be used for spying on the clones. Of course to really drive the significance of the almighty dolly home, there has to be a demonstration of its power. Joan of Arc has been chosen by Rasputin to be ‘symbolically burnt at the stake’. I don't think you have to read the next volume of this manga to see what happens next. There is lots to think about this manga once you are finished. 
 As a note, I will say that this manga isn't as fast paced as other books go. The plot subtly grows and gets more complex with each volume. I will make your head spin and keep you guessing until you can get the next volume in your hands.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Rated T+ for nudity, language, and violence in this volume. Recommended for mature teens and up. 

If you like this book try: Afterschool Charisma Vol. 3 by Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Hetalia: Axis Powers by  
Rummanah Aasi

   Ever since the second season finale of Downton Abbey, I've been having withdrawals. I miss the characters, the drama, the fashion, and the subtle humor. I came across Daisy Goodwin's American Heiress, which has been a popular book at my library, which was marketed as a must read for those who had loved Downton Abbey. It sounded just the thing I needed. Little did I know, it would do the exact opposite for me. 

 Description (from book's panel): Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts', suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage.

Review: Have you ever had a meal that looks so appetizing that you feel let down when it is not as good as you expected it to be? On your plate, it looks delicious and beautiful and you can't wait to dig in, except when you do you immediately notice one thing- there's no flavor; such was my reading experience with Daisy Goodwin's American Heiress.
 The book is very much reminiscent of the works of Henry James and Edith Wharton who wrote about the upperclass Americans who desperately tried to achieve the social air and lifestyle of Europeans. As the book opens Cora, a very rich, snobby, selfish, and stubborn woman is on the hunt for nobility. She surveys her predatory eyes on any man with a title, preferably a handsome duke who can whisk her away from her controlling, smothering mother. It was hard to warm up to and even like Cora who didn't seem to have any redeeming qualities. Things are pretty ho-hum until she meets an allusive English duke named Ivo.
  Unfortunately Ivo wasn't a debonair, love interest. He did absolutely nothing for me. To my surprise, he wasn't actually in the story all that much, which I guess was suppose to give him an air of mystery. It was clear, to everyone except Cora, who lived in a bubble, that he had another woman on the side. It's obvious that Ivo didn't marry Cora for love, but to put to rebel against his stuck-up mother.
 The plot of the book is very predictable and quite slow. I had it figured out in the first fifty pages and I waited to see if anything new and surprising would happen, but it didn't. All I got was a superfluous subplot involving Cora's maid's romance which went no where. The book could easily have been trimmed 100-200 pages down (it's close to 500 pgs in length). I did, however, liked the author's descriptions of the time period. I also chuckled here and there with the cultural jabs the Americans and the British gave each other.
 Overall, this didn't curb my Downton Abbey withdrawals at all. It made me miss the show even more. I would recommend this book to those who have a hard time reading Wharton or James, as I think this book was more approachable but for me, it lacked depth and originality.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are some small, non-explicit sex scenes. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Summer by Edith Wharton, The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton
Rummanah Aasi
 I had a hard time deciding what to review today so I thought I do a few YA mini-reviews. I decided to review some of the more recent books that have been released this year. All of these books are now published and can be found either in your libraries or local bookstore. Today I'll be reviewing Fracture by Megan Miranda, Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay, and Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley.

Description (from Goodreads): Eleven minutes passed before Delaney Maxwell was pulled from the icy waters of a Maine lake by her best friend Decker Phillips. By then her heart had stopped beating. Her brain had stopped working. She was dead. And yet she somehow defied medical precedent to come back seemingly fine. Everyone wants Delaney to be all right, but she knows she's far from normal. Pulled by strange sensations she can't control or explain, Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her altered brain now predicting death, or causing it?
   Then Delaney meets Troy Varga, who recently emerged from a coma with similar abilities. At first she's reassured to find someone who understands the strangeness of her new existence, but Delaney soon discovers that Troy's motives aren't quite what she thought. Is their gift a miracle, a freak of nature-or something much more frightening? 

Review:  Of all the 2012 debut YA and middle grade novels, I was really excited to read Fracture. The book was marketed to fans of Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall and Gayle Forman's If I Stay, both book with I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, Fracture doesn't come close to either books nor does it satisfy on a paranormal romance or magical realism level either because it tries to do both at the same time.
  Delaney should have died when slipped into the icy water, but she survived and now seems to have this strange ability. Her ability isn't explained, but it has to do with identifying people who are close to dying or who are dying. The majority of the book is Delaney coming to terms of with her ability and whether or not to use her 'power' for good. 
 The romance in Fracture is more disappointing than the lack of the paranormal explanation. It is of the "we're friends but I want to be more but I'm afraid to tell you/ I can't believe it was in front of me and I never knew" variety. Delaney flounders between her best friend Decker and a slightly older guy named Troy who seems to have similar abilities. Both love interests were boring and I grew frustrated with the story. Overall, really disappointed with this one and felt duped by the marketing strategy. 

Rating:  2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking, and some heavy make-out scenes. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Mark by Jen Nadol, The Vision by Jen Nadol, and if you're looking for more a paranormal mystery/suspense with romance try the Waked trilogy by Lisa McMann, Numbers by Rachel Ward, Slide by Jill Hathaway, or the Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting

Description (from Goodreads):  "Love and Leftovers" is a powerfully written debut novel that chronicles one teen's journey navigating family, friends, and love.

 Review: I had no idea that Love and Leftovers was a novel in verse when I opened the book, which was a delightful surprise. I think the format works well for the story as words were carefully chosen to express the emotions of the characters. 
  Love and Leftovers covers the wide spectrum of love, both familial, between friends, and mates. When Marcie's father reveals he is bisexual and leaves her mother for another man, Marcie and her depressed mom move from Idaho to a family summer home in New Hampshire. What follows is a series of misunderstandings, mistakes and trying to figure out what exactly is it means to love and be loved. While the book is not groundbreaking in its plot, I really liked the way the author manages to depth with her ability, in just a few and pitch-perfect words, to palpably express both the emotions of love and the physical longings that go along with it.

 Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and frank discussion of sex. Recommended for Grades 8 and up. 

If you like this book try: What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

Description (from Goodreads):  Senior year is over, and Lucy has the perfect way to celebrate: tonight, she's going to find Shadow, the mysterious graffiti artist whose work appears all over the city. He's out there somewhere—spraying color, spraying birds and blue sky on the night—and Lucy knows a guy who paints like Shadow is someone she could fall for. Really fall for. Instead, Lucy's stuck at a party with Ed, the guy she's managed to avoid since the most awkward date of her life. But when Ed tells her he knows where to find Shadow, they're suddenly on an all-night search around the city. And what Lucy can't see is the one thing that's right before her eyes.

