Rummanah Aasi
  I haven't heard of the Bluebeard fairy tale until I ran across the name when I read the best-selling graphic novel series, Fables by Bill Willingham. From the context in which he appeared and after doing a little bit of research, I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before. Jane Nickerson's debut novel, Strands of Bronze and Gold revisits the Bluebeard story and sets it against the backdrop of Pre-Civil War Mississippi. Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley (Thank you!)

Description (from the Publisher): When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.
   Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold is a Gothic retelling of the Bluebeard fairy tale set in Pre-Civil Mississippi. When Sophia’s father dies, she is sent from Boston to Wyndriven Abbey, the Mississippi plantation of her godfather, Monsieur Bernard de Cressac. At first Sophia is caught up with her new luxurious lifestyle- beautiful gowns, jewelry, and extravagant dinners all made simply for her. Slowly, she finds herself being attracted to Bernard as he makes her the center of his world. Soon Bernard's attention becomes claustrophobic as he refuses to let her go outside the mansion. She becomes more and more suspicious of the plantation slaves’ living and working conditions, the vine-shrouded outbuildings she is not allowed to explore, and the various treasures belonging to Bernard’s former wives, all dead, that she finds in the attic. She even feels like there are ghosts following her and trying to deliver a message which she can't unravel until it is too late. In spite of her uneasy attraction to Bernard’s increasingly romantic intentions, Sophia finds herself falling for Gideon Stone, the local minister who also has the quiet reputation among the slaves of assisting in escapes to the North and who is much more aware about Bernard's sinister background.
  Strands of Bronze and Gold is a decent read that has some strengths and weaknesses, however some of the weaknesses are hard to ignore. Nickerson does a good job in slowly building up the suspense and uneasiness surrounding Sophie. Though we can forgive her of being so swept up when she first attends Wyndriven Abbey, it really takes our heroine quite some time to figure out that there is something truly disturbing about her godfather Bernard. As our protagonist, Sophia isn't all that remarkable. Similarly, Bernard doesn't stray very far from the Bluebeard caricature. Nickerson definitely captured his wild mood swings and his lecherous looks made me shudder, but there is really no explanation of why he is a psychotic killer. I would have liked a bit more exploration with his character as well as more time spent with Sophia learning about Bernard's previous wives. Sophia's discovery along with meeting a new and dull love interest, Reverend Stone, happen all too quickly and conveniently.
  Despite all these flaws, I was truly disappointed on how the topic of slavery was addressed in the book. I can see how the author tried to draw parallels between Sophia's caged life to those of Bernard's slaves, but it didn't quite make it there. It touched the surface just like how it touched the surface about the fairy tale's theme of the fatal effects of feminine curiosity.
  Strands of Bronze and Gold is a book that is an entertaining read as long as you don't really think too much about it. Readers interested in fairy tales, a historical setting, and mystery would enjoy the book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, sexual innuendo, allusions to domestic abuse and rape, and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Bluebeard's Egg by Margaret Atwood, The Rose and The Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block
Rummanah Aasi
  Two months ago my book club decided to read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I have to say that I was a bit excited because the movie looked pretty cool and different. Unfortunately for me, Cloud Atlas was a very painful and fruitless read. It's probably the worst book I've read this year.

Description: A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation—the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

Review: Cloud Atlas is a book that is better to admire from afar for its structure rather than it's actual contents. Mitchell experiments and challenges the linear plot arc which most of us are familiar with as readers. Instead of one overall narrative that features many different characters and culminates into one conclusion, Mitchell offers us with six stories in different genres that recounts the "connected" stories of people from the past and the distant future, from a nineteenth-century notary and an investigative journalist in the 1970s to a young man who searches for meaning in a post-apocalyptic world. The stories begin and stop in what seems to be its climax and intersects, sometimes even in mid-sentence, with the next one. So essentially you are climbing up and reading stories 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and then climb down to conclude stories 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and lastly 1. Confused? You're definitely not the only one.
  You're probably wondering why I put quotation marks on the word connected up above, aren't you? Well, that's because the stories don't really connect in a substantial and meaningful way. I read the book in not the way you're suppose to- I actually would start and finish one story before continuing to the next. I wanted to see how each story builds up to this great epiphany people claim it to be. Well, after suffering through 500 pages, there is no such grand revelation. The stories don't really connect. It all comes across as coincidence- the musician from the second story by chance picks up a diary that begins the book, a journalist enters a music store and buys a record of the music from the musician from story 2. As a reader, I think Mitchell was more concerned with showing how he can imitate great writers of literature than actually caring for the stories and the characters. This lack of attentiveness is what really bothered me about this book along with its super dense writing- writing so dense that I had to drink more caffeine to stay awake and then finally taking an aspirin or two for my headache when I finished it.
  So is Cloud Atlas worth the read? Probably not, but you can always claim that you've read it like many people do with other classics like Ulysses by James Joyce.  

