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. I've been debating about dropping the Boys over Flowers manga series since nothing has really caught my attention with this series thus far, but I was pleasantly surprised with volume 5 and it made me think that I may have judged this manga a little too quickly. Volume 5 is a big game changer and I'm really excited to see where the characters and story arc goes.

Description: Tsukushi endures innumerable ups and downs in this entry in Yoko Kamio's acclaimed series. Domyoji Tsukasa is as jealous as ever with the arrival of Thomas, while lurid and embarrassing photos of Tsukushi and Thomas emerge. Just when she thought things couldn't get any worse, Tsukushi's tormentors up the ante of cruelty and violence. Only one boy comes to her rescue. Which one will it be?

Review: My heart broke for Tsukushi in this volume. I really admire her as a character. She is smart, has a good head on her shoulders and good intentions, but they always manage to back fire on her. Things have gone pretty smooth for Tsukushi after she went on her so-called date, which was absolutely disastrous and hilarious, with Domyoji and the school has accepted her as Domyoji's girlfriend. She is treated kindly for once and not the social pariah. She even has made a new friend in Sakurako, who appears to be a little too pathetic and passive that makes her completely suspicious. Instead of being weary of Sakurako, Tsukushi takes her under her arm and introduces to the F4. Little does Tsukushi know that Sakurako has devised a game that could ruin Tsukushi and the F4!
  The cruel game that Sakurako created quickly comes into play when suggested photos of an incapacitated Tsukushi is found in a very compromising position underneath Thomas, a foreign exchange student Tsukushi met at a party. The photos circle the school and a rumor that Tsukushi slept with this foreign boy and cheated on Domyoji spreads like wildfire. The entire school takes up arms against Tsukushi in support of their elite leader without his knowledge. The bullying starts slowly with Tsukushi's lockers and clothes ruined and accelerates from her being beaten by stones, bats, and even dragged by a car! These scenes were very hard to read and overly dramatic. When Domyoji finds out about the photos he is instantly angry at Tsukushi, but instead of praising his classmates he tells them to stop and surprisingly he comes to her rescue and tells her that he believes she is telling the truth that nothing happened. 
  Volume 5 creates a new connection between Tsukushi and Domyoji, one of trust instead of a weird romantic attraction. Domyoji did not really appeal to me as a character since he's been one dimensional for the past few volumes, but now I'm starting to see his complex layers. I've seen different sides to him now: the rich bully, the insecure boy abandoned by his parents, and now a sensitive guy who admires Tsukushi for never bowing down to him which he finds fascinating and attractive. I can't wait to see how Tsukushi and Domyjoi's relationship changes.
  The artwork of Boys Over Flowers isn't stunning, but it gets better with each volume. Interestingly enough I didn't pick this manga series because of its artwork but rather its characters and story arc which has been praised by many readers. I hope to watch the anime and/or the live action story after finish reading this manga series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, strong bullying violence that even includes attempted rape, and crude humor. Recommended for teens and up.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol. 6 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
Rummanah Aasi
  There is a growing trend in historical fiction for adults that are revisiting the lives of famous artists/authors through the eyes of their wives/lovers. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan is a huge bestselling novel that centers on Frank Lloyd Wright and Martha Cheney was published in 2009. Two years later, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which details the love story between Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Mowrer, became a hot pick and this year's highly recommended novel Z details the lives of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are two more highly buzzed books set to release in a few months about Edgar Allen Poe in Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen and Robert Louis Stevenson in Wide Starry Sky by Nancy Horan.

Description: When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.
  What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.
   Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too?

Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is a lovely, sad and compulsively readable book. It is a common misconception that Zelda Fitzgerald was the reason for F. Scott Fitzgerald's ruin, but Fowler does a great job in making Zelda a three dimensional character and a woman who is struggling to make her own identity outside of her husband's shadow. 
  It's very rare to completely disappear in a historical fiction novel, though details are present of the setting and ambiance you always get the sense that you are a distant from the characters. In Z Fowler's depiction of the Jazz Age is so immaculate that you don't merely revisit the time period but are virtually there witnessing the crazy dinner parties. The setting and details are exactly what we expected but the author goes beyond the superficial and gets to the heart of its subject matter.
  I was really surprised how much I liked Zelda as a character. Sure she was daring, unconventional, and self centered at times but she was also very traditional and paradoxically rooted in her Southern culture. The book briefly touches upon her childhood but mainly focuses on her life's whirlwind journey after she meets the handsome and charming Scott, a budding writer who is about to become famous. The lives Zelda and Scott shared were indulgent and decadent, leaving no securities for future emergencies. I couldn't help but shake my head in wonder how anyone could live their life so recklessly, but that was the rage of the Roaring Twenties. 
  The early years of their marriage are sublime, for both Scott and Zelda are high-spirited, passionate and deeply committed to each other. It's obvious that they adored one another, but there also many reflective moments where Zelda pauses to think how much Scott wanted her to play the role of a celebrity: always present wearing the most expensive and provocative clothes at parties, be charming but don't talk too much, and always try to bring the spotlight back to him. Zelda at first goes along with her husband, relishing the latest fashions, meeting, and even being a celebrity herself but she later realizes that Scott doesn't really want a wife present but a trophy to carry around. Soon all is temporarily forgotten when a chance to travel and live in Paris arises. There is a childlike awe in traveling to Paris, the hub of intellectual creativity, where they had an extensive and astonishing social circle that included Picasso and his mistress, with Cole Porter and his wife, with Gerald and Sara Murphy, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound and Jean Cocteau, Hemingway and Hadley. 
  With the success of This Side of Paradise, Scott quickly believes he is the greatest author alive, and life becomes an endless series of parties. His drinking escalates to the point where he was to drink in order to stay focused. The Fitzgerald's interactions with the Hemingway in particular highlights the flaws of both characters and their troubled marriage. Scott is so obsessed with being "the American author" that he catalyzes Zelda's own unhappiness and nervous breakdown, leading her to an asylum (she was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic at the time and would now me diagnosed as having biopolar depression). We witness Zelda's increasing desperation to establish her own identity- she writes stories that Scott "claims" as his own to sell to the publisher when they desperately needed the money. She was also an artist who loved to paint and a great dancer. She in fact studied ballet and gets an invitation to join a dance company in Italy, but Scott won't allow her to leave. He bullies her, and she fights back. Their pull and tug relationship is made Zelda and Scott so alluring and memorable for readers. I know that as soon as I finished Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, I wanted to read This Side of Paradise all over again. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is language and sexual situations in the novel. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Romantic Egoists: Pictorial autobiography from the scrapbooks and albums of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck, Wide Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (released on January 2014)
Rummanah Aasi

