Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to my new feature called Forbidden Reads! Join me in celebrating your freedom to read. My goal for this soon-to be- regular monthly feature is to highlight challenged and/or banned books from each literary audience: children, 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. Today I'll be reviewing Chris Crutcher's controversial, hard hitting YA novel, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, which was published in 1993.

Description: Sarah Byrnes and Eric have been friends for years. When they were children, his fat and her terrible scars made them both outcasts. Later, although swimming slimmed Eric, she stayed his closest friend. Now Sarah Byrnes -- the smartest, toughest person Eric has ever known -- sits silent in a hospital. Eric must uncover the terrible secret she's hiding, before its dark currents pull them both under.

Review: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a heart-wrenching story of loyalty, friendship, and courage. A social outcast in junior high due to his excessive weight, narrator Eric Calhoune found a kindred spirit in Sarah Byrnes, whose face and hands were hideously disfigured in a childhood accident. Now a slim senior thanks to competitive swimming, Eric remains fiercely devoted to Sarah by standing up for her. Unlike Eric who uses physical exercise who fight his bullies, Sarah uses her sharp tongue and whit.
  For Sarah to remain silent and committed to a mental ward, is alarming to Eric. Eric is compelled to take action to help her, but quickly finds that he is in over his head. He risks their friendship by breaking his vow of secrecy and enlisting others' aid--help that comes from such unlikely quarters as a former bully, Eric's swim coach and, most surprisingly, his mother's seemingly wimpy boyfriend. Crutcher emphasizes throughout his story that none of the characters are what they appear to be on the surface.
    I really enjoyed Eric's voice. Self deprecating and humorous, Eric's voice is memorable. We applaud him for taking on a huge task of helping his friend and standing up for what he believed in. Sarah was a tough character to connect to at first. Her abrasive nature is a defense mechanism she uses to prevent anyone to see her weakness. Her emotional strength is admirable.
  Like many of Crutcher books, there are lots of other serious topics addressed from religion to abortion in Eric's philosophy elective. While the discussions are interesting, they do came across a bit heavy handed especially with very conservative characters. Though I appreciated Crutcher allowing teens to talk about important subject matter, I did feel that it slowed down an otherwise tightly paced novel. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy gritty realistic fiction with a hopeful ending.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Why it was challenged: In 2011 the Belleville (WI) School Board decided to keep a book that's required reading for high school freshmen in the curriculum despite a parent's complaint that the book was "pornography" and its language was "pervasively vulgar." Published in 1993, the novel has been read by ninth-grade students at Belleville Hish School for eight years. Source: Marshall University

Words of Caution: After reading Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, I can see why some people would want to challenge it. Topics such as emotional and physical abuse, abortion, suicide, and religion are hard topics to discuss. It's important to remember that Crutcher offers a discussion on these topics, a chance for the characters to exchange their opinions and not attacking on another nor preaching his own ideas. I really don't see how different these topics are from a class doing a debate/speech unit.
  As for the "pornography" comment, there is a small scene of Eric flipping to HBO late night and seeing, briefly describing what's going on in an Adult program, but he doesn't indulge in it. He is trying to test and make his mother's boyfriend uncomfortable. There is not much strong language in the book. In fact if you had to rate it like a movie, I think it very much lies on the PG scale. Due to the mature topics discussed in the book, I would recommend this book for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer, Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
Rummanah Aasi
  Welcome to Manga Monday! Manga Monday is a meme hosted by Alison over 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.This past weekend I was able to catch up on the super popular Black Butler manga series.

Description: With his royally sanctioned dinner party a shambles and a murderer on the loose, Earl Ciel Phantomhive is a veritable prisoner in his own home, alongside those of his guests who still live. And in the most shocking of turns, the young earl now finds himself without his indispensible manservant, Sebastian. But as the mystery deepens, there arrives upon the young earl's doorstep an odd vicar, wearing an insolent smile and an Inverness cape that flaps and splashes behind him... Is this mysterious thirteenth guest the perpetrator of the crimes that have bloodied the halls of Phantomhive Manor?

Review: Black Butler, Vol. 10 continues with the murder mystery plot set-up from the last volume and paying homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, I found this volume extremely enjoyable. Toboso captures the attention to details and the scientific process that Sherlock uses to solve his mysteries. As we follow the clues and members of the Phantomhive Manor, the suspense and intricate artwork enhances the enjoyment of reading.
  While I was not surprised twist at the end of the story, I'm not convinced on how the mystery was solved. I detect that Ciel has something up his arms. Sebastian is a very complex character. On the one hand, he is terrifying when you know his real identity, but his human characteristics of being a perfectionist at his work as a butler and love for cats always manage to make laugh every time. I'm very excited to see what is the next plot arc for this series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and some crude sexual humor. Recommended for older teens.