Rating: 1 star

Words of Caution: Disturbing images, strong language including racial slurs, and sexual situations. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Ghostwritten by David Mitchell, A Wild Sleep Chase by by Haruki Murakami,
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Rummanah Aasi
  Now that the Amelia Rules! series by Jimmy Gownley has completed, I'm working my way to finish the series. I didn't start from the beginning, but skipped around in sequential order. Normally, I would be worried to start a series in any other place than book 1, but I didn't find myself lost or out of the loop with the Amelia Rules series. Today I'll be reviewing the fourth Amelia Rules! graphic novel, When the Past is a Present.

Description: Amelia McBride is going to her first dance (with a boy no less), but she's not the only one with a date. Yikes Is Amelia's mom seeing someone too? Perhaps Reggie (a.k.a. Captain Amazing) can shed some light on the situation. But it's not all fun for the 10-year-old spitfire. A good friend reveals that her father will be sent to a dangerous country with his job in the military, and it gets Amelia thinking about her own family, her past, and what it means for the present.

Review: I love the Amelia Rules! graphic novel series. They are so fun and quick to read. The series can be enjoyed by younger readers as well as adults who can look back at their own adolescence. Gownley does a fine job balancing the sweet light moments such as Amelia having her first crush to the more serious ones in which Amelia is struggling with seeing her mom Mom is dating and having to support her friend when her friend's father, who is in the army, is being deployed. As always, Amelia's spectrum of feelings fill the panels and there is never a lull in the pacing. Of course there are plenty of great laugh-out-loud moments. The narrative of the graphic novel is conversational, as if Amelia has jumped from the pages and is talking to you in person and this style allowed me to instantly connect with her. Though the series's heroine is a girl, I think there are plenty of male characters that boys would enjoy reading about. I'd definitely recommend this series to readers who are fans of Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby and Megan McDonald's Judy Moody series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene of implied swearing but the word doesn't appear. Recommended for Ages 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Ariol: Just a Donkey Like You and Me by Emmanuel Guibert, Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce, Her Permanent Record by Jim Gownley
Rummanah Aasi
  I know very little about the Spanish flu except that it killed millions of people and that it occurred during World War I. I also remember that the deadly disease killed the once human Edward Cullen and served as the climax for the second season of Downton Abbey. Cat Winter's great debut novel ties together the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, WWI shell shock, national prejudice, and spirit photography to show just how far people will believe and do almost anything in the time of desperationThis review is based on an advanced reader's copy of the book provided by the publishers and Netgalley. Thank you!

Description: In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Review: As soon as the book opens, we are immersed in a world cloaked with darkness and paranoia. Mary Shelly Black, named after the author of Frankenstein, is an extremely bright and likable young woman who is caught between science and spiritualism in her quest to make sense of a world overcome with war and disease in 1918 California.
  Mary Shelley's life has not been easy. She lost her mother as an infant and her father was recently arrested for alleged treason at their home in Portland, Ore. World War I is underway and those those who speak out against it, like her father, find themselves persecuted and arrested for high crimes. Mary Shelley flees to her Aunt Eva in San Diego to avoid possible fallout from the arrest and since it might be a better place to wait out the influenza epidemic that is sweeping the country. Her new home allows her to reconnect with the family of her first love, Stephen, now a soldier fighting in the war.
  I loved the relationship, though short-lived, between Mary Shelly and Stephen. Winters does a great job in showing how much they cared for one another in their brief moments together from exchanging letters, sweet memories, as well as the horror and anxiety when Stephen suddenly begins to haunt Mary Shelley.
 Winters' impeccable research is evidently shown from the popularity of spiritualism in which anxiety and fear increases as the toll from war and disease climb and sends families grasping at anything to alleviate their pain.    Some readers have commented that the plot of the book seems to mutate into different genres, but I disagree. Winters strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the period of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity. The pacing of the book moves quite nicely and I kept turning the pages because I had to find out why Stephen haunts Mary Shelly and whether or not he truly died under the usual circumstances. I'd definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction as well as a murder mystery with a hint of a romance.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, disturbing war images, and mentions of opium use. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, Captivity by Deborah Noyes, We hear the dead by Dianne K. Salerni
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm very excited to be part of the Zenn Scarlett blog tour. Today I have a guest post from Christian Schoon, the book's author. Before we get to the guest post, here's the book cover and description for Zenn Scarlett:

When you're studying to be exoveterinarian specializing in exotic, alien life forms, school... is a different kind of animal. 

  Zenn Scarlett is a resourceful, determined 17-year-old girl working hard to make it through her novice year of exovet training. That means she's learning to care for alien creatures that are mostly large, generally dangerous and profoundly fascinating. Zenn’s all-important end-of-term tests at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars are coming up, and, she's feeling confident of acing the exams. But when a series of inexplicable animal escapes and other disturbing events hit the school, Zenn finds herself being blamed for the problems. As if this isn't enough to deal with, her absent father has abruptly stopped communicating with her; Liam Tucker, a local towner boy, is acting unusually, annoyingly friendly; and, strangest of all: Zenn is worried she's started sharing the thoughts of the creatures around her. Which is impossible, of course. Nonetheless, she can't deny what she's feeling.

  Now, with the help of Liam and Hamish, an eight-foot sentient insectoid also training at the clinic, Zenn must learn what's happened to her father, solve the mystery of who, if anyone, is sabotaging the cloister, and determine if she's actually sensing the consciousness of her alien patients... or just losing her mind. All without failing her novice year...