I usually try to fit in some spooky reads for Halloween to get me in the spirit of the holiday. Below are some of the books that I thought about reading next month. Have you read any of these books? Are they Halloween worthy?

Adult Picks

I'm not a big fan of the horror genre, especially where is there lots of blood, guts, and gore so I thought I would read some of the classic books that I haven't had a chance to read yet. 

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

I've read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson which was extremely disturbing and creepy, but I always wanted to read her full length novel. I know the book has been adapted into films many times. 

Danny was only five years old but in the words of old Mr Halloran he was a 'shiner', aglow with psychic voltage. When his father became caretaker of the Overlook Hotel his visions grew frighteningly out of control. 
  As winter closed in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seemed to develop a life of its own. It was meant to be empty, but who was the lady in Room 217, and who were the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why did the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive? 
Somewhere, somehow there was an evil force in the hotel - and that too had begun to shine.

The only book I read by Stephen King was Carrie and I wasn't really impressed by it, but I'm willing to give the master of contemporary horror another shot. I thought the Shining would be a good pick considering I can only watch the first 30 min of the movie that starrs Jack Nicholson. I'm also curious as how King wrote the sequel to this book with Doctor Sleep

YA Picks

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town… until River West comes along. River rents the guest house behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more?
  Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery... who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.

I've been saving my ARC of this book for Halloween. It's got the perfect ambiance along with a really catchy description. I really hope it doesn't disappoint!

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.
  Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.
  As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

I've bought The Diviners the day it came out, went to an author event, and still have not managed to read this book yet. I just haven't had time, but I'm determined to read this one for October! I've loved everything that I've read by Libba Bray so far so I'm sure I'm going to love this one as well. 

Children Picks

Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the moss. . . .When Cora and her younger sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Byers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome. Auntie Ida is eccentric and rigid, and the girls are desperate to go back to London. But what they don't know is that their aunt's life was devastated the last time two young sisters were at Guerdon Hall, and she is determined to protect her nieces from an evil that has lain hidden for years. Along with Roger and Peter, two village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries -- before it's too late for little Mimi.

Horror stories from Britain? I'm in! After watching this chilling book trailer, I may just have to read this one with the lights on.

Neither artistic, dreamy Jenna nor surly, delinquent Lucas expected to find themselves at an invitation-only summer camp that turns problem children into prodigies. And yet, here they both are at Camp Fielding, settling in with all the other losers and misfits who’ve been shipped off by their parents in a last-ditch effort to produce a child worth bragging about.
 But strange disappearances, spooky lights in the woods, and a chilling alteration that turns the dimmest, rowdiest campers into docile zombie Einsteins have Jenna and Lucas feeling more than a little suspicious . . . and a lot afraid.

This graphic novel has gotten some great reviews and has been listed on different libraries' Halloween reading lists. It looks like a fun read.

What are you reading for Halloween?

Be sure to check out the huge and fabulous Something This Way Comes blogging event featuring loads of book reviews, giveaways, author events, and so much more! Something This Way Comes is hosted by awesome bloggers, Heidi@Rainy Day Ramblings Candace@Candace's Book Blog,Maja@The Nocturnal Library and Ali@My Guilty Obsession.
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm a big fan of Downton Abbey, a British drama series that details the lives of the people that live and work in the manor called Downton Abbey. With counting down the days (102 and counting!) until the premiere of Season 4, I thought I give a graphic novel parody of the show a try.

Description: While the Granville family dutifully entertain their guests at Devonton Abbey, an ace team of Secret Service agents camp out as unsuspecting household staff, protecting the Royal Crown and her citizens from impending world war.
   Who is aware of the international intrigue concealed below stairs? Will Agent Gates save Britain from her enemies while ensuring Devonton Abbey’s reputation is upheld? Will Lady Margaret secure a proposal from Martin Crawhill, the heir to the estate? Will Thompson and O’Malley ever get lung cancer? 
Review: Agent Gates tries to be a parody and a spy story, but doesn't quite succeed in both. I think readers who aren't aware of the series and don't really know anything about the characters might at a loss to see what all the hoopla is about. While the writers manage to make fun of the daily routine of the servants below the stairs and the histrionics of the upper-class, the spy story unfolds awkwardly in the middle of the book which doesn't really add to the graphic novel. As a result, I only chuckled a few times, especially when the Dowanger with an acid tongue and a stony glare appeared on the page, throughout the graphic novel but it got old fast.
  The illustrations of the graphic novel were a bit inconsistent. Some of the characters mirror the actors in some of the panels but don't look anything recognizable in the next. Beyond tackling the major events of Season 1, Agent Gates is a parody in the same vein as the Scary Movies and reads like fan fiction rather than being something truly remarkable. Still I would recommend it if you need a laugh and a quick read.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language. Recommended for teens and adults who enjoy watching Downton Abbey.

