Rummanah Aasi
    The Newlyweds is an intimate view of a relationship, facing the usual communication issues, not helped by secrets and a cultural divide. I had high hopes for this book but ultimately I felt underwhelmed and disappointed after I finished it.

Description: From Bangladesh, Amina and her doting, complicated parents pin their hopes for their future on the marriage she has arranged with George in Rochester, who she meets on an online dating site geared towards east Asians and their North American suitors. This is a sweet, quiet little story about two people moving across nations to be together and carrying with them the baggage, desires, and secrets of two people moving across the world to be together.

Review: In her latest novel, Freudenberger examines a marriage arranged via the Internet as well as cross-cultural confusion and missed opportunities. Amina and George met on and get married. For Amina the marriage to George is an escape from her family's straitened circumstances in Bangladesh and a bright opportunity in the "Eden-like" America. For George, the marriage is way to wade his way out of "games" that women played.
 Arriving in snowy Rochester in 2005 is a culture shock for Amina, but within three years she makes the best of her situation. She gets her green card, is married to George, and is taking college courses when not making espressos at Starbucks. Her focus is changed from making a life for herself to bringing her parents to America. Things seem to be moving at a progressing speed, except for her marriage. Sex and intimacy is awkward, Amina's faith seems to falter and ebb away due to George's reaction, George loses his job, and Amina discovers something that makes her doubt his sincerity. She eventually returns to Bangladesh to bring her parents to the U.S., but a problem with her father's visa keeps Amina there and forces her back into the morass of her extended family's resentments and petty jealousies, all of which she'd hoped to escape in marriage. Add to her troubles an old suitor, Nasir, still thinks there's a chance for a relationship between he and Amina.
  The Newlyweds is a quiet book that takes its time in unfolding the marriage and various relationships surrounding Amina and George. Normally this would be okay since analyzing these relationships would allow the author to explore each character, however, I didn't really find any of the characters to be interesting. I felt a kinship between Amina and myself since we are from similar cultural backgrounds, but she doesn't stray very far from the stereotypical passive Indian Subcontinent woman. Unlike Amina, I had no frame of reference for George. I could not have conjured an image of him in my mind nor did I really feel like I got to know him. For a main character, he is very flat, boring, and relentlessly whiny. The only reason why I kept reading The Newlyweds is to discover the big secret that George is harboring from Amina, but that too seems very anticlimactic.
 Though Freudenberger does well in capturing the off-kilter feelings of a young woman in a country so unlike her birthplace and seems to be well informed of the Bangladeshi culture, there is a real lack of spice and emotion in her story. The cultural differences in the first half of the novel does prompt some enjoyably wry humor, but aside from that there is no warmth from its characters. Freudenberger's tone is detached and cool throughout, even when violent incidents are described, which makes it difficult to emotionally engage with the story. The novel is somewhat too dependent on cultural cliches and remains on the superficial level to entirely satisfy.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and sexual situations. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes, The Law of Similars by Chris Bohjalian
Rummanah Aasi
  The Amelia Rules series has been on several graphic novel recommendation lists for libraries and readers. The graphic novel series initially started as a self published piece and was later picked up by publishers as its popularity increased. Gownley announced last year that the series will come to an end. Like many readers, I was sad to hear the news but that only motivates me to read and complete the series.

Description: Meet Amelia Louise McBride. She's nine years old, a former New Yorker who's now living in a small town after her parents decided to get divorced, and dealing with everything from being the new kid in school to getting her first kiss. But you know what? She's got her mom and her aunt Tanner (who happens to be an ex-rock star) and her friends Reggie, Rhonda, and Pajamaman, and everything's going to be okay. Except, of course, when it isn't. In this first book of Amelia's adventures, Amelia and her friends take on bullies (and Santa!), barely survive gym class, and receive a disgustingly detailed explanation of the infamous Sneeze Barf.

Review: Amelia is going to be a third grader. She is also a child of recently divorced parents and has just moved from New York City to a small town, along with her mom and must stay with her mom's younger, hipper sister. This first volume of the series consists of five episodes from her first year, summer through Christmas, trying to figure out her new life with a new family situation and new friends. Gownley mixes realism, pathos, and humor remarkably well and conveys a lot with his Peanuts-ish illustrations.
  I started the Amelia Rules series out of order, which I never do but I was so excited to see this series at my local library that I just picked up whatever they had. I later realized that I was picking up the series midway through. Luckily, my mistake didn't cost my enjoyment of the series and I pretty much inferred what happened to Amelia's family and friends. In this first volume, Amelia deals with serious issues: divorce, moving, discovering new friends, and trying to make sense of her own world.
  I immediately loved all of the characters in this series. Amelia is your typical tween. She is moody, has great snarky lines, self absorbed but under all that bravado she has a good heart. The graphic novel is told from her perspective and almost like a confessional. Throughout the course of her first year at her new, small town she learns about her group of adorkable friends: Rhonda is her friend and sometimes arch-enemy, who has a massive third grade crush on Reggie, the superhero in the making. And then there is the silent but endearing Pajamaman.  
  Another huge plus for me is that the graphic novel series doesn't ignore the adult characters. Amelia's parents and her aunt have a substantial role in the series. They also have their own plot lines which aren't dumbed down for the younger reader. Charming and endearing, Amelia Rules is well worth the read for both girls and boys of all ages. The pace is energetic, the dialogue is humorous without being overly sweet, and Gownley has a keen sense of what life looks like from a kid's point of view. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Smile by Raina Telegeimer, Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Description: Ten-year-old Amelia is getting used to living in a small town. Sure, it was hard to leave New York after her parents divorced. But now that she's got her friends, she's starting to feel like things just might be okay. That is, until her mom says they might be moving again--across town, to a new school district. Can things get any worse for Amelia? When Amelia meets her new friend Trish and learns about the terrible secret she's hiding, Amelia realizes that sometimes you just have to look adversity in the face and then give it a wedgie on its way out the door.

Review: Though constantly compared to the Peanuts comics, the Amelia Rules delivers more than punchlines and adorable illustrations. I think this series's greatest strength lines in its emotional content. Gownley's portrays situations with all the gravity they have to a tween. While from an adult's point of view it may be piddly, it is a huge deal to a kid. Grownley knows his audience and handles the problems of a younger reader with care.
   Superheroes is the third volume of the Amelia Rules series, and probably the most emotional by far. There are a wide range of emotions explored in this slim volume. Watching Amelia moving away from her friends, coping with a new friend moving away, a bike accident on a scary and dark road, and the projections of what happens to Amelia as she grows up are by turns heartbreaking and hopeful. Gownley balances the dark with the light in equal moments. After finishing the volume, you are comforted knowing that the characters have experienced something that you also went through and that yes, there will be times when life sucks and everything is dark and gloomy but it's only temporary.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Smile by Raina Telegeimer, Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Rummanah Aasi
  After a stressful week at work and finishing a heavy yet thrilling book, I needed a time-out. I wanted my next read to be fun and light. The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress fit the bill exactly. Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy of the book which I received through the publisher via Netgalley (thank you!).

Description (from Goodreads): Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician's assistant. The three young women's lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man. It's up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.