Guest post:  Recent NASA news indicates that it is possible for life to survive on Mars. If you were offer a chance to leave Earth and settle in Mars, would you take it? If so, how would you live your life?

   Yes, the analysis of drilled surface-rock samples taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars seem to show that in the distant past there was sufficient water and the required mineral/chemical resources to potentially support life. Pretty awesome news. Generally this is taken to mean microbial life, but there’s certainly room for informed speculation that higher forms of life might have existed on Mars.
 Of course, the Curiosity rover is giving us data about conditions on Mars millions of years ago, not Mars today. Back then the planet most likely had a much thicker, more protective atmosphere, warmer temps and liquid water on the surface. But, humans heading off for a vacation in the Valles Marinaris now would either be spending all their time inside their pressurized, heated, air-filled habitats, or putting on fairly bulky pressure suits before stepping through the airlock and rambling around outdoors.
 Would I go to Mars and settle there if it meant living in a dome, probably small, probably crowded, probably a one-way trip? Naaaah. With our current technologies and habitat options, I don’t think living on Mars would be enjoyable. Now, if you’re talking ginormous, Los-Angeles-basin-sized domes with open air forests and farm fields and room for animals (and, important: room for my lovely wife and all my OWN current animals…) I’d give living on the Red Planet some very serious thought. But that’s far in our future.
  This line of thought usually leads someone to mention terraforming of planets. But again, we Earthers won't be tweaking any planets in this way for, ohhh, the next few thousand years. And, to my way of thinking, investing the vast resources needed to make an entire planet human-friendly is a waste. We don’t need the convert the entire surface area of a world like Mars in order to live there productively.
  In my SF novel Zenn Scarlett, I propose a middle path. Only selected canyon systems on Mars are made suitable for habitation. This is achieved by my patented Barymetric Ionic Membrane Generators. Bary-gen devices are anchored at strategic positions along the upper reaches of canyon walls in canyon systems running along the Martian equator where sunlight is maximal. When activated, the Bary-Gens radiate a translucent layer of energetically ionized molecules from rim to rim of the canyon. To seal the area underneath the shielding ionic membrane, the walls and floor of the canyon are hermetically sealed with a hyper-polymer emulsion that bonds soil particles together into a gas-tight but liquid permeable barrier. Sunlight warms the canyon floor and the resulting radiant heat is trapped beneath the ion barrier, melting permafrost beneath the canyon floor. This water sublimates into vapor, this evaporation then works to create a natural water/rain cycle within the protected canyon. Next, suitable cover plants are sown on the canyon floor. Watered by the on-going permafrost/rain cycle, the plants grow and produce oxygen; supplemental nitrogen gas is added, filling the sealed canyon systems with breathable air. And bob’s your uncle.
 OK… so there might be a few holes in my grand mini-terraforming scheme, but it works well enough for Zenn and the other colonists to survive quite nicely on my future Mars. Come and visit these comfy Martian canyons for yourself! 

Thank you for your enlightening post, Christian! Zenn Scarlett debuts in the UK on May 2nd. It’s out in the US and Canada on May 7th. If you would like to learn more about Christian, you can find him at Goodreads, his blog, on Twitter, and at his publisher's website
Rummanah Aasi
 I thoroughly enjoyed Kerstin Gier's romantic time traveling book, Red Ruby, and highly recommend it to readers looking for a fun, quick read that encompasses adventure, a sweet romance, humor, and historical trivia. Red Ruby is the first book in the trilogy. Sapphire Blue is the second book and steers clear from middle book syndrome. I found it to be equally enjoyable.

Description (from the Publisher): Gwen's life has been a roller coaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the secret time-traveling Circle of Twelve. In between searching through history for the other time-travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she's been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean.
   At least Gwen has plenty of help. Her best friend Lesley follows every lead diligently on the Internet. James the ghost teaches Gwen how to fit in at an eighteenth century party. And Xemerius, the gargoyle demon who has been following Gwen since he caught her kissing Gideon in a church, offers advice on everything. Oh, yes. And of course there is Gideon, the Diamond. One minute he's very warm indeed; the next he's freezing cold. Gwen's not sure what's going on there, but she's pretty much destined to find out.