Review: Graffiti Moon is the perfect summer read. The characters are fabulous, flawed and real each dealing with their own problems, some of which mirrors our own. With equal amounts of humor, introspection, and romance, Graffiti Moon was a delightful read. I loved the slow development of Ed and Lucy's relationship throughout the book as they learned about each other as well as themselves. While I did like Poe's section, which was written in verse, I felt it was sort of out of place and tacked on to the story. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a quick yet fulfilling contemporary romance read.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, underage drinking, frank discussion of sex. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist or Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohen and David Levithan, The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
Rummanah Aasi
 As part of the Teen Book Scene promotional tour for Katherine Grace Bond's The Summer of No Regrets, I have a few characters from the book stop by to chat on the blog today! Please welcome Brigitta, Luke, Mallory, Webster, and Natalie.

What is one thing people don't know about you?

Brigitta: When I was little I used to think I was a changeling. 

Luke: When I can’t sleep, I sometimes sketch, but I’m really terrible, so I hide them.

What is your ideal summer? 

Mallory: Working in a teen center, helping troubled kids. 

Webster: Sharing my expertise with a promising undergraduate in an off-campus setting. 

What do you think will happen once summer is over?

Natalie: I’ve signed up for an acting class at Studio East; there’s a guy there who looks EXACTLY like Logan Lerman. 

What is one memory of your summer that you will always remember?

Luke: The Grays Harbor Lighthouse. 

What would you like to forget?

Luke: Recycle bins.

How has the summer changed you?

Brigitta: I say what I think now—even if it may make someone mad. But I also think about what I’m saying. 

 Thanks to all of you for stopping by! Now I'm curious as to what happened at the lighthouse and why the recycling bin is an issue. Looking forward to "meeting" you soon when I read the book!

   The day Brigitta accidentally flings herself into the lap of a guy she's never met, her friend Natalie is convinced he's Trent Yves, egotistical heartthrob-in-hiding. When the boy, who calls himself Luke, is nearly eaten by a cougar, Brigitta finds herself saving his life, being swept into his spectacular embrace and wondering if she wants Natalie's fantasy to be true.
  As the two spend the summer together raising orphaned cougar cubs, Brigitta still can't be sure of his true identity. But then again, since her grandparents' death, her father's sudden urge to give away all their possessions and become a shaman, and her own awkward transition from girlhood into a young woman, she isn't sure of anything. What is the truth? More importantly, can she accept it?

Rummanah Aasi
  As a child who lived in Chicago, I didn't think too much about diversity. I guess I had always assumed I would always be with people from different racial/ethnic backgrounds than mine. It's not until I moved to the suburbs during my last few months of junior high that I realized how I was no longer just another Pakistani-American girl, but almost always the only Pakistani-American girl in most of my classes in high school. I wish I had books like The Whole Story of Half A Girl as a kid to help me with this huge culture shock, but I'm glad that many do now because it is really needed.

 Description (from Goodreads): After her father loses his job, Sonia Nadhamuni, half Indian and half Jewish American, finds herself yanked out of private school and thrown into the unfamiliar world of public education. For the first time, Sonia's mixed heritage makes her classmates ask questions-questions Sonia doesn't always know how to answer—as she navigates between a group of popular girls who want her to try out for the cheerleading squad and other students who aren't part of the "in" crowd.
   At the same time that Sonia is trying to make new friends, she's dealing with what it means to have an out-of-work parent—it's hard for her family to adjust to their changed circumstances. And then, one day, Sonia's father goes missing. Now Sonia wonders if she ever really knew him. As she begins to look for answers, she must decide what really matters and who her true friends are—and whether her two halves, no matter how different, can make her a whole.

Review: On its surface The Whole Story of Half A Girl is your traditional coming of age story, but Hiranandani's delightful debut novel adds humor alongside tackling sophisticated and tough issues such as cultural identity, economic hardship, and mental health, which adds depth and complexity to the story.
  Sonia Nadhamuni's likes her school, friends, and family. Her bubble of safety, however, bursts when she finds out that her father loses his job and falls into clinical depression. Due to financial strain, Sonia is taken out of her well-loved progressive private school and enrolled in the public, larger, Maplewood Middle School, where she knows no one. Sonia has the challenge of developing her identity from scratch.
   At Maplewood Middle School her classmates are fixed on her Jewish American and East Indian heritage. She is constantly asked which half she belongs to, which makes Sonia question her cultural heritage for the first time. What is she exactly? She doesn't follow the Jewish or Hindu religions, so how could be either? Her mother is Caucasian but her father is Indian, so she's not really Indian right? These questions and more make Sonia feel  unsure of how to articulate her racial and cultural identity. For me the cultural identity angle hit a strong cord. I knew exactly what Sonia was feeling. How do you explain your identity to others? How do you put all your halves together to become a whole person?
   On top of this hard hitting issue, Sonia has to travel through the dangerous realm of friendships, where the label of popularity or social outcast is made based on your friends. At home, Sonia feels alienated from her parents. She can never tell in which mood she'll find her father. Her mother is completely over-worked and stressed just to make meet ends, which hinders her close relationship with her daughter. Things come to a breaking point when Mr. Nadhamuni disappears, which sets off a catalyst for Sonia to reevaluate her friendships and accepts the fact that her dual heritage makes her a unique and whole girl.
 I loved how the author uses a number of issues in the book as they naturally progress in the story. It never felt forced or unbalanced. Though I groaned when Sonia was being bratty or made the wrong decisions, I can understand her emotions. By the end of the book, I rooted for her and felt her story kind of mirrored my own in some way. We seem to be taught to fear the unknown or what we don't understand, but I hope readers of this book will realize that diversity isn't something to be afraid of, but rather embraced. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Bloomability by Sharon Creech and for older middle school readers try Born Confused by Tanuja Hidier Desai, The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson
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. I'm taking a small detour from the supernatural and diving into the realm of science fiction. Today I'll be reviewing the volume 1 of Afterschool Charisma.

Description (from Goodreads): History repeats itself... Or does it?
St. Kleio Academy is a very exclusive school: all of the students are clones of famous historical figures such as Beethoven, Queen Elizabeth I, Napoleon, Mozart, and Freud. All of them, that is, except for Shiro Kamiya. As Shiro struggles to adapt to this unusual campus, St. Kleio's first graduate, the clone of John F. Kennedy, is killed. Are the clones doomed to repeat the fate of their genetic progenitors, or can they create their own destinies? And how does a normal boy like Shiro fit in?