If you like this book try: Hunger Pains by The Harvard Lampoon, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin
Rummanah Aasi
    Sue Macleod's Namesake is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The story grabbed me right away. If you are in the mood for a well written and suspenseful historical fiction read, be sure to check this book out! I'm also doing a giveaway of the book so if you're interested, be sure to check out the giveaway information at the end of this post.

Description: It started with a history project. Mr. Gregor assigned a research paper on a figure from the Tudor era, and of course Jane Grey had to pick her namesake—Lady Jane Grey, the fifteen-year-old girl whose parents schemed to place her on the throne of England, then abandoned her to face the executioner. The project is engrossing from the start, but when Jane opens a mysterious prayer book and finds herself in the Tower of London in 1553, she ends up literally drawn into her namesake’s story. Soon, Jane is slipping into the past whenever the present becomes too unbearable, avoiding her mother’s demands, her best friend’s fickleness, her crush’s indifference. In the Tower she plays chess with the imprisoned Lady Jane, awed by her new friend’s strength and courage. And it is in the Tower, keeping vigil as the day of the execution draws near, that Jane learns that she, too, must have the courage to fight for her own happiness.

Review: Namesake is an absorbing read that combines the excitement of time traveling, realistic fiction, and historical fiction. In the present day, our heroine Jane Grey is dealing with her own tenuous situation at home. Her father has passed away and her mother seeks solace by drinking heavily, leaving Jane in the dark with her wild mood swings. At school Jane is wrapped up in an assignment for her history class, detailing the life of Lady Jane Grey who was the Queen of England for just nine days until she saw her horrible end.
  I really liked present day Jane, she is an ordinary girl who has insecurities and doubts just like all of us, but by no means is she boring. Jane is sympathetic to Lady Jane's dilemma, recognizing the similarity in the extent of their dire circumstances and inability to change them. Jane is ashamed of her mother's drinking habit and would like to get help but doesn't want to exacerbate her mother's wild mood swings. Not surprising that Jane has concerns when her history group must meet at each other's homes for study and editing sessions. And with best friend Megan hanging out with the tactless, arty Crisco and wrapped up in a boyfriend situation, Jane is feeling more and more isolated and unable to find support. For Jane, slipping back into 1553 gives her an opportunity to exert some control.
  The way the time traveling works is very interesting. Lady Jane's Book of Prayers is Jane's portal back to time. While Namesake may be initially seen as a standard time-slip novel, with a contemporary character going back in time to learn something which she could apply to her own life, the book goes beyond trope by having both Janes interact and take active roles in each other's lives, even to the point of altering history if that could save their friendship. Jane educates Lady Jane on the vernacular and popular culture of her Halifax and Canada. And while Lady Jane does begin to try to wrap her head around the modern vernacular, I like how the author chose Lady Jane to use it as a foreign language instead of jumping back to modern language. Lady Jane's voice is authentic and learning modern English provides for some much-needed humor in a dark story. Her voice is true and melodic, never wavering from that of a sixteenth-century young woman. I really think you get a sense of who Lady Jane was as as person, a girl who died for her beliefs and who couldn't fight to changer her fate.    I'm really glad that the author chose a figure in the Tudor history who isn't necessarily scandalous and who isn't all that removed from the main character's age, to share their lives and their stories, and developing their new friendship which both of them needed desperately. Though the ending of Lady Jane's story is heartbreaking, it sparks a change in present day Jane and delivers a light romance along with a hopeful open ending. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language in the book and there are allusions to the mother's alcoholism. Recommended for strong Grade 6 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Anastasia Secret by Susan Dunlap


Due to the generosity of Pajama Press, the publisher for Namesake, I have 2 copies of the book to giveaway to 2 readers in the U.S. and/or Canada. The giveaway will last until Saturday, October 5th at 12:00 PM EST. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment with your name and email address so I can contact you if you win. The winners of the giveaway will be announced on the blog on Sunday, October 6th. Good luck!
Rummanah Aasi
  Swimming at Night is a promising debut novel by Lucy Clarke that is perfect for a summer or traveling book. With its wonderful traveling descriptions and an intriguing story, it is sure to sweep you away.

Description: Katie’s world is shattered by the news that her headstrong and bohemian younger sister, Mia, has been found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Bali. The authorities say that Mia jumped—that her death was a suicide. 
   Although they’d hardly spoken to each other since Mia suddenly left on an around-the-world trip six months earlier, Katie refuses to accept that her sister would have taken her own life. Distraught that they never made peace, Katie leaves her orderly, sheltered life in London behind and embarks on a journey to find out the truth. With only the entries in Mia’s travel journal as her guide, Katie retraces the last few months of her sister’s life and—page by page, country by country—begins to uncover the mystery surrounding her death. 

Review: I wouldn't necessarily categorize Swimming at Night a thriller as it didn't really raise my pulse and I wasn't turning pages quickly enough like it indicates in its description, but rather an absorbing portrait of two sisters with a mystery thrown in for good measure. Reading the book I felt as if I was back packing along with Katie as she follows her younger sister Mia's diary entries to recapture her thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of her so-called suicide. Katie doesn't believe that Mia took her own life, but has reason to believe it was foul play. The only way she can prove her suspicious is to follow Mia's tracks, but the ordinary set up for a common mystery trope proves to be much more complicated as Clarke creates characters who are three dimensional, likable, and we in some ways empathize with their pains. 
  Katie and Mia are complete opposites. Katie is the older sister, the one who is always responsible, follows the rules, the hard worker. Mia is the beautiful artist, the dreamer, the drifter, the free spirit. Even with all their differences, the sisters were always close, always loving, tolerate of their short comings until the death of their beloved mother and the unforgivable dalliances of a drunken night cause a seemingly unfixable rift between the siblings. 
  Mia discovers a startling secret throwing her future in disarray, which ignites a sudden trip to find herself by purchasing an open-ended ticket to explore the world. Mia makes some reckless and stupid choices, but you can understand her impulsive behavior when the secret is revealed. I felt sorry for her and I found her journal entries interesting. I was anxious to find out what really happened on Mia's journey and engaged in the story. I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy a mystery without the gory or strong violence that like contemporary fiction.  