If you like this book try: Black Butler Vol. 11 by Yana Toboso, Pandora Hearts by Kazue Kato
Rummanah Aasi
 I just got my copy of Fifth Grave Past the Light, the fifth book in the highly entertaining Charley Davidson series, from the library and just realized that I didn't put up my review for Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet!

Description: Sometimes being the grim reaper really is, well, grim. And since Charley’s last case went so awry, she has taken a couple of months off to wallow in the wonders of self-pity. But when a woman shows up on her doorstep convinced someone is trying to kill her, Charley has to force herself to rise above . . . or at least get dressed. It becomes clear something is amiss when everyone the woman knows swears she’s insane. But the more they refute the woman’s story, the more Charley believes it.
  In the meantime, the sexy, sultry Reyes Farrow is out of prison and out of Charley’s life, as per her wishes and several perfectly timed death threats. But his absence has put a serious crimp in her sex life. While there are other things to consider, like the fact that the city of Albuquerque has been taken hostage by an arsonist, Charley is having a difficult time staying away. Especially when it looks like Reyes may be involved.

Review: After the big events in the last book, our girl Charley is going through some rough times. She is not sleeping, barely coherent, and spending most of her money buying random stuff from the home shopping network. Thank goodness Cookie, Charley's best friend, and for a new client to come snap Charley out of her funk. 
  Like the other books in the series, there are many story lines happening at the same time. I'm always amazed on how Darynda can keep these events straight when she's writing! Some of the mysteries are easy to solve while the questions surrounding Reyes, the sexy and insufferable love interest, always has me puzzled. I was surprised a few times in this book and was happy to come upon a couple of nice twists too.
 Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet gives us a little more insight to the relationship and personalities of Charley and Reyes. The tension and sexual chemistry is what makes us turn the pages faster. While they do snap, crackle, and pop, the huge cloud of doom that lingers above them when the key of darkness is inserted into the locket of light is pretty frightening. We finally get to know the meaning behind Reyes's nickname for Charley, Dutch, even though it was a bit of a let down.
  Reyes still has me frustrated and confused. He was a major jerk for most of this book, but there are moments when he's sweet and vulnerable. I enjoyed the parts where the green monster reared its ugly head for both Charley and Reyes.
It was nice spending time with the secondary characters, but I was a bit sad that we didn't get much time with Swopes and Ubie as much as I would have liked. We also got to meet a new character named Quentin which I liked and am looking forward to more of him in future books. Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the special addition of a lovable yet ferocious dog named Artemis. I can't wait to make some time in my busy schedule to revisit Charley and company in her latest adventures.

Rating: 4 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: Fifth Grave Past the Light 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'm continuing to work on completing the list of Monarch books. The Monarch books are a great way to highlight some terrific books for K-3 readers. Today I'll be reviewing Biblioburro, Balloons Over Broadway, and Same, Same but Different.

Description: Luis loves to read, but soon his house in Colombia is so full of books there's barely room for the family. What to do? Then he comes up with the perfect solution--a traveling library! He buys two donkeys--Alfa and Beto--and travels with them throughout the land, bringing books and reading to the children in faraway villages.

Review: Biblioburro is a simple and heart warming story that truly shows how one's generosity can really change one's world. The book is inspired by a true story of a man named Luis Soriana who lives in Colombia. Like many of us, he is passionate about reading and has acquired lots of books that his home can handle. His book obsession has become a problem and eventually sparks an idea to spread his love of reading to those who are not fortunate enough to have books. He buys two burros, donkeys, hitches up some shelves with books on them and calls them the "Biblioburros" (translated as library donkeys). This book would be a great way to introduce students to the concept of helping others who are less fortunate or who may have been through circumstances that requires aide. Tropical colors ignite Winter's art, which has a pleasant folk art feel and an almost felt-like texture (the pages are rich with songbirds and smiley-faced butterflies). The book ends with a brief profile of the actual Luis.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Waiting for the Biblioburro by Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile by

Description: Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! In brilliant collage illustrations, the award-winning artist Melissa Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.