Review: I've heard great buzz of the Afterschool Charisma manga series from a few librarians on a listserve. When I saw it at a local library, I was curious to pick it up. If you love historical manga/anime or movies like The Matrix that play with your brain, you'll love this manga series. 
  Afterschool Charisma's story arc revolves around a mysterious, prestigious, private academy that is full of clones of famous historical people, except for our main character, Shiro. Shiro's father is one of the administrators and a revered scientists working at the school. No one knows why the clones were created other than to replicate their original's accomplishments, however, there are thoughts amongst the clones and scientists, that things aren't what they seem. As the clones and Shiro struggle for identity in a world where their entire lives and careers are dictated to them, Shiro and his friends try to find out what's really going on in this mystery of a school.
  I really enjoyed this first volume of Afterschool Charisma. The suspenseful plot, intrigue, and meet the wide spectrum of historical figures were really well done. The characters, even though based upon real people, are not only distinct, but hint at further development as well. I loved the cynical Freud, and was very surprised to see how the clone of Hitler was approachable and dare I say light-hearted and funny, easily making him comic relief. Shiro, Marie Curie are also easy favorites, but the cast is diverse enough to find favorites with everyone.
The art is beautifully done. While we aren't given all the answers right away and do find humor within the pages, there is subtle layer of darkness lurking in the school's hallways. I'll definitely be checking out the rest of this intriguing manga series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, scenes of female nudity, and sexual humor. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this series try: Afterschool Charisma Vol. 2 by Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Hetalia: Axis Powers by  
Rummanah Aasi

I apologize for posting this late. This weekend got the best of me! I'd like to thank Danielle for stopping by and generously offering ebook copies of her book. I'd also like to thank my readers for commenting and enterign the giveaway. The winners, Jen of In the Closet of a Bibliophile and Bex, have been notified. Congrats ladies and I hope you enjoy the book!
Rummanah Aasi
  It is often said that history is written by the victor, but what happens when you are given two sides of the same story. Who is the winner and who is the loser? In J. Anderson Coast's debut novel, The Wicked and the Just, which details the occupation of Wales in the Middle Ages, the answer isn't simple.

Description (from Goodreads): Cecily’s father has ruined her life. He’s moving them to occupied Wales, where the king needs good strong Englishmen to keep down the vicious Welshmen. At least Cecily will finally be the lady of the house.
  Gwenhwyfar knows all about that house. Once she dreamed of being the lady there herself, until the English destroyed the lives of everyone she knows. Now she must wait hand and foot on this bratty English girl.
  While Cecily struggles to find her place amongst the snobby English landowners, Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. And outside the city walls, tensions are rising ever higher—until finally they must reach the breaking point.

Review: The Wicked and the Just brings in a fresh voice to the historical fiction genre. Majority of the historical fiction that I've read usually paints the time period of their setting in a romantic light with the emphasis on ambiance, clothes, and mannerisms. While there is some of that in Coat's debut novel, there is also a stark reality of what really happened. Instead of given the voice of a victor, we are given two unapologetic voices that forces us to choose who is bad and good.
  Readers looking for an action packed book, may be disappointed with The Wicked and the Just. Though there is action, especially in the second half of the book, it's mostly off the page. The book's pacing is relatively slow and then quickly crescendos to its climax, allowing the reader to fully feel the realities of the time period. The book is clearly character driven and what made this book, in my opinion, shine.
 The center of our story are two girls of polar opposites who are unwillingly brought together by the English conquest of Wales. The English Cecily who is in a tizzy becase she has to leave her home and relocate to the Welsh frontier. She seeks consolation that she will become the lady of the manor when her father will soon take a borough in Caernarvon, which was recently conquered by Edward I. I had a very strong aversion to Cecily at first. She reminded me a lot of Scarlet O'Hara, a character that I absolutely detest. Cecily is spoiled, superficial, and puts importance of hosting the right parties, ignorant of the atrocities that are happening around her. Not only does Cecily hates Caernarvon, she also abhors its natives, especially Gwinny, the servant girl who doesn't obey, and the young man who stares at her. While Cecily's characterization may seem simplistic at first, it starts to take on depth as her dismissal of the Welsh as subhuman slowly changes to sympathy and then something entirely in between.
  While Cecily informs us the comfortable lifestyle of someone fortunate in the Middle Ages, we are confronted by the cruel, cold world of Gwenhwyfar, who struggles to make ends meet for basic survival. Gwenhwyfar's fierce parallel story was much more appealing to me as a reader. While her section was terse, it cut straight to the chase without sugar-coating anything. It's hard not to warm up to her at first, however, I'm not so sure how I felt about her in the end.
  Speaking of the ending, I thought it was so brutal and unexpected. It threw my already conceived notions and feelings about the characters into a blender as it forced me to think harder about identifying who was wicked and who was just. Without coloring the book with her own opinions, Coats re-creates the occupation of Wales from the eyes of both opposing sides.
 Since I don't know much of the Middle Age time period, I can't comment on how historical accuracy of the book. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who like historical fiction with depth are interested in this time period.

Curricular Connection: Social Studies

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, which mostly happens off the page, but are talked about in the book. There are a few scenes of attempted rape, and some language. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Catherine, Called the Birdy by Karen Cushman, The King's Shadow by Elizabeth Adler
Rummanah Aasi
   As the end of the school year draws near, I'm getting a bit burnt out and frustrated. Projects pile up and deadlines loom over my head. I needed something to inspire me and put things into perspective. I got some clarity after finishing up Liz Murray's biography/memoir Breaking Night.

Description: The stunning memoir of a young woman who at age 15 was living on the streets but survived to make it to Harvard. Murray's story was featured in the Lifetime Original Movie "Homeless to Harvard."

Review: I have heard of Liz Murray briefly on the news many years ago, but I didn't really know the whole story. I knew she was homeless and then got admitted to Harvard, but I wasn't aware of her journey from A to B. Breaking Night is an admirable and inspirational story of hope, struggle, and of forgiveness.
  Murray had an unenviable childhood with drug addict parents living in the decaying Brox, where her parents were more concerned about their next 'hit' rather than putting food on the table or sheltering their children. While Murray's older sister was furious and distant regarding their family situation, the author craved her parents' acceptance that she rationalized their addictions and poverty, even though if that meant she would be grotesquely unkempt and ostracized at school. Much of the Murray's story focuses on her mother, who though loved her daughters couldn't overcome her drug use.  Murray's adolescence becomes increasingly traumatic, as her mother was diagnosed with AIDS and her scholarly yet seedy father becomes her guardian.
  While it is so easy for Murray to become part of her parent's world, she struggles not to and puts her emphasis on education not as a means for success initially but rather a exit out to her nightmarish reality and a step to taking charge of her life:

“Instead, what I was beginning to understand was that however things unfolded from here on, whatever the next chapter was, my life could never be the sum of one circumstance. It would be determined, as it had always been, by my willingness to put one foot in front of the other, moving forward, come what may.” 
 As she grows older, she confronts the reality of her parent's issues. Instead of sitting back and blaming them (which no one would argue that they don't deserve it), she tries to help them. Murray faces obstacles after obstacles, but she continues to fight and finds hope and support from friends. Murray ably captures the fearful, oppressive lifestyle of a homeless teen, constantly hustling for places to stay, and her tale is a disturbing reminder of lives lost to addiction and poverty. Though some of the dialogue can be of kilter, it doesn't diminish the powerful story of survival and hope. It is hard hitting yet uplifting at the same time, showing just want someone could achieve if they genuinely want it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong drug use, allusion to sexual abuse, some language, and few non-explicit sex scenes. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, The Kids Are Alright by Diana Welch, Glass Castle by Jeanette Wells, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Rummanah Aasi
  Breaking Beautiful is Jennifer Shaw Wolf's debut novel. Part romance, part mystery, this compelling read offers a story about abuse, guilt, friendship, family, knowing who to trust, but most importantly a girl's struggle to overcome guilt and her journey to recovery. Breaking Beautiful is expected to release on April 24th and I highly recommend you check it out.   