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Sister by Rosamund Lupton, The Beach by Alex Garland
Rummanah Aasi
  Wonder Show was nominated for the William Morris award, an award given to debut authors, last year. I haven't heard much about the book until the book awards last year and decided to check it out.

Description: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show, a menagerie of human curiosities and misfits guaranteed to astound and amaze! But perhaps the strangest act of Mosco’s display is Portia Remini, a normal among the freaks, on the run from McGreavy’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, that she could never leave. Free at last, Portia begins a new life on the bally, seeking answers about her father’s disappearance. Will she find him before Mister finds her? It’s a story for the ages, and like everyone who enters the Wonder Show, Portia will never be the same.

Review: It's difficult to call Wonder Show a novel as it is more like vinettes showing the slices of Portia's life. The story takes place during the Great Depression. Portia is burdened with guilt over the sudden death of her friend. She escapes from the McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls to search for Max, her father. Portia believes her father escaped from their Gypsy camp and followed the circus in hopes of finding a job and getting enough money to come back for her. With this hope in her heart, Portia escapes on a stolen bicycle and joins a carnival and finds a family of sorts in Mosco's Traveling Wonder Show.
  The story moves rather slowly in a sort of dreamlike fashion due to the predominately third person narration, making the reader an observer rather an active participant in the story. The pace picks up when Portia is introduced to the various characters of the circus.  She shares a trailer with Violet, a restless teenager whose parents and brother are albinos; trains for the ballyhoo under Jackal, who lures spectators to the sideshow of "freaks"; and enjoys the protection of Gideon, a young man whose father was impoverished by the stock-market crash. Portia has an unique place in the circus, while she is shunned for and constantly reminded of being 'normal' amongst the freaks, she is protected when her safety is threatened by the incredibly creepy and smarmy "Mister," who runs McGreavey's, comes to the circus in search of Portia.    There is plenty of melodrama in Wonder Show, but author balances this with the book's vivid setting and wide variety of secondary characters which Portia learns some of their back stories. The author also adds some nice information and insights about the circus life to give her story some context especially in some of the steamy aspects of the circus. I'm not exactly sure how popular this book will be with teens or if it's a book for everyone, but it's certainly worth checking out if you're curious about circuses.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are dark themes including the inferences of molestation, abandonment, animal cruelty as well as a sideshow act where beautiful conjoined sisters do a naked dance which gives enough detail to know what is going on. There is also a handful of strong language in the book too. With these reservations, I would recommended the book to strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try:  August Acrobat by Ron Roy, Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan, Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus of Life by Michael De Guzman or for older readers Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern,
Rummanah Aasi
  Brigid Kemmerer's Elemental series is incredibly addicting, compulsively readable, and well written. I'm a bit burnt from the whole paranormal romance genre at the moment because every book seems to be the exact same with the only difference in the characters names. I definitely suggest picking up this great series if you're in a reading slump or just want to lose yourself in a good book for a few hours. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an advanced readers copy of Breathless and Spirit.

Description (edited to avoid spoilers): Nick Merrick is supposed to be the level-headed one. The peacemaker. Since it’s just him and his three hotheaded brothers against the world, that’s a survival tactic. But now he’s got problems even his brothers can’t help him survive. His so-called girlfriend, Quinn, is going quick as mercury from daring to crazy. Meanwhile, Quinn’s dancer friend is throwing Nick off balance, forcing him to recognize a truth he’d rather shove back into the dark. He can feel it—the atmosphere is sizzling. Danger is on the way. But whatever happens next, Nick is starting to find out that sometimes nothing you do can keep the peace.

Review: Breathless is a pleasant surprise, especially with an ending that made your jaw drop and go "Wha??" Out of the Merrick brothers, Nick is suppose to be the one that has it all together. He is suppose to make it out of their small hometown, go to college and have a career unlike his brothers. All of these expectations accumulate on his shoulders until they become unbearable. When Nick befriends one of Quinn's friends, this are more trickier than ever. He discovers a secret that he has long ago abandoned due to it's contrast of what he is suppose to be for his brothers and what he believes of himself.
  After Michael, Nick is my second favorite brother. I'm excited yet at the same time afraid of the heartbreak he will face in his full fledged book called Secret. I love how Kemmerer keeps her series fresh with new ideas and obstacles her characters face though they might not be completely original. The characters are what makes me come back to this series over and over again. This novella sets up Secret perfectly and we given so many questions to ponder.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Chronicles of Nick series by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Intertwined series by Gena Showalter, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Description: With power comes enemies. Lots of them. Hunter Garrity just wants to be left alone. He’s learned the hard way that his unusual abilities come at a price. And he can’t seem to afford any allies. He’s up to his neck in hostiles. His grandfather, spoiling for a fight. The Merrick brothers, who think he ratted them out. Calla, the scheming psycho who wants to use him as bait. Then there’s Kate Sullivan, the new girl at school. She’s not hostile. She’s bold. Funny. Hot. But she’s got an agenda, too. With supposedly secret powers rippling to the surface everywhere around him, Hunter knows something ugly is about to go down. But finding out what means he’ll have to find someone he can trust…