Review: Gwyneth is trying to reconcile her role as the Ruby, the final member in the Circle of Twelve, a secret time-travel society, with being a normal London teen. No one takes her seriously and they all think she completely incapable of undertaking a huge project and not to mention dark prophecy that may get her or her loved ones killed. What's the project and prophecy? Well, the Circle of Twelve won't discuss anything thing with her and hush matters between themselves in a locked room. Complicating matters even more are her feelings for handsome Gideon de Villiers, a fellow time traveler who gives Gwyneth mixed signals-wavering between kissing her and ignoring her.
 The secrecy surrounding the Circle, whose distrust of Gwyneth is both unfair and frustrating. What I love about Gwyneth though is that she is adaptable, engaging, funny, and sweet. She doesn't waste her time moaning about how no one trusts her, but she uses her intuition and ingenuity to circumvent the authorities who refuse to be honest with her yet send her on dangerous mission in the past. She makes secret trips through time to conspire with her much younger (and living) grandfather or asks a delightful gargoyle ghost, who she can only see and talk to spy for her.  I love Xemerius! He is so adorable and funny with his spot-on critiques on people. He definitely was a welcoming addition to this book. Unlike many books where going against the authorities is a stupid and bad idea, I can't blame Gwyneth for taking this route since the authorities are supposed to be looking out for her, but their intentions are murky at best. As Gideon points out to Gwyneth, their lives are dictated by their supernatural genes; they will never be free from the confines of their birth, forced to stay local, so as not to be in constant danger.
   Speaking of Gideon, I was so conflicted about him. I found his inability to tell Gwyneth how he feels about her to be sweet. Even though he appears as if he knows all the answers, he really doesn't and he can't seem to think straight with Gwyneth around. There are definitely some sweet moments between them, but their romance does have a few stumbling blocks in this book.
  Hilarious and delightful, Sapphire Blue explores new mysteries and raises new questions, which we don't have any answers yet but I'm very hopeful that we will get them in third and final book. Ruby Red isn't necessarily a series that I would read immediately, but it is a series to look out for and enjoy on vacation or if you are in reading slump.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Some minor language and a scene of underage drinking. Recommended for strong Grades 6 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier (October 2013), Paranormalcy trilogy by Kiersten White, Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda, The Time Traveling Fashionesta by Bianca Turetskey
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm delighted to once again to participate in the blog tour for Amy Lignor's Angel Chronicles series. I've  heard such good things about these books. Since I'm a bit impatient about cliffhangers and series, I thought I'd wait for the final book, A Privilege, to come out before jumping in the lives of Emily and Matthew. If you are curious about this series, the first two books are $0.99 on Kindle and be sure to enter the giveaway for book 3 which is generously offered by Tribute Books!

A Privilege:
The Angel Chronicles, Book 3

The beloved Angel/Warrior team face pure evil in their final climactic story!

The first time they were sent down, Irish lives were led. Emily, the angel, ended up embedded in murder and lost in the realm of true love. While Matthew, the warrior, took over a life that left blood on his hands and anger in his soul.

With their second coming, Emily found herself facing an oncoming war that brought her to the shores of America. While Matthew tried desperately to unveil the evil character of a young man who was intent on locking his partner in a ‘gilded’ cage.

Now...Emily and Matthew find that their lives are all their own. Yet, all the memories, hatred, longing and regret have come hand-in-hand with this newfound freedom.

In small town U.S.A., Matthew finds himself loving his new life. From his military school existence to a new, ‘odd’ friend who’s arrived in town, Matthew’s looking forward to graduation and heading off into a brilliant future with Emily by his side.

Emily wants nothing more than to hide. Although doing her best to fit in, she lives a life on the edge, wondering when her past love with reappear to either forgive or seek revenge on the angel who let him down. Battling the shadows that seem to be breaking her soul in two, Emily soon discovers that her small, quiet town has a secret that’s beyond dangerous...

As she and Matthew join forces to help a ‘haunted’ victim, they open the door on a mystery neither of them can believe. A true villain has returned from the past, and not even their heavenly family will be able to save them. This time they’re on their own, as they face a fight that could lead them straight to Hell…and end the angel/warrior team forever.


Without a word, Matthew reached out, took Emily by the hand and pulled her down beside him. He looked into her eyes and smiled. “I knew my Emily was still in there.”

Out of the blue, the room became incredibly hot, as if Gabriel had entered in order to give a lesson to his favorite students. “What?”

“That spark.” He pulled Emily’s face closer before she could push herself away. “You’ve been acting all this time like you’re just here to sit and wait it out until you’re lucky enough to go Home. But you’re still in there, Emily. You still have all that energy and belief in there and you want to do something. That’s the partner I know.”

Shaking her head, Emily listened to her own breathing intensify as she stared at his full lips and wondered why she felt so completely and utterly strange...vulnerable even. “I want to help this girl. This is a job, maybe my only job down here. She saw a ghost and she wants me to help her out, that’s all.”

“And you will.” Matthew captured Emily’s lips, and she could no longer feel the breath in her lungs. Completely different than the one kiss they’d shared up above so long ago, this one was far more demanding, as if Matthew was a young man determined to kiss his human love for the very first time.

Sitting back, Emily practically jumped off the bed.

“I’m sorry,” she heard him whisper behind her. “I guess I was just excited to see you again.”

Not trusting her voice, she remained silent.

“We have jobs, but we also have a life to live. Our own lives this time around. Maybe you should think about adding that into your angelic plans.” Matthew continued softly, “Jason isn’t here, Emily.”

The name being said out loud sent a chill down Emily’s spine. It reminded her of the vow she’d made a long time ago—a vow that an angel couldn’t break.

She cleared her throat. “It doesn’t matter if he’s here. We were sent to do a job, and maybe helping this little girl prove her story is what I need to begin.”

Standing up, Matthew looked as if he was a man who wanted nothing more than to turn back the clock and erase the name he’d spoken aloud. He walked to the open window. “Well, I hope the job goes well. Good luck with it.”

“Matthew,” Emily took a step toward him. “Don’t leave like this.”