Description: Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident, including her memory of the event. As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember and to reveal what she's kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship. When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free?

Review: Allie's eighteenth birthday was suppose to be special, but it quickly turned into a nightmare.  She and her boyfriend, Trip, get into a horrible car accident. Trip drives over a cliff and dies, and although Allie survives, her memory of the night is patchy. She refuses counseling, but when a detective comes to her small Northwest town to reopen the investigation, her dark memories of Trip's abuse and the fateful night resurface. Allie is suppose to have survivor's guilt, but that is not what haunts her.  She is disturbed by her memories of Trip's physically and emotionally abuse. Even though she can't remember that fatal night, she is certain that the incident wasn't an accident and wishes that her secrets would have died with him.
  Trip Phillips was the town's golden boy. The son of a very influential and rich family. To be his circle of friends guaranteed popularity. Allie thought she had the privilege to be Trip's girlfriend. The couple's relationship started on a good note, but quickly spiraled down as Trip became physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive. Wolf does a great job in demonstrating the deteriorating relationship in Allie's detailed, short flashbacks triggered either by seeing an object or having a conversation with someone. In the flashbacks we see a once bright girl now reduced to a blank page stripped from her attributes, which is exactly how we find Allie in the present day. Quiet, keeping to the shadows, Allie desperately tries to fall under the radar yet is unable to because of her connection with Tripp. She talks to no one except her twin brother who has cerebral palsy and an outcast Blake who she's known as a childhood friend before they drifted apart.
  I love the scenes with Allie's brother and Blake. Both are fully realized characters and share in Allie's pain of ostracism in their own way, creating her own support group. Though Allie's brother was aware of his sister's troubled relationship, he was frustrated with how he couldn't help her. He begged his sister to tell someone and to get out of it, but Allie was afraid doing so knowing that no one including her parents who relied on the Philips for help would believe her. I was convinced that Allie's parents, particularly her mom, knew what was happening but turned the other way.
  The relationship between Blake and Allie was sweet and slow burning. They reunited as being friends first and slowly developed their mutual trust for each other. What I really liked about Blake was that he didn't deem himself as the hero who would put Allie back together. Wolf avoids the constant and overuse trope of using the abusive relationships as a device for the broken heroine to be saved and made whole by the romantic lead. Blake and Allie's relationship isn't perfect, as they both overcome hurdles of their own. 
  To my delight the book isn't limited to the drama storyline, but has a strong suspenseful and mystery. The case is reopened as suspicious circumstances begin to emerge, and Allie must relive that night and find the courage to speak up about the abuse even though she fears that no one will believe her. I was consumed by the mystery, not really sure whom to trust or the motive behind the accident. The author has done a good job of helping readers understand the accident as it is told in flashbacks yet intertwined with present-day events. The story unfolds in a convincing manner. I was shocked how it ended and it left me wondering how I felt about it. Could I forgive the person who is responsible? Was it an act of defense or murder? The ending is sure to generate lots of great discussion. Thankfully, nothing is left open-ended, which leaves me to believe that Allie is no longer in turmoil, and that she has moved forward.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Some strong language, violence, and underage drinking. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Stay by Deb Caletti, Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn 
Rummanah Aasi
 I've read other books by Abdel-Fattah, which centered on Muslim teens who are trying to come to terms with their dual cultural identity. For her middle grade book, however, the author leaves her familiar subject and takes a look at the lives of tweens who are living in the middle of the Palestine-Israel conflict. The book, while clearly brushed in tragic strokes, is also very funny and ultimately uplifting, and celebrates the strength and hope that we can still gain through family, even in the harshest circumstances.

Description (from book's panel): Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother's ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab's life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the checkpoints, the curfews, and Hayaat's best friend Samy, who is always a troublemaker. But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey is only a few kilometers long, it may take a lifetime to complete.

Review: Physically and emotionally scarred from a tragic event, Hayaat lives behind the Israeli-built Separation Wall in the West Bank City of Bethlehem. When her beloved grandmother falls ill, Hayaat decides to make her way to Jerusalem to fill an empty hummus jar with soil from the land of her grandmother's ancestral home in hopes that it will mend her grandmother's heart. Though Jerusalem is only a short distance away from Hayaat's home, curfews, checkpoints, and an identity card present obstacles that might not allow her and her soccer-loving and best friend Samy to complete their journey.
  I really enjoyed this book and I think it is an important addition to a very small body of existing books that feature the Middle East, particularly telling the Palestinian story for young people. Abdel-Fattah does a great job in bringing the book's intensely realistic story to life. It almost felt as if I was living in Hayyat's house. Though the tone of the story may sound deep and serious, the book is full of  humor, adventure, and family love, but it doesn't try to hide or shy away from the heartbreaking, bitter reality of life under Occupation.
 I can tell when I read a good book about the Middle East when it effectively walks the line of telling the truth and sensitivity, grace. The author avoids vilifying and making the Israelis one dimensional characters. In fact, Hayaat and Samy could not have completed their journey without the help of a Jewish Israeli couple sympathetic to their cause.
 I adored Hayaat and I applaud her temerity and determination to help her mother, though I absolutely think her decision is an impulsive and dangerous one. Readers can't help but root for our plucky heroine and realize that whether or not Hayatt truly makes it to Jerusalem is nearly not important than our emotional journey in spending a day with a realistic Palestinian child.   

Rating: 4 stars

Curricular Connection: Current Events, Cultural Studies

Words of Caution: There are some violent, disturbing images. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
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 7 of Black Butler.

Description (from Goodreads): Having successfully infiltrated the Noah’s Ark Circus in the guise of rookie performers, Earl Ciel Phantomhive and his butler, Sebastian, set about gathering clues backstage as to the whereabouts of the missing children. But when a turn at a snooping puts Ciel on the trail of a man whose identity is shrouded in mystery, he sets his consummate manservant to the task of investigating further. This time, however, Sebastian must call upon one of the more infamously wicked skills of his kind to solve the puzzle. As he stalks his vulnerable prey in the shadows of the fairgrounds, is his young master prepared for where the ill-gotten gains of his butler’s methods will lead?

Review: Out of all the Black Butler volumes that I've read, volume 7 is the darkest and most disturbing. Picking up exactly where we left off in the last volume, Ciel and Sebastian have entered the circus and begin looking for clues that will help them find orphan children that have suddenly vanished. We quickly discover the sinister intention and evil behind the circus. We meet the circus headmaster who is incredibly twisted and completely obsessed with perfection and beauty. He's got more surgery done than Joan Rivers. 
  In a flashback we get a glimpse at the Phamtomhive's family history and the horror that Ciel went through as a child. Despite their aristocratic appearance, there is something shady about them. Toboso still keeps the death of the family a mystery. Sebastian still proves that though he may help out to do the honorable thing in helping Ciel, he is not all that noble and will use any means necessary to get what he wants.Unfortunately, the circus story arc doesn't end in this volume and is to be continued in volume 8 which I don't have at the moment and will have to get soon.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Disturbing images, strong violence, an allusion to sex, and language. Rated OT+ for Older Teens.

