Rummanah Aasi
 I don't know about you, but I'm barely hanging on this week. I just have to get through today and Friday. The beginning and ending of the school year completely stresses me out. Large projects loom and I'm terrified I'll a) never get things done on time, b) I'll screw up majorly causing a ripple effect of "oh noes" and c) everything will go horribly wrong. *Takes deep breath* I guess I share the same anxiety and fear as Amelia Gray, the heroine of the wonderful, Gothic, paranormal mystery series called the Graveyard Queen, but I think she has it a lot worse than I do.  

Description: My name is Amelia Gray. I am the Graveyard Queen, a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. My father passed down four rules to keep me safe and I've broken every last one. A door has opened and evil wants me back. In order to protect myself, I've vowed to return to those rules. But the ghost of a murdered cop needs my help to find his killer. The clues lead me to the dark side of Charleston--where witchcraft, root doctors and black magic still flourish--and back to John Devlin, a haunted police detective I should only love from afar. Now I'm faced with a terrible choice: follow the rules or follow my heart.

Review: The Prophet is by far my favorite out of the The Graveyard series thus far. Amanda Stevens amps up the romantic tension, mystery, and suspense. Despite my busy schedule, I had a hard time to put this book down. If you pick up this series, I suggest you begin at the beginning with The Restorer followed by The Kingdom (the first and second book respectively) in order to get a better grasp on the character development and relationships in the book. 
   When we last visited Amelia, she was on her way back to Charleston after receiving a cry from help in the form of a text from her tortured love interest, John Devlin. Amelia has turned into a new person in The Prophet. She is no longer afraid of nor ignores her abilities like we first met her in The Restorer. After gaining her knowledge about who she is in The Kingdom, she is now working on using her talents in her favor, drawing power and confidence while harnessing and not be afraid of it. Unfortunately, her re-entry into her life isn't as easy as her new outlook on life. She is back at working the old cemetery filled with hidden secrets. She is surrounded and haunted by the same ghosts and not to mention in love with a man who should be avoided at all costs. 
  My heart ached and raced right along with Amelia's when Devlin reappeared. They've been apart for months without any clear explanations of what happened the last night they were together. Gone is the comfort and familiarity of working together as they avoid the big elephant in the room. There are even questions now about whether new relationships have been formed. The ghosts that haunt Devlin become stronger and more aggressive as they hold onto him with both hands, causing drastic physical effects on Amelia as she spends time with him.
The distance and concealed secrets between Devlin and Amelia kept me tense and wondering if their happiness is even possible. I wanted them to be together and waited with baited breath as they got closer. Their romantic tension crackled and sizzled on the pages. 
  Not only did the turbulent romance enthrall me, I was also highly invested in the murder mystery in this book. The ghost of former cop Robert Fremont is haunting Amelia, pushing her to solve his murder. What turns out to be a simple 'whodunit' mystery is a tangled web that wraps quite nicely to Devlin's past. Unlike the previous two books that identify the ghosts and describe their attachments to Devlin, they become full finalized in The Prophet. Each new detail uncover a new layer to their true personality, forcing us to reshape our impressions of them multiple times. The mixture of treachery, blackmail, betrayal, obsession, and the occult makes it super creepy. It was hard for me to pinpoint who is responsible for Fremont's murder since there were many people who had the motive and means to do so. The final reveal behind his murder as well as the truths behind Devlin's past is truly shocking. I was really sad for Devlin when I first met him, but now I feel like his burden which carried around so heavily in the first two books now rest on my shoulders. There are some huge twists in the book that I took me completely unaware. And the ending? Wow. Not a cliffhanger but more of what happens now? 
  I feel like the first story arc is now complete and I'm really excited to see where Ms. Stevens takes her characters next. I can't wait for book four to come out. So far the only information that I know is that there will be an online novella to help curve our craving for book four, which is tentatively called The Keeper. Ms. Stevens also plans on writing two more books for a total of six books in the Graveyard Queen series. Yay!

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, violence, and disturbing scenes. There is also a brief sex scene that is not too graphic. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try:  Deadly Night by Heather Graham, Bodyfinder series by Kimberly Dertling, Grave Sight series by Charlaine Harris, Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
Rummanah Aasi
  This is the high school's last week of school. I'm currently buried with end of the school year projects, but I didn't want to let you guys down. Today I'll be featuring a few YA mini-reviews that coincidentally all share the themes of sisters and romance. I'd like to thank publishers Knopf, Delacorte Press, and Netgalley for advanced copies of Sisters of Glass and Cross My Heart. All of these books are now available in print.

Description: Maria is the younger daughter of an esteemed family on the island of Murano, the traditional home for Venetian glassmakers. Though she longs to be a glassblower herself, glassblowing is not for daughters-that is her brother's work. Maria has only one duty to perform for her family: before her father died, he insisted that she be married into the nobility, even though her older sister, Giovanna, should rightfully have that role. Not only is Giovanna older, she's prettier, more graceful, and everyone loves her. Maria would like nothing more than to allow her beautiful sister, who is far more able and willing to attract a noble husband, to take over this role for her. But they cannot circumvent their father's wishes. And when a new young glassblower arrives to help the family business and Maria finds herself drawn to him, the web of conflicting emotions grows even more tangled.

Review: Sisters of Glass is a clean, romantic read where destiny, fidelity, and true love are nicely placed in the fourteenth-century Murano, Italy, a city renowned of glassmaking. Told through verse, the is a book is a really quick read, but looking back now I kinda wished it was told as a novel where we could spend some more time with the characters. Maria and Vanna are sisters who have complete opposite personalities. Maria is anything but ladylike and has no desire to become a society woman. She yearns to spend time with her art. Vanna, in comparison is the older and more marriageable material both by societal standards and how women ought to feel. She resents Maria for her destiny. The story is focused on how the two sisters work out their problems and create their own destinies. The romance is chaste and sweet, told mostly through hidden glances and silent moments. I really liked how the author focuses more on the sisters' relationship than have it overshadowed by their respective love stories. The book ties up nicely and quite cleverly in the end. I'd recommend this standalone if you're in the mood for a light yet thought provoking romance.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandel, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Description: When her boyfriend ends their relationship, high school sophomore Lucy thinks she will never recover from the heartbreak until she meets three magical girls who say they can heal her, but at a cost.

Review: The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers is not what I expected from the book's description. When I picked this book up I thought it would be a fluffy chick lit where the girl is heartbroken but grows a spine and gets better. Yeah..not really. Lucy is a bland, generic girl who annoyed me at the start. Her entire life orbits around her boyfriend, except well, a) he doesn't know he's her boyfriend and b) shows zero interest in her whatsoever. So when Lucy and her so-called boyfriend 'break up', she is beyond devastated. But wait! Lucy meets three stunning yet freaky girls who claim to have magical powers and can reverse her heartache. There's only one problem:  Lucy has to get a guy to fall in love with her in the next seven days and then break his heart. If she does, she’ll become part of an ancient, magic sisterhood, and never have to suffer from a heartbreak again. I had warring feelings about this book. The book paints a shallow picture of what makes a 'desirable girl', gives us something to think about but it's portrayal of the guys in the book are one dimensional. Magical realism, yes. Some food for thought about self conception, but do you have to put down the opposite sex to get to that destination? Not sure. The ending is kind of open ended, which has me to believe it might become a series, which I plan on skipping.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: Strong language, underage drinking, and allusions to sex. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Jinx by Meg Cabot

Description: Venice, 1585. When 16-year-old Laura della Scala learns that her older sister, Beatrice, has drowned, she is given no time to grieve. Instead, Laura's father removes her from the convent where he forcibly sent her years earlier and orders her to marry Beatrice's fiance, a repulsive old merchant named Vincenzo. Panicked, Laura betrays a powerful man to earn her way into the Segreta, a shadowy society of women who deal in only one currency-secrets. The Segreta seems like the answer to Laura's prayers. The day after she joins their ranks, Vincenzo is publicly humiliated and conveniently exiled. Soon, however, Laura begins to suspect that her sister's death was not a tragic accident but a cold-blooded murder-one that might involve the Segreta and the women she has come to trust.