He nodded at the book on the bed. “You have your mission, Emily...your job. Ghosts, goblins, lost souls—knock yourself out.” He took a deep breath. “I wonder when you’re going to figure out that the living souls around you would like some of your attention as well.”

Closing her eyes, Emily shed silent tears as she heard his feet hit the ground beneath her window. A friend, a partner, the one who actually listened, was now just an angry young man racing back to The Armory—a place where warriors reigned.

Emily sighed. She’d done it again. No matter how hard she tried to be good, her mouth always got her into trouble. She needed Matthew to understand. She’d made a promise to a young man a long time ago; a promise that was supposed to last for eternity. How was she to know at the time that their eternity would include death by her hand? Had the second time around broken their vow? Emily had no idea. But whatever happened she could not and would not offer Matthew her heart if payment was still due for her past sins. Above all, Matthew was the last person who deserved to be punished for her mistakes.

Author Amy Lignor

Amy Lignor began her career at Grey House Publishing in northwest Connecticut where she was the Editor-in-Chief of numerous educational and business directories.

Now she is a published author of several works of fiction. The Billy the Kid historical The Heart of a Legend; the thriller, Mind Made; and the adventure novel, Tallent & Lowery 13.

She is also the owner of The Write Companion, a company that offers help and support to writers through a full range of editorial services from proofreading and copyediting to ghostwriting and research. As the daughter of a research librarian, she is also an active book reviewer.

Currently, she lives with her daughter, mother and a rambunctious German Shepherd named Reuben, in the beautiful state of New Mexico.

Books 1 and 2 are now 99 cents on Kindle!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Rummanah Aasi
  A couple of weeks ago, I had a bad reading streak. Nothing seemed to catch my eye and books that I had anticipated to really enjoy just kind of fizzled. In hopes of overcoming my bad book after-taste, I picked up the second book in the Dresden Files. The humor, action, and mystery is just want I needed in order to revitalize me as a reader. I don't feel a sense of urgency to read the Dresden Files series straight through, unlike some other series, but that's not to say that the Dresden Files isn't good. It is and I would highly recommend them to readers who enjoy urban fantasy and crime fiction.

Description (from Goodreads): Business has been slow. Okay, business has been dead. And not even of the undead variety. You would think Chicago would have a little more action for the only professional wizard in the phone book. But lately, Harry Dresden hasn't been able to dredge up any kind of work—magical or mundane.
  But just when it looks like he can't afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise. A brutally mutilated corpse. Strange-looking paw prints. A full moon. Take three guesses;and the first two don't count...

Review: Fool Moon is even better than Storm Front. Butcher seems to have a better sense of what he would like to do with his characters and his intricate and complex world of magic set against the back drop of the Windy City. Fool Moon treats its readers to more world building, especially where the paranormal creatures such as werewolves and were-creatures are involved, more back story, and more insight into Harry and his friends.
  I found Harry instantly likable in Storm Front. He comes off as your average gumshoe detective who just happens to be a wizard and almost always broke. In Fool Moon we get a glimpse of Harry's vulnerabilities, his lack of companionship, and other parts of his psyche. Harry's big flaw is his constant impulsive behaviors that go against the guardians of magic, the White Council, not because he is abusing his powers but he finds himself in places he shouldn't be. Though placed on the White Council's watch list, Harry is always showing them how wrong they have him pegged. Yes, he can be extremely annoying and a pain to them, but his actions continuously show his good intentions and his sense of justice.
  I really enjoyed the beginnings of his relationship with his police partner Murphy in the first book. As this story progressed, it became clear to Harry that he is now forced to evolve his relationship with Murphy to the next level- mind you that it isn't physical but reaching out a trusting hand in friendship. He really came to see just how much he put her at risk while selfishly believing that he was protecting her. I hope that as the series moves forward now that he will be more open and up front with her. Murphy is definitely a person that Harry should have in his corner. 
  As you could probably tell, there are werewolves in the book and I liked that Butcher tried to make them his own with his unique spin on the traditional paranormal creature. The werewovles provide the pulse pounding action. There was a bit bloody gory action that took place that had me cringing, but nothing that made me want to set the book down.
 Thankfully, Fool Moon wraps up the mystery quite nicely in the end. There is no cliffhanger yet more story lines can easily more forward. I'm very excited to see how what other dangers Harry finds himself in and what other relationships he develops.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and violence along with gory images and sexual situations. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Grave Peril (Dresden Files #3) by Jim Butcher, Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, Child of Fire by Harry Connolly, Fated by Benedict Jacka
Rummanah Aasi
  I've been meaning to pick up R.L. Lafevers aka Robin Lafevers middle grade series, Theodosia Throckmorton, quite sometime after learning about it from Small Review. Thank you, Smalls! I know my younger self would have loved Theodosia as much as I love her today. I recently read and enjoyed the first book. I do plan on reading and catching up to this series in the future.

Description: Twelve-year-old Theodosia Throckmorton uses arcane knowledge and her own special talent when she encounters two secret societies, one sworn to protect the world from ancient Egyptian magic and one planning to harness it to bring chaos to the world, both of which want a valuable artifact stolen from the London museum for which her parents work.