Review: Balloons Over Broadway is a tribute to the amazing Tony Sarg, the incredible puppeteer and marionette master who created the first Macy’s larger than life parade balloons in 1928. As a little boy, Tony was fascinated with how things moved and from a very young age created smart innovations to make things like chore happen only in a few minutes instead of a whole day!  As Tony grew up, he learned how to make puppets, enamored with interactive storytelling. After he mastered his skill, people were amazed to see his marionettes. After moving to New York City, he was discovered by Macy’s, and they hired him to create stage puppet parades for their holiday windows. Later, in the 1920’s, Macy’s asked him to help with a Thanksgiving parade for their immigrant workers (and everyone else), as they missed the carnivals of their home countries. Since wild animals often scared the children who enjoyed these parades, something else needed to be done. Therefore, the first parade balloons were born. Balloons Over Broadway demonstrates how one's creativity can solve problems. 
  The artwork of this picture book is truly unique. Rich in detail, the gouache, collage, and mixed-media illustrations are a stand-out, capturing the charm of the period and the awe-inspiring balloons. I really felt as if I was present at the first parade! 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Milly and the Macy's Parade by Shana Corey

Description: Elliot lives in America, and Kailash lives in India. They are pen pals. By exchanging letters and pictures, they learn that they both love to climb trees, have pets, and go to school. Their worlds might look different, but they are actually similar. Same, same. But different!

Review: We seem to be so fixated on our differences that we don't seem to appreciate our similarities. Same, Same But Different is a great book to help introduce young readers to the concepts of diversity and friendship. The story centers on two pen pals, Elliot from the U.S. and Kailash from India. By exchanging letters and pictures they learn that their worlds may look different, but they are actually very similar.
The straight forward yet clever text is in a large font, in several colors, making this a good choice as a story-time read-aloud. The boys learn through questions, comments and pictures that they both love to climb trees, have pets, and go to school where they enjoy their favorite class. Though the activities may seem outdated in our technology driven world, I think the point that the author is trying to make comes through. The colorful illustrations were made using acrylics, crayon, pencil, collage and tissue paper are eye appealing and actually come across as if the characters themselves drew the pictures. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-2.

If you like this book try: I'm Like You, You're like Me by Cindy Gainer, The Crayon Box That Talked by Shane DeRolf
Rummanah Aasi
  For my last challenge of 2013, I'm participating in the Classics Double Challenge hosted by One's Librarian Book Reviews. The object of this challenge is to read a classic (the term is used loosely to include fairy tales, mythologies, classics, any kind of original story) and couple it with a retelling (the original and the newer book have to relate in some way that you can define; it doesn't have to be a straight-forward retelling). My objective with this challenge is to read some classics that I've haven't read yet.

Description (from Goodreads): It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.
   Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth--an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.   But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret--one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars is a retelling that does everything right. Though it superficially maintains the plot points and themes of Jane Austen's Persuasion, it goes beyond and creates a new darker, post-apocalyptic world. Some readers were not thrilled by how Peterfreund dealt with rough handled morality in the story, but I would disagree. I think her decision to narrow her focus on the society enriched my pleasure of reading Austen's original work considerably. 
  The world that Peterfreund created is very intricate and detailed. While it takes some time for the world to unfold and one to grasp the social hierarchy, I was never confused but rather engrossed. Elliot North is our heroine who happens to be a Luddite, one of the elite destined to care for the mentally Reduced remnant after human genetic engineering went catastrophically wrong. 
  Eliot is just as charming as she is in the original book. She is duty bound to her family and her society, but the more she works with the Reduced, the more she has begun to question her duty; her family seems more interested in luxurious leisure than estate management. Her people will starve without recourse to forbidden technology, and more and more Post-Reduced children are being born. 
  One of the "Posts" that we get to know intimately is that of Kai Wentworth, Eliot's secret best friend turned romantic interest. Kai is extremely intelligent and longs to explore the world outside his designated boundaries. He and Eliot both know their romance is doomed due to their social status and the gap of his disappearance has wounded our heroine deeply. Now he has returned with the fleet of Post explorers who could be the last hope for saving Elliot's heritage, but his bitterness toward Elliot may be hiding a more dangerous secret. 
  I loved how the author gave insight to Eliot and Kai's relationship by interspersing letters written by their younger selves. You can see how naturally their relationship grew and evolved unlike the Austen original which underplayed the romance and reducing it to body language and signals. His passion rubs off on Eliot and we understand where their spark comes from. Though I already knew the outcome of the story, I couldn't help but feel frustrated whenever an obstacle came in Eliot and Kai's happily ever after, which I think is a sign that the author knows how to write a romance. 
While I liked that the society was different and original but still addressed the major themes of social and class distinctions, the book still felt a bit unfinished. I would have liked to see how the issues of slavery, anti-intellectualism and fundamentalist religion play out and hopefully it will be explored more when Peterfreund revisits the world in a different angle in her companion novel, Across a Star-Swept Sea, which will be released this fall. Readers looking for a swoony romance that isn't hindered by some depth, a steady pace, and a likable heroine should definitely check this book out. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are rumors of possible sexual situations involving a character but it's never really explored or clarified. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try:
Rummanah Aasi
  Persuasion, published posthumously in 1818, is Jane Austen's last completed novel. Though it isn't as recognizable as Pride and Prejudice, Emma, or Sense and Sensibility, it is perhaps my favorite Austen novel. The writing and social satire is sharp and biting. The romance, of course, is sweet, satisfying, and the center of the book.