Review: Mystery, romance, scandal and political intrigue is what Laura della Scala finds when she is released from the convent where she's lived for five years. Her beloved sister Beatrice has drowned, but all signs of the scene scream foul play. Her father who uses his daughter as a social ladder tries to marry her off to her sisters beau Vincenzo. Still grieving for Beatrice, Laura feels powerless to disobey her father, moving her family closer to financial ruin. 's pulled into the gossip and rivalries of Venetian society, in which everyone is "part of a scheme or a plot." When Laura realizes her future husband is an old, crotchety, repulsive ninety something year old, Laura betrays a confidence to join the Segreta, a powerful secret society of masked women who arrange for Vincenzo's disgrace and exile. Saved from the marriage, Laura feels indebted to the Segreta, but she also suspects they may be involved in her sister's death. The book follows Laura on her search to find her sister's murderer and to find love at the wrong place. I really enjoyed this fast paced novel that made me itch to attend a masquerade ball or at least own a fan. I definitely recommend this one for readers who enjoy a smart historical fiction with a bold heroine who isn't afraid to attack murder, betrayal, scandal, and revenge head on.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Some minor language and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, The Book of Shadow and Blood by Robin Wasserman
Rummanah Aasi
   Today I'm thrilled to be part of the promotional tour for Misty Provencher's Cornerstone. The book has been receiving rave reviews from some of my favorite bloggers! Check out Candace's, Missie's, Heidi's, and Heather's reviews just for a sample. Or better yet, check out the entire Cornerstone blog tour and win a copy of the book for yourself! Due to my time constraints, I wasn't able to review Misty's book, however, I got the next best thing: an interview with the irresistible Garret Reese, the heartthrob and one of the most talked about book boyfriends of this year. Not convinced? Just take a look at Missie's Book Boyfriend post below!

Image and link: Missie's MBB post
Hey, Garrett. I'm having a hard time in believing no other blogger has snagged you yet. I, uh, mean for an interview. You're causing quite a ruckus around the blogosphere. People have already claimed you as being theirs. How does this make you feel?   

Really?  Wow, I'm flattered.  I guess I should let them know though, I'm taken.  I've been seeing Nalena Maxwell.  

 *Laughs* Yeah, that's so not going to stop them. Just take a look at the traffic over at Missie's blog post.  *Looks at Garrett for one or two heartbeats* Wow, you really do have liquid blue eyes. *Blushes* So, um, you and Nalena go to the same school where you are a senior and she a junior. Why did it take you three years to finally approach her at the library? And where were you all those years when she was bullied?

  *Drops eyes*  That's a tricky question, but I'm glad you asked.  Some people have really wrong ideas about what happened with that.
   I'm part of a community called the Ianua.  That means that I've dedicated myself to abide by certain principles, one of them being a vow of  complete respect of other members in my community.  Going against these principles can result in being separated from the Ianua, which means losing everything - the material belongings are the very least of it.    
 In Nalena's case, her mother, Evangeline, had separated herself from the community before Nalena was even born.  We know why she did that now, but it's a harsh decision that no one would make unless they were desperate.  Nalena lived in a different school district, and even though I knew of Evangeline's family because of what happened, I didn't really know Nalena until she moved into our district and started attending Simon Valley, earlier this year.  Once I saw her, well, if you've seen Nalena, you understand.  Remaining dedicated to the rules of my community became nearly impossible.
 The problem for me was that Evangeline requested that the community would have no interaction with her daughter.  I had to respect that request, whether or not I agreed with it, but don't think I wasn't around.  I couldn't stop everything that came Nalena's way, but I stopped everything that would have physically hurt her.  I justified what I did by telling myself that Alo Evangeline would have been grateful for my intervention, but there was no way of knowing.  She could have just as easily asked for my separation from the community and it would've been granted.  
  By the way, I've been in libraries much longer than Nalena has and I've yet to meet a guy like you. I must be doing something wrong. There is some obvious romantic tension between you and Nalena. Don't look at me like that. It's written all over your face when I say her name. What were your first thoughts that popped into your head when you saw her sitting in the library? What draws you to her? 
 It'd be easy to say it was the way she looked, but it wasn't that.  *glances, grins*  It's a person's way that matters.  She could be the hottest girl on Earth, but if she's conceited or shallow, who wants to be with that?  
  My first thought, when I was walking toward her, was absolute relief.  I knew what was going on, that the danger had resurfaced for both her and her mother, and I was more concerned that she'd catch me lurking at some point and flip out on me.  I finally went to the Addo directly and asked if I could have permission to get in closer to Nalena.  He allowed it, due to the circumstances.  
 Walking down that library aisle was the easiest thing I'd ever done.  Every step closer to her made me feel more relaxed.  More alive inside.  I don't think I can describe it.  When they say you just know?  They're right.    
What is your idea of a perfect day? 
Easy.  Nalena and I hanging out together and the whole world at peace around us.  If I can't get perfect, I'll just take the first half and call it a day at spectacular.    

*Ticks off on one a hand* You're popular, athletic, smart, gorgeous, and ooze charm. Basically, you're perfect. There's got to be a dark side to you. What makes you tick?  
*Grins*  Wow.  I'm really not all that, but thanks for the vote of confidence.  *laughs*  I work hard to stay in the moment and stay centered in my life (my brother, Sean, would be so happy to hear that I said don't tell him, alright?  *grins*).  But now I wish I had an impressive dark side!  
 What makes me tick is simple: commitment to family, friends and community.  Justice, honor.    
Thanks so much for stopping by Garrett. Do you have any parting words for your fans out there?

 I'm grateful for the attention, but sorry, ladies, I'm taken!

Rummanah Aasi
 I've got a special treat for fans of legal thrillers. Margaret McLean, the author of Under Fire and Under Oath, her latest. Fans of John Grisham and Dennis Lehane should definitely check her book out. Margaret is stopping on the blog to give us a sneak peak at how she came up with the concept of Under Oath

Charlestown is a working class Irish neighborhood of Boston, which is only one square mile, but it had the highest unsolved murder rate in the country for decades.  I lived there, experienced this street code, and followed the code of silence murder trials in federal court.  At the same time, I worked as a prosecuting attorney in a high-crime area nearby.  On my way home from work, I’d stop and say hello to a man, who’d be sitting on his stoop in Charlestown, smoking a cigarette.  One day, I didn’t see him anymore.  He was murdered and his murder still remains unsolved.  I witnessed the frustration of the homicide detectives as they dealt with this pervasive code of silence: don’t see anything, don’t hear anything, and never talk to cops. I became consumed with this street code of justice and why it permeated Charlestown.  I spent many hours working my plot in the community gardens with several older men who shared stories and secrets about Charlestown and how the code had been in place since the immigrants came over in the nineteenth century, settled there, and worked as longshoremen.  The Mothers against Murder group and their determination to end the code of silence also deeply influence my writing.  Under Oath evolved from the streets of Charlestown.  It’s the story of a community that unfolds in the courtroom.  Protagonist Annie Fitzgerald is the prosecutor in charge of the unsolved murder cases; thus, it is incumbent upon her to win her case against Charletown’s most notorious crime boss and break the age-old code of silence.  People who enjoy reading legal page-turners from Scott Turow, Michael Connolly, and John Grisham will like Under Oath.  The police investigations appeal to fans of Law & Order and CSI.  Readers say they learn something from the forensics parts, and they like the dramatic courtroom scenes, especially defense attorney Buddy Clancy’s grueling cross-examinations.