Review: Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos reads like a mash-up between Nancy Drew and Indiana Jones. The book is filled with warmth, laugh out loud humor, and action, but don't expect too much of characterizations or clean, straightforward plot line as there are many plot threads unfolding.
Theodosia is a plucky and precocious heroine, who I loved instantly. She is a very keen observer in her parents run London's Museum of Legends and Antiquities. She constantly laments about how little her parents pay attention to her because of her age, which is the root to her snarkiness. Theodosia is unlike many girls in Edwardian England because she has a sixth sense of detecting dark magic. When she tries to alert her parents, it falls on deaf ears.
  The plot begins rolling when Theodosia's mum, an archaeologist, returns from Egypt with crates of artifacts. Only Theodosia can feel the objects' dark magic, which, after consulting ancient texts, she has learned to remove. Then a sacred amulet disappears, and during her search, Theodosia stumbles into a terrifying battle between international secret societies. She has use to her wits and the advantages of a child who is usually ignored to find out clues about who is behind the stolen object and how to stop the chaos the object is about to bring to England.
  Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos is a very fun and quick read. I loved the precise, and atmospheric details (nicely extended in Tanaka's few, stylized illustrations) that will capture and hold readers, from the contents of Theodosia's curse-removing kit to descriptions of the museum after hours, when Theodosia sleeps in a sarcophagus to ward off the curses of disgruntled dead things. I think a lot of kids can empathize with Theodosia and her plight or attention. I was also excited to learn more about archaeology and liked how the story brings up questions about the ownership and responsible treatment of ancient artifacts. Though the mystery is wrapped up in the end of this book, there are many other story lines that will continue in later installments. I hope to read more about Theodosia and her adventures and highly recommend them to kids who are interested in learning about Ancient Egypt along with a good dose of humor, action, and magic.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, Kat, Incorrigible series by Stephanie Burgis, Children of the Lamp by Philip Kerr, The Long-Lost Map by Pierdomenico Baccalario
Rummanah Aasi
   Days of Blood and Starlight is a great sequel to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone, one of my favorites from 2011. After reading a few reviews about the book I was hesitant in picking it up because I knew it would a very emotional read. It is, but I found it worthwhile.

Description (from the Publisher): In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Karou must come to terms with who and what she is, and how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, mysteries and secrets, new characters and old favorites, Days of Blood and Starlight brings the richness, color and intensity of the first book to a brand new canvas.

Review:  In the wholly imaginative world full of magic, mystery, angels, and demons we met star-crossed lovers Karou and Akiva. They are now torn apart by an unforgivable betrayal at the end of Daughter of Smoke and Bone and hopes of them reuniting is slim to none, breaking our hearts and crushing our hope as we plunge into the darkness, brutality of their current world. Both are now engaged in the renewed war between the chimaera and the angels.
   Days of Blood and Starlight is very different from its predecessor. It is raw, painful, and full of angst. It also feels like a middle book in which it takes time and patience for the plot to get rolling. The first half of the book is slow, full of rage and anger, and carnage and destruction. Karou goes through a cycle of blaming herself and taking responsibility of what happened to the chimaera. Driven by guilt and rage, she takes over Brimstone's role without really comprehending what consequences her actions will bring. Meanwhile Akiva is desperately trying to atone for his sins, which we all know is unforgivable  As a reader it was hard to sympathize with Akiva given what has happened though we do understand the circumstances surrounding his actions.
  Karou is not the same girl we first met, full of wonder, humor, and hope. She has lost her naivete and is now struggling with coming to terms with her past and present. Now that the mystery of her identity and her connection to Akiva is solved, she has to begin her life all over again. She is slowly emerging as a leader, re-establishing her beliefs and her loyalties. Similarly, we see both aspects of Akiva's personality. The mindless soldier he was bred to be and an independent thinker who is forced to open his eyes to the death and destruction that cloaks him. Both Karou and Akiva are repulsed by the escalating brutality and the callous disregard for the sanctity of life but feel powerless to effect change.
  The second half of the book is when the plot finally starts moving. It is dominated by surprises and revelations that ratchet up the suspense as well as the horrors that the main characters have caused in their rage. Battles are fought, some won and some lost. New and fresh secondary characters are brought to life and add depth to the story. An uneasy alliance is forged between the chimaera and the Misbegotten for the battle against the angels that looms on the horizon. Normally, I have an inkling on how a series will end, but given what has occurred in this book, I have absolutely no idea what the future of Karou, her ill-fated romance with Akiva, and the survival of both of their races will hold. If this book is any indication, it will be  a rocky ride.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong violence that take mostly off page, suggestions of rape, and some language. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor, Mortal Instrument series by Cassandra Clare, Tithe by Holly Black, The Girl of Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson
Rummanah Aasi

  I'm very happy to be included in the Earth Day Celebration tour hosted by Candace’s Book Blog & CBB Book Promotions! Today I'll be reviewing author Stephanie Lisa Tara's picture books. Along with the reviews, there are two great giveaways associated with this tour! Check out the giveaways at the end of this post.