Description (from Goodreads): When Anne Elliot falls in love with a handsome and charming young man, she must make a wrenching decision. The man she loves is perfect in every way...except one: he lacks the wealth and social status that would make him a suitable match for Anne. At least, that is what friends and family persuade Anne to believe. So Anne breaks off the match and sends Wentworth away, but she can't help wondering: Did I do the right thing? It is a question that will haunt her for years until, unexpectedly, Wentworth returns. His circumstances have improved greatly, but is it too late for Anne?

Review: Like all of Austen's novels, the plot of the book is very straightforward. Our heroine, Anne Elliot, made a mistake eight years ago and the question of "What if?" has haunted her ever since. Anne was in love with a navy officer named Frederick Wentworth when she was nineteen years old. Wentworth was everything that Anne wanted in a spouse except he lacked two important things: social stature and money. Through persuasion and influence from her peers and society, Anne went against her gut instincts and declined Wenthworth's marriage proposal. Now in her late 20s (which is an old maid in Austen's times!), Anne has been shuffling between and living with vain, superficial, and irritating family members and friends. And with the unpredictable hands of fate, she once again encounters Wentworth who is now a renowned Captain in the Royal Army. The two are now forced to revisit old wounds and perhaps make amends.
  I absolutely adored Anne and I think she's probably the most realistic heroine that Austen created. She is logical, quiet, calm, and thoughtful. She isn't the first one to make impulsive decisions or rash prejudices against people she's met, but an observer of human behavior. Her thoughtfulness is her flaw as she over thinks everything. Though we may frown at her decision to decline Wentworth's proposal, we can understand why she declined. Without money and social stature, the two that made her society go round, there wasn't much of a future for Anne and Frederick. The prospects of attaining a future that went beyond attending balls, house visiting, and taking care of families is what Anne and Frederick both wanted. With that understanding in mind, her sacrifice of happiness leaves a bitter taste in our mouths as we watch Anne get belittled and brushed over. Anne immediately gets our sympathy and we hope for the moment where she stands up for herself.
   Unlike Anne, Frederick is a hard character to like at first. He is distant and appears extremely cold. His actions don't always make sense as he tries to make Anne jealous by being someone else's suitor, but we have to remember that is what Anne perceives him to be as we are watching the story unfold in her eyes. I thought it was interesting how our perceptions of Frederick changes as we hear other characters' opinion of him.
  The romance of Persuasion is very subdued, immersed in the quiet glances and in the body language of Anne and Frederick. The two play around the fire of attraction though their pride and resentment is what keeps them apart even though their pairing is now acceptable in the eyes of society. It is completely frustrating watching these two characters who are obviously in love with one another to come clean and actually communicate, but when they do the book soars. If you love romance and second chances, do pick up Persuasion.
Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diane Peterfreund, Captain Wentworth's Diary by The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm continuing to work on completing the list of Monarch books. The Monarch books are a great way to highlight some terrific books for K-3 readers. Today I'll be reviewing Say Hello to Zorro! and Clever Jack Takes the Cake.

Description: Mister Bud is a dog of routine. He has wake up time, nap time, rest time, dinner time, etc. And everyone knows to follow his schedule. Then disaster strikes! A stranger comes home at "make a fuss time" and throws everything off! Zorro is little bit bossy and Mister Bud wants nothing to do with him. But when the dogs discover they like the same things (like chasing the cat and napping), everything becomes more fun. As long as everyone follows the schedule.

Review: Say Hello to Zorro! is a humorous tale that is all too familiar with those who own pets and those in different family situations when a new routine is introduced or a new family member is added. Goodrich's gentle story is conveyed through a perfect pairing of well-spaced text and illustrations, resulting in just the right pace for young listeners to absorb the story through listening as well as looking at the great illustrations. Generous white space focuses the eye on Goodrich's warmhearted watercolor illustrations, featuring amusing exaggerated proportions, from Mr. Bud's gigantic snout and wee legs to his tall but skinny house, and endearingly expressive canine faces. The illustrations are so good that the book could have very well been wordless and still be able to tell the story. This cute story would appeal to wide variety of audiences.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None.