Review: The Friday Society is a book that celebrates girl power and highlights three strong, spunky, and charismatic characters. Each heroine has her own set of problems and back stories, which are well paced and told in some anachronistic language in the narrative voice to get to the core of the character's personality. I adored each one, but if I had to choose a favorite it would be Cora. Cora is driven by her intelligence and her passion to prove others that she is just more than a pretty face. Logical and her wonderful snarky comments continuously made me smile. To balance Cora's personality, we have Michiko--a fiercely focused samurai in training, and Nellie--the blunt, cheery, and deceptively talented, glamorous magician's apprentice. Each girl brings about a wide variety of uniqueness to the group with their special skills and talents. What I loved most about these girls is their ability to continuously disprove that they are merely stereotypical caricatures of women of their time, which is a constant theme running throughout the entire book. Ultimately, Cora, Nellie, and Michiko team up to try to free London of its newest murderer as a string of events lead them to one another. Their chemistry really flows perfectly and shines in this book.
   I'm still a newbie when it comes to the steampunk genre so I'm always have a bit trepidation when it comes to the technological details, worried that I'd get lost in the details. I appreciated that Kress blended the steampunk flair with gadgets, corsets, etc., but it also maintains a modern feel as well as the historical setting of Edwarian England.
  Like the book itself, the plot is simple yet highly entertaining. Bomb threats, a mysterious society, a man obsessed with eyes, the murders of people surrounding the girls-there is always something happening and I never got a chance to get bored. I especially loved how the girls randomly teamed up once their realized that they all shared the same goal. I also really appreciated that Kress took the time for each girl to have her spotlight in figuring out the murder mystery which allowed them to use their special skills and talent. While the resolution to mysterious may be a tad predictable and the villains to be flatter than I would have liked, I enjoyed the journey. I know past readers have commented on the lack of romance in the book and yes, it is not quite developed but it really didn't bother me because I was more focused on the girl power.
  The Friday Society is not without its flaws, but if you're in the mood for an amusing, enlivening read, this is exactly the kind of book I would recommend picking up. Although all the plot threads wrap up in the end, the book leaves with a possibility for a sequel or a promise of a series. I really hope there is one as I loved these characters and I'm more than willing to spend more time with them.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, underage drinking, a visit to an opium den, and some disturbing images. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter, Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
Rummanah Aasi

I have been looking forward to this morning and anxiously awaiting the announcement of several Children and Young Adult book awards. The Young Media Awards are like the Oscars for many librarians, including myself. The awards took place at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting at Seattle, Washington. Although there are many awards honored today, I was looking forward to finding out the winners for the CaldecottNewberyMorris, and of course the Michael L. Printz Award. You can find the other winners on the Association for Library Services to Children website and the Young Adult Library Services website (YALSA).

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of  Randolph Caldecott, who was a nineteenth-century English illustrator. The award is given annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Winner of the 2013 Caldecott Medal is:

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Honorees of the 2013 Caldecott are:

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue
Green by Laura Seeger
One Cool Friend by Tony Buzzeo

The Newbery Medal was named in the honor of John Newbery, who was an eighteenth century British bookseller. Like the Caldecott, it is also awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Winner of the 2013 Newberry Medal is: 

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Honorees of the 2013 Newberry are:

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

The William C. Morris YA Debut Award was first awarded in 2009 by YALSA. The award is given to a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

Winner of the 2013 Morris Award is: 

Seraphina by Rachel Hartmann

Honorees of the 2013 Morris Award are:

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby
Love and Other Perishable Items (also known as Good Oil in Australia) by Laura Buzo
After the Snow by Sophie D. Crockett

 The Michael L. Printz Award was named in the honor of Michael L. Printz, a school librarian in Topeaka, Kansas, who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. The Michael L. Printz Award is an award given annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association to a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.

Winner of the 2013 Michael Printz Award is:

In Darkness by Nick Lake

Honorees of the 2013 Printz Award are:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz *Also the Stonewall Award Winner

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
White Bicycle by Beverly Brenna

  Well, the library associations have spoken. What do you think of these book awards? Will you read the books that have won and have been honored? 
Rummanah Aasi
  I read Unwind by Neal Shusterman back in 2008. It was one of the most disturbing, thought provoking books that I've ever read. When I heard it was going to be series, I was simultaneously excited yet worried. My expectations for the sequel was very high and I left it unread for several days in fear that I would be greatly disappointed. After being reassured from fellow Unwind fans that I would enjoy it, I took the plunge and I wasn't disappointed.

Description (edited to avoid spoilers): In a future world where those between the ages of thirteen and eighteen can have their lives "unwound" and their body parts harvested for use by others, three teens go to extreme lengths to survive until they turn eighteen. The morality behind unwinding has finally been brought into question. It has now become big business, and there are powerful political and corporate interests that want to see it not only continue, but expand, allowing the unwinding of prisoners and the impoverished. In this chilling tale of survival, how far are you willing to go to save your own life?

Review: Please note that this review is intentionally vague in order to avoid spoilers for either of the books. In the Unwind series, our current world is in chaos. After a terrible war between the Pro-Life and the Pro-Choice, an amendment called "The Bill of Life" was added to the Constitution. The Bill of Life states that life of any child is protected from conception until the age of 13. Once a child reaches 13 a parent then has the right to unwind their child. Unwinding is a process where the child officially remains alive – but in a “divided state.” Every part of the body is harvested at a Harvest Camp and preserved and later used for people that need replacement parts. For example, if someone is suffering from heart failure – instead of having your traditional bypass surgery you just get a new, live heart that once belonged to a child that was Unwound. A parent or legal guardian can sign the unwinding order for any reason (i.e. they can't financially afford to support their child, don't like their child, etc) for their child until the child reaches 18. With this chilling and horrifying premise, Shusterman plays with all of our darkest fears such as death, abandonment, disappointment, and the fear of being unloved and challenges his readers to think of what lengths they would go to in order to save themselves in this gripping and brilliantly imagined thriller.
  While Unwind focuses on the individual, unwinding experiences of three teens, UnWholly provides its readers with a lot more historical context of how the Bill of Life came to be. Not only do we reconnect with the main cast of characters from the first book, we are also introduced to new characters, some of which you hate with a passion and others that evoke your sympathy yet make you feel uncomfortable with their presence. Each character is fully realized with their flaws and strengths drawn with equal strokes. The story is told through multiple perspectives, which is done quite well.
  UnWholly could have easily been your standard middle book, but thankfully Shusterman gives equal time to  character development and story arc without losing its intense action sequences and incredible pace in his short chapters. There were many times where I thought I knew where the story was headed, but the author threw a curve ball several times and left me unsure. I took a long time, by my standards, to finish UnWholly but that is not a reflection of the book's quality. For me the horror described both metaphorically and literally in the book seeped into my bones and I needed some distance after reading it which is why I read it sections. Still I had to force myself to close the book both in fear of the foreshadowing and ominous tones in the book.
  If you are looking for an edge of your seat thriller that makes you think and are tired of all the hype of the next dystopian ala "Hunger Games" derivative, definitely pick up this series. This series is sure to get you out of a reading rut and has been proven effective to get reluctant readers motivated. To those I've recommended this book to, I've not heard one disappointment yet. The Unwind series will make you feel wide range of emotions from anger to horror, but it will also show you what it means to be alive. Though UnWholly doesn't end in a cliffhanger, I'm very, very excited and interested to see how the events in this series unfold.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, strong violence, disturbing images, and mature themes. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, Gone series by Michael Grant, Afterschool Charisma series by Kumiko Suekane, Maze Runner series by James Dashner, Escape from Furnace series by Alexander Gordon Smith
Rummanah Aasi
 I'm excited to participate in the read-along blog tour of Amy Lignor's Gilded Wings, book two of her Angel Chronicles series. If you are in the mood for a supernatural romance read, be sure to check out the tour and enter the giveaway below!