If you like this book try: Blue Exorcist series by Kazue Kato, Soul Eater series by Atsushi Ohkubo
Rummanah Aasi
 Today I have The Wicked and the Just author, J. Anderson Coats, stop by today. The book is a debut novel for 2012 and a must read for those who are interested in learning about the history of Wales. I enjoyed the book and will have a review of it next week. Ms. Coasts is here to tell us about her preferences for each pairing:

Wales or England?  Wales for leadership, England for military architecture

Country or city?  Country

Landowner or Lady of the house? Landowner

Historical Fiction or Contemporary Literature? Yes to books!

Pencil or Pen? Pen

Writing an outline or free write?  Free write

Outdoors or indoors? Indoors

*The Borgias or The Tudors? To live under, or hang out with?

Reading preference: Short shorties or novels? Novels

Writing preference: Novels or poetry? Depends on my mood

 *I should have specified the Borgias or Tudors question. I was thinking of which would be better to live under. My personal choice would have the Tudors. 

Cecily’s father has ruined her life. He’s moving them to occupied Wales, where the king needs good strong Englishmen to keep down the vicious Welshmen. At least Cecily will finally be the lady of the house.
  Gwenhwyfar knows all about that house. Once she dreamed of being the lady there herself, until the English destroyed the lives of everyone she knows. Now she must wait hand and foot on this bratty English girl.
  While Cecily struggles to find her place amongst the snobby English landowners, Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. And outside the city walls, tensions are rising ever higher—until finally they must reach the breaking point.
Rummanah Aasi
  It seems as if mankind has always been curious about outer space. To walk or travel to the moon has been on many people's wishlist. What would we find if we go there? What if we could settle there and make it our second home? Johan Harstad's science fiction/horror novel, 172 Hours on the Moon, explores these questions. Please note that this review is based on an advanced reader's copy of the book provided by Little, Brown (thank you!) which no way influenced my review.

Description (from back of the book): It's been decades since anyone set foot on the moon. Now three ordinary teenagers, the winners of NASA's unprecedented, worldwide lottery, are about to become the first young people in space--and change their lives forever.
   Mia, from Norway, hopes this will be her punk band's ticket to fame and fortune. Midori believes it's her way out of her restrained life in Japan.Antoine, from France, just wants to get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as possible.
   It's the opportunity of a lifetime, but little do the teenagers know that something sinister is waiting for them on the desolate surface of the moon. And in the black vacuum of space... no one is coming to save them.

Review:  I was expecting a science fiction/horror book, which is how this book is marketed but unfortunately, it felt flat for me in both ways. Though the book's premise and cover captures a truly creepy idea that immediately makes us think of movies of its kind such as James Cameron's 1986 movie Aliens or Johnny Depp's The Astronaut's Wife.
  There are several laughable moments such as when the evil government head has an epiphany and suggests sending teens up in space. You really have to suspend your disbelief in order to read the book and ignore the many plot holes that might arguably be as big as black holes. All the buildup to the moon launch only exists to establish the various one dimensional characters, who really felt cardboard cutouts that didn't leave any impression at all. All that we know of the teens selected is how and why they applied to NASA's lottery. I had hoped that once these teens were selected and were on the moon they would get some depth alas there was an unemotional romance between the two characters that seemed to be tacked on to the story. Once the 'suspense' starts, you can practically identify every cliche found in sci-fi horror movies is here. You already know how the book will end, making the book boring and a chore to finish.

 Don't get me wrong, the book had great potential. We are never told what happened to the first mission. Perhaps if the characters had found some kind of captain's log from that mission we could have learned more or maybe if the one person who knew anything wasn't an Alzheimer's patient and could actually remember something? Maybe if we got to actually and get emotionally attached to the characters we could actually feel their terror instead of making it all happen off screen. 
 Overall, this book did absolutely nothing for me and to be completely honest, I'm not really sure who to recommend it to. Maybe those who enjoy a B-rated horror movie or who are excited to see Prometheus.  

Rating: 1 star

Words of Caution: There is strong language and disturbing, violent images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, BZRK by Michael Grant, Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Rummanah Aasi
  I had such a fun time joining in the Kiss Me, I'm Irish Read-along which featured Hounded, the first book in the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. The book is filled with action, humor, and mythology. I couldn't wait to find out what happens next. Luckily, books 1-3 are out and the fourth book will be released later this month!

Description (from Goodreads): Atticus O'Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn't care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they're badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.
   With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor's rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.

Review: Hexed takes place right after Hounded. New readers to the series who pick up Hexed should have no problem as Hearne provides enough recap to set the stage without dragging the plot down. After Atticus finally defeats his long time nemesis, he thought he get a nice break. Wishful thinking, of course! Not only does he almost get killed by a long distance magic attack by a new coven of witches, but he has to deal with Bacchus, a fallen angel, and the everyday troubles of keeping his true identity as a disguise. 
  Along with the action and humor, we slowly learn more about Atticus's past. We learned that he helped families in WWII. I can only imagine what he has seen through the millenniums. Though we admire Atticus as a hero who respects nature and understands his limitations of power, we are reminded that he is not perfect as his prejudice against all witches (after meeting the witches, it's kinda hard to disagree with him) come to the forefront. He struggles to change his mindset and places some of his trust on the coven he makes a treaty with, which alters his simple, black and white world view into shades of grey. My favorite moment describing Atticus's humanity is when he talks about his love for his Irish wolfhound Oberon and how losing Oberon would be devastating. For Atticus, Oberon isn't just a pet, but a confidant, a partner, and a true friend.  
  Characters that only get mentioned in Hounded get more time in Hexed such as the trickster Coyote, and Atticus's paranormal lawyers Leif and Hal. We also get to see Granuaile, Attiucs’s new apprentice, starts showing her smarts and her backbone, standing up to Attiucs when she feels he’s in the wrong. I loved to get more character development of these secondary characters in the next few books. I'm lead to believe we'll learn more about Leif as he is gunning to get his revenge on Thor (whom everyone seems to love to hate) and leaves a opening to the next book Hammered, which I can't wait to read.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some crude humor, brief non-explicit sex scenes, strong language, and strong violence. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Hammered (Iron Druid Chronicles #3), Harry Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Something from the Nightside by Simon R. Green
Rummanah Aasi
  Today I have the pleasure of having Breaking Beautiful author Jennifer Shaw Wolf on the blog today. I read and really enjoyed Jennifer's debut novel. Be sure to check back on my review of the novel next week! Breaking Beautiful will be released on April 24th, 2012.

Hi, Jennifer! Thank you for stopping by the blog today.  Can you describe your book for us in ten words or less?

A tragic accident, a terrible secret, and a second chance.

  In Breaking Beautiful, Allie was involved in an abusive relationship. I'm glad there are more books out on this important issue for teens. What made you decide to put Allie in this situation? 

About four years ago, after many years of only writing in my head, I decided I was going to take my writing seriously. The first young adult book I read at that time was Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland which is also about a girl in an abusive relationship. I loved the book, but the thought of a girl trapped in that situation horrified me, especially because I was reading it as a mother. What would it be like to have a daughter in that situation and have no idea what was going on? I had that in my head when I started writing Breaking Beautiful.