If you like this book try: Grumpy Cat by Britta Teckentrup, Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French, Zorro Gets an Outfit by Carter Goodrich

Description: A poor boy named Jack struggles to deliver a birthday present worthy of the princess.

Review: Clever Jack Takes the Cake is a crafty story about a poor boy who has a dilemma. Like all the children of his village, he has been invited to the Princess's birthday party, however, he doesn't have a worthy gift to give her. Jack is smart and thinks outside of the box, but still within his financial means and decides to bake the Princess a birthday cake. He prepares this amazing cake, but on his long journey to the Princess’ castle the cake gets destroyed and eaten by various things along the way. By the time Jack gets to the Princess all he has is a story to tell her. The story of how he made her this great cake and then all of the things that took it away from him. To Jack's delight, the Princess did not get bored with his gift and he realized that  he always had something of value to offer, even if it is not an actual object.
   I really enjoyed the story of this picture book. Though the length of the book is quite long for a read-aloud, it definitely has appeal for both boys and girls as it features a princess and adventure. I also liked how the story gave a lesson without it being obvious. I only wished the illustrations were a bit better. They look as if they were drawn by crayon and sketched hastily.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None.

If you like this book try: The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie De Paola, Flora's Very Windy Day
Rummanah Aasi
  With the help of a few trusted fellow bloggers, I discovered the Elemental series, a great paranormal romance series that feature fantastic characters, plenty of action, laughs, and of course romance. Spark is the second book in the series. I highly recommend starting the series with the first book Storm.

Description (from the Publisher):  Gabriel Merrick plays with fire. Literally. Sometimes he can even control it. And sometimes he can't. Gabriel has always had his brothers to rely on, especially his twin, Nick. But when an arsonist starts wreaking havoc on their town, all the signs point to Gabriel. Only he's not doing it. And no one seems to believe him. Except a shy sophomore named Layne, a brainiac who dresses in turtlenecks and jeans and keeps him totally off balance. Layne understands family problems, and she understands secrets. She has a few of her own. Gabriel can't let her guess about his brothers, about his abilities, about the danger that's right at his heels. But there are some risks he can't help taking. The fuse is lit. . .

Review: In Storm we met our main characters, the Merrick brothers, a friend, and a girl named Becca who is introduced to her new found powers. In Spark, we follow the shoes of the twin Merrick brothers: the reckless and unpredictable Gabriel. I have to be honest and say that Gabriel and I didn't get off on the right foot. He's got a smart mouth and I repeatedly wanted to hit him upside the head basically whenever he opened his mouth. Hot like the fire that he's learning to control, we delve deeper into his rough-edged character who shows us the depth and insecurities inside his tough shell.
    I was very surprised how much I enjoyed Spark. It didn't take me long to realize that there is a hidden complexity to Gabriel's character. We are introduced to him in Storm, we immediately notice two things: he's has a horrible temper and despite his bad boy demeanor, he's incredibly self conscious. Gabriel is filled with grief, self doubt, and self loathing. Besides blaming himself for his parent's death, he's very self conscious of his lack of control on his element. I loved how much he grows in this book from being terrified of being a disappoint to his brothers to finding an occupation that he is passionate about. He slowly opens himself to his brothers and learns who to trust others around him. The family dynamic is one of the best traits of this series. The brothers banter and fight, they disagree but ultimately stay loyal to each other. Each and every one of these guys are so particular with memorable personalities that mesh perfectly together. Even though we only get to see Gabriel's perspective out of all the brothers in this sequel, I think we get a better sense of what these brothers mean to each other. My favorite moments of the books are those solitary moments that Gabriel and Michael spend with one another. Though the relationship between these two brothers have always been tense, I think they finally begin to understand each others point of view. 

   The Elemental series would not be as great if there isn't any romance involved. We are introduced to a new character named Layne who is a bit quirky and has secrets of her own. She tries to put up with her unconventional family, an absentee mother who is only concerned with the family's reputation, her workaholic father, and her deaf brother. I loved how the romance between Gabriel and Layne started slowly with friendship and then naturally built to a relationship. Layne and Gabriel though at first seem a strange couple, but they balance each other perfectly and help each other with their issues.
  While getting to know Gabriel, we, in turn, get to concentrate on his element: fire. We see lots of intense action sequences about a mysterious arson on the loose. Kemmerer wonderfully ties in romance and action without sacrificing character development and further moving the plot arc of the series with new twists and turns. I was terribly sad for Spark to end and I'm eagerly awaiting for the series next installment. If you are burnt out from your usual paranormal romance flair, definitely pick up this series.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, some scenes of underage drinking, sexual innuendo, and some strong violence. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Spirit by Brigid Kemmerer (Elementals #3), Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry, Chronicles of Nick series by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Intertwined series by Gena Showalter, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Rummanah Aasi

  Welcome to Manga Monday! Manga Monday is a meme hosted by Alison over 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.This past weekend I was able to check up on the super popular Black Butler manga series.