When Matt and Emily are sent on their second mission they have no idea how truly dark human nature can become. Emily never wanted to face humans again. With the heartache that went on down below, she’s still trying to figure out how to save souls that don’t deserve saving. The only one she wants to see again is Jason - the young man she fell in love with who became the soul mate she simply can’t forget…
   Matt was trained to protect and defend the souls down below. Longing to feel the heartfelt emotions that come from being human, Matt wants nothing more than to have just one life - one chance - to live and love the girl of his dreams…
  The powerful team find themselves in a brand new century, living in the Gilded Age of New York City. Emily takes over the body of Anya, a young Russian girl who arrives on Ellis Island after a hideous tragedy. There she meets up with a strangely familiar young man by the name of Drew Parrish, who helps Anya survive in an unknown world of luxury, snobbery and…obsession.
   What Anya’s inner angel doesn’t know is that the soul she loves is also back. This time around Jason goes by the name of Max Carrow. Once a quiet and kind boy, he’s now part of the ‘Four Hundred Club,’ and wants nothing more than to be among the most admired as he climbs the shaky ladder of society’s elite. As two worlds merge, Emily and Matt struggle under the weight of their “Gilded Wings.” Not only will they have to figure out who they should fight to save, but they must also face a romantic choice that could destroy them both.

Here is a little excerpt from the book for the read-along tour:

“That’s true,” she agreed. Disappointment entered her voice, “He’s just like William Astor; he can’t really stand all the society ridiculousness. But he has to care...for Max and Myles.”
Drew offered a reassuring smile at Anya’s worried look. “Acceptance into that club isn’t something you need to strive for, Anya. They’re even worse than Brighton, believe me.”
“Oh,” Anya stated sourly. “Him.”

“Exactly.” Drew laughed. “Most boring group of people you’d ever want to meet.”
Hope ignored his remarks and continued her ‘who’s who’ tour of American society. “Mrs. Astor never liked the Vanderbilt family. She thinks they’re basically businessmen—a very common lot. But Alva Vanderbilt erected a stunning cottage in Newport, Rhode Island that rivals Beechwood. I’ve never been inside, but from what little I could gather from Mitchell, the thing is massive. Supposedly every room is filled with crystal, bronze statues and expensive works of art. Now...let’s shop!”

Follow the tour from the beginning, by check out these blogs below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Rummanah Aasi
 Manga Mondays is a meme hosted by Alison at Alison Can Read where bloggers can share their passion for reading mangas. It's a great place to get new manga titles to try and to meet new bloggers. Normally I get manga recommendations from friends or what's been popular in libraries. I stumbled upon Boys Over Flowers when I was listening to segment on NPR called "You Must Read This". This short piece caught my attention and I had to find out why it was so strongly recommended. Boys Over Flowers is one of the best selling shojo manga series of all time in Japan and it has been adapted into dramas and animes in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. Thankfully, the series is now complete so I don't have to wait to see how it ends!

Description: When her only friend, Makiko, accidentally offends F4 leader Tsukasa, Tsukushi boldly defends her. Enraged, Tsukushi puts the dreaded red tag in Tsukushi's locker -- a sign that she is now a target for the abuse of the F4 and the entire school. But when Tsukushi fights the gang with their own weapon, Tsukasa finds himself falling for her!

Review: Tsukushi Makino, our heroine and the protagonist of Boys Over Flowers, is a scholarship and transfer student in one of the most expensive and private schools. On her first day of school, her friend Makiko accidentally offends one of the F4, the clique that rules her private, super-rich high school. Shocked and furious that no one would come to her friend's aid, Tsukushi comes forward and protects her friend. Little did she know that her act of bravery has set off a taboo in her school. You see you don't mess with the F4 at any cost otherwise your life will become hell.
  The next day the F4 had Tsukushi a red flag, a symbol that she is to be bullied by everyone in the school. She is ostracized by her schoolmates and subjected to increasing abuse—her desk is stolen, an egg is thrown in her face, and someone writes that she had a pair of abortions on the school blackboard. Instead of backing down and crying, Tsukushi fights back with her fist, flyswatter and foot.
  As you can see bullying and an insight of the clash of social classes create the foundation to this series. The F4 stands for "Flowery Four," (which sounds stupid and weird but I'm sure will make sense as I continue this series). The members of the F4 are all rich and good-looking, dress like supermodels, and strut around the school like they own the place. They have an aura that is both attractive and repellent, the pull of which both Tsukushi and the reader feel. The F4's leader is the creepy Tsukasa Domyoji, who wears pseudo-dreds and is constantly mixing up his phrases. Domyoji is suppose to look like Christian Slater the mangaka's celebrity crush (I don't get it) but he reminds of me of a young Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block. Tsukushi has a strange affect on Domyoji in that she constantly challenges him regardless of how poorly he treats her. It's really no surprise when this volume ends to find out that he harbors a secret crush on her. Thankfully, Tsukushi doesn't reciprocate it and sets her sights on someone else. Part soap opera, part social commentary, and a promise of complex characters, Boys Over Flowers is a manga series that I'm curious to follow.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying including a sexual assault attempt and some language. Recommended for teens and up.

If you like this book try: Ouran High School Host Club by Bistco Hatori, Kodocha by Miho Obana,
Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda
Rummanah Aasi

 Welcome to Forbidden Reads! Join me in celebrating your freedom to read. My goal for this regular feature is to highlight challenged and/or banned books from each literary audience: children's, YA, and adult. Not only will I be doing a review of the book, I will also include information as to where and why the book was challenged/banned.

Join me in the fight against censorship. If you would like to join me and do a review or a guest post for this feature, I would be thrilled! Just email me at: rummanaha(at)hotmail(dotcom) and we'll set up a schedule. I would also love to have an author's input on censorship and their first hand experience. If you are an author who would like to participate in this feature, please email me at  rummanaha(at)hotmail(dotcom).
I'm currently working on a list of books to get me started. I will post all the books I've read for this feature on this page:

                                                            Books I Read for Forbidden Reads

  1. Tenderness by Robert Cormier
  2. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Rummanah Aasi
 The Cove by Ron Rash is a haunting, powerfully moving novel, set in the rural backwoods of North Carolina near the end of World War I. The gripping plot, Gothic atmosphere, and striking descriptions, in particular of the dismal cove, The Cove would is my recommendation for a great romantic suspense read.

Description:  Living deep within a cove in the Appalachians of North Carolina during World War I, Laurel Shelton finally finds the happiness she deserves in Walter, a mysterious stranger who is mute, but their love cannot protect them from a devastating secret.