   The “code of silence” remains sacred in Charlestown, one of the most historic yet insular neighborhoods of Boston. Gangster Billy Malone stand accused of killing Trevor Shea, a suspected FBI informant, with a potent dose of heroin. Prosecutor Annie Fitzgerald must crack the infamous code of silence and battle seasoned criminal defense attorney Buddy Clancy, who unleashes reasonable doubt with his penetrating cross-examinations.  The trial explodes into a high-energy race to justice when Annie’s chief witness is killed, jurors defy their instructions, and FBI cover-ups obscure the truth. While the jurors are deliberating, Annie discovers incriminating evidence against the Malones.   Time is of the essence...but will justice prevail?

Rummanah Aasi
 Good afternoon! I'm participating in the promotional tour for Pavarti K. Tyler's Shadow on the Wall hosted by Tribute Books. To follow the tour and see what other blogs are participating, please click here. Below is a description of Shadow on the Wall and an excerpt to give you a flavor of the book.

Description (from Publisher): Recai Osman: Muslim, philosopher, billionaire and Superhero?
Controversial and daring, Shadow on the Wall details the transformation of Recai Osman from complicated man to Superhero. Forced to witness the cruelty of the Morality Police in his home city of Elih, Turkey, Recai is called upon by the power of the desert to be the vehicle of change. Does he have the strength to answer Allah's call or will his dark past and self doubt stand in his way?
   Pulling on his faith in Allah, the friendship of a Jewish father-figure and a deeply held belief that his people deserve better, Recai Osman must become The SandStorm. In the tradition of books by Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, Shadow on the Wall tackles issues of religion, gender, corruption and the basic human condition. Beautiful and challenging, this is not a book to miss.

Excerpt from the book: Recai Osman awoke slowly, flickering in and out of consciousness, the sun scorching his bruised and exhausted body.

 Where am I? His foggy mind struggled to remember the last twenty-four hours.

Gritty particles shifted in sympathy as he rolled to his side. Sunlight assaulted his closed lids shooting pain through his head. Sand clung to his long lashes and hair. When the disorientation passed, Recai wiped his eyes with sand-infested hands, only adding to what clung to his fingers, pressing the grains deeper into his dry eyes, abrading them. Recai was covered in particles so fine they filled his shoes and ground into his scalp between each follicle of hair. Recai pushed his hands into the warm sand, lifting himself to a sitting position and looked around. The night before was still a blur. He remembered the bar at Bozooğulları Hotel and sharing a drink with a Kurdish woman who reminded him of his mother. Women who lived in Elih knew better than to be seen in a public bar, but the hotel staff looked the other way; money could buy many freedoms. Her eyes had been deep-set and so dark they may have genuinely been black. Their mischievous glint and the sound of his mother’s language had drawn him in. A thin veil tight around her hairline, she’d caught his attention with the modern style of having it pulled back and away from her shoulders, allowing him to clearly see the neckline of her dress.
   His head spun from last night’s drink and a dull throb built within his skull. Recai swallowed; his dry tongue thick from dehydration. Usually a soft bed and a forgiving shower greeted him upon waking. How had he gotten out here, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but sand? He hoped the dunes he saw were the ones that resided to the south of the city and not a feature of some farther, larger wasteland.
   He didn’t remember leaving the bar, or traveling anywhere. How much had he drunk? Surely not more than any other night out, but his memory was hazy as he attempted to peer into the past. There were rumors of nomads kidnapping, robbing and abandoning the bodies of affluent Turks in the desert, but he would remember if he’d been kidnapped, wouldn’t he? Instead, all he remembered was drinking bourbon while admiring the curve of the mysterious woman’s collarbone peeking seductively above her blouse.
   The dunes just outside of Elih, Turkey, were not large. The expanse of emptiness made it easy to become disoriented and lost in amongst the shifting terrain. If he was lucky, he’d have awoken at night and followed the light of the city toward home. But now, with the blazing sun above him, luck was something he simply didn’t have.
Men didn’t last long in the dunes without water and supplies. Recai was resourceful; his conscription in the Turkish military had been short but very educational. If he’d had a canteen and some salt tablets, he’d be capable of surviving without food or shelter for a few days. But not like this…
He shook his head, and streams of sand fell to the ground around him. Negativity wasn’t going to help him get home.
   Recai blinked back the encroaching fog in his mind. The sun and lack of water already affected his focus, and the temperature was still rising. Recai took off his shoes and socks, knowing that despite the burning sand this terrain was best traversed the way his ancestors had. He needed to feel the earth below him, listen to the sand as it fell away from his steps.
He undid his belt and jacket and made them into a satchel to carry what few possessions he had. Searching his pockets he found them empty. He was as penniless as a wandering Roma seeking his next fortune. Soon he had his designer button-up shirt tied up on his head like a Jain turban, and his worldly possessions hanging from his belt over his shoulder. The scruff of his untrimmed beard protected his face from the sun, and the turban kept him somewhat shaded. Recai took in his surroundings and the placement of the sun and set off in the direction he hoped was north.
   Recai walked for what seemed like miles, resisting the instinct to second-guess his direction. The sand moved between his toes but soon he found his footing, and his body responded to the landscape as if from some genetic memory. He remembered his father’s words from a trip he took to the Oman desert as a child: Never take your shoes off; the sand will eat away at your feet. Recai had done it anyway, then and now, feeling more in control with that connection to the ground, its movements speaking to his flesh directly.
   His father had always been full of surprises: one moment the strict disciplinarian, the next, he would wake Recai in the middle of the night to see a falling star. Recai had never had the chance to get to know him as an adult. Instead, he lived with the enigmatic memory of a great man lost.
Recai stood in the middle of the desert—every direction would eventually lead to Elih or one of the smaller villages scattered around the city. But who would take in a stranger? A stranger with a Hugo Boss turban and a bruised and bloodied face? In’shallah, he would be delivered to safety.
The sun hung high overhead, beating down so no living thing dared venture into the desert. If Recai had a tarp or blanket, or anything at all, he would have dug himself a hole and conserved his strength until night. Instead, at the crest of the next dune he sat on his bundle to keep his body away from the sand, refusing to allow it to siphon the remaining moisture from his system. He stared out at the expanse of desert before him. Emptiness had never been so tangible to him, nor solitude so deafening.
   From his vantage point he saw the crescent shape of the wind-carved dune. Recai’s face was wind-burned, his shoulders screamed from the assault of the sun’s rays. The city remained out of range; all human life seemed to lie well beyond the line of the horizon.
As he stood, the ground shifted softly beneath him. It reminded Recai of when he’d been a child on his father’s yacht. He used to love going out on the water, taking the helm when they reached the open sea. The city of Elih was landlocked. It was the place where his father had made his fortune and helped establish a sophisticated Arab beacon for the rest of the Middle East, a place where Turks and Kurds co-existed peacefully. When his family needed to escape from the day to day running of the Osman Corporation, a private jet would fly him and his parents out to Iskandarūn where they docked the boat.
   Reaci walked on with his thoughts. He hadn’t been to Iskandarūn in years. Not since he’d witnessed his mother jump without warning from the helm of the yacht. Her thin hijab blew in the evening breeze before she leapt. It had been blue and Recai remembered the way it seemed to float in the air when she took that final step. Not long after that his father disappeared, leaving paperwork that named Recai the heir to the multi-billion-dollar empire he ran. Recai had been only eight years old. Since then, Elih had fallen into the hands of Mayor Mahmet Yılmaz and his RTK henchmen—terrorists hiding behind the thin veil of faith. It made Recai sick to his stomach, the way the city was falling apart, devolving into crime and ignorance, but there was nothing he could do. He simply was not his father.
    Walking along the crest of the dune, hoping to find a way to the flat area below that didn’t involve sliding down the great sand wall, Recai felt a rumble in his chest. A vibration surrounded him, calling to him from the air itself. A deep roar rose from the earth. The pitch rose as the noise intensified, now a screaming growl like the Jinn’s song. The dunes were collapsing.
   Recai ran, hoping to keep ahead of the avalanche. The awesome physics of the phenomenon would have been breathtaking were it not so deadly. Dropping the satchel that held the last remnants of his modern life, Recai scrambled across the crest, unable to get ahead of the avalanche. The dune song reached a crescendo and Recai screamed back at the spectacle of Mother Nature’s power. He lost his balance and fell to his hands and knees just as the top of the dune swept out from beneath him, sending him rolling, swimming in the sea of sand, which enveloped him then whisked him away.