Description (from the back of the book): Earl Ciel Phantomhive's quietude is interrupted as Queen Victoria's very own butlers commandeer Phantomhive Manor for a lavish banquet sanctioned by Her Majesty Preparations for such an event are quick work in the hands of Sebastian, the house's most able butler, but corralling the eminent guests may prove to be rather more of a challenge. For this dinner party is anything but festive, and as a stormy night batters the outside of the grand residence, a far more violent storm beings to unfurl within. And no one is safe from the havoc it will wreak-not even one seemingly impervious manserverant...

Review: There has been many story arcs in the Black Butler manga series, some serious, some silly, and some very creepy. With the disturbing and sinister circus arc behind us, Black Butler, Vol. 9 offers us a different and delightful surprise with a murder mystery with the likes of Clue. 
  On a dark and stormy night, Ciel is hosting a grand banquet at the Phantomhive manor. After the guests enjoy their food and drinks and are ready to retire for the evening, terror strikes as one of the guests is found murdered in his room. Within a few hours apart, two other shocking murdered victims are discovered. Trapped in the manor, every one is a suspect and the murderer is at large!
  I love when the mangaka weaves a real historical figure into the storyline. One of the notable guests is Arthur as in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. Toboso does a nice touch in paying homage to the great detective. Arthur is depicted as a novelist who is just starting, therefore he gets flustered too quickly when all the clues don't exactly line up. Arthur definitely added humor and irony which makes this series shine for me. 

  Though there is a plot twist at the end of this volume, I didn't bite the bait. I'm just waiting to see if my theories are correct when I start the next volume. The depth of these stories partnered with the beautiful artwork is truly wonderful. I could actually visualize the loud thunder and bright lightening while reading this volume. Toboso has a great eye for details which shows in the artwork.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and some crude sexual humor. Recommended for older teens.

If you like this book try: Black Butler Vol. 10 by Yana Toboso, Pandora Hearts by Kazue Kato
Rummanah Aasi

  I would like to thank all the readers for stopping by the blog and entering the Boy Nobody giveaway. I would also like to thank Little, Brown's generosity in providing an ARC of Boy Nobody for me to review and to offer to one of my readers. According to, the winner of this giveaway is Abbe Klebanoff! Congrats! I already sent you an email regarding the giveaway.
Rummanah Aasi
  Stacia Kane's Downside series has been recommended so many times to me. Many declared that it is in their top favorite urban fantasy series. I was warned that the series is dark and gritty, but I was not really prepared how dark and gritty it came across. Although I did hit some major stumbling blocks and a difficult reading experience with this book, I do see what attracts this series to readers.

Description (from the Publisher): THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

Review: Unholy Ghosts was a difficult read. Unlike the other books I've read in the urban fantasy genre, Unholy Ghosts is steeped into darkness and the seedy side of societies where drug lords, prostitutes, and the destitute are our main characters. There not many light moments that helped diffuse the serious and ominous tone. It me a while to get into the story, but I did see the appeal of a promising concept. Our protagonist, Chess Puntnam, lives in a world where the boundaries between the living and the dead blur. Chess works for the world-ruling Church of Real Truth, debunking false claims of hauntings and banishing the occasional real ghost. The Church is a fascinating and complex concept, one that you're not really sure how to decipher whether it's good or evil.
  Like the institution that she is working for, Chess is a very flawed character who doesn't always make the right choices. Along with being a powerful ghost hunter, Chess is hiding a huge secret: she is a drug addict, waiting for a solitary moment to get her next high. She makes decisions and finds work to get enough money to buy drugs so when a powerful drug dealer calls on her services to erase her debt to him, Chess finds herself investigating an abandoned airfield, a horrible human sacrifice, an ominous apparition, and a conspiracy against the church itself. I'm a bit conflicted about Chess. I wanted to know her a bit better outside of following her on the job, but she's either too broken to be sympathetic or too stoned to be coherent.
   Another a character that caught my eye is Terrible, a pimp working for the drug lord Bump that has witnessed too many horrors than you can count. Though Terrible is described to be what many would call ugly with his deformities and scars, there is something magnetic and appealing about him. He seems to steal the show every time he appears. I would definitely would like to find out more about him.
  In addition to Chess's drug addiction, another hurdle that I had to get over is the book's local dialect. The book is also written in the third person perspective, which I thought was an interesting choice by the author. Though I didn't give this book a high rating, I'm willing it to give the series another try as I definitely see potential of enjoying the story despite its darkness. If you do decide to pick up the book, I would suggest trying the audiobook. 