Review: In the Appalachians of North Carolina near the end of WWI, lonely Laurel Shelton lives with her brother, newly returned from the war, in a forbidding place known as the cove. Shunned all of her life by the townsfolk of Mars Hill because of a large purple birthmark which they believe is mark of her witchcraft, Laurel despairs of ever making a life for herself. Believed to be doomed to a life of solitude and loneliness in an isolated and presumably haunted cove, Laurel stumbles upon a stranger who plays the flute beautifully. Stunned that a person would actually volunteer to be near the cove, Laurel is drawn to the possibility of human contact. She momentarily flees and chides herself that it was only an illusion until she sees same flute player the next day, but only this time he isn't playing his beautiful music but is shaking from the cold and many bee bites. Laurel makes a rapid decision to heal the stranger and nurses him back to health.
  The stranger is later revealed by a note in his clothes claiming his name is Walter and that he is mute. Walter, however, is hiding his true identity because he is well aware that it would place all the lives he has come across in grave danger. As Walter recovers from his injuries, he is able to help Laurel and her brother on the farm as his thanks for their assistance in sheltering and providing for him. Slowly, Walter and Laurel form a bond of trust, friendship, and soon much more. There are not overt gestures of love exchanged between Laurel and Walter, but the romance is clearly evident in the quiet times they spend together. For Walter, Laurel presents an opportunity to forget his past and get a fresh start. For Laurel, Walter is her hope for normalcy and a chance of having to live her life in reality rather than in her dreams. Unfortunately, Laurel and Walter have to face uncertainty and test their relationship as Walter's real identity is revealed. While readers could easily have figured out who the real Walter is, I was more engrossed in how Rash effortlessly summons the rugged Appalachian landscape as well as the small-mindedness and xenophobia of a country in the grip of patriotic fervor, which I don't think is a coincidence considering our politics today. Each character that Rash has created is three dimensional and fully realized. Though the book's ending broke my heart and made me wonder if that cove is truly haunted, I thought the story was powerful and was satisfied that the social commentary stayed at the subtle yet at the same time profound level. I look forward to reading more books by Rash.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language including racial slurs, a brief scene of implied rape, and sexual situations that are not explicitly described. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: This Rock by Robert Morgan or Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Rummanah Aasi
   Summer is a time of relaxation and for kids a chance to have some adventure. So what happens when you find a mysterious homemade film about a monster, an old letter found hidden in the attic, a mystery involving your dad from the time he spent summers at the lake, and a ghost ship? Well, a recipe for awesome adventure of course!

Description: Nicholas and his twin sisters, Hetty and Haley, spend the summer with their Great-Uncle Nick at Forsaken Lake, where he and their new friend Charlie investigate the truth about an accident involving their families many years before.

Review: Summer at Forsaken Lake is a fun, light summer read. If you are expecting something with a bit more depth and significance you may be disappointed with it.
Nicholas and his younger sisters leave New York City for a summer-long visit at their great-uncle's lakeside home in quaint and quiet town in Ohio. Nicholas doubts his summer would be eventual unlike his father's fond memories of summers spent with Uncle Nick. Before long, though, Nicholas befriends Charlie ( an adorable girl with a wicked curveball ), learns to sail, works to finish a boat that his dad had built, and delves into troubling events dating back to his father's long-ago visits to Forsaken Lake. Though mostly in the background, a thread of mystery surrounding a secret kept for thirty years keeps the reader's attention and ultimately ties the inter-generational story together. I was disappointed in how anticlimactic the secret is after a good build up, but I was reading it with my adult lens. I'm not so sure that I would have mind it if I read this as its targeted audience. The characters are all delightful. Nicholas thrives on meeting the new challenges which help boost his self esteem. I enjoyed his friendship with Charlie which I thought unfolded in a realistic pace. Meanwhile, his twin sisters, Hetty and Haley (who names their kid Hetty, anyway?) provide comic relief, often annoying Nicholas by putting on fake British accents and dropping British phrases picked up while reading a sailing book. I would recommend Summer at Forsaken Lake for readers looking for a light but good summer read and is tired of all the prominent fantasy series that are available.

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: The Classroom by Robin Mellom, Raider's Ransom by Emily Diamand
Rummanah Aasi
  More realistic YA fiction is now focusing on the military. The shift seems to switch between characters in war or about to go to war to those people who are left behind and on the outskirts of war. While He Was Away by Karen Schrek is not the first nor the best book I read that centers on the military.
Description:  One year--he'll be gone for one year and then we'll be together again and everything will be back to the way it should be. The day David left, I felt like my heart was breaking. Sure, any long-distance relationship is tough, but David was going to war--to fight, to protect, to put his life in danger. We can get through this, though. We'll talk, we'll email, we won't let anything come between us. I can be an army girlfriend for one year. But will my sweet, soulful, funny David be the same person when he comes home? Will I? And what if he doesn't come home at all?

Review: I was expecting While He Was Away would be an eye opening and emotional read, but unfortunately it left me unsatisfied. The book's premise holds promise but it's poor execution left the plot and the characters floundering. Towards the end of the book, I found myself skimming a lot of it just so I could finish it.
  The overall plot of While He Was Away is very straightforward. Penna and David are a couple who are now about to be separated due to David's deployment to Iraq. Penna is now left to face the struggles once he was gone. The book could have gone in several directions such as questions about the couple's fidelity, death, and/or the causes of war. Schreck doesn't take any of these roads, but litters the overall story-arc with multiple subplots that briefly touch upon each of these ideas. It was as if the author couldn't decide where she wanted to go with the story so just added a little bit of this and that to increase the page count. Instead of capturing my attention, it left me frustrated and well, bored.
   Though I understood the magnitude of Penna's emotional turmoil, I did not feel any emotional connection towards her. I thought she was too needy and too focused on David. I understand that young love can be consuming, but she basically felt lost and empty when David was gone. Another thing that really annoyed me was her relationship with her mother and David's fallen out best friend Ravi. Out of all the subplots, I thought the relationship between Penna and her mother had the most potential. Issues such as abandonment, forgiveness, and duty were all expressed but unfortunately the subplot was stagnate with Penna constantly blaming her mother everything that's wrong in her life and then it was quickly and unrealistically resolved with an apology. Penna's relationship with David's former best friend Ravi doesn't fair much better. Ravi symbolizes the anger, racism, and the back lash that several Asian communities received during the aftermath of 9/11. Mistaken as an Arab, Ravi is brutally bullied to the extent that he quit school altogether. Instead of delving into these issues, the author chooses instead to use Ravi as a potential love interest with Penna constantly assuring herself multiple times that he is just David's friend whenever they exchanged a few awkward conversations, but nothing happened to make us infer a new romance was on the horizon.
   Although the plot and characters were dull, what truly made me disappointed with this book is a scene which shows how David and Penna go on a website to play this game where the target was an Arabic guy, and the point of the game was to shoot red paint balls a la a gun and bullets so they will splatter all over him (as if he is bleeding). While Penna was hesitant, David told her "Think of 9/11, he totally deserves this". When I read this, I was completely stunned. I even had to reread it again to see if I misread. Not only did I find it completely offensive towards me as a Muslim. I was dumbstruck on how such an unbelievable generalization that all Arabs (or anyone with a brown skin color for that matter) and Muslims are terrorists. I really had hoped that there would be a good explanation of using this website, but there is none that I was satisfied with (an author note says the website is real and the creator made it after one of his family member was randomly shot in Iraq) besides pointing out how people thought about 9/11. I wanted and expected more from While He Was Away.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some brief and candid discussion of sex and war. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt, Back Home by Julia Keller
Rummanah Aasi
  Manga Mondays is a meme hosted by Alison at Alison Can Read where bloggers can share their passion for reading mangas. It's a great place to get new manga titles to try and to meet new bloggers. Afterschool Charisma manga series a great science fiction read that has an interesting story line and probes the reader to question everything that he or she has learned.