 Author Contact and Book Purchase Information: To learn more about Pavarti K. Tyler, you can find her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Google +, and on Goodreads. You can find the book on Amazon if you are interested in reading a sample or purchasing your own copy.
Rummanah Aasi
  The last few weeks of the school year are chaotic. I've read and finished quite a number of children's books. My reviews of these books are starting to pile up so I thought I would do a few pithy mini-reviews for you. All of these books are found on this year's Illinois School Library Media Association's (ISLMA) Bluestem Reading Award. For the full list of books nominated by school librarians, teachers, and students, click here. Today I'll be reviewing Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford, The Shadows by Jacqueline West, and The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch.

Description: When ten-year-old Newton dresses up as an unusual superhero for Halloween, he decides to keep wearing the costume after the holiday to help save townspeople and eventually his injured brother.

Review: Newton, commonly known as Newt amongst friends and family, has always been in the shadow of his older brother, Chris, the star football player. He goes unnoticed by his workaholic parents and by his classmates at school. After Chris is seriously injured in a game, Newt begins to emerge from his usual anonymity. In the days that follow, he wears the cape and mask of his made-up Halloween persona, Captain Nobody, where he finds his confidence and importance. He is called for help in foiling a jewelry store robbery, clearing a landing path for a plane in distress, and climbing a water tower to save another boy. While his heroic actions are far from realistic, I did love reading this story of an underdog who found a way to prove that he is unique and special. Captain Nobody is a feel good book and is sure to be a great find for kids who love superheroes and who want to be one.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades

If you like this book try: How Oliver Olson Changed the World by Claudia Mills, Powerless by Matthew Cody

Description: When eleven-year-old Olive and her distracted parents move into an old Victorian mansion, Olive finds herself ensnared in a dark plan involving some mysterious paintings, a trapped and angry nine-year-old boy, and three talking cats.

Review: The plot of this book is very familiar amongst readers who enjoy a light fantasy with a few touches of horror thrown in for good measure. Olive is a likable heroine, who lives in her own world. She can't contact with her weird, nerdy, absent minded mathematician parents nor can she relate to her classmates at school. While exploring her new house, she comes across odd paintings and a pair of glasses that allow her to venture inside the art to Elsewhere filled with talking cats and people who found themselves in the paintings. I really like the balance of mystery, adventure, and with just the right touch of creepiness. My favorite part of this book aren't the humans, but rather the snarky talking cats who stole the show for me. This is the first book in The Books of Elsewhere series and I do plan on coming back to this series later.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3-6.

If you like this book try: Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The Witches by Roald Dahl

Description (from Goodreads): Warning: this description has not been authorized by Pseudonymous Bosch. As much as he'd love to sing the praises of his book (he is very vain), he wouldn't want you to hear about his brave 11-year old heroes, Cass and Max-Ernest. Or about how a mysterious box of vials, the Symphony of Smells, sends them on the trail of a magician who has vanished under strange (and stinky) circumstances. And he certainly wouldn't want you to know about the hair-raising adventures that follow and the nefarious villains they face. You see, not only is the name of this book secret, the story inside is, too. For it concerns a secret. A Big Secret.

Review: I loved the snarky tone of this book, which really reminded me of the Lemony Snicket and the Series of Unfortunate Events. Two misfit kids become an investigating duo who find a puzzling box of "smells" and a message from a dead magician. Cassandra and Max-Ernest (not their real names) embark on an exciting adventure that involves a strange notebook written in secret code, a magician who has disappeared without a trace, and a so-called "golden lady" who seems to be ageless and will do whatever she can to stay that way. It's a fun adventure story that packs plenty of chuckles, entertainment, puzzles that will keep children's attention.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3-6

If you like this book try: If You're Reading This, It's Too Late (Secret #2) by Pseudonymous Bosch, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, and for a more clever and sophisticated children mystery try The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

Rummanah Aasi
   I'm privileged to have Alex Flinn here on the blog today. Though she's mostly known for her sweet, romantic, and popular fairy tale retellings such as Beastly, A Kiss in Time, and Bewitching, Alex is first book is the gritty, realistic fiction novel, Breathing Underwater, which was challenged but ultimately retained in the Richland School in Washington this year. I actually read about the challenge off of Alex's facebook page and asked if she'd be willing to chat about her experiences of having her book challenged and the writing process of Breathing Underwater. She graciously agreed. Before I get to the interview, I wanted to give you a brief bio on Alex.

   Brief Bio: Alex was born in Glen Cove, New York. Before going to law school, she received a degree in vocal performance (opera) from the University of Miami. She practiced law for ten years before becoming a full-time author. She based her first book, Breathing Underwater, on her experiences interning with the State Attorney's Office and volunteering with battered women. Breathing Underwater won the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award in 2004.

  Thank you so much for doing this interview, Alex. How did you find out that Breathing Underwater was challenged? What were your first thoughts upon hearing the news? 

  I found out from a Google alert. I've actually been surprised Breathing Underwater hasn't been challenged more, since it has a few swear words, and I know some people think that's important. I think I've had an easy time because, since Breathing Underwater is a problem novel, maybe its value is more obvious (i.e., schools can say that it teaches about dating violence) than with another type of novel. That said, I was sorry it was being challenged because I do think it has great value and the kids might not get to read it. I was also surprised there wasn't more of an uproar about it. The same district challenged Sherman Alexie's book [Rummanah's note: The book Alex is referring to is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian which is awesome and a must read] last year, and everyone was up in arms. I don't know if my book is viewed as having less value so the censorship doesn't matter or if people are just bored, but it didn't seem like anyone really said anything in its defense.