  I want the stories I write to mean something, the way Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson, Holly Cupala and so many other contemporary teen author’s books do. (Not that I would compare myself with any of them.) I love the idea of blending real-life issues with an entertaining story. The element of teaching without preaching is one of the best things (in my humble opinion) about contemporary young adult literature.

Through Breaking Beautiful I want to make teen girls (and maybe even teen boys) more aware of the problem of dating abuse. I wanted to allow them to get inside the head of someone who feels like she’s all alone; that she can’t tell anyone what’s going on, not even the people who care the most about her. I wanted them to see things from her point of view and think about how they would handle the situation (hopefully differently). My hope is that stories like this will educate teen girls about abusive relationships and help to keep them safe.

If I went to Blake's and Allie's homes, what type of books would I see on their bookshelves? 

Blake’s books would be an eclectic mix of art books, classics like Catcher in the Rye (a story he really liked but is afraid to admit it), popular books like The Hunger Games, mixed in with some graphic novels, and a few homeopathic and nutrition books his grandma is trying to get him to read.
   Allie doesn’t read much because it’s hard for her. She has a copy of Lord of the Flies she never read, but forgot to turn back into her English teacher. All of the paperback, teen-romancy books she read in middle school were given away by her mom the last time they moved, so her bookshelf is full of books that she rescued from her grandmother’s house. Some of those include: Wuthering Heights because her mother said it was a terrible book and Allie wanted to know what was so bad about it (she couldn’t get through it), Goodnight Moon, because she remembers her dad reading it to her when she was little, and Frog and Toad Are Friends because that’s the book she and her grandma spent a whole summer on, practicing her reading. The only book that has always gone with her wherever she moved is an old Grimm’s Fairy Tale book. She keeps it under her bed and has read it over and over, even throughout high school.

What is your worst writing habit? 

My worst writing habit is the “slutty little novel” (not quite what it sounds like). It’s a term I heard from Laini Taylor when she spoke at one of the first SCBWI meetings I ever went to. I’ve now adopted it as my own. The “slutty little novel” is that idea that pops into your head while you’re in the middle of your current work in progress. It usually shows up when your work in progress gets hard to write or you feel stuck. Suddenly it seems like this grand new idea will be better and it is a distraction from your loyalties to the story you are currently writing. This distraction can lead to (in my case) about fourteen story ideas that are in various stages of development languishing on your hard drive. The way I deal with them now is I allow myself to write the outline and maybe a first chapter and then go back to what I was working on. However, it’s not always a bad thing, Breaking Beautiful started out as a slutty little novel.

The tagline of your book is "Does time heal all wounds?" Do you believe time heals all wounds? Why or why not? 

I think the idea that “time heals all wounds” is a myth. In many cases, time just buries old wounds and they never really heal, especially if they aren’t talked about or given the chance to come out in the open. In this story, Allie has to face everything that happened to her before she can move on, feel good about herself, and really heal. I think that’s an important message for teens (and really anyone); we shouldn’t expect a problem to be solved or an emotional wound to be all better just because it happened a long time ago. Emotional wounds take support and often counseling before they can truly heal.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Jennifer!

Readers if you would like more information about Jennifer, please visit her website, her blog, Twitter, and on Goodreads.

Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember because doing so means delving into what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship.
   When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.
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 Black Butler.

Description (from the book's cover): The cheer of the holidays has passed, but the Noah's Ark traveling circus has been making the rounds, bringing fun and joy to children of all ages. However, as the ringmaster's cries fade away, a disturbing trend begins to surface in the wake of the colorful entourage. Children seem to disappear whenever the circus packs up for its next destination, and there are no clues . . . or corpses . . . to be found. But when the situation calls for Ciel and Sebastian to infiltrate the big top, will Sebastian's inhuman skills be enough to see him and his young master through a treacherous tightrope act that may well end in death?

Review: My favorite aspect of the Black Butler manga series is that it is really unpredictable. The overall story arc is very dark and moody. Ciel Phantomhive is about 12 years old sole survivor from a deadly accident which claimed his entire family. Bound together by a dark ritual (hinted at but never shown), Sebastian must serve Ciel until they find who murdered Ciel’s parents and get revenge. Only then can Sebastian claim Ciel’s soul for his own.Without tongue in cheek humor and action, this manga series could easily turn into a morose read. Volume 6 highlights the manga's humor while keeping an underlying sinister mood in tact.
  Ciel has a new assignment from Queen Victoria. There are children going missing right after a certain circus comes to town. He and Sebastian have been tasked with finding out if the circus is involved. In order to investigate, Ciel and Sebastian are to infiltrate the very unusual circus. Needless to say that this circus has its own quirks. Everyone in this circus have some kind of issue, at least two are missing limbs, replaced by ceramic prostheses. All of the people who work at the circus were at one time an orphan who was 'rescued' by their big brother who is never seen in this book but talked about. There are definitely some secrets hidden within the circus.
  I really liked the concept behind the circus. It allows Ciel to be in a situation where he can't rely on Sebastian's supernatural powers to help get him by. We really do get to observe Ciel's vulnerability not just due to his age and his physicality, but his struggle to interact with people. Due to his dark past, he is unable to warm up to people, more of out of defense than again. It was sad to see Ciel struggle to let others help him when they have no intention to hurt him at all.
 The plot of this volume is engaging. The excellent drawings pull you into the story and the vague clues piques your interest. There were a few nice twist and turns in the book. Unlike the other volumes, this one ends in a cliffhanger and lucky I had the next volume on hand to find out what happens next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images, crude humor, and language. Rated OT for Older Teens. Recommended for mature teens and up.

If you like this book try: Black Butler Vol 7 by Yana Toboso, Blue Exorcist by

Do you have a question about manga? All you have to do is simply fill out this simple form. The form is completely confidential so please don't feel shy in submitting a question and remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question.

Rummanah Aasi

  Thank you to all those that visited my blog and enteried in my ARCs giveaway. According to, the winner of this giveaway is Hannah! Congrats, Hannah. I set you an email. Please respond within 72 hours. If I do not hear from you, I will have to pick another winner.

Rummanah Aasi
 One of the most talked about book of this month is Robin LaFevers's His Fair Assassin series. The first book in the series, Grave Mercy, has been marketed quite heavily including with an exclusive, limited time advanced reader's copy of the book thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. Grave Mercy is a great start to what seems like a fabulous new historical fantasy series that should attract many readers. I know it has my absolute attention.