Description: Kai, the terrorist and leader of the clone rebellion, continues his story of the past and paints a bleak potential future for the clones if they don't spring into action. Meanwhile Shiro is in an odd position. He had always thought of himself as an original, but now he learns startling facts about himself: he is just like any othe clone. Now he wonders what his role in the St. Kelio's Academy really is.

Review:  Afterschool Charisma continues to be a manga series that focuses on the deeper philosophical questions rather than an action packed plot. In the sixth volume, the characters puzzle over the age old question, "Who are we?" and "What are we suppose to do with our lives?" Though we are given more details about the history of the elite academy, I'm still unsure of what percent is truth and propaganda. The militant Kia does paint a convincing picture of clones simply decaying and "reprogrammed" if they don't follow the same footsteps of the past. Like the last volume in which we are given two versions of clone Hitler as an example to illustrate his point, this volume gives us Elizabeth (Elizabeth the Virgin Queen). The first Elizabeth clone is obsessed with learning from books. She is secluded in a room and driven to insanity, claiming she still not educated enough. The second Elizabeth clone is depressed from not being chosen by a buyer. Unwanted and driven by curiosity of what lies beyond the gates of the Academy, she plans an escape and fails.
  I am enjoying the way this manga is told. We have been setup to believe one thing and find out that it is a lie. Shiro is in the works to be another Kai, a clone guardian. He has been led to believe that he is an original human and his only friends are the clones so he naturally bonds with them. Will he also take part in the clone rebellion? Will his opinion of the clones and himself now change? I guess I'll have to wait for volume 7 to see what happens next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are mature themes and brief moments of strong violence, and some language. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Afterschool Charisma Vol. 7 by Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Hetalia: Axis Powers by 
Rummanah Aasi
  Last year I picked up pictures books and I've gotten to appreciate them much more than I did as a child. I hope to continue read and review them in the future. If you have any recommendations for me, please list them in the comments and I'll check them out!

Description: An account of Amelia Earhart's dangerous 1932 flight across the Atlantic Ocean from Newfoundland to Ireland, in which she survived bad weather and a malfunctioning airplane. Includes a brief biography of the aviator.

Review: On a May evening in 1932, Amelia Earhart climbed into her single-engine, red Lockheed Vega and flew across the ocean, departing from Newfoundland and landing on a farm in Northern Ireland. Burleigh's suspenseful text and Minor's shifting perspectives work together to pull readers into the drama and action as they experience the anxiety and exhilaration that accompanied this historic flight. Earhart's skill, stamina, and courage are put to the test when a thunderstorm erupts, her altimeter breaks, and icy wings cause the plane to plummet. You could feel yourself become frighten for Amelia and for a brief moment wonder what terror she must have felt being in that plane alone. The third-person narrative is arranged in two-line stanzas of free verse; the language is fresh and evocative, morphing to match Amelia's tenacity. I loved the illustrations in this book which brings the text to life. You can picture yourself flying next to Amelia and have a panoramic view of the sea and sky. I think this book would incite curiosity about flying and all the various requirements that pilots have to go through in order to fly. The book also includes a technical note, bibliography, and inspirational quotes from Earhart's writings. This a great picture book biography that I think both girls and boys would enjoy.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2-4.

If you like this book try: Talkin' About Bessie by Nikki Grimes, Bravest Woman in America by Marissa Moss

Description: Full of fun historical facts, this book is the true story of how bubble gum was invented.

Review: This was a fun nonfiction read. It's got some amusing illustrations, easy text to read, and fun history facts behind the invention of bubble gum. The story also touches briefly on the origin of gum, and the back matter a short biography of Diemer, a fact list about gum, and a bibliography to make this book a more thorough package. I wouldn't necessarily pick this one up from the shelves, but I think with a pitch about candy (always a kid's favorite) it might get its readership. Overall, a pretty entertaining story.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2-4

If you like this book try: Apples by Gail Gibbons

Description: Pete the cat wears his school shoes when visiting the library, the lunchroom, the playground, and more while singing his special song.

Review: The first day of school can cause lots of anxiety for the little ones. Blue cat Pete is here to help make his readers a little less nervous with his proved his ability to roll with the punches when his white sneakers were accidentally stained red. Sporting the red treads for the first day of school, Pete is unflappable. He smoothly goes with the flow throughout the day. School setting is nicely drawn with appealing eye-catching colors. There's humor to be found in the deadpan expressions of Pete and his fellow cats as he sits with friends in the lunchroom, plays at recess, and solves math problems on the board. There is also a free song that you can listen to while you're reading the book that might increase the reader's enjoyment of the story.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades PreK-2

If you like this book try: Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel, Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton
Rummanah Aasi
  Charley Davidson was one of my best finds from last year. There are currently four books in the series that are currently out. I'm eagerly awaiting the release of Fifth Grave Past the Light, which releases this July. I love spending time with Charley and company.

Description: Part-time Private Investigator and full time Grim Reaper extraordinaire, Charley Davidson, is back and drinking copious amounts of caffeine to stay awake because, every time she closes her eyes, she sees him: Reyes Alexander Farrow. Yes, she did royally piss him off the last time they met, but how else is she suppose to solve her cases and deal with all the other kinds of drama in her life?

Review: This third installment of the Charley Davidson series is probably my favorite so far. The writing and the plot structure are a lot stronger. The subplots in this book held my attention throughout, which is a complaint that I had of the first two books as I thought they seem to clutter the mysterious relationship between Charley and her mercurial love interest, Reyes. Each subplot carried the same theme and tone throughout so it never took you out of the story, but rather pushed you to read just another page or chapter when you thought you could take a break.
  Books in a series can become formulaic very quickly, but Jones avoids this as she introduces new characters and carefully places plot twists that I did not see coming. Family drama and relationship issues offers its own interesting and complicating dimensions to the story. We are given some answers as to how Charley and Reyes fit into the little event called the Apocalypse  Like Charley, we are also left in the dark about how powerful she truly is and we very impatient for more answers.
  The series trademark is not in the mysteries that Charley solves, which could easily be solved by readers who pay careful attention to the clues that are sprinkled across the pages, but rather its characters and their irresistible humor. Charley's humor is infectious and within minutes she has me laughing. Her snarky comments and levity to the dark situations that she finds herself. A normal person would throw in the towel and say that can't held it but Charley is not ordinary by any means. Charley's best friend and partner in crime, Cookie, is the epitome of a best friend. She runs with Charley's antics and plays off her off beat humor. I can only imagine all the conversations they would share in the office.
  Reyes still continues to confuse me. Though he is undoubtedly physically attractive, I didn't like him at all in this book. Part of me wonders if he is trying to make Charley hate him on purpose, but he does have some sweet moments that me make hesitate to say he is evil. I know there is a lot about Reyes we don't know and I'm eager to find out more. Readers looking for a funny, fun, and charming book with some doses of paranormal and romance should definitely pick this series up. It'll brighten up anyone's horrible day.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, crude humor, some strong violence, and a few sexual situations. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Fourth Grave Dead Ahead by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson #4), Accidental Friends series by Dakota Cassidy, Peper Martin series by Casey Daniels, Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson, and the Chicagoland Vampire series by Chloe Neill
Rummanah Aasi
  I've gotten a great response from reviewing challenged books and though I'm not participating in any banned/challenged books this year, I do plan on continuing reviewing these books as I think it's important information to know. I am even considering making it my own meme/feature for my blog. What do you think?