 What does censorship mean to you as an author and as a reader? 

I think it's a shame because it keeps kids from being able to read a book they would enjoy and that might benefit them. In the case of Breathing Underwater, the challenges I have had have either been based on someone not reading the whole book (I've heard comments about not liking Nick's attitude toward women which, of course, is the whole POINT of the book, which someone would understand if they read the whole thing) or a few swear words that everyone has heard anyway. I'm a parent too, and I do pick and choose what my own kids would be exposed to, but I think it should be an individual decision. Also, it sort of amazes me that parents will let their kids see all sorts of violent PG-13 movies in grade school but will recoil at a mild swear word in a book. I guess that attests to the power people give books.

 In your opinion, what is the purpose of realistic fiction? Why is this genre so easily targeted by censors?

Realistic fiction portrays the world in a realistic way. Some readers don't care for it, but a lot of kids (including kids who don't read much at all) will read nothing but realistic fiction. I think it is easily targeted by censors because they either don't want to face that their kids are aware of certain issues or language or because they wish they weren't and want to blame a book. Also, I've seen reviews indicating that a parent was upset that a character in one of my books didn't share their values. Unfortunately, books can't all be about good kids doing wonderful things or they wouldn't have much of a story. A character needs to have flaws in order to have personal growth. For example, Kyle in Beastly is a jerk. He swears. He treats women as objects. I'm not advocating those things and I think readers know that. But that is why he needs to have a book written about him, because it is about him learning that those things are wrong. If he was a great guy, there would be no story. I think the kids get that but, again, if you skim, it's not as obvious.

  Most of the challenges arise from parents. As a parent yourself, have you previewed books for your kids? What advice would you give parents who are completely new to the YA realm? 

Frankly, I'm pickier about movies, but I do notice what my kids are reading. For the most part, my daughters haven't been all that interested in reading books above their age group (The one exception was the Twilight books, and I allowed my daughter to read the first three but not the fourth at age eleven). If I have a real question about a book, I have checked the School Library Journal reviews, which any parent can see on Amazon. Common Sense Media, though sometimes maligned by authors, is not a bad site either. I think they usually place a book as being about a year older than I would. Language, for the most part doesn't bother me, but I recommended that my daughter hold off on reading The Hunger Games until she was twelve just because it was scary. If she'd really wanted to read it, I would have let her, but I suspected she wouldn't like it. She did wait but eventually read the books.

 What is your favorite challenged/censored book you've read and why?

To Kill a Mockingbird because it's a great book.

Why did you want to write about dating violence? 

I volunteered with battered women and I thought it was an important and interesting issue.

Most of the books, at least the ones that I'm familiar with, on dating violence are told from the female point of view. What made you decide to write it from Nick's point of view? 

He was the only character that knew that side of the story. I've always liked to consider why people do what they do. When I was a young teen, I became familiar with Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd, which was the first time I'd ever seen someone give voice to a character who was doing something really bad, yet sought to see his point-of-view. I also had the bizarre experience of being in three different English classes (in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades -- I switched schools) that read The Crucible and then being in a production of the opera in college, as one of the crying out girls. This is another play that really explores the roots of evil, what makes people do what they do, if they know it is wrong or not. I researched that era a lot and found that one of the girls (in real life) portrayed in that play (Actually, the girl I played) actually did apologize to the families of the women who were hanged on her evidence. So, did she know at the time? Did she not understand what it meant to accuse people who would then be killed? Was she too young and just following her parents? Or was she just so caught up in what was happening, as Mary says in the courtroom scene, that she didn't realize what was real and what wasn't? I am very fascinated by people's motivations. In my mind, and from the research I did, Nick (abusers in general) really did not realize he'd done anything wrong and was able to justify his actions to himself. The story, of course, is about him realizing that he can't continue to do so.

What character surprised you the most while writing Breathing Underwater

Nick. I started writing the book in the girl's viewpoint with just a scene or two in Nick's viewpoint, but I became completely obsessed with him.

I was surprised to read Nick's clarity in his journals, which made the book that much more powerful to me. Why did you decide to use the journal motif instead of the group therapy? 

I like split narrative books like this, such as The Prince of Tides or Rob Thomas's Rats Saw God. That was what I wanted to do, two stories that dovetailed. The journals seemed like the best way to do that.

It's been 11 yrs since Nick's story was written. Where do you imagine him to be today?

I always tell teens he's going to go to college and lead a blameless life, which is why I can't write a sequel to his story.

  Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, Alex. I would like to think the quietness surrounding the book to mean that the book's purpose is quite obvious. 4 out of 5 board members agreed to leave the book on the 12th grade curriculum list and I've read teachers views on the book's importance and power.
   As a librarian I feel obligated to let parents know of any red flags that are found in the books that I feature on my blog just as if they had asked me about the book on my library shelves, which is how I came up with the "Words of Caution" part on my blog. I want to give the parent enough information so they can make the ultimate decision. Only a parent and child can know what is right for them.
Rummanah Aasi
  Alex Flinn's critically acclaim book, Breathing Underwater is one of my go to books for teens looking for a serious, well written, contemporary novel. Many books written about abusive teen relationships are written from the perspective of the victim, who is almost always a female. Breathing Underwater is the first book written not only by a male point of view but also of the abuser. Check back tomorrow with my interview with Ms. Flinn about her book and the recent controversy of it being challenged in Richland School in Washington.   

Description (from Goodreads): Nick is one of the chosen few at his high school: intelligent, popular, and wealthy. People think his life is pretty easy. Except for one thing. Nick has never told anyone about his father's violent temper.
  When Nick meets Caitlin, he thinks she is the answer to all his problems. Caitlin is everything Nick has ever wanted- beautiful, talented, and in love with him. But then everything changes, and Nick must face the fact that he has gotten more from his father than green eyes and money.

Review: Breathing Underwater is an absorbing read, allowing the reader to get a chance to learn about the abuse from the abuser's perspective. Flinn does a remarkable job in bringing the important and hot issue of abusive teen relationships with authenticity and rawness without ever resorting to cliches or the dreaded after-school specials that we were made to see in school.
  When the book opens, we are witnessing Nick's trial. We quickly learn that Nick was arrested because he physically assaulted his girlfriend, Caitlin, who now seeks a restraining order against him. The judge requires him to join an anger management class and to keep a journal recording his thoughts. Through a diary format, we learn how things between Caitlin and Nick transpired and go on a journey of self discovery and a chance at redemption.
  Nick is everything a guy could want. He is rich, handsome, athletic, and smart. While he superficially has everything he could desire, what he longs for and is in desperate need of is love. Much to everyone's ignorance, Nick is subjected to his father's physical and verbal abuse. Believing he can handle himself, Nick doesn't seek help and tries to avoid his father's triggers though he doesn't always succeed. Nick has always felt left out and carries a hole in chest. He craves attention and a driving desire to feel secure and loved by hanging out with his friends and their families. When he comes across the beautiful, sweet Caitlin, he believes that his hole could be filled by just being with her.
  The power of Breathing Underwater isn't in the plot, but the slow horrifying realization that Nick has become like his father without ever thinking about it. His father's physical and verbal abuse has shaped Nick's ideas of how to behave in a relationship: he bullies, tortures, and finally hits Caitlin. At first he truly believes that he has done nothing wrong by putting Caitlin 'in her place'; however, things slowly change as he recognizes his anger and abuse when he writes all of his thoughts down. There are loud pauses throughout his journal entries, which comes across as Nick trying at first to rationalize his actions but then admitting he was wrong to behave like he did. His anger permeates his writing and body language.
  Though we are aware of Nick's background and feel bad for him, his behavior toward Caitlin are never justified or forgiven. Like life, things aren't wrapped up nicely in a bow where everyone suddenly changes and is forgiven for the mistakes they made. The situations and dialogue ring frighteningly true, detailing the familiar cycle of abuse. I was really happy to see Nick's friends pick up on the red flags regarding his treatment of Caitlin and coming to her help. The sessions at the anger management classes that Nick attends are eye opening and with a twist I never saw coming.
 Breathing  Underwater isn't about placing blame, but rather admitting that you have a problem and you are willing to seek help. I would highly recommend reading this book because abusive teen relationship is a real problem and the more we learn about the issue, the better we can find a solution.