Description: It s a headline we all have seen: Global warming is melting the Arctic. Once the Arctic sea ice has vanished, the majestic polar bear, a magnificent creature who needs the sea ice to survive will vanish, too. The ice is home to the bears, as well as to their primary food source, the ringed seal. Polar bears feed, mate, travel, den, and give birth on the ice. Some scientists say polar bears will be extinct within fifty years if something isn t done, and soon.

Review: In this eye popping picture book, young readers are introduced to the world of polar bears. The mother polar bear is raising cubs to threats posed by global warming. The oversize format features vivid and almost life-like watercolor Arctic scenes are best when shared with a group. Unfortunately, the pages leave an overly busy impression, partly because of the illustrator's detailed style but also because they are printed on paper that features a subtle snowflake background and border. I just wished the text was a bit more clearer and simplistic of what global warming is about. I can see many young readers be confused and ask a lot of questions of why the glaciers have melted. I think this book would work best with some previous classroom preparation, discussion, and lessons about global warming.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for K-2.

If you like this book try: The Magic School Bus and the climate challenge by Joanna Cole, The Glaciers are Melting! by Donna Love

Description: On a quiet, moonlit beach, a baby green sea turtle stirs from a dream of home. Slowly, slowly, with a tap, crick, crack, the baby turtle embarks upon a mysterious nighttime journey. Gentle, tender verse and enchanting illustrations carry this tranquil tale from sand to sea.

Review: Gorgeous watercolors chronicle the journey of a baby sea turtle from its hatching to its first swim in the sea. Unfortunately, the text is not quite as good, as it tries to be to tell many stories at once. First, there's the sweet, but incorrect, idea of a baby turtle seeking a reunion with its mother, reiterated on every page. Next is the actual journey of the baby sea turtle. There are scientific facts included in the story, but they are kind of hard to glean from the spare text. I think this picture book would have been better if it was wordless since the meticulously detailed illustrations provide excellent context clues. If you are reading this for scientific facts, you will be disappointed but readers reading for the sweet mother and offspring relationship will find much to enjoy.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for K-1.

If you like this book try: The little sea turtle who was afraid of the ocean by Barbara Lesser, Don't worry, be happy : a sea turtle story by Seth Ofgang, Totty by Paola Opal

Description: Gwynne, Fair & Shining is a twenty-four page children's book, written in verse, about a young girl who learns she is special and can be anything she wants to be.

Review: Although I loved the energetic pictures, I had a really hard time with this book. The world of Gwynne was unclear as characters came and went, which left the important message of a child realizing that he/she is special and can be anything he/she wants to be without much of an impact. The text could have been stronger to reinforce the pictures. Still I would recommend this book to children who like eccentric characters. There is much to like about the bold and happy Gwynne.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for K-1.

If you like this book try: Our Granny by Margaret Wild, The Adventures of Granny Clearwater & Little Critter by Kimberly Willis Holt

Description: Even when you are little, you can imagine big. At closing time a key locks the library, and unlocks the dreams of a little mouse who waits in the shadows. Skipping, sliding, down the pages of books? he steps inside magical stories, inviting readers to come along for the ride. Witty verse and fantastical illustrations celebrate the joys of reading in this tale with innovative charm.

Review: This is my favorite of the pictures that I've reviewed today. The idea of finding yourself being part of the stories you come across is extremely creative. As readers, I think we picture ourselves as the protagonists in the books that we read subconsciously. The drawings and text are whimsical. Though I would have liked a bit more of a background of how the mouse found himself in the library and what happened to him at the end. Young readers will have fun connecting the text to the fun pictures.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for K-1.

If you like this book try: Bats in the Library by Brian Lies, A Story for Bear by Dennis Haseley

There are TWO fabulous giveaways for this tour!

Giveaway #1:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway #2:

  a Rafflecopter giveaway
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine and is a fun way to see what books other bloggers just can't wait to get their hands on! This week I've got my eyes on two books: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. 

His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Expected to be released according to Amazon: June 18th, 2013
Why am I excited? I've really enjoyed Gaiman's previous novels and I'm always astounded by his creative, weird, and twisted imagination. I expect no less from this one. 

The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up.

Of course, as the human daughter of Egyptian gods, that pretty much comes with the territory. She’s also stuck with parents who barely notice her, and a house full of relatives who can’t be bothered to remember her name. After all, they are going to be around forever—and she’s a mere mortal.

Isadora’s sick of living a life where she’s only worthy of a passing glance, and when she has the chance to move to San Diego with her brother, she jumps on it. But Isadora’s quickly finding that a “normal” life comes with plenty of its own epic complications—and that there’s no such thing as a clean break when it comes to family. Much as she wants to leave her past behind, she can’t shake the ominous dreams that foretell destruction for her entire family. When it turns out there may be truth in her nightmares, Isadora has to decide whether she can abandon her divine heritage after all. 
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Expected to be released according to Amazon: September 10, 2013
Why am I excited? I love learning about mythologies from all around the world. I'm really curious to see how Ms. White tries to set this one apart from numerous MG and YA titles in this very popular trend.

What are you waiting for this week?

Rummanah Aasi
   There have been many times when I have been fooled by pretty book covers, but the Unearthly series is one of the few series in which the writing is as good as its gorgeous covers. I was eagerly anticipating the release of Boundless, but I was sad to see this series end. Boundless is a strong and satisfying conclusion to an incredible series that sets a new standard for supernatural romance.