Description: While running away from home and an unwanted marriage, a thirteen-year-old Eskimo girl becomes lost on the North Slope of Alaska and is befriended by a wolf pack.

Review: During my younger reluctant reading days, I was handed a copy of Julie of the Wolves to read since I absolutely loved and adored Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins and was hoping to read a similar story. I did not finish Julie of the Wolves because the plot moved too slowly for me and I couldn't connect with Julie at all.
  Now after several years I tried Julie of Wolves again since it is one of the most frequently and prominent children's book that has challenged. Looking at the reasons listed for the challenges, I quickly realized that this book is one that I ought to know about.
  Though I still find the plot pacing to be very slow and found the protagonist to be a bit aloof, I immediately drawn into her desperate situation. In the first half of the book, she is alone and struggles to befriend a pack of wolves in the snowy backdrop of Alaska in the hopes that the wolves would give her food and their protection. She spends a lot of trying to understand the wolves' behavior in efforts to communicate with them. Slowly, the wolves become somewhat comfortable around her. Soon the wolves become an allegory of her troubling family situations.
  Julie of the Wolves is a many layered adventure story that also brushes upon colonialism and self discovery just to name a few. For example Julie's real name is Miyax but she is called Julie when she goes to school where she learns how to read and write English. Miyax is torn between abandoning her "old" Eskimo customs and culture in order to become more "civilized" in the modern world of the white-man “gussak". Though she enjoys and is successful at learning English, she is taken out of school because she has become a marriageable age. Troubling home situation after another, Miyax runs away into the Alaskan wilderness and must decide for herself what life she wants to lead. Although the climax and the ultimate ending of the story seem troubling, bleak, and unsatisfying, it speaks of  Miyax's maturity and her newly gained independence.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Why it was challenged: Julie of the Wolves is listed at #32 on the ALA's most frequently challenged books 1990-1999 and #91 on the 2000-2009  list. The reasons for the book challenged are: references to alcoholism, divorce, abuse  (therefore, anti-family), for sexual content, offensive language, violence and being unsuited to age group. Source: Marshall Library and MVCC library guide.

Words of Caution: There are allusions to adult alcoholism and a glimpse of domestic abuse. Recommended for Grades 7 and up. The most notable scene which the challenges are referring to is that of Miyax's marriage to Daniel, a boy who is described as "mentally slow" and that of her in-laws. Daniel's father is an alcoholic and we learn that Eskimos have a low tolerance to alcohol. Daniel's father becomes an angry drunk and hits his wife. The readers don't see this happening but we hear it from one of Miyax's friends. Meanwhile Daniel storms home and is angry that people from his village are making fun of him that he can't please his wife. In a fit, Daniel pushes Miyax down and rips her shirt. Many readers have construed this small scene as rape, but when I read this scene I didn't find any contextual clues to suggest this. Not to condone his behavior, Daniel jumps up and says "he can" and soon leaves. The author has said that she needed a very urgent and important event happen to Julie in order to motivate her to leave her situation and find her own life as family is extremely important to the Eskimo culture.

If you like this book try: Julie (Julie of the Wolves #2) by Jean Craighead George, Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Rummanah Aasi
 Readers looking for a great paranormal romantic suspense book recommendation should look no further than the Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting. This series is sure to grab anyone's attention. Unlike some protagonists that have extraordinary powers that I would love to have, I definitely do not want Violet's and would much rather prefer being an ordinary human.

Description (from Goodreads): Violet kept her morbid ability to sense dead bodies a secret from everyone except her family and her childhood-best-friend-turned-boyfriend, Jay Heaton. That is until forensic psychologist Sara Priest discovered Violet’s talent and invited her to use her gift to track down murderers. Now, as she works with an eclectic group of individuals—including mysterious and dangerously attractive Rafe—it’s Violet’s job to help those who have been murdered by bringing their killers to justice. When Violet discovers the body of a college girl killed by “the girlfriend collector” she is determined to solve the case. But now the serial killer is on the lookout for a new “relationship” and Violet may have caught his eye....

Review: The Last Echo returns the Body Finder series to its creepy, spine-tingling, and suspenseful premise and format. Violet has the ability to feel "echoes," sensations that help her find dead bodies and killers. While still struggling with accepting her ability, she has more or less become involved in solving horrendous murder crimes. She has now caught the eye of Agent Sarah who runs a special team of teens working on high-profile projects for the police and has been invited to join the team. Soon Violet finds out that there are other teens like her who have extraordinary powers such as divining facts from objects and talking to ghosts just to name a few. For once Violet doesn't feel like a freak, but she also can't shake off the uneasiness of being on the outside as she isn't told much about the special team and no one with the exception of the hot and cold Rafe seems to reluctantly open up to her.
  Derting works suspense and a tightly held plot quite well in The Last Echo. We are given little clues about the special team and an inside glimpse of Rafe's personal life, but not complete answers. I'm still ambivalent about the special team introduced in the book as a lot of its history is cloaked in mystery. Who is Sarah's supervisor  How long have they had their eyes on Violet? Does Violet a contract with them or can she leave at any time?
    Aside from learning about the special team, Violet's therapy session with her shrink, hired by the special team's organizers, due to panic attacks and nightmares is a fascinating look at Violet's psyche and plays an important role in Violet's new case. The therapy sessions puts Violet out of her comfort zone, particularly when asked about her ability and how far she is willing to work for her team. Violet's strength, physical, mental, and emotional, are put to the test when she is placed in some tense situations. Her latest case involves women who are being murdered by the "collector," a serial killer who attacks victims and dresses them as if they were going on dates. And in a separate matter, she encounters James Nua, a man with strong echoes from murdering his girlfriend and children. The Collector and James Nua are both equally disturbing and terrifying. Though their antics are not described in details, we are given enough information to cause goosebumps and shudder. Like many other teens found in similar situations in YA books who don't report their worries to their parents, Violet simple safety precautions which did illicit my frustration as a reader but she did demonstrates maturity and courage in many ways of getting out of tricky situations which I admired.
  Although the relationship between Violet and Jay took precedence in book two of this series, Desires of the Dead, the romance is less apparent and regulated in the background. While there are sweet moments, there is a potential of a love triangle. Rafe is a brooding guy with secrets and Violet's inability to detect his mood swings and understand him confuses and intrigues her. There is also the unexplained energy shocks that occurs whenever Rafe and Violet come into physical contact. Luckily, Violet doesn't spend time pondering "what if" scenarios about Rafe and she truly does love her best-friend turned boyfriend Jay but does her complicated feelings about Rafe mean that she is betraying her loyal boyfriend? I really truly hope not. I would like to see one couple who can stay safe from a love triangle plus I adore Violet and Jay as a couple. While The Last Echo doesn't end on a cliffhanger, we are left with a cruel teaser and I can't wait to find out what obstacles throws into the path of our heroine. You might want to read this one right before bed unless you don't mind leaving the lights on while you sleep.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and disturbing images. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Dead Silence (Body Finder #4) by Kimberly Derting, coming April 2013Graveyard Queen series by Amanda Stevens, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Spookygirl by Jill Baguchinsky, Touch by Francine Prose, Slide by Jill Hathaway
Rummanah Aasi
  Manga Mondays is a meme hosted by Alison at Alison Can Read where bloggers can share their passion for reading mangas. It's a great place to get new manga titles to try and to meet new bloggers. The last volume of Afterschool Charisma left me with a cliffhanger of sorts. A huge event happened and ended in the fourth volume with a promise of an explanation in volume five. My problem? Volume five was constantly checked out since last May and by that time volume six was also published. So, I guess it's a mixed bag that since I got a  hold of both volumes and read them. Unlike the Nana manga series that is filled with drama with a capital "D", the Afterschool Charisma manga series gives me a brain cramp filled constant flurries of "What if?"s floating in  my head as I turn the pages.