Rating: 4 stars

Why is was Challenged: On January 25th, 2012, Richland, Washington school district challenged Breathing Underwater and two other books due to "profanity," "dark themes," and "sexual content."  Source: Alex Flinn's blog
 In March 13, 2012, Breathing Underwater was reviewed approved for 12th grade. Source: Richland School Board Minutes.

Words of Caution: I generally have a hard time understanding the issues surrounding challenges of realistic fiction. Yes, there is a dark theme of dating violence in the book, but unfortunately it's a reality. I really don't know how you can address the issue of dating violence without showing any of it, which this book does very tastefully. We get enough to understand what is happening and it is used for a purpose. There is some language, an allusion to sex (to be honest, it's like a fade out scene, you get more on today's TV shows, and violence in the book which would make it PG-13 if it were a movie. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Things Change by Patrick Jones, Bitter End by Jennifer Brown, But I Love Him by Amanda Grace, Albatross by Josie Bloss

Rummanah Aasi
   Since I couldn't get my hands on the latest volumes of Afterschool Charisma or Black Butler from the library, I opted to try out another manga series. I had already read from the mystery, paranormal, historical fiction, and sci fi genres, but I haven't ventured out to contemporary fiction yet. I've seen Nana, which is hugely popular in Japan, on many bloggers and reader's favorite lists. I thought I would give the series a shot, since all volumes are published and for the most part readily available.

 Description (from back of the book): Nana Komatsu is a young woman who's endured an unending string of boyfriend problems. Moving to Tokyo, she's hoping to take control of her life and put all those messy misadventures behind her. She's looking for love and she's hoping to find it in the big city. Nana Osaki, on the other hand, is cool, confident and focused. She swaggers into town and proceeds to kick down the doors to Tokyo's underground punk scene. She's got a dream and won't give up until she becomes Japan's No. 1 rock'n'roll superstar.

 Review:  Nana is not only a departure from the genres, but also written differently from my current manga series. This series is based on the lives of two 20-something year old women, who happen to share the same name. These women come from two entirely different backgrounds and ways of thinking, but their similarities draw them together and they end up being best friends. What makes the Nana storyline unique is that the story is told through flashbacks that are interwoven in the present day. In the first volume of Nana, we are introduced to our main leads and how they both managed to move from their own towns to Tokyo.
   Nana K. is a carefree girl, who is completely boy crazy. She is in love with the idea of being in love and looking for it in all the wrong places. We aren't really surprised to learn that she had a passionate, affair with an older married man that left her cold and unwanted. She tries to start a new life by applying to an art college with her friend Jun. Of course upon entering class, she is instantly smitten by Shoji Endo, a friendly guy who knows Jun from Junior High. In order to save her friend from heartbreak once again, Jun advises that Nana should start things slowly and work her way up from friendship with Shoji, allowing the relationship to actually grow and evolve naturally. Thankfully, Nana takes the advice and vows not to jump head first into any relationships. This puts a cramp in Shoji's plans, however, who hopes to become something more right away. Things become even more complicated as this group of friends become close, especially after everyone but Nana is accepted into Tokyo's art school. Nana is determined to work hard join her friends later at Tokyo.

  Nana Osaki is the polar opposite of Nana K. Real and gritty, Nana lives with her boyfriend and band mate Ren Honjo. Being the lead singer of her punk band and working with the love of her life has filled the void Nana had felt since childhood. She grew up apart from her parents, alone and unwanted. Nana's comfort zone is suddenly shaken when Ren reveals he has been offered to join a popular, successful group by joining another band as their bassist in Toyko, and he decides to take it without speaking to her about it. Nana decides to wait until she is better prepared to follow Ren, but in the end she packs her bags and heads off to Tokyo and leaves her remaining bandmates to question about the future of Blast, their band.

 Out of the two Nanas, I was instantly drawn to the no nonsense attitude of Nana Osaki. She is definitely the more independent one of the two. While it I rolled my eyes quite a lot while reading Nana K.'s section, I found her naivety, optimism, and romantic viewpoint of the world charming. While the characters don't meet in this volume, I can see how they complement each other and why they would become best friends.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: This manga is a Josei, targeted to older women (ages 18 to 30). It is rated for older teens and contains smoking, drinking, nudity, and small sex scenes. Recommended for older mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Nana Vol 2 by Ai Yazawa
Rummanah Aasi

  I would like to thank everyone for stopping by my blog and entering my giveaway during the Summer of No Regrets promotional tour hosted by The Teen Book Scene. Thank you once again to Sourcebooks and the Teen Book Scene for the opportunity to be on the tour and giving me a copy of the book to giveaway on my blog. According to, the winner of my giveaway is Alison from Alison Can Read! Congrats Alison! I already sent you an email. Please respond within 72 hours or else I will have to choose another winner.
Rummanah Aasi
  As part of the Teen Book Scene promotional tour for Charles Benoit's Fall from Grace, I have Charles stopping by today to tell us what we would find in his teenage garage sale. The teenage garage sale allows us a chance to know authors on a personal level. Charles's teen garage sale is pretty eclectic and I had to share all of it. Enjoy!

Rummanah, you win the prize for “Strangest Blog Post Question” – take your pick of any of these fine items from my teenage-years garage sale!

  • Assorted albums and 8-track tapes—all guaranteed to be scratched and/or unplayable!
    • My 15-17 years old collection: Genesis, Yes, ELO, Kansas
    • My 17-20 years old collection: The Ramones, The Specials, Madness, The Slecter, English Beat, Elvis Costello, Desmond Decker
  • Concert T-shirts from shows I saw
    • Cheap Trick (2 times), Boston, Genesis (3 times), The Tubes, The Outlaws (designated driver), Joe Jackson, The Ramones (13 times)
  • Used books
    • The entire John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs
    • The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
    • The Hobbit (never read) by Tolkin
    • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
    • The complete works of Jules Vern (half read)
    • Uncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse (not for sale – love it too much)
    • 9th Grade Algebra text (never opened)
  • Turquoise ring, returned by ex-girlfriend—slight dent where it bounced off the windshield of a passing car, noticeable scratch where it was stomped into a sidewalk by a girls’ size 4 sneaker
  • Mustache and goatee—worn from 16 to 19, excellent if you need to look like a magician
  • Jean jacket with a black hoodie underneath—worn, non-stop, for entire high school career
  • Fake ID—will fool the guy who works late nights at the convenience store on Long Pond road.