Review: Unlike Storm and Spark which focuses on introducing the main cast of characters and a strong romance story, Spirit is solely focuses on the character arc of Hunter Garrity. My opinions of Hunter change like a barometer, which I think is what the author wanted. Sometimes I think he's an ally for the Merricks, genuinely wants to them and other times I'm not really sure what is his real motive. Hunter has always lived by one simple rule: Do not trust anyone else but yourself. He is a loner by choice though he has moments of vulnerability in which he would like to unburden his thoughts and guilt to another person. It was interesting to read how Hunter got himself in a hole and needed to break down his defenses in order to ask for help. It was also fascinating to see how our perspectives of the Merricks from an outsider's perspective doesn't really change but makes them much more likable.
  There is a lot more action in Spirit as we are introduced to another smart villain, but there is also a subtle romance that works well but doesn't overwhelm the plot. Kate Sullivan is Hunter's equal in almost every aspect of their personality and back story. They play each other off really well and their romance is what enhances their character growth. I was stunned to read how Spirit ended and the risk that the author took. While sad, I'm also curious as to how Hunter will react in future books, go back to his shell or continues to grow. I really hope the latter.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, crude sexual humor, a small non-explicit sex scene, and underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Secret by Brigid Kemmerer (Elementals #4) *Released 2014, Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris, Touch by Jus Accardo,
Rummanah Aasi

   I've been inspired by Small Review's Tips and Tricks feature and thought I could do something similar for readers who have questions about manga. This week's question has to do with the format of manga:

I'm curious to read a manga, but where do I start?

  Whenever I do a manga review, I always seem to find this question somewhere in the comments or from emails from readers. Manga is intimidating, especially for readers who have yet to become familiar with its format and artwork. The plethora of series available digitally and in print are overwhelming and can make your head spin.
  I started reading manga about seven years ago. I found more and more of students reading it at the library and I was to curious to find out what had them hooked. I solicited series recommendations from librarians, friends, and students and then took a dive into manga. It took me a while to get adjusted to the reading format, but the more I read and enjoyed the easier it got.
  I'm no expert when it comes to manga by any means. I take a lot of risks in jumping to series without much knowledge. I check out the New York Times Graphic Novel Bestsellers and see what's popular at other libraries and the internet. I typically give each manga series a three volume try. After three volumes, if I'm not invested in the characters or the story, I drop it and find something else. Like choosing an ordinary book to read, I select a manga series based on genre and book descriptions. Below are some titles that I've had my eye on to read and I think may be of interest to a reluctant manga reader or even a fluent manga reader who wants something new or different to read. I've tried breaking down the categories by genre, but you'll see that there are lots of cross-overs.

If you like historical fiction try these mangas:

Lydia Carlton is a fairy doctor,one of the few people with the ability to see the magical creatures who share our world. During one of her rare trips to London to visit her father, Lydia’s quiet life is suddenly transformed when she is rescued from kidnappers by a mysterious young man! Edgar Ashenbert claims to be descended from the human ruler of the fairy kingdom, and he urgently needs Lydia’s help to find and claim his birthright, the legendary sword of the Blue Knight Earl. Things will never be the same for Lydia as she is pulled into a dangerous quest against dark forces!

In the year 1863, a time fraught with violent social upheaval, samurai warriors of all walks of life flock to Kyoto in the hope of joining the Mibu Roshi--a band of warriors united around their undying loyalty to the Shogunate system. In time, this group would eventually become one of the greatest (and most infamous) revolutionary movements in Japanese history...the Shinsengumi! Into this fierce milieu steps Kamiya Seizaburo, a young, would-be warrior who, though lacking in combat experience, possesses a fiery enthusiasm to both aid the Mibu Roshi in their mission and to avenge his wrongfully murdered family. One of the group's most gifted (and immature) swordsman, the legendary Okita Soji, agrees to take Seizaburo under his wing. But what no one suspects, least of all Soji, is that Seizaburo is actually a girl named Tominaga Sei in disguise! Will she be able to become a warrior and hide her true identity?

From birth, Cesare Borgia is surrounded by shadows. Damned by his own father and driven by the demons, his quest for power threatens to set the world of Renaissance Italy ablaze - unless one innocent person can drive away the poisonous shadows ravaging him! Enter the world of the Borgias, a world of unspeakable conspiracies and forbidden desires. A family whose murderous intrigues would make them infamous throughout history. A history written in blood... and a poison called Cantarella.

If you like fantasy try these mangas:

Princess Nakaba of Senan is forced to marry Prince Caesar of the enemy country Belquat, tantamount to becoming a hostage. While Caesar is pleasing to the eye, he is also selfish and possessive, telling Nakaba outright: “You are my property.” With only her attendant Loki at her side, Nakaba must find a way to cope with her hostile surroundings, her fake marriage...and a mysterious power!

Takashi Natsume can see the spirits and demons that hide from the rest of humanity. He has always been set apart from other people because of his gift, drifting from relative to relative, never fitting in. Now he is a troubled high school student who has come to live in the small town where his grandmother grew up. And there he discovers that he has inherited more than just the Sight from the mysterious Reiko.

Hikaru Shindo is like any sixth-grader in Japan: a pretty normal school boy with a two-tone head of hair and a penchant for antics. One day, he finds an old bloodstained Ho board in his grandfather's attic - and that's when thing get really interesting. Trapped inside the Go board is Fujiwara-no-Sai, the ghost of an ancient Go master who taught the strategically complex bpard game to the Emperor of Japan many centuries ago. In one fateful moment, Sai becomes a part of Hikaru's consciousness and together, through thick and thin, they make an unstoppable Go-playing team. Will they be able to defeat Go players who have dedicated their lives to the game? Will Sai achieve the "Divine Move" so he'll finally be able to rest in peace? Begin your journey with Hikaru and Sai in this first volume of Hikaru no Go.