Description: In the aftermath of the disastrous school expo at St. Kleio Academy, an exclusive school of famous historical clones, where some of the clones were killed (most noteably Joan of Arc who was burned the stake), a returning clone known only as “Kai” who bears a disturbing resemblance to Shirou tells a story about the previous generation of clones and what could have turned him and others into “terrorists” working against the school.

Review: I really wished the publishers and the authors would work harder in recapping the story thus far before continuing the story arc. It's a good thing that I reviewed my older review posts as well as checked out some other reviewers before diving into this latest volume. Volume 5 promised some answers, but like the nature of this entire manga series it provides more questions than answers.
  Volume 5 centers around the main questions of why clones, regardless if they are famous historical figures, are made? What is the purpose of St. Kleio Academy? Are the lives of clones entitled to make their own mark or are they predestined to follow their footsteps of their predecessor?
  The mysterious "Kai", who is an ordinary person that was cloned, is our peek inside St. Kleio Academy. Though set up like a school, the academy is a breeding farm that herds clones like cattle and sell them off to auctions. The clones are forced to follow their predecessor's footsteps (i.e. have the same accomplishments, skills, and even behavior/personality). If the clone is seen to be out of place, they are aborted and created anew. Kai is an interesting character, who makes you feel torn between feeling sorry for him and making you wonder what plans he has up his sleeves. As the main figure who catalyzed the clone rebellion (or is the rebellion just for the amusement of the Academy director?), he provides information to the current class of clones. Now whether this information is true or just another form of propaganda, that yet to be determined.
  In addition to Kai, we are given different scenarios of what clones can accomplish in this volume. The most striking clone for me in this series has been the young Hitler. Like his care-free personality, his youthful and innocent physical appears is very striking. There are two clone Hitlers explored. The first Hitler is a very talented young artist who has no political ambitions whatsoever. Once discovered this clone suddenly disappears and a new Hitler clone appears. The second Hitler clone is aware and appalled by his original's actions. He gives his whole life up to a religious institution and atones for his original's sins and dies a noble death. With these two versions of what could have been, we can't help but wonder if the old saying "history will repeat itself?" rings true.
  I really enjoy how the moral ambiguities of cloning as it lends itself to discussion and it's really what draws me to this series. I really want to know about what society needs these clones of historical figures for that they are producing them and auctioning them off like a meat market. What societal pressure is causing this? What exactly are they expected to do out there?

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some crude sexual humor, a brief scene of nudity, and violence. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book then try: Afterschool Charisma Vol. 6 by Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Hetalia: Axis Powers by 
Rummanah Aasi
   I have been really curious about Kat Zhang's debut novel, What's Left of Me, when I saw several bloggers post about this book for their Waiting on Wednesday meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. With some many dystopians feeling like derivatives of the Hunger Games series, I had hoped this book would be much more unique and for the most part it delivers. 

Description (from the publisher): Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else-- two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren't they settling? Why isn't one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn't. For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she's still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-- hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet-- for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

Review: Everyone is born as a hybrid: two souls occupying one body. Only, in futuristic America, it's illegal to remain a hybrid. The dominant soul is supposed to take over, and the recessive, weaker one, is supposed to disappear, usually by the time the child is six. Even though Addie was the stronger soul, Eva held on. Despite the fact that she could no longer move or speak to anyone but Addie, Eva didn't go away and is very much present. Now that they are teens, Addie and Eva have adopted rules of behavior in order to survive: don't stand out, don't be exceptional, blend in at all costs that is until the girls become friends with Hally and her brother, Devon, who are also undercover hybrids. The siblings are able to show the sisters that Eva can reemerge and have her freedom, but it will be costly. Eva's freedom comes at high price: imprisonment in a hospital that wants to "cure" kids of being hybrids and where patients who "go home" are never heard from again.
  What's Left of Me is a uniquely imagined dystopian novel that has lots of potentials and for the most part doesn't fall short in the execution. Zhang's prose is lovely, and the plot moves at a steady pace as the sisters being to realize the troubles they find themselves into at the hospital. I liked how the dystopian America that Zhang has created touches upon important topics and controversies that we are currently facing today such as xenophobia, identity, ethics, and choice. We don't know much about the America that Addie and Eva live in besides the fact that hybrids have been forbidden for decades and "settling"-allowing the dominant soul to assert itself- is mandatory. The mystery about why their society is so desperate to "fix" hybrids is what compelled me to continue reading. An abundance of questions remain, even after Zhang's well-orchestrated nail-biter of an ending which thankfully isn't a cliffhanger. 
 Although I liked the characters and enjoyed the unique premise, the reason why I gave this book three and half stars instead of four is that I wanted all the hybrids to have a very strong, individual personality so I could tell the two sisters apart without having the characters constantly identifying themselves. Though the book is narrated by Eva, I found the exchange between her and her sister and their personalities to be very subtle. There is also a budding romance which I wished was developed a little bit more, but I think that will change in the next installment of the series. It is easy to place What's Left of Me with other dystopians novels that are now released, but I think the premise will grab many readers. I do plan on continuing this series.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are few disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: The Host by Stephenie Meyer, Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kelsey
Rummanah Aasi
 In 2011, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Smile by Raina Telgemier and have been recommending it to readers of all ages and genders. So when I saw the graphic novelist write another book, I jumped at the chance to read it. Though geared particularly to junior students with issues of crushes, friendship, and sexual identity, I think it would be welcomed with many readers just like Smile

Description: Callie rides an emotional roller coaster while serving on the stage crew for a middle school production of Moon over Mississippi as various relationships start and end, and others never quite get going.