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, violence, scenes of drug usage, and sexual situations. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane (Downside #2), Mind Games by Carolyn Cane, Kindling the Moon by Jenn Bennett
Rummanah Aasi
  It's been a while since I reviewed picture books on the blog. Today I'm here to share with you two picture books that are featured on this year's Illinois Monarch Awards: This is not my hat by Jon Klassen and Perfect Square by Michael Hall. You find out more information on the Monarch Award here.

Description: A tiny minnow wearing a pale blue bowler hat has a thing or two up his fins in this underwater light-on-dark chase scene.

Review: This Is Not My Hat was the recipient of last year's Caldecott award. The book is very funny and narrated by a small gray fish who has stolen a tiny bowler hat from a much larger fish. Instead of sticking to our narrator's story, Klassen does a great job in using pictures to give us the real and entire story that our unreliable narrator tends to omit. Readers will hope the best for small thief, but we know danger looms when a big fish comes darting in on the page. It's no surprise that the dominant color of the spreads is black. A thoroughly enjoyable picture book and it reminds me to pick up Klassen's first book titled I Want My Hat Back.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a subtle darkness of what happens to the small gray fish thief at the end of the book. Recommended for ages 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Beware of the Frog by William Bee, Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems, Oh, No!
by Candice Fleming

Description: A perfect square that is perfectly happy is torn into pieces, punched with holes, crumpled, and otherwise changed but finds in each transformation that it can be something new, and just as happy.

Review: Happiness is a topic that we seem to be consistently trying to discover. We believe it requires specific steps such as those mentioned in several self-help books. Perfect Square is a very simple picture book that doesn't have lots of bells and whistles, but it presents a basic message that we sometimes forget. Contentment is a happy, perfect square with matching corners and equal length sides. It even smiles at us. Even when punched, torn, shredded, shattered, snipped, crumpled, ripped, and wrinkled, it finds a new shape and purpose. I loved how each page contains a rainbow of boldly colored pages that shows what has happened to the square at the particular day and displays it's new transformation. Each day brings it's own challenges, but square always finds a way to make itself feel good. 
    The art is very simple; minimal manipulation of the square into six new incarnations of brightly colored acrylic ink prints presents shape, color, and time in the context of a story, but it makes you stop and think how powerful a positive attitude toward change may lead to success (and even joy). I found this picture book highly enjoyable and think it would be a great book for all younger readers and maybe even for adults who need a friendly reminder now and then.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni, Dot by Patricia Intriago, The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein

Rummanah Aasi
  Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you participated in the Witness Protection Program. For Meg Jones, a new process everyday: learning and becoming a new person. It's lonely, frustrating, and unnerving. Many thanks to Disney Hyperion and Netgalley for allowing me to read and review an advanced reader's copy of Ashley Elston's debut novel.

Description (from the Publisher): Shes been six different people in six different places: Madeline in Ohio, Isabelle in Missouri, Olivia in Kentucky . . . But now that shes been transplanted to rural Louisiana, she has decided that this fake identity will be her last. Witness Protection has taken nearly everything from her. But for now, they've given her a new name, Megan Rose Jones, and a horrible hair color. For the past eight months, Meg has begged her father to answer one question: What on earth did he do-or see-that landed them in this god-awful mess? Meg has just about had it with all of the Suits rules-and her dads silence. If he wont help, its time she got some answers for herself. But Meg isn't counting on Ethan Landry, an adorable Louisiana farm boy who's too smart for his own good. He knows Meg is hiding something big. And it just might get both of them killed. As they embark on a perilous journey to free her family once and for all, Meg discovers that there's only one rule that really matters-survival.