If you like mysteries/thrillers try these mangas:

You have just awakened to find your darkest, ugliest secret revealed to classmates who would do anything to destroy you. This is what's happened to Ichijou Mashiro, whose elite school education turns into the most horrifying experience of his life when he's enlisted by a mysterious school nurse to take an after-hours class. Only those who pass the class will graduate, and the only way for Mashiro to pass is to enter into a nightmare world... where his body and soul will be at the mercy of his worst enemies. Can Mashiro keep his life-long secret - that he is not truly a "he" nor entirely a "she" - or will he finally be "outted" in the most humiliating way possible?

*I've read this one and it's fabulous. A big thumbs up if you like psychology and dream vs. reality. The story and characters are complex with each volume.

Michiru Kita's a weak-spirited girl who has a hard time saying what's on her mind. One day, she notices mysterious, ring-like markings around the necks of two of her classmates, Chika Akatsuki and Shito Tachibana - two boys who miraculously survived a horrible accident six months ago. Michiru, possessing the rare ability to see these rings, knows that they warn of impending death. Thinking that, perhaps, she can do something to save her classmates' lives, she approaches them...but it seems the boys have already made a different kind of deal and garnered themselves a heavy debt.

Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects - and he's bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal...or his life?

*Death note was my first manga series I've read. It really opened my eyes on how complex mangas really are with its twisted story, characters, and story arc. I've yet to watch the anime, but I've heard very good things about it. 

If you like realistic fiction and/or romance try these mangas:

The son of a famous pianist, music student Shinichi Chiaki dreams of studying abroad and becoming a conductor like his mentor. Unfortunately, his fear of flying grounds his lofty plans! As he watches other classmates achieve what he has always wanted, Shinichi wonders if he should quit music altogether. 
  Then one day he meets fellow student Megumi Noda, also known as Nodame. This oddball girl cannot cook, clean, or even read a music score, but she can play the piano in incomparable Cantabile style. And she teaches Chiaki something that he has forgotten: to enjoy his music, no matter where he is.

School is Yukari's life until she is kidnapped one afternoon by a group of fashion students calling themselves "Paradise Kiss." Wooed by George, the group's leader and resident art snob, Yukari discovers the world of high-fashion and a beauty she never knew she had. One of the top-selling shojo titles in Japan, Paradise Kiss stretches the manga genre with a combination of exquisite artwork, high comedy, and coming-of-age angst.

*The mangaka of this manga also wrote Nana, which I enjoyed reading last year. I actually watched the anime of this series and really enjoyed it. I hope to read the manga series soon

Shy Georges never takes issue wth the boys at his religious school. He’s thoughtful, helpful, cool... even the teachers adore him! In fact, no one disagrees that he’s one of the most popular students in class. But when the tall and brooding new kid Robert comes crashing into his life, Georges is backed into a corner and forced to confront dark secrets long-hidden from those who thought they knew him best. Now, Georges has Robert questioning his faith, the bratty royal Freddy testing his nerves, and everyone else gossiping behind his back. With alliances formed and broken in the blink of an eye, can Georges emerge from the battle a true leader, or will his fragile world finally shatter under pressure?

 As you can see, there are lots of genres and types of manga out there to choose from. I hope you found some series to try. If you've already read of any of these series, I'm curious to read your thoughts! As always, feel free to send me your questions about manga and I will try my best to answer them. 
Rummanah Aasi
  Jojo Moyes is a bestselling author in the UK, but I haven't heard much about her until her U.S. breakthrough hit, Me Before You, popped on the scene earlier this year. Some readers may love it while others will want to throw the book across the room because of its unapologetic ending.

Description (from the publisher):  They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose.
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life--steady boyfriend, close family--who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life--big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel--and now he's pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
  Will is acerbic, moody, bossy--but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

Review: Me Before You is a bittersweet romance, an emotional read that slowly builds until it crescendos in the epilogue. Louisa is a twenty something year old who really hasn't given much thought with what she wants to do with her life. She goes along with her dull boyfriend and her only job experience is working at a neighborhood cafe. She feels a sense of lost when the only job she has ever known abruptly ends due to economic turmoil. Living at home with her lively working-class family in a small English town, she is keenly aware of the financial stress her family is in and she must find a job fast. She sees an advertisement for a caretaker and applies, which is where she meets Will Traynor.
  Will Traynor was a former world traveler, ladies' man and business tycoon who loved his job until a tragic accident left him quadriplegic two years ago. Once full of life and taking adventures, Will doesn't have much to live for. He can't stand seeing pity in people's eyes when they look at him and hates that his situation prevents him from being self reliant. He doesn't want his disability to define himself yet he prevents himself from improving his situation by asking for help.
   Will's magistrate mother hires Louisa at a relatively hefty salary to be Will's caregiver and keep him company for the next six months. The relationship starts off rocking with hardly any communication between Louisa and Will, but their relationship starts to grow and affect both of their lives. Will encourages Louisa to become comfortable in her own skin, seize life, and take chances where as Louisa reintroduces happiness and human contact in Will's life.
  There is a big secret that Will has not told Louisa, but it wasn't a surprise. As much as I knew what the secret was, I didn't want it to be true. Moyes isn't afraid to pulling emotional punches. The injustices of the disabled that we don't think about as able bodies are clearly brought forth and are eye opening. I did have teary moments while reading the book and dreaded reaching the end of the story. While the ending isn't Hollywood, you really wished it was.  Despite some obviousness in the story-line, Me Before You is actually uplifting when you emotionally remove yourself and view the book as a whole. All the characters, primary and secondary, are fully drawn characters making difficult choices. The book makes you question about selfishness on various levels and whether or not it is appropriate to be selfish on occasions. Moyes is definitely a writer that I would read again.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Cautions: There is strong language, sexual situations, and mature topics in the book. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: You're Not You by Michelle Wildgen, One Day by David Nicholls, Enough About Love by HervĂ© Le Tellier
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: Secret (Elementals #4) by Brigid Kemmerer and Lady Thief (Scarlet #2) by A.C. Gaughen.