 Thanks for stopping by, Charles! I'm getting the sense that are some really interesting stories behind the mustache and goatee as well as the turquoise ring. I would have love to have seen the Ramones in concert and I gotta love Cheap Trick! They are from Illinois after all. :)

Grace always has a plan. There’s her plan to get famous, her plan to get rich, and—above all—her plan to have fun.

Sawyer has plenty of plans too. Plans made for him by his mother, his father, his girlfriend. Maybe they aren’t his plans, but they are plans.

When Sawyer meets Grace, he wonders if he should come up with a few plans himself. Plans about what he actually wants to be, plans to speak his own mind for a change, plans to maybe help Grace with a little art theft.

Wait a minute—plans to what?
Rummanah Aasi
A library friend recommended that I read My Abandonment a couple of years ago. I completely forgot about it until I was looking for books to read for my Alex Award reading challenge. My Abandonment is a short, quick read but its impact and thought provoking questions linger in your mind once you finish the last page. I was really surprised that the first half of the book is inspired by a true story and the second half is what the author thinks might have happened.

Description (from Goodreads): A thirteen-year-old girl and her father live in Forest Park, the enormous nature preserve in Portland, Oregon. There they inhabit an elaborate cave shelter, bathe in a nearby creek, store perishables at the water’s edge, use a makeshift septic system, tend a garden, even keep a library of sorts. Once a week, they go to the city to buy groceries and otherwise merge with the civilized world. But one small mistake allows a backcountry jogger to discover them, which derails their entire existence, ultimately provoking a deeper flight.

Review: My Abandonment is a deceptively quiet novel. At first glance, it appears as an ordinary coming of age story that focuses on a father-daughter relationship and the setting mirrors our own, but we still can't rid of this lingering, instinctual feeling that something is not right. You see Caroline and her father are homeless and live in Forest Park, a nature preserve, not because of unfortunate circumstances but of choice. Even when they are given the opportunity to have a home and the local authorities find a job with Father, both Caroline and Father feel constrained and uncomfortable. I found Caroline and her father's lifestyle to be jarring, unusual, and to be honest a bit cockeyed. I guess the point that they are trying to make is that they feel closer to nature and at their purest when they are not tied down to  world of convenience. This aspect of the book really reminded me of the American Transcendentalism unit I had in high school, which I always thought was a good idea in theory but not really realistic.
   Just as I was trying to get comfortable at looking through Caroline's and Father's lens, the story takes a really strange and disturbing turn. We learn some startling details from the detached, wide-eyed, and innocent Caroline who obediently follows Father. As she begins to thaw and open up, we are given another account of her story which throws not only confusion and challenges us to re-evaluate the story we were told in the first half of the book, but also another complex layer of what it means to survive, love, and be alienated. I don't want to go into detail about the plot twist because I think you really need to experience it yourself.
  While I thought My Abandoment was a compelling and emotional read, I did have some problems with the writing. The voice of Caroline is not consistent. She can sound like a 10 year old in moment, an adult in another. Perhaps this was done on purpose to make us feel disconnected and now thinking back on the book makes sense, but if the author chose just one of these voices it would have made the book much more powerful. Unlike most books I've read, My Abandoment is filled with descriptive narrative with sporadic dialogue, which at times worked for me because it initially drew me into the story but it got old quickly. I quickly realized that much of the story lies in between the sentences and paragraphs.
  I would definitely recommend picking up My Abandoment is you like a compelling, psychological fiction and you are okay with having more questions than answers. There are lots of things to discuss about this book, which I think would make this an interesting choice for a bookclub.   
Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and disturbing images. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
Rummanah Aasi

   I see to be a summer romance roll with my YA reads lately. Today I'm featuring Jolene Perry's Night Sky. I was offered a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. If you would like to follow the Night Sky blog tour, please click here.

Description (from publisher): After losing Sarah, the friend he’s loved, to some other guy, Jameson meets Sky. Her Native American roots, fluid movements, and need for brutal honesty become addictive fast. This is good. Jameson needs distraction – his dad leaves for another woman, his mom’s walking around like a zombie, and Sarah’s new boyfriend can’t keep his hands off of her.
   As he spends time with Sky and learns about her village, her totems, and her friends with drums - she's way more than distraction. Jameson's falling for her fast. But Sky’s need for honesty somehow doesn’t extend to her life story – and Jameson just may need more than his new girl to keep him distracted from the disaster of his senior year.

Review: Unlike most contemporary YA romance books that I've picked up, Night Sky is from a male's point of view. Jameson is in his senior year of high school. At a school dance, he discovers Sarah, his best friend/secret crush for many years, with her new boyfriend. Heartbroken and wallowing with the constant "why didn't I tell her?" thought on repeat in his head, Jameson runs into a Native American beauty named Sky who turns his world upside down.
  Jameson is your ordinary male teen. He tends to keep his feelings and thoughts to himself, but his outlook changes the more time he spends with Sky. He becomes more open and honest. Perry does a good job in developing an authentic male voice, but I would have liked to get to know him on a deeper level, especially when his parent's relationship is in turmoil. I was really surprised to see how little we see of Jameson's parents since the family does seem close.
   For me the most interesting character in Night Sky is Sky. Sky is the complete opposite of Jameson. She is blunt and constantly tells him that honesty is most important aspect to their 'relationship.' Sky refuses to be Jameson's replacement/distraction due to his conflicted feelings over Sarah and is forced to come to terms with his feelings. Behind her austere front, which I found at first refreshing, Sky was doing the exact things she accused of Jameson of doing: using him as a way to escape from her troubles and never really come clean about her own past until their relationship progressed from acquaintances to friendship to love. We are only given tidbits of what happened, but not the whole story. When Sky's secret was revealed, I like Jameson was shocked and felt betrayed, angry. I had hoped Jame's emotions would be more developed and explained, but thing were patched up a bit too easily and quickly for me.
  Night Sky is a really quick read. I enjoyed watching Jameson and Sky's relationship grow. I would have liked to know more about Sky's cultural roots. Perhaps if we got to see some of the important clan members in the story, the plot twist would have a bit more of a punch which would have added depth to the story. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the book and would recommend the book to those who enjoy contemporary YA romance.  

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is an allusion to sex, abuse, and some language. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles, Two Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt
Rummanah Aasi
Description (from Goodreads): Elizabeth Margaret—better known as Em—has always known what life would contain: an internship at her father’s firm, a degree from Harvard and a career as a lawyer. The only problem is that it’s not what she wants. When she gets the opportunity to get away from it all and spend a month with the aunt she never knew, she jumps at the chance. While there, Em pursues her secret dream of being a chef, and she also learns that her family has kept some significant secrets from her, too. And then there’s Cade, the laid-back local surfer boy who seems to be everything Em isn't. Naturally, she can’t resist him, and as their romance blossoms, Em feels she is living on her own terms for the first time.