Description: The past few years held more surprises than part-angel Clara Gardner ever could have anticipated. Yet through the dizzying high of first love to the agonizing low of losing someone close to her, the one thing she could no longer deny was that she was never meant to have a normal life.

Review: Beautifully written and filled with humor, wide range of emotions, and depth Boundless is maturer than its predecessors both in tone and by its characters, who are embracing their adulthood. As the book opens, Clara begins her freshman year at Stanford University. Full of excitement and nerves, she is trying to balance a normal college life and has yet to identify her divine purpose as an angel. Clara still feels the absence of those she loves, even though Angela and Christian are both there at school with her. It's been a few months since she has had any contact with Tucker after the events that took place in Hallowed, but she just can't stop thinking about him. Every decision Clara makes not only has an impact on her own future but also has an effect on the safety and happiness of those she holds so dear.
   What I loved about this series compared to other angel books that I've tried- and failed to grab my attention- is the unique spin of the age old theme of free will versus fate. Clara, like all the angels in the Unearthly series, has a mission that she needs to complete. She once thought that mission might be involve saving a boy from a fire, but since then her mission has evolved and changed. Clara only receives snippets of clues, but it is up to her to put all of the clues back together. I've been worried that Clara's goal would revolve around romantic interests, but I'm thrilled to find out that the mission is much more deep than that and it was something that I didn't expect at all. I was also very glad that the mission didn't take the turn of preachy religion, but it was more geared toward introspection and life choices.
    There were a few surprises along the way, which I did have a hunch about but couldn't fully explain why I felt them. I know some readers did have issues with the villain and the lack of explanation of what he wanted, but I didn't think that was the focus of this series which is solely focused on Clara's actions. There were many sweet moments in the book, both of visiting characters we missed as well as romantic moments that made me smile. The romance is just as strong here as the other books. Hand addresses what if questions in many different scenarios, but she stayed true to her characters. I was very happy with how she dealt with the love triangle.
  If you have thought about picking up books that feature angels, be sure to read this one first. The writing is very nicely done and the characters are great. I look forward to reading more books by Hand.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene of underage drinking and sex is implied. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Embrace by Jessica Shirvington, Kiss by an Angel series by Elizabeth Chandler, Halflings by Heather Burch, A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink
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 Boys over Flowers manga series totes the line between silly and seriousness and this third volume is a perfect example.

Description: Romantic complications occur when Kazuya, furious about the kiss between Domyoji and Tsukushi, challenges Domyoji to a squid fishing competition. Domyoji starts spreading rumors that Tsukushi is in love with him. When he discovers she's in love with Rui, he goes on a rampage - a rampage that turns into an attack on Tsukushi.

Review: While Boys over Flowers is written as your typical shojo manga, it does address some important social issues such as class conflict and bullying. The comedic moments might seem to allow the underlying serious issues to go undetected, but in my opinion it helps to make them standout much clearer.
  Volume 3 picks up exactly where the last volume ended. Tsukushi realizes that the mysterious stranger she kissed on the cruise ship turns out to be Domyoji and not Rui like she hoped. Tsukushi is shocked, humiliated, and heart broken since she clearly has eyes only for Rui. Meanwhile Rui is sending Tsukushi mixed signals and also tries to persuade his longtime best friend, Shizuka, to be with him. The romantic tangles get even more confusing when Domyoji seems to be falling for Tsukushi though he admits he is only having fun teasing her though there is a softness in his eyes whenever he sees Tsukushi.
  I'm not really on any teams regarding Domyoji or Rui. Domyoji has clearly anger management issues. He goes on a tyrant when he finds out that Tsukushi has a crush on Rui. He picks on a random boy to bully and to assault. He even goes so far that attempts to sexually assault Tsukushi but realizes he is making a mistake and stops. It's important to note that many readers felt uncomfortable with this scene. I did too at first, but I did read about this aspect in articles written by manga experts. Almost all of them point out that this technique is commonly used in shojo mangas and point out that the almost assault is to show sexual intimidation. What I find interesting is that another form of assault occurs later in the volume when Tsukushi fights a man who is pushing a girl to have sex with him. Perhaps this incident is make us aware that both Tsukushi and Domyoji have violent tendencies and nothing more.
  Unlike Domyoji who has aspects we can pinpoint and not like, Rui is much harder to figure out. He is the quietest out of the F4 bunch and he has lots of calm moments shared with Tsukushi. His feelings for Shizuka is very clear and I don't see him stringing Tsukushi along. I'm curious to see how his character develops.
  Boys over Flowers has a lot of things happening plotwise and I'm sure it will focus more on characters once the overall story arc is established. I'm not a fun of the manga's illustration as they seem much more cartoony to me than regular mangas. I do plan on either watching the anime or the drama series based on the manga once I finish it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are incidents of bullying, attempted sexual assault, sexual situations, language, and underage drinking. Recommended for teens and up.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol. 4 by Yoko Kamio, Ouran High School Host Club by Bistco Hatori, Kodocha by Miho Obana, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda
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