Nowhere is safe. Not even home…

Nick Merrick is stretched to the breaking point.

Keep his grades sky-high or he’ll never escape his hometown.
Keep his brother’s business going or the Merricks will be out on the street.
Keep the secret of where he’s going in the evenings from his own twin—-or he’ll lose his family.

Keep his mind off the hot, self-assured dancer who’s supposed to be his “girlfriend’s” partner.

Of course there’s also the homicidal freak Quinn has taken to hanging around, and the Elemental Guide counting the hours until he can try again to kill the Merrick brothers.

There’s a storm coming. From all sides. And then some.

Nick Merrick, can you keep it together?

Expected Release Date: January 28, 2014

Why am I waiting?: I'm a huge fan of the Elementals series and have finally caught up on the series. The novella titled Breathless ends with a huge revelation about Nick Merrick that made my jaw drop (in a good way) and I can't wait to read his story.

Scarlet’s true identity has been revealed, but her future is uncertain. Her forced marriage to Lord Gisbourne threatens Robin and Scarlet’s love, and as the royal court descends upon Nottingham for the appointment of a new Sheriff, the people of Nottingham hope that Prince John will appoint their beloved Robin Hood. But Prince John has different plans for Nottingham that revolve around a fateful secret from Scarlet’s past even she isn’t yet aware of. Forced to participate at court alongside her ruthless husband, Scarlet must bide her time and act the part of a noblewoman—a worthy sacrifice if it means helping Robin’s cause and a chance at a future with the man she loves. With a fresh line of intrigue and as much passion as ever, the next chapter in Scarlet’s tale will have readers talking once again.

Expected Release Date: February 11, 2014

Why am I waiting?: I thoroughly enjoyed Gaughen's debut novel, Scarlet, which re-imagines the famous story of Robin Hood with the focus on a strong female character. Normally I get irritated with series because they just seem unending, however, there were so many loose plot threads and I loved the characters in Scarlet that I really hoped there would be a sequel. Now I just have to wait until February!

What books are you waiting for this week?

Rummanah Aasi
  Clockwork Princess was one of the books I looked forward to reading the most this year. I was excited and nervous that the epic conclusion of one of my favorite series might not be good. I avoided reading reviews of all kinds and hid the book from my sight when I purchased it. I was finally coaxed by a few friends to read it over Spring Break, mostly because they needed someone to talk about the book. I was a mess while reading, with Clare playing cat's cradle with my emotions. The Infernal Devices, in my opinion, outshines the Mortal Instruments, a series that I think that has lasted longer than it should have. I will definitely revisit these characters with a reread.

Description (from the publisher): A net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. Mortmain plans to use his Infernal Devices, an army of pitiless automatons, to destroy the Shadowhunters. He needs only one last item to complete his plan: he needs Tessa Gray.
  Charlotte Branwell, head of the London Institute, is desperate to find Mortmain before he strikes. But when Mortmain abducts Tessa, the boys who lay equal claim to her heart, Jem and Will, will do anything to save her. For though Tessa and Jem are now engaged, Will is as much in love with her as ever.
  As those who love Tessa rally to rescue her from Mortmain’s clutches, Tessa realizes that the only person who can save her is herself. But can a single girl, even one who can command the power of angels, face down an entire army?

Review: Clockwork Princess is a fantastic conclusion to the Infernal Devices trilogy and it pulls at your heartstrings from beginning to end. Politics, clockworks, heartache, hope, and a very cruel love triangle are the focus of the book.  There is never a dull moment in the story, from the hidden doors of politics and intrigue to the painful romantic drama as Jem, Tessa, and Will fight to keep their emotions in check.
  One major criticism that I've heard about the Infernal Devices is that the characters are very similar to those of the Mortal Instruments series, but I would have to disagree. Clare definitely fleshes out the personalities, flaws and all, on each of the characters including the important secondary characters who also hold an important role in the story's arc. I was and still am a huge Jem fan but I began to appreciate and like Will just as much, which is a true sign of the character arc. Though romantic love is the story's backbone, Clare also addresses the importance of familial love, not just between siblings but also between Will and Jem who are very much like brothers.Clare makes you care and invest your heart in her characters, which is why I shed many tears, both happy and sad, while reading the book.
  I was very surprised and delighted how the love triangle was solved. Clare pulls an interesting twist and her characters take time to reflect and act on their feelings. Of course there is lots of brooding, sighing, and longing gazes exchanged which some readers might find too schmaltzy but I didn't care. I loved every minute of the romance and I just wanted everyone to be happy. The large questions of what is Mortmain's real plan and what paranormal/supernatural being is Tessa exactly are addressed. There were a few twists that I didn't see coming and some of which I don't exactly understand at the moment and I hope Clare does address them in the final installment of the Mortal Instrument series. The book ends, of course, in Clare's trademark climactic battle, cinematic as always.
  Those who are on the fence about starting the long and intimidating Mortal Instruments series should seriously consider picking up the prequel series. All three books are now available and there is no excuse to not read them. Just be sure to set aside plenty of time to get lost in a good book. 

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong fantasy violence and a small non-explicit sex scene. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent, Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray
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. I'm still catching up on the Black Butler manga series, I'm about two volumes behind.