Description (from the publisher): Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf? Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts-and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany-where she finds herself woefully under prepared-not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death's vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Review: Grave Mercy is a dark, rich, and gorgeous beginning of a historical fantasy series. Robin LaFevers has created an unique world blending history, mythology, political intrigue, and religion all into one. If you read any review of this book, you can easily tell that the main draw was learning about nun assassins. Yes, that's what initially caught my interest too; however, that quickly wore off and I was more wrapped up in learning about LaFevers world and the complex characters that she created.
  At first glance, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to finish Grave Mercy due to its 400+ pages, but once I started the book it was hard for me to put it down. I found myself thoroughly engaged with the plot and had to know what was going to happen next. I had devoured 11 chapters right away on a late night, which rarely happens. The book is really a stunning and impressive read. 
   The plot was unique and riveting. We are transported to the late fifteenth century where Mortain, the god of death, has sired Ismae to be his handmaiden. She will carry out his wishes by working through the Convent, an abbess of nun assassins, where she has found refuge from a brutal and abusive father and husband. After learning the Convent’s true purpose and becoming its pupil, Ismae is sent to her first, true mission at the high court of Brittany, ostensibly as the "cousin" (or what we could call mistress) of the Breton noble Duval. While she wears the cloak of a consort, Ismae is really the Covent's eyes and ears as a spy. Her tacit assignment is to protect the young duchess at all costs, which isn't easy as it seems as Ismae delves deeper into political conspiracies where friend and foe can't easily be identified.
  The characters were remarkable and memorable. I loved Ismae as a heroine. Her rough and abusive past has trained her to keep her walls up. Her first person narration allows the reader to get inside of her head and warm up to her. She refuses to no longer be the powerless woman who lives like a leaf blowing in the wind with hopes that a man will treat her kindly. She is drawn to the Convent because it allows her to gain skill, confidence, and reinstating her power which was taken away from her. Like all good heroines, Ismae isn't perfect. She talks before she thinks, has her own insecurities of not being graceful or lady-like, and blindly follows the rules she has been taught. Most readers have indicated Ismae's awkwardness towards her love interest, but I thought her uneasiness was real given to her shaky male interactions in her past. Throughout the book she progresses from a scared, fragile young woman to an intelligent, strong, woman who learns to trust other people and follow her heart and gut to do the right thing.
   Duval was an outstanding character and for the most part of the book an enigma to me. Like Ismae, I wasn't sure what his intentions were but he quickly began to grow on me. He is intelligent, wise, brave and loving. His loyalty to his country and sister was admirable. Though he didn't care for Ismae at all in the beginning, he always respected her and treated her well. Their romance is slow burning though it crackles with romantic tension in the quiet moments that they share on the page. Though we see the flicker of romance come alive in this book, I really hope we get to it burn in the next book.
  There were many great secondary characters in the book, however, I became very close to Anne, the young duchess. She epitomized the role of women at the time- a play thing for a man to enjoy and toss away. Anne is well aware that her marriage will most likely be a political contract, which is not unusual for monarchies at this time. Her life is in constant danger yet she kept calm and put her faith in her trusted advisers. 

  Unlike most readers, I was really intrigued about the religious aspects of the book. I recognized some of the names from the Celtic pantheon, however, I wasn't able to find any information about the central figure in the book, Mortain, the God of Death. I was confused how the word 'god' and 'saint' were used interchangeably as they seem to have two very different connotations. An author's note could have cleared up the confusion, but it wasn't included in the advanced reader's copy nor in the published copy of the book. This was the only flaw I could find in the book, however, it didn't make me lose interest in the story nor the characters.
  Readers interested in political intrigue, historical fantasy, and a strong female main character should definitely check out this series. I'm already looking forward to the next book which comes out next year. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is a few attempted rape scenes, crude humor, allusions to sex, and some strong violence. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Study series by Maria V. Snyder, Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray, Starcrossed by Elizabeth Bunce, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Fire by Kristin Cashore
Rummanah Aasi
  Today I have the pleasure of having Danielle Weiler, the author of Friendship on Fire, stop by the blog today. I had asked Danielle to do a guest post about some of the wrong decisions she made as a teen and how, if any, influence that had on her creating Daisy, the main character of her story. Danielle has generously offered to do a giveaway. Please check the bottom of this post for more information on how to enter. Take it away, Danielle!

  Daisy as a character is the closest ‘person’ I’ve ever written about that was like me and my experiences as a teen. I drew on my memories of living in a coastal city where high school beach parties/bon-fires were weekly and we had a rival private school across the road from us – but the difference was, we weren’t private, we were public.

  I never had a best guy friend like Roman so he was a mixture of people that I’ve come across over the years and I just loved his nature. Without divulging too much personal information, of course, I had a few friends who backstabbed me and/or changed as we got into our senior year of school. Similarly, girls who I thought were enemies became friends or we at least agreed not to have issues anymore.

Like Daisy, I worked at McDonalds with my brothers, which was really fun. I have 5 older brothers so Daisy’s brothers were a mixture of all of them without any one being too distinguishable. I especially wanted to bring out the theme of irrational protectiveness because that’s how my brothers treated me over every little thing! My parents were always supportive and we were close knit. In many YA books (and even ones that I’ve written) the parents are not present or are messed up and project it onto the kids so I wanted my first novel to have a stable family to help Daisy when she makes her mistakes.

Nate – well, he was a mixture of every charming, gorgeous, well-spoken, insistent boy I dated/knew/wished would notice me/was attracted to/was scared of as a 17-year-old. I do feel sorry for him in many ways but I can understand why readers hate him. You’ll have to read for yourself to find out the specs!

   All teenagers with any working hormones have struggled with distractions from the opposite sex while trying to juggle study and work. Most teenagers have experimented with drinking and feeling pressured to do things they aren’t necessarily comfortable with or ready for. I wanted Daisy to be realistic and not have all the answers at first. How could she? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. As adults, we are who we are today because of being shaped by our experiences as teens. I hope people who read this book forgive themselves in their time of learning, and also laugh at some of the things they said/did/fell for. 

   Thanks for stopping by today, Danielle! I'm sure we can all agree that hindsight is 20/20.


Danielle has generously offered to giveaway two (2) ebooks in PDF format to two (2) lucky winners. To enter this giveaway, simply leave your name/alias along with your email address so I can contact you if you win. This giveaway is open to ALL email addresses. The giveaway will end on Friday, APRIL 20th at 11 PM EST. The winner will be selected by and announced on the blog on Saturday, APRIL 21st. Good Luck!
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. I wanted to read some children literature that take place in the Middle East. It was difficult to find some that were fiction and not slanted in a political opinion, but I did manage to find some. I will be reviewing: The Golden Sandal by Rebecca Hickox, Mirror by Jeannine Baker, and The Secret Message by Mina Javaherbin.

Description: Maha's jealous stepmother makes her do all the housework while her selfish stepsister lazes about. There is no one to help or comfort her since Maha's father is away fishing. All that begins to change when Maha finds a magical red fish.

Review: There is something universal about fairy tales. The Golden Sandal is an Iraqi retelling of well known Cinderella story. The author does a great job in blending the familiar story with touches of the Iraqi culture that will be new for many Western readers. There are some big culture differences that may not make sense to kids who know the Disney's version of Cinderella, but they will be familiar with how unjustly Maha is treated and suprised as to how her evil step sister gets her dues in the end of the book. Hillenbrand's delicate, textured illustrations have the look of watered silk touched with glowing jewel-toned accents. The paintings integrate well with the text, which makes it an enchanting read. I'd definitely recommend this book for multicultural reads.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K-3.