Review: If you are looking for a breezy, fun beach read then look no further than Shannon Greenland's The Summer My Life Began. With likable characters and a familiar storyline, it was easy to sit back and enjoy the story without thinking too much.
  Em plans on enjoying her summer of freedom before her internship at a law firm and first semester of Harvard begin. She has always followed the rules and become the daughter they always wanted. One of Em's biggest fear is disappointing her parents. Em is a sweet character. She had the good balance of being mature yet also had a child-like aspect to her, especially when she is given the freedom to do pretty much whatever she wants while visiting her mysterious Aunt Tilly. I liked how she got along with everyone, especially her sister. I also admired her passion to cook and learn more about cooking various dishes, which allowed her true personality to come to life. Though I liked Em for the most part, I thought she was just a bit too perfect and well..wholesome. There wasn't any meat to her character.
  What I enjoyed the most about the book was the romance between Em and Cade, which starts off slowly and then deepens. Em and Cade were cute together and shared some sweet moments. Cade had the potential to be an interesting character as he struggles with his family issues, but these issues weren't fully realized.
  Like Cade's issues, there are a lot of underlying tension throughout the book, particularly around Aunt Tilly's relationship with Em's immediate family. I kept waiting for this to develop more, but it only simmered to the surface and quickly died out. Without these tensions, there isn't really any conflict in the book. If you're looking for a cute book where you can turn off your mind for a couple of hours, I'd give The Summer My Life Began a shot but don't expect it to blow your mind. I'd recommend it to tweens and parents who are looking for a clean, sweet, contemporary romance.   

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly, The Cupcake Queen by Heather Helper, The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill Alexander
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 (back cover of the manga): Featured on the manga cover-Florence Nightingale (1820– 1910) British nurse who made tremendous contributions to the modern nursing system. Received her nursing education in Germany before serving as chief nurse in a London hospital. Drafted into military service during the Crimean War, Nightingale strove to improve sanitation amid the wretched conditions of the military field hospital she managed. Also recognized as a pioneering statistician for her tireless compilation of statistical materials. During her military service, her beneficence and dedication to her hospital rounds at night earned her the nicknames “ the Lady with the Lamp” and “ the Angel of the Crimea.”

Review: Unlike the first three volumes, Volume 4 of Afterschool Charisma is filled with non-stop action. The identities of the terrorists who quietly executed a vicious attack on St. Kleio Academy. Spoiler! The assassins are in fact an older generation of the exact same clones in the school. Many are left dead in the aftermath, picked off one by one. The Almighty Dolly, which was said to protect them, is rendered useless and a scam. 
  There are of life changing moments for some of our clones. Shiro's nightmare is now his reality. We finally know what happened to Marie Curie who "left" the academy because she didn't want to pursue the sciences like her original but music. We also see the psychotic wheels rolling in Adolf Hitler's clone, which we all know is not a good thing at all. 
 Though we do have a few answers, I'm still lost in the dark like our clones and have tons of questions. Why are the clones made every generation? Why are they made? Who is making them? How are they making them? Who is the head of this terrorist group and why bother eliminating the clones when they are constantly made? As you can tell, my head was spinning in all directions. The book ends with a clone ready to tell us how this all began. For me it's a terrible cliffhanger, since I can't get a hold of volume five yet from the library, but I'm dying to know! 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: Rated T+ for strong violence and some strong language. Recommended for older teens and up.

If you like this book try: Afterschool Charisma Vol. 5 by Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Hetalia: Axis Powers by
Rummanah Aasi
  Fairy tale retellings seem to have become a big trend this year. I've already read quite a few, some of which are good while others are okay. While we may know how the story ends, I like to see how each author makes their retelling different whether it is switching the heroes and the villains, time periods, or even settings. Zoe Marriott's Shadow on the Moon is a unique and refreshing take on Cinderella. Thank you to Candlewick Press and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of this book.

Description (from Publisher): Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume is able to re-create herself in any form - a fabulous gift for a girl desperate to escape her past. But who is she really? Is she a girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother's new husband, Lord Terayama? Or a lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama's kitchens? Or is she Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Whatever her true identity, Suzume is destined to use her skills to steal the heart of a prince in a revenge plot to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her, not even the one true aspect of her life- her love for a fellow shadow-weaver.

Review: We all know of the poor, passive Cinderella who has been abused and taken advantage of by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters and patiently waits for justice to be served. Suzume is not that kind of Cinderella. In fact she's a fiery girl hellbent on revenge set in an alternative Asian world that is heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese cultures. On the day Suzume turns 14, her family is destroyed. Soldiers arrive to slaughter her father, who is falsely accused of treason. In a moment of fight or flight, Suzume and her sister desperately try to escape but only Suzume somehow escapes, and with the aid of Youta, a mysterious "cinderman," manages to evade the soldiers until Suzume's mother returns. Terayama, her father's best friend, quickly takes mother and daughter under his protection by marrying Suzume's mother. As Suzume learns more about her parents' involvement with Terayama, she discovers reasons to hate and fear him. While it's easy to label Teraysama as the wicked-stepfather role, Marriott also doesn't leave Suzume's mother pure either. My favorite part of Shadows on the Moon is how Marriott creates these complex and wonderful villains, who not only fulfill their fairy-tale roles but they are also very human. We know that they are despicable, but we can also understand their choices and reasoning.
  Suzume goes through several transformations throughout the story, which add layers of complexity to her character. I wouldn't necessarily pin her as a heroine or a villain making her a delight to dissect and analyze. She is without a doubt emotionally damaged and has a knack to harm herself in order to feel. Though we applaud her in her aggressive plan to avenge her family, but we also shocked by her tunnel vision and how she places revenge as her number own priority even above love. 
  Shadows on the Moon is a compelling read and I was completely fascinated by the mythology of the "shadow weavers" and I loved picking up the Chinese and Japanese influences found in the book. There is romance in the book, which I thought was sweet and a nice bonus to this dark story. I'd definitely recommend picking this book up if you are curious about Eastern cultures or like a dark, fresh fairy-tale retellings. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to sex in the book, some strong violence, and scenes of self-cutting. Recommended for Grades 9 and up. 

If you like this book try: Cinder by Marisa Meyer, For Asian inspired fantasies: Eona by Alison Goodman, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon.
Rummanah Aasi
I avoid books written by celebrities for various reasons. Reading about their terrible childhood or vying with others about how many names they can drop in a sentence is not exactly how I want to spend my limited free time nowadays. I did make an exception to this unwritten rule with Tina Fey's Bossypants after several people told me that I had to read the book. After a long delay, I took a chance and actually really enjoyed it.

Description: From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon, comedian Tina Fey reveals all, and proves that you're no one until someone calls you bossy.

Review: Bossypants straddles the line between memoir and humorist essay. Fey, in her trademark self depreciating humor and astute observations, hilariously covers her childhood and coming-of-age; time at Chicago's Second City; years at Saturday Night Live (SNL) as a writer and performer; development of 30 Rock; and her ubiquitous role as Sarah Palin. She doesn't flinch nor cover up the less glamorous aspect of her life such as having a hard time finding a job just so she can have enough money to pay for improv classes. Along the way, she also demystifies the celebrity particularly the required photo shoot. My favorite part of the book, however, is Fey's input on women in the workforce and in comedy. Many people think that Fey's impression of Sarah Palin was funny because of the uncanny resemblance and her mannerisms, but few would realize how the sketches about feminism would go undetected.
 Sure Bossypants is a funny book, but I was surprised how much depth lied within the jokes. Fey's comedic timing is perfect. I laughed out loud constantly, but also paused to think too. I'd definitely recommend picking this one up if you're in a reading funk or in a mood for a smart, funny book where a celebrity can actually write and is articulate. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong language and some crude humor throughout the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
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