Review: Callie is a middle schooler who loves the theater. Though she knows she can't participate as an actress since she doesn't have the vocal talent, Callie is fine being the set manager. When her school puts on one of her favorite musicals, Callie volunteers as part of the stage crew with a promise that she will wow everyone. She goes all out to make the most dramatic and memorable stage scenes. Not only is there a lot of drama onstage, there is even more backstage as Callie navigates her capricious, hormone driven heart. 
 Callie is an endearing protagonist. She reminds us of ourselves during the weird transition phase that is called middle school. She is neither the most popular nor the prettiest of her class, but an ordinary girl who is passionate about her favorite subject. Like her middle school status, her ever changing crushes is common. Telegeimer handles the complexities of young love with honesty, comedy, and warmth in equal measures. We see Callie go from from being so excited to be with her long-time crush to being very sad as she feels like a wet towel when her crush drops her and gets back with his girlfriend and his brother, who seems have a thing for Callie, all of sudden gives her the cold shoulder. Callie's attention is now drawn to two new students who happen to be twin brothers. Callie's feelings for the brothers as they become closer pin back and forth between friendship and crush. 
  Telegeimer ventures into the murky waters of young tweens trying to discover their own sexual identity and she swims it quite well. We find out certain characters are gay while others are still questioning or uncertain. Sexual identity while explored and pondered by the characters don't overtake the story and as a reader you are simply rooting for the characters to be themselves and hope that whatever choice they make they will be happy. I'm glad that tweens and teens have a graphic novel like Drama that not only have warm colors and stylish art work, but a story that is open and has a welcoming yet realistic, sympathetic story that shows how complicated relationships can be. There is no doubt that Telgemeier has a keen eye for young teen life.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. I think this graphic novel is geared towards to middle school and up where kids are discovering themselves including their sexual orientation. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, Re-Gifters by Mike Carey
Rummanah Aasi
  While I didn't get a chance to completely finish my Banned/Challenged reading challenge from last year, I did manage to squeeze in a few more reads before the challenge's deadline. I've read many stories about the following books but haven't actually read them until now.

Description: Fearing that her legal guardian plans to abandon her to return to France, ten-year-old aspiring scientist Lucky Trimble determines to run away while also continuing to seek the Higher Power that will bring stability to her life.

Review: It's a shame that one word overshadowed a great book. The Higher Power of Lucky is story of a young girl named Lucky who lives in tiny, poor town Hard Pan, California with her dog and the young French woman who is her guardian. Her mother died in a thunderstorm and her father handed her over to his first exwife, a French woman named Brigitte. With a personality that reminded Ramona Quimby, a character that I absolutely adored,  Lucky is contemporary and relate-able. She teeters between being a grown-up that can easily gather insects and scares away snakes without any hesitation yet she is vulnerable and fears that her guardian will leave her to return to France at any moment. Looking for solace, Lucky eavesdrops on the various 12-step meetings held in Hard Pan, hoping to discover her own higher power that will see her when she hits 'rock bottom'. Peppered with memorable secondary characters such as her best friend and crush, Lincoln, who has a fixation for tying knots, and a little, adorable yet pesky toddler named, Miles, who can relate to Lucky's fears. Patron's plotting is as tight as her characters are endearing. Lucky is a true heroine, especially because she's not perfect: she does some cowardly things, but she takes pains to put them to rights.

Rating: 4 stars

Reason why it was banned/challenged: There was a big controversy when the book was published, specifically because the word scrotum appears a handful of times throughout the book. Lucky first hears of the word while eavesdropping on a conversation when a character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum. Many educators including elementary school librarians felt the inclusion of the "s-word" was highly inappropriate and unnecessary. They even called for the book to be removed from library shelves and some even thought the book should be stripped of its Newbery award. I, personally, feel that the inclusion of the word is a nod to Lucky's curiosity which natural for her age. Though she wonders what the word means as she thinks it's important, she isn't fixated on it and nor does it drive the story. Unfortunately, this controversy has overshadowed the book's importance. Most people including me had to really think of the book's real title instead of referring it as the book with the "S-word". To read more about the controversy, read the New York Times article and then the author's response as well as her interview.

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

If you like this book try: Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

Description: At New York City's Central Park Zoo, two male penguins fall in love and start a family by taking turns sitting on an abandoned egg until it hatches.

Review: And Tango Makes Three is based on a true story about a charming penguin family living in New York City's Central Park Zoo. In this heartwarming story, readers will meet Roy and Silo, two male penguins, who are "a little bit different" than the other penguins. They cuddle and share a nest like the other penguin couples, and when all the others start hatching eggs, they too want to be parents. Determined and hopeful, they bring an egg-shaped rock back to their nest and proceed to start caring for it. They have little luck, until a watchful zookeeper decides they deserve a chance at having their own family and gives them an egg in need of nurturing. The dedicated and enthusiastic fathers do a great job of hatching their funny and adorable daughter. Done in soft watercolors, the illustrations set the tone for this uplifting story. The words are matched well with the illustrations and the message of tolerance and a broader definition of family is well received.

Rating: 4 stars

Reason why it was banned/challenged: And Tango Makes Three is frequently challenged since its publication of 2006. It has appeared on the list several times between 2006 and 2010 for the following reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group. 

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Pre-school to Grades 3. Though the book is about two male penguins, I don't see any agenda of imposing homosexuality to kids, but rather showing that a family no matter how family is designed all have the same concepts at its core: love, warmth, and tolerance. What are we telling kids who are raised by GLBT adults? That they aren't loved and they aren't normal? It amazes me that a simple book like Tango can generate so volatile opinions while TV shows like Modern Family that also features two male partners raising a child can garner so many accolades and be accepted by so many people.

If you like this book try: The Family Book by Todd Parr, The Very Best Daddy of All by Marion Dane Bauer

Description: A retelling of a mother's account of what happened to her family during the Flash that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

Review: Hiroshima No Pika is a striking picture book that details one of the horrific events of history: the dropping of atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan. The book is filled with watercolor paintings which reinforce the colors of flames and debris, vividly heightening this low-key text recounting the fictionalized experiences of a 7-year-old Hiroshima child and her mother after the 1945 "Hiroshima flash." The story told in precise and easy sentences send chills down your back with its easiness. Like most people, you only hear about the event but when you read Hiroshima No Pika, you are given a tiny glimpse of what true horror is really like.

Rating: 4 stars. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Reason why it was banned/challenged:  According to the MVCC Libraries, the book was challenged because it "does not depict war as glorious (graphic depiction of   victims of bombing of Hiroshima).

Words of Caution: There is nudity and strong images of violence. The book does not shy away from the dark side of war: causalities, destruction, and an abrupt change to life. The pictures, though hard to take in because of how much is inflicted by the people of the story, show just enough detail of horror without going overboard. Though not a book that would used as a read-aloud, it would serve a great purpose in discussing World War II with mature students such as older elementary students and above who can understand the book and its context. 

If you like this book try: Baseball Saved Us by
Related Posts with Thumbnails