Review: Like most readers, I was initially drawn to The Rules for Disappearing because it featured a main character in a Witness Protection Program. Meg Jones and her family have been under Witness Protection for eight months and have been relocated six times. Any day the U.S. Marshals can come to their door to tell them to pack up their things and transfer them to a brand new location. The family will be given new personal histories to memorize, new names, and new appearances. They must never make a mistake. They must always stay in character.
  I had mixed feelings towards Meg. I felt terribly that she had nightmares and was always on edge and uneasy. I loved how Meg took care of her little sister who barely speaks, but her incessant blaming her father for their current situation irritated me. Whatever he's done or seen to land them in this predicament has destroyed the family forever, Mr. Jones has become the scapegoat for the family's frustration and anger. Mr. Jones didn't help the situation either by being so incredibly secretive and not really stepping in when Mrs. Jones drank. I was hoping that the author would focus a bit more on Meg's parents, but the mother is pretty much drunk whenever she appears on the page and the father appears to really try and be their for his family, but ultimately I didn't really think they were three dimensional characters.
  The novel's first half is tense and captivating, as the Jones family tries to adapt to a new home in rural Louisiana. The characters struggle under severe uncertainty and dysfunction. Their new home is dreary, they have very little money, and every bump in the night could mean trouble. Meg has set up some of her own rules that she must follow to keep her profile low: Don't make friends, don't trust anybody, don't use the Internet. Again and again, she tries to discover who is after her family and what happened last June that started this whole mess, but her father won't discuss it. Soon she starts to break her own rules when she gets closer to the truth.
  Elston then breaks the tension when Meg falls in love with a charming boy named Ethan. Their romance was sweet and slowly build throughout the book. Ethan didn't really stand out for me as a character, but he was nice and helped Meg though he had figured out that Meg was lying about her identity pretty quickly. He does help Meg confront a repressed memory, and hits the road with her to free her family for good.
  I have to say that I was disappointed when we learned why the Jones family is in the Witness Protection Program. I thought the answer was too convenient and for me, the plot loses its emotional resonance and becomes implausible, I think some readers will likely enjoy the action. Though we get answers by the end of the book, the author leaves a single unfinished story line for a very likely forthcoming sequel. While I enjoyed this book for the most part and it reminded me a lot of Lois Duncan's books that I read in junior high, I'm not entirely sure if I'll pick up the next book.

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: Shadowlands by Kate Brian, Don't Look Behind You by Lois Duncan
Rummanah Aasi
Just a quick note: I'm attending my last day of the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago and will be on vacation when this review posts. I may not or may not have internet access during vacation, but I will play catch-up with your blogs and comments when I get back. 

 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 has been highly recommended to readers who would like to read a manga that falls in the romantic comedy genre. This series has been a bestselling manga series and is extremely successful with many TV adaptations in Japan as well as in Korea.

Description: Tsukushi realizes that she would have Rui to herself if Shizuka left for France as planned, but she doesn't want to be like the other scheming girls at her school. So she begs Shizuka to stay in Japan for Rui's sake. Domyoji asks Tsukushi for a date at the airport that Shizuka is leaving from, but his sweet words are drowned out by the sound of jets passing by.

Review: As I mentioned in my earlier reviews of this manga series, Boys Over Flowers walks the line between serious and silly. Though it is marketed as a romantic comedy, it does give you food for thought in regards as how cruel we treat one another. 
  Volume 4 picks up right where we left off in volume 3 where Shizuka has made a huge announcement of leaving Japan in pursuit of a modeling career in France and demonstrated how serious she is by chopping off her gorgeous hair in front of a crowd. While her news may not be as much of a shock to us as readers, it opens a big opportunity for our heroine, Tsukushi, who has a huge crush on Rui. Rui hasn't given much attention to Tsukushi because he has been openly shown his interest in Shizuka ever since they were young children. One has to wonder if Shizuka's sudden movement to an entirely different continent is due to Rui's ardent affection for her. Shizuka obviously has feelings for Rui but more in a fraternal kind of way, which is of course what any guy does not want to hear. 
  I really like Shizuka as she doesn't fit into the caricature of a popular, rich, mean girl. She treats Tsukushi very kindly, which is why Tsukushi feels a bit guilty about feeling happy that Shizuka will no longer be competing with her to get Rui. Unlike Shizuka, I couldn't really get a good read on Rui as his personality is a bit standoffish. He is obviously hurt by Shizuka's sudden departure since she is really the only person he truly opened up to.
  What I found to be very interesting is Doyoji's quiet transformation from a rich, dumb, bully to a person who is insecure, vulnerable, and maybe a little bit likable. Though I hate how harshly he treats Tsukushi in the previous volumes, he does have some good moments that make me hesitate in completely writing him off as evil. Unbeknownst to Tsukushi, she does have a big influence on Doyoji's growth as Doyoji tries to understand her in order to win her affections. 
  I have a feeling that the love triangle? rectangle? is only to get messier and a whole lot of drama is going to come our way as the series continues. Normally, I would get annoyed by all of this, but I think this is what makes Boys Over Flowers an enjoyable read. 
  Some of you have asked about the artwork in this manga series. Though it is not the best that I've seen, it does improve with each volume. Doyoji's "Christian Slater hair" (the writer has a big thing for the actor) gets less annoying though I still can't really see the resemblance. There is more concentration of what the characters wear which is an indication of their social status.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and sexual innuendo in this volume. Recommended for teens and up.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol. 5 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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