Description: Whispers turn into screaming headlines in Earl Ciel Phantomhive's morning paper as word of the dead being resurrected takes society by storm. But when the unsavoury details of the business reach Ciel's ear, he and his superlative butler, Sebastian, book themselves on a luxury liner to look into these alleged miracles and the "Aurora Society" conducting them. As the waters lap and crash all around the vessel, mysterious individuals gather under the banner of the "Phoenix." Ciel and Sebastian may be one step closer to the truth, but have they sealed their fates by conducting an investigation on what could easily become a floating coffin...?

Review: Volume 11 of Black Butler wraps up the Sherlock homage mystery story arc from the last two volumes and prepares us for a new arc for later volumes. In the last volume, the young Arthur Conan Doyle saw that Sebastian was really Jeremy (who I later found out was a real actor who played Sherlock Holmes) and that he was obviously not dead. The first two chapters details how Sebastian pulled everything off and why. I liked how Toboso took time to explain all the twists and turns as there are some of the surprises I figured out ahead of time while there were a few surprises and there were questions that weren't completely addressed in volume 10.  The next big reveal is Ciel's surprising choice for a new footman and I'm curious to see how this new footman will get along with the other workers at Ciel's estate. 
  Towards the end of this volume, we are introduced to a couple new characters and a secret society called  the Aurora Society who claims to be able to resurrect the dead. The notion of resurrecting the dead seem far fetched even for Ciel and Sebastian, but it does make them curious. Following the news of the mysterious secret society is Elizabeth, Ciel's betrothed, with the news that her whole family is going on a three week cruise and she wants Ciel to come. Naturally he doesn’t want to accompany clingy Elizabeth until he learns that the Aurora Society is on board so he eventually agrees and takes Sebastian and the new footman  with him. Infiltrating the society was simpler than one would have imagined with plenty of comedy and eyebrow raising events. And of course Black Butler wouldn't be complete without some creepiness, the volume ends as a Frankensteinesque creature pops up and is about to devour the characters in a cliffhanger ending.
  The art is simply gorgeous as always. Toboso has obviously done a lot of research regarding the science of trying to bring the dead to life along with naming a hospital is also a nod to another horror story of this era. I am looking forward to volume twelve.

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. 12 by Yana Toboso, Pandora Hearts by Kazue Kato
Rummanah Aasi
 Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden is a very popular book club choice. Though its size, a whopping 552 pages, may seem daunting at first but the book is a fast read and for the most part an enjoyable read. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy multi-generational stories.

Description (from the Publisher): A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book -- a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and with very little to go on, "Nell" sets out on a journey to England to try to trace her story, to find her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell's death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. At Cliff Cottage, on the grounds of Blackhurst Manor, Cassandra discovers the forgotten garden of the book's title and is able to unlock the secrets of the beautiful book of fairy tales.

Review: Intricate, intersecting narratives form the structure of the book. In 1913, a little girl arrives in Brisbane, Australia, and is taken in by a childless dockmaster and his wife. She doesn’t know her name, and the only clue to her identity is a book of fairy tales tucked inside a white suitcase.  When the girl, called "Nell", grows up, she starts to piece together bits of her story, but just as she’s on the verge of going to England to trace the mystery to its source, her grandaughter, Cassandra, is left in her care. When Nell dies, Cassandra finds herself the owner of a cottage in Cornwall, and makes the journey to England to finally solve the puzzle of Nell’s origins. The story shifts back and forth over a span of around 100 years and taps into the Dickensian time period with orphans and dark, dreary Victorian England. There are family secrets sprinkled throughout the story, but some of them were quite obvious and easy to figure out before their big reveal. While some all the pieces of the mystery doesn't really mesh well and the allusions to fairy tales are heavy-handed at times, The Forgotten Garden is an easy book to lose yourself. It’s a satisfying read, but it the story could have been written tightly and easily shaved off the last 200 pages. I really wouldn't be surprised to find out that the book would be adapted into a cable movie/miniseries.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to incest, sexual situations, and some language. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, Wildflower Hill by Kimberly Freeman, The Lost Hours by Karen White
Rummanah Aasi
  Because of Winn-Dixie is Kate DiCamillo's debut novel and a Newbery Honor winner. I've heard much about the book but never actually read it until now. I had really high expectations for the book due to its popularity and felt a bit underwhelmed after finishing it.

Description: Ten-year-old India Opal Buloni describes her first summer in the town of Naomi, Florida, and all the good things that happen to her because of her big ugly dog Winn-Dixie.

Review: Because of Winn-Dixie joins the long tradition of fiction exploring a small southern town's eccentric characters. The story is bittersweet, simple, and a quick read. It's summer, and 10-year-old India Opal Buloni moves with her preacher father to tiny Naomi, Florida. She's lonely at first, but she finds a stray dog at a grocery store named Winn-Dixie and names him accordingly. The young girl immediately takes to Winn-Dixie and her companion helps her befriend a group of lovable, quirky locals, eventually bringing her closer to her father and the truth about her mother, who left the family when India was 3.
  Told in India's sensitive, believable voice, the story is most successful in detailing the appealing cast of characters, including Otis, an ex-convict, musician, and pet store manager; Miss Franny, a Willie Wonkaesque librarian whose "Litmus Lozenges" candies taste like sorrow; and nearly blind Gloria Dump, whose tree hung with empty liquor bottles reminds her of "the ghosts of all the things I done wrong." While some of the dialogue and the book's "life lessons" can feel heavy-handed at times, readers will connect with India's love for her pet and her open-minded, free-spirited efforts to make friends and build a community. I wanted to feel moved when I finished the story, but I ended up feeling as if I read a similar story before. Not really exciting but not that bad either. 

 Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to Opal's mother being an alcoholic. Otis was allegedly arrested for killing someone, but seems shy and reserved. The kids in the book refer to Otis as being "retarded". I would recommend this book to readers who are in Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
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