If you like this book try: Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-ling Louie, The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo, Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal by Paul Fleischman, Mufaro's Beautiful's Daughters by Joe Steptoe

Description: Somewhere in Sydney, Australia, a boy and his family wake up, eat breakfast, and head out for a busy day of shopping. Meanwhile, in a small village in Morocco, a boy and his family go through their own morning routines and set out to a bustling market. In this ingenious, wordless picture book, readers are invited to compare, page by page, the activities and surroundings of children in two different cultures. Their lives may at first seem quite unalike, but a closer look reveals that there are many things, some unexpected, that connect them as well. 

Review: I never read anything like Baker's Mirror before. I surely didn't expect to see a mostly wordless book that reveals two parallel wordless tales. I wasn't sure how to read it at first but I figured out that one is to be read left to right, the other right to left, I got over my confusion. The stories follow a day in the family life of two boys, who live in urban Australia and the Valley of Roses in southern Morocco. In layered, three-dimensional collages, Baker shows the differences between the families (traveling to an open-air market by donkey versus a trip to a hardware megastore in a car), but it is the underlying commonalities-helping parents, doing chores, caring for pets, sharing meals-that will resonate most with readers and reminding us all that we are actually in fact a lot similar than we think. My minor complaint about this book is that I would have liked a clear instruction on how to read the book before the story began instead of at the end.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Country Studies/Cultural Studies

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-4

If you like this book try: Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel

Description: In this retelling of a Persian folktale attributed to Jalaledin Rūmī , a parrot tricks a wealthy merchant into setting him free.

Review: The Secret Message was a surprising find and read. Though I've read very little by the Sufi poet Rumi, I have heard of his poem called The Parrot and the Merchant which is the basis for this story. In this vibrantly pictured and narration, a Persian merchant keeps a talking parrot that attracts crowds to his market store and locks up the incredibly gifted bird behind bars in a golden cage. When the merchant prepares for a buying trip to India, he kindly asks his pet what gift he might like from the place that had once been the parrot's home. What the bird wants most is just to let his family and friends know that he misses them and remembers their life together. When the merchant talks with the wild Indian parrots and tells them about his pet, which now lives in a beautiful cage, the birds play a trick that eventually sets the merchant's parrot free. Both the richly detailed scenes and story reversals will draw a young audience. The drawings reminded me much of Disney's Aladin. After finishing the book, I really wanted to hunt down the original poem and read more by Rumi.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: The Parrot by Laszlo and Raffaella Gal
Rummanah Aasi
 I have been curious about Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers since it was an idea that the author was working on. My curiosity grew as his Facebook statuses began to reflect on the chapters and characters he was writing about. So when I had the opportunity to read an advanced reader's copy of the book, I pounced. Thank you to Little, Brown for the advanced reader's copy. As a side note, I am doing an ARC giveaway of this title along with several other books, if you're interested be sure to click on the book cover found on the right panel of the blog to enter!

Description (from Goodreads): What if the world's worst serial killer...was your dad? Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say. But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could--from the criminal's point of view.
    And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod. In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret--could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

Review: As much as I anticipated for I Hunt Killers, I wasn't sure if I'd be brave enough to read it. I'm not interested in serial killers. I switch the channel and make an effort to not watch Silence of the Lambs. I've only caught the last half of Copycat when Holly Hunter is about to catch the bad guy. Sure I was glued to the screen when I saw David Fincher's Se7en and Zodiac, but that's because the emphasis was based on psychology and the aftermath of the murders rather than watching the serial killer at work. I told myself I'd give I Hunt Killers a shot, just to see what it is about and if it got too much, I'd put it down. Right. For my lunch break, I burned through the first 100 pages of the book. Every time I thought of putting it down, I was on the verge of discovering something new and had to pick it right up again. I was hooked, riveted, and completely disturbed.
  Are violent offenders the product of nature or nurture? Do you have the ability to change your destiny when all odds are set against you?  If you are Jasper “Jazz” Dent, I'm not so sure the answer is a resounding yes for both questions. He has two huge factors working against him: Not only is he the son of the country’s most notorious serial killer, but daddy dearest has forced him to watch those grisly crimes and sometimes…more. Jazz is barely surviving. He thrives on the belief that he will not follow his father's footsteps. He believes people are real and have feelings. At least that’s what Jazz keeps telling himself as he watches the police inspect the crime scene of a brutal murder through his binoculars at home. Jazz suspects a new serial killer is at work in his small town and can't help but flash back to the memories that make him extremely uneasy. Is it possible that he help kill someone he loved without knowing it? Can he stop the ticking bomb within himself as he hears his father's soft voice instructing him on 'to enjoy and capture' a new prey? 
  I'm sure many of you think this book is "Dexter for YA", which is exactly how it is marketed, but what sets this apart is Jazz. He is incredibly complex, and believable character. Jazz is consumed by the idea that he is incapable of loving anyone without hurting them. He carries the guilt of not helping his father's victims or 'toys' and hangs their pictures as a reminder. Though he is charismatic and charming, you wonder about his intentions. He easily manipulates his friends to help him in the investigation without a second thought, putting his mission and needs first. Even though we admire and hope along with him that he can capture the serial killer on the loose and be better than his father, we realize that his mission is tainted in more ways than one. For Jazz, justice is a second priority. Clearing his name is his first.
 The story itself is engaging. Though I don't know anything about criminology, it does look detailed, well-researched in an accessible way. I was delighted to discover a few chapters written from the serial killer's point of view interspersed with Jazz's chapter which ramped up the suspense. These chapters were brief and allowed us to see whether or not Jazz was on the right track on finding the serial killer. I did not expect the book to be funny, more of the black, dry comedy flare, which is a nice surprise to lighten the book's somber tone.
  Despite its catchy plot and great characters, I'm not sure this book is for everyone. I admire Lyga's tenacity of refusing to look away from the often horrific nature of brutal crimes. The twisted mind games made my head spin and I was shocked multiple times.  Early in the book we’re eased into some crimes because they’re mostly told in past tense, but the later scenes definitely escalate in tension and violence, some of which are graphic but nothing that wouldn't be shown on CSI or other detective shows found on TV.
  There were a few times when the writing faltered by using overused phrases or the use of paragraphs when a few, sharp sentences would suffice. I also think that Jazz’s give and take relationship with the police is something readers will have to grapple with, although their doubtful reliance upon him is portrayed in a fairly believable tone. The ending made me scream is frustration as it ends with a semi-cliffhanger and leaves open for a much anticipated sequel. 
 I Hunt Killers definitely pushes the YA envelope, making us rethink once again what young adult literature means. While I would hesitate giving this book to younger teens due to the psychological content of the book instead of the violence, I do think it's more suitable for older teens and adults. Readers who are looking for a psychological thriller have been served. Dark, disturbing, and unsuspectingly funny, I Hunt Killers will grab your interest and not let go. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence (mostly, which takes off screen but it is described graphically) and some strong language. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Zodiac by Robert Graysmith, Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, Darkly Dreaming Dexer by Jeff Lindsey, and